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Headlines Published on 07 March 2005

Title Tales of postdoc heaven and hell

Postgraduate scientists were given a rare but revealing chance to tell all about the workplaces they invest the early part of their careers in. Work issues, such as access to equipment and training, ranked high on the list, but employers who heed the psychological and social needs of postdocs stood out.

The principal investigator plays a part in seven out of the top ten factors affecting postdoc satisfaction. © PhotoDisc
The principal investigator plays a part in seven out of the top ten factors affecting postdoc satisfaction.
© PhotoDisc
Postdocs from Canada, Europe and the USA were asked by The Scientist magazine how they rated their jobs. The resounding conclusion either side of the Atlantic is that postdocs have an overwhelming commitment to their research, the magazine writes. And support from the principal investigator (PI) was a critical factor for many.

The top three factors influencing postdoc work satisfaction were training and experience as a bedrock for future careers, availability of books and journals, and access to equipment and supplies. The 3 500 people who completed the survey rated very highly the PI’s willingness to discuss the science behind the experiments and the issues that arise out the research.

Other aspects valued by postdocs include the PI’s credibility as a mentor to show what it takes to succeed as a scientist and whether they encourage – and pay for – their charges to attend conferences. Postdocs rated their jobs more favourably when the PI communicates expectations clearly and provides feedback. Having a sense of pride in the job was considered important, as too was the level of understanding shown by the PI in matters concerning family and personal obligations.  

Next wave
No doubt, job satisfaction for postdocs is important, but for many young science graduates their biggest concern is finding a position in the first place. There are many services available to help these jobseekers secure work in Europe and further away. One facility set up by the European Commission is the Researchers’ Mobility Portal, which has extensive information about grants, fellowships and jobs all over Europe.

Registered users of the portal also gain free access to a Europe-wide service offered by the European Network of Mobility Centres (ERA-More). These centres can help researchers, not only with the professional, but also the practical side of moving for work – information on housing, schooling, day care, language courses, etc. The Portal also lists a number of ‘Other career resources’, with whom it has strategic partnerships. 

One such resource is Science Next Wave, an on-line career development magazine aimed at early career researchers. It covers academic, industry and non-research careers. The webmag – an initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the magazine Science – provides personal profiles to show how other young researchers developed their careers, and has the latest job market news and practical advice for jobseekers.  

Currently featured on the Next Wave site is a career profile on Portuguese scientist Ricardo Azevedo. He offers some sage advice to postdocs and other researchers on the job market right now, or soon to be. “For those looking for a niche to develop their scientific career, a well-established, big-name lab or a hot research field may be a tempting destination,” he asserts. “But for scientists who aren't afraid of a little risk and controversy, wandering off the well-worn path may be a surer and more exciting road to success.”

Source:  EU and other sources

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