Brussels, 25 Nov 2003
Last year the international science magazine The Scientist invited readers in the USA, Canada and western Europe to give their opinions of the 'Best places to work for postdocs'. Overall results favoured European countries, but US universities stole the show. Can Europe improve its rankings in the recently launched 2004 survey?
The online and print magazine The Scientist is inviting all researchers in non-tenured or non-permanent postdoctoral positions in an academic, government or research institution to take part in its survey of the 'Best places to work for postdocs 2004'. The online survey (see 'More information') asks for postdoctoral researchers to 'grade' their institutions on a number of criteria, such as the working conditions, how much advice and supervision they offer, what training services are available and so forth.
Last year's survey netted some 30 000 responses, from which 2 800 were useable for the study. Respondents ranked their postdoctoral experiences by stating how much they agreed or disagreed with statements about mentors, lab environments, salaries and benefits. And, while not a scientific study, the survey's results – and the views expressed in it – offer a valuable portrait of postdocs' goals and expectations.
This year, the team hope to draw a wider sample for the study and invites people to forward news about the survey and its aims to their peers. "Please let your fellow postdocs know about this survey... the more responses we receive the more valuable the results will be," the questionnaire reads.
Up the scale
Overall, the common denominator amongst highly ranked institutes was their culture of collaboration and commitment to excellence in teaching. Some 76% of respondents 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.
I****a Chaterjee, a postdoc at Rutgers University (USA), said one of the reasons she thought her university was a good place for postdoctoral graduates is because it encourages them to interact with each other, with students and with scientists from outside, The Scientist revealed. For too long, the communication aspect of research has been overlooked, which is one of the driving forces behind the European Union's 'Human resources and mobility' initiatives including the Marie Curie actions covering training, mobility and career development opportunities in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) for research.
Community and collaboration were closely linked to postdoc satisfaction. The top institutions in the 2003 survey, such as Rutgers University, University of Miami, Princeton University, Dalhousie University, have gone the extra mile to improve this aspect of their fellowship programmes. However, European countries occupied the top six places in the overall raking, with Denmark topping the table, followed by Belgium, Finland, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden. The USA came in seventh place ahead of Canada, Germany and the UK, making up the top ten.
To get these rankings, the team identified responses from 681 separate institutions, taking only those institutions with five or more responses in the institutional rankings – 150 in total. The overall rankings were based on the average score per institution from all respondents on all factors. Notably, the bulk of the responses came from English-speaking countries, USA (1 761), the UK (350), and Canada (136).