(Philadelphia, PA - February 2003)
The top institutions ranked by postdoc participants in The Scientist's "Best Places to Work for Postdocs" survey share a culture of collaboration and a commitment to teaching. The results are detailed in the article "Postdocs Pick Institutions that Build Community" appearing in February 10, 2003 of The Scientist.
To find out what postdocs think about their institutions, The Scientist invited more than 30,000 to participate in our "Best Places to Work For Postdocs" survey. The survey garnered 2,800 useable responses from postdocs in the USA, Canada, and western Europe. Respondents "graded" their postdoc experiences by stating their agreement with positive statements about mentors, lab environments, salaries, and benefits. Though not a scientific study, the survey's results, and the views expressed in it, provide a compelling portrait of postdocs' goals and expectations.
The top ten institutions overall were:
1. Rutgers University
2. University of Miami
3. Princeton University
4. Dalhousie University
5. University of Nebraska
6. Medical College of Wisconsin
7. National Cancer Institute
8. University of California, Davis
9. University of Iowa
10. University of Kentucky
Some 76% of participants, indicated they could talk to their peers about personal and professional problems; 65.3% credited their colleagues with teaching lab skills; and 60.8% reported that lab members help each other balance work and family responsibilities.
Ishita Chaterjee, a postdoc at Rutgers University, says, "one of the reason Rutgers is a good place for postdocs is probably because it encourages postdocs and students to interact with each other as well as with scientists from outside."
While the survey aimed to help identify organizations that provide more than ample benefits and services to postdocs, the responses point to a failure by many institutions to provide adequate mentors, career services, and salaries.
"Postdocs are in a ghost employee class," says Shirley Tilghman, president of Princeton University, which ranked first among US Ivy League institutions, and third overall. "The difficulty occurs when they are considered an extra pair of hands-where they are given relatively low status within the institution, fewer benefits, and less attention from faculty. They become glorified technicians."
Community and collaboration seem to be among the most important attributes that equate to postdoc satisfaction. The top institutions in The Scientist survey have taken extra steps to boost collaboration, not only among postdocs, but also among postdocs and graduate students, and postdocs and scientists from around the world. However, high ratings on collaboration do not interfere with the quality of research at the top-ranked universities, who employ some of the most highly cited life science researchers.
Criticisms of principal investigators often prevail in postdoc chat rooms and discussion groups. But The Scientist survey participants paint a more positive portrait of their professors and mentors: Many postdocs describe their PIs as effective leaders enmeshed in a demoralizing system, and give their departments and institutions low marks for failing to build the support networks necessary to boost the postdoc's development.
Only 41% of the postdocs indicated that they received adequate salaries, and complaints about salaries recurred among posted comments. Differences between salaries of scientists with private foundation fellowships and those paid by the government also rankle many fellows, as does the absence of affordable day care and, in the United States, a lack of health insurance for families.
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