Argonne named a "Best Place" for postdocs to work in 2012

By Susheela BhatMarch 29, 2012

ARGONNE, Ill.—For postdoctoral scholars, or postdocs, the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory is the 6th best place to work in the United States, according to The Scientist, a life sciences magazine. In the magazine's 10th annual Best Places to Work for Postdocs survey, Argonne ranked as one of the top institutions to create a healthy work environment for postdocs through mentoring and focused programs. The lab also provides opportunities for postdocs to extend their temporary positions, continue their research and grow professionally.

"What sets Argonne apart from other institutions is our ability to evolve as the needs of our postdocs change," said Kristene Henne, who coordinates Argonne's postdoctoral programs. "In addition to providing workshops, seminars and sessions with Argonne's senior leaders, our programs are geared towards meeting the professional needs of the postdocs. I cannot think of any other institution where the organizational leaders are so actively engaged with postdoc life. This means a lot and is reflected in the overall satisfaction of Argonne postdocs."

The survey finds today’s postdocs are staying in their positions longer than ever and are happier with their jobs. The survey found that top-ranking institutions are extending these temporary positions, and postdocs are enjoying more benefits and are happier for it, with fewer postdocs reporting their job satisfaction as "Fair" or "Poor," and more choosing "Excellent."

"In the physical sciences, the role of postdoc started becoming a standard career stop only in the 1980s," said Joseph Bernstein, postdoctoral appointee and former Postdoctoral Society officer at Argonne. "The role is fairly new, and there is still no nationally agreed definition of a 'postdoc.' I think the notable success of places like Argonne at improving the postdoc experience is largely due to increased support for postdocs via postdoctoral program offices, access to many regular benefits, etc."

Argonne provides opportunities for professional growth through its three main postdoctoral programs: the Named Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, Director's Postdoctoral Fellowships and the Division Postdoctoral Appointments. The Argonne Named Postdoctoral Fellowship Program awards annual fellowships to outstanding doctoral scientists and engineers from around the world who are at early points in promising careers. The fellowships are named after scientific and technical luminaries who have been associated with the laboratory, its predecessors and the University of Chicago since the 1940s.

Argonne also has a postdoc mentorship program that pairs new postdocs with staff scientists who can provide guidance and help acclimate them to the lab and their research.

"National surveys," Bernstein said, "show that the productivity of postdocs is highly correlated with their happiness and sense of job satisfaction, so institutional support for postdocs is one of those rare win-win situations: postdocs derive enhanced enjoyment and benefit more from their tenure, and hiring institutions reap the rewards of higher scientific productivity."

"It’s clear from our survey data that postdocs are in a much better place than they were 10 years ago," said The Scientist editor Jef Akst, who oversees the survey. "We are pleased to have been one of the first voices for this population of scientists 10 years ago, and even more pleased to see how much support they have gained over the years."

The survey is published in the April issue of The Scientist.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.