Postdocs rank UAB first among public universities

Awards, job benefits and innovative programs help place UAB near the top of in The Scientist magazine’s postdoc rankings.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham ranks first among public universities nationwide in “Best Places to Work for Postdocs,” according to the 2012 Postdocs Rankings newly published by The Scientist. Among all research institutions, UAB improved six places from this past year to rank 16th in a tie with The Medical College of Wisconsin, a private institution.

postdocs_storyThe Scientist, a magazine that covers research products, analysis and news, has compiled its postdocs survey in each of the past 10 years. The most recent version, Web-based and posted from September to December 2011, sent invitations to the magazine’s readership and registrants self-identified as non-tenured life scientists working in academia, industry or other institutions. More than 1,500 respondents rated their workplace on 38 criteria, from training to career opportunities to pay.

Trends to emerge as part of the ranking effort were that the number of U.S. postdocs has tripled since 1983 to more than 50,000 and that more stay in their posts longer. 

“While other universities provide excellent career-training opportunities, we maintain that we offer the most comprehensive and diverse postdoc-training curriculum anywhere in the country,” said Lisa Schwiebert, Ph.D., associate dean for Postdoctoral Education at UAB since 2007. “Nor are we standing still. Nearly all of our improved benefits and career-development initiatives for postdocs have been launched within the past few years.”

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 nearly 250 UAB postdoctoral scholars training in dentistry, engineering, health professions, medicine, natural sciences and mathematics, public health, optometry and social and behavioral sciences and elsewhere.  

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 that come with employee status.

To increase opportunities available to UAB postdoctoral scholars, the OPE funds several award mechanisms:

  • Scholars’ Awards – incentives that encourage postdocs to apply for individual grants
  • Career Enhancement Awards – support to aid postdocs in their pursuit of extramural courses and collaborative studies
  • Internship Awards – aid that facilitates participation in teaching-, administration- or industry-related internships
  • Travel Awards – financial assistance for postdocs’ travel expenses to national scientific meetings

The OPE also offers courses in grant writing, laboratory management, translational medicine and job skills and provides tuition for UAB career-related courses.

In addition, UAB houses the NIH-funded Mentored Experiences in Research, Instruction and Teaching Program, which provides postdoctoral scholars with research and teaching experiences while improving the recruitment of minorities into the field of biomedical research. This program is one of only 17 such NIH-funded programs nationwide. The OPE also partners with the UAB Business School to offer the UAB Business Entrepreneurship Certificate Program, which includes three courses on entrepreneurship and business development.

Finally, UAB features the UAB Postdoctoral Association, which provides a voice for postdocs in partnership with the OPE and the Council on Postdoctoral Education.  The PDA also organizes social and educational events and hosts a Facebook page.

“These rankings are a testament to the exceptional mentoring and support involved in our postdoctoral training and to the integral role that postdoctoral scholars play in our intensely collaborative and competitive research enterprise,” said UAB President Carol Garrison. “My thanks and congratulations to Dr. Schwiebert and her team at the OPE, and to all of our faculty mentors and scholars who make the UAB postdoctoral experience among the very best in the nation.”