Universities are bad places to be a postdoc?

May 10, 2011

According to this top-40 list at The Scientist anyway. The list is laden with Institutes and Centers and big L Laboratories. You have to get down to number 10 to find a University and they are overall pretty thin on the list.
Interestingly the NIH (i.e., intramural NIH laboratories) comes in above such NIH extramural research powerhouses as Johns Hopkins, Mass General, UNC, Michigan…
They give plus and minus columns. I find it interesting to see how “Career Development Opportunities”, aka, pedigree? (Hi Zen!) dominates the plus side and how frequently pay and benefits comes up on the minus side.
It is also kind of interesting to see which criteria “Family and Personal Life” never co-occur with.


10 Responses to “Universities are bad places to be a postdoc?”

  1. leigh Says:

    the “plus” and “minus” columns are simultaneously hilarious, sad, and so generic/uninformative as to be a complete waste of time.


  2. mikka Says:

    This list is bullshit and only reflects the ability of the development/postdoc affairs/PR department to persuade their postdocs to fill out the survey.


  3. arrzey Says:

    What the hell does “Value of the Postdoc Experience” mean?


  4. Eric Lund Says:

    I wouldn’t put much faith in that list. Just looking at the first two columns (this year’s rank and last year’s rank) tells me that the ranking algorithm isn’t stable. One of this year’s top ten did not appear on last year’s top 40 list (which might happen if it’s a brand new institute–I don’t know if that’s true here–but would be hard to do even so), and last year’s #1 tumbled to 26. Conditions at a particular research institute usually don’t vary much from year to year, so my guess is that the criteria used for ranking have error bars which are large compared to the differences between ranked institutes.
    You also have the apples vs. oranges problem. Many of the institutions listed are biomedical, but there is at least one national physics lab (Argonne) as well as several traditional research universities, and even among the biomedical institutes you have some that are private, some that are university-affiliated (Whitehead is part of MIT), and some that are government labs.
    I second leigh’s comment @1 about the generic nature of the entries in the “plus” and “minus” columns.


  5. APS Says:

    I remember seeing this last year too. To me the data seems noisy. (Last year’s No 1 this year’s No. 26 – why would that happen in 1 year other than noise? Small sample sizes?)


  6. miko Says:

    Let’s take a step back here. Isn’t this based on surveying postdocs? Postdocs who would bother to fill out/read anything on the fucking “Scientist” web site (n > 5 per institution. Yes, 5)? Who have probably been postdocs at exactly one place? Who are not a uniform population across these institutions? I can’t believe anyone conceived of this being useful in any way other than starting blog threads.
    And we all know the worst way to do a postdoc is to be a postdoc.


  7. Rosemarycxy878 Says:

    If there was ever really a such thing as the epitome of all evil for people… Those two faces of the Koch Brothers would be it for me… maybe not for everyone else but for me at least… As far as I’m concerned, God or no God… It doesn’t matter if your an atheist or a believer, what these two men have been doing a long with others of their elk stand for corruption and greed in itself, that alone constitutes as the most disgusting vile acts of a man.
    for more info please visit:


  8. anon for this Says:

    I’m late to this party, but I’ll comment anyway. I’m a postdoc at one of the top ten institutions, and I do kind of think my experience is better because it’s not a university. Where I work, postdocs are extra valuable because without students around, we’re the most cost-effective way to get work done. I don’t feel exploited at all, nor do I think there’s any chance I could fall through the cracks in terms of mentorship or opportunities. There are tradeoffs, of course, but so far I’m really happy with where I am.


  9. Dr. Feelgood Says:

    One of the institutes on list is there because their PR department stacks the survey and requires postdocs, as well as non-academic staff to fill it out and skew the data. They are a podunk place with little to offer. I know because we are next door and they told me that’s how it goes down.


  10. Anonymous Says:

    Allow me a small comment apart. It is a good thing to have a list of the 10 best places to do a postdoc, but why not having a website that describes the worst places to do a postdoc. This could save the life of many persons…When a place is dysfunctional and completely insane (and there are many places like that all around the world..) this should be known. With the international coverage that Science has, this would put pressure on the awful places where some PIs have no problem to sacrifice the live of others. According to me, too many brilliant researchers are sacrificed. By those days, I just feel that to become successful in scientific research, you must excel in the practice of dirty little political games instead of being good in science. In academia, I saw so many persons who were not good at all for science be promoted and put on the track. Most of them were there because they knew how to abuse of others without doing so much work. On the other hand, some very good and honest scientists are dragged down.
    It is a good idea to know the place where people will do their postdoc before they engage!


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