Postdocs pick institutions that build community: The Scientist's "Best Places for Postdocs" survey shows that postdocs prefer programs that stress collaboration and mentors. (Best Places)

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Authors: Paula Park, Alexander Grimwade, Hal Cohen and Sam Jaffe
Date: Feb. 10, 2003
From: The Scientist(Vol. 17, Issue 3)
Publisher: Scientist Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,375 words

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Postdoctoral fellows crave collaboration: They thrive on one-on-one relationships with principal investigators, and they learn much from their peers. The top institutions ranked by postdoc participants in The Scientist's "Best Places for Postdocs" survey share a culture of collaboration and a commitment to teaching.

Not only did institutions that emphasize collaboration receive high marks from postdoctoral survey participants, but postdocs' colleagues also received positive ratings for providing training and counseling. Some 2,128 survey respondents, 76.4% of 2,800 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.

"One of the reasons 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," says Ishita Chatterjee, a postdoc at Rutgers University, NJ, which ranked number one in the survey. "Speakers from other universities and industry are continuously being invited to give talks, thereby helping in the learning process."

To find out what postdocs like Chatterjee think about their institutions, The Scientist sorted through 2,800 usable responses from postdocs in the United States, Canada, and western Europe. Though not a scientific study, the survey's results, and the views expressed in it, provide a compelling portrait of postdocs' goals and expectations.

Many of those expectations--even the most basic--remain unmet. The survey aimed to help identify organizations that provide more than ample benefits and services to postdocs, but 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 third overall and first among US Ivy League institutions. "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." LIFETIME LINKS Tilghman speculates that Princeton fared well in the survey not only because of its emphasis on teaching, but also because the university dominates a small town, creating a heightened sense of community. Postdocs and graduate students live in the same housing, enabling them to socialize and help each other learn, she adds.

The top institutions in The Scientist survey have taken extra steps to boost collaboration not only among postdocs, but also among their postdocs and graduate students, as well as among postdocs and scientists from around the world. "We have people come to our faculty to give seminars," says Prem Paul, vice chancellor for research at the fourth-ranked University of Nebraska, Lincoln. "We have eight external advisory board members, and five are in the National Academy of Sciences."

To address the unique multidisciplinary nature of research and training in biomedicine and biotechnology, the Rutgers faculty restructured the large biology department into an overarching division of life sciences (DLS) composed of focused departments and sections in cell biology, molecular...

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Source Citation
Park, Paula, et al. "Postdocs pick institutions that build community: The Scientist's 'Best Places for Postdocs' survey shows that postdocs prefer programs that stress collaboration and mentors. (Best Places)." The Scientist, vol. 17, no. 3, 10 Feb. 2003, pp. 18+. Accessed 19 May 2022.
  

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