UI ranked among nation's best places for postdocs


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Often an under-recognized group of researchers at universities, postdoctoral scholars at the University of Iowa recently recognized the school’s efforts to create a valuable workplace by giving the UI high marks on the The Scientist’s 2013 “Best Places to Work for Postdocs” survey.

These high marks have resulted in the UI being ranked No. 23 in the nation for best places for postdocs to work.  The results are based on the responses of postdocs in the survey.

The UI’s ranking made it the fourth highest public university on a list that is primarily dominated by private universities and research institutions, said Minnetta Gardinier, an associate dean of the UI Graduate College and the director of the Office of Postdoctoral Scholars.

“It speaks to the fact that we have a great research work environment … and to the added benefits of being at the University of Iowa,” she said.

The survey, which began in 2003, aims to improve working conditions for postdocs, according to an article on The Scientist’s website.  Postdocs are asked questions about topics including quality of training and mentoring, career-development opportunities and networking, quality of communication, and funding, among others.

Institutions such as the UI have been listening to the postdoc responses.

Gardinier said she and her colleagues in the Office of Postdoctoral Scholars are sent the overall survey results and use them to look for areas of improvement.

In the 2013 survey, UI postdocs ranked the institution’s strengths as funding and quality of training and mentoring and its weaknesses as equitable treatment and value of the postdoc experience, according to results posted on The Scientist’s website.

Sarah Clayton, a second-year postdoc in in the psychology department, said her time at the UI has been invaluable to her career.

“I’ve had a lot of freedom to make my own course for research and take on projects I wanted to do,” she said.  “I think it’s given me the tools to be an independent thinker and independent investigator … and the independence that I’ve been able to have while in the lab will be important in whatever position I take next.”

While the UI slipped two spots from its 2012 ranking of 21, Gardinier said she did not find the change concerning, because the rankings are mainly based on the number of people at an institution who respond to the survey.

At any one time, the UI employs anywhere between 300 and 350 postdocs, with about two-thirds of them working in the UI Carver College of Medicine, Gardinier said.  She estimated the number of postdocs at the UI to be in the middle to small compared with other Big Ten universities.

Greg Carmichael, the associate dean for research and graduate studies in the UI College of Engineering and a postdoc mentor, said the UI’s high ranking reflects recent efforts to coordinate postdoc training and experience. Those efforts include establishing the Office of Postdoctoral Scholars.

Carmichael and Gardinier agreed that above all, postdocs at the UI are a vital piece for the research done at the university.

“Postdocs play a very important role in the major research labs, and positions are very competitive,” Carmichael said. “The experience allows them to be much more competitive to compete for faculty positions.”

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