April 03, 2013

Postdocs name UAB top university in recent survey

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The University of Alabama at Birmingham is the No. 1 university nationwide in “Best Places to Work for Postdocs,” according to the 2013 Postdocs Rankings published Monday. UAB placed eighth overall, improving eight places from its 2012 spot and above other universities, such as Duke, Vanderbilt and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. This marks at least the third consecutive year the university has ranked in the Top 25 Institutions.

uab campus sunrise 2009 2In its web-based survey, staff from The Scientist, a magazine for science professionals, asked the scientists (classified as non-tenured life scientists working in academia, industry or noncommercial research institutions) to assess their working environment in 38 criteria in 9 areas, including quality of training and mentoring, communication, funding, facilities, pay and benefits and family and personal life. More than 2,000 responses were received and 53 U.S. and eight non-U.S. institutions were ranked.

Strengths cited for UAB are the quality of training and mentoring and career development opportunities and networking. 

“Its’ wonderful to see our postdocs like what we’re doing, and I think we’re doing well in providing them with training that they need and that they’ve asked for,” said Lisa M. Schwiebert, Ph.D., associate dean for postdoctoral education. “They’re a very important research force here at UAB that provide the hands-on and intellectual input for driving science.”

UAB was among the first universities in the country to establish an Office of Postdoctoral Education in 1999. The OPE works to continually improve benefits and career opportunities for  the 230 UAB postdoctoral scholars training in dentistry, engineering, health professions, medicine, natural sciences and mathematics, public health, optometry and social and behavioral sciences. More than 80 percent of the university’s postdocs are in the School of Medicine.

The OPE strongly encourages UAB research mentors to follow the National Research Service Award stipend level guidelines, and postdoctoral scholars qualify for health, life and other insurances. They also have the right to participate in the university’s 403(b) program and enjoy vacation, sick leave and benefits.

Schwiebert said the OPE receives feedback from postdocs individually; through partnerships with the Graduate School and the Office of Career and Professional Services to provide one-on-one career counseling; and through the UAB Postdoctoral Association, a volunteer organization to that gives voice to postdoc issues.

The OPE and the UAB Postdoctoral Association work together to develop career opportunities to enhance the training experience of all postdoctoral scholars at UAB, including providing courses in grant writing, lab management and job skills and awards for career enhancement, grant incentives and internships.

“We get input and feedback from a variety of groups and areas, and I think that only helps us to strengthen our programs,” Schwiebert said. “We encourage our postdocs to step up and take control of their career development, while fulfilling the role they have in their specific lab.”