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NIEHS Again Rated a Top Workplace for Postdocs

By Eddy Ball
April 2008

"The NIEHS has created an infrastructure that supports the career development of its postdoctoral fellows not only scientifically, but professionally as well," Klotz said of the Institute's highest rated strength. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Nick McElhinny was elected unanimously as NTA chair. Previously, she served on the planning committee for the annual NTA Biomedical Career Day.
Nick McElhinny was elected unanimously as NTA chair. Previously, she served on the planning committee for the annual NTA Biomedical Career Day. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

In the latest annual Scientist magazine ratings of top places to work for postdoctoral fellows, NIEHS again placed among the top government institutions and ahead of any other NIH Institutes or Centers (ICs). Survey respondents praised NIEHS for its strengths in the areas of career development opportunities and facilities and infrastructure.

Diane Klotz, Ph.D., acting director of the NIEHS Office of Fellows Career Development (OFCD)(, saw the results as an indication of the Institute's holistic approach to training. "I believe the NIEHS continues to do well because we strive to create a real sense of partnership between our postdoctoral fellows and our administration where the training, education and career development of postdocs is concerned."

The newly elected chair of the NIEHS Trainees Assembly (NTA)(, Postdoctoral Fellow Stephanie Nick McElhinny, Ph.D., was also gratified by the high rating the Institute received in regard to career development. "The strength of career development at NIEHS is a testament to the phenomenal efforts of OFCD Director Diane Klotz and her predecessor, Debbie Swope," Nick McElhinny observed. "Career development opportunities were strong for only three institutions ranked ahead of NIEHS in the survey, which I see as evidence that NIEHS is clearly ahead of the curve in keeping in touch with the changing needs of postdoctoral fellows."

NIEHS placed sixteenth in the ranking, ahead of NIH, which was rated number 29, and the National Cancer Institute, which came in at number 33. The Scientist offered several caveats about the survey results and tried to put the results into perspective. "No attempt has been made to measure the statistical significance of the results," wrote author Jonathan Scheff. "The difference between, say a 10th ranked and a 15th ranked institution may be insignificant."

The Institute ranked behind only three other government institutions that pay their postdocs higher salaries. Two Department of Defense Sandia National Laboratories sites, which pay their postdocs $77,800 annually, ranked third and tenth. The Institute's neighbor, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency in Research Triangle Park, which pays its postdocs an average of $64,265 per year, was ranked eleventh in the survey.

During a year of flat budgets for NIH ICs, some of the highest ranked institutions increased benefits and compensation for their postdocs. Examples include the Whitehead Institute, which promised a $9,000 per year raise to first year postdocs earlier this year and an eight percent retirement contribution, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, which added dental insurance.

"While every institution would like to see itself at the number one position," Klotz reflected, "there is always room for improvement even at the top of the list, and this type of survey is more of a friendly reminder of what we do well and where we can make those improvements than anything else.

Survey Methodology

The web-based survey received ratings from more than 3,000 postdoctoral fellows. The 82 U.S. institutions and 17 international institutions that received 5 or more responses were included in the rankings. Institutions are rated according to eleven criteria:

  • Quality of Training and Mentoring
  • Career Development Opportunities
  • Quality of Communication
  • Networking Opportunities
  • Value of the Postdoc Experience
  • Quality of Facilities and Infrastructure
  • Funding
  • Equity
  • Remuneration and Compensation
  • Benefits
  • Family and Personal Life

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