For third year running, Whitehead Institute takes top place for postdocs

In the final year of the “Best Places to Work: Postdocs” ranking, Whitehead Institute has again come out on top. This is the fourth time in 10 years that Whitehead has emerged as number one—more than any other institution in the history of the rankings, published annually by The Scientist magazine.

The rankings, which were begun by The Scientist in 2003, document the evolution of the postdoc position, from an extension of graduate school to a full-fledged career step. Along the way, The Scientist has highlighted the concerns of postdocs and honored institutions that support postdocs’ needs in and out of the lab.

Originally intended to serve as an optional stint in the lab for additional experience after earning a PhD, the postdoctoral position has largely become a five- to seven-year obligation for scientists seeking to enter academia. Generally in their 30s, postdocs often struggle to balance career goals with such personal challenges as starting families and saving for retirement.

For the third year running, Whitehead Institute has taken the top spot in The Scientist’s 2013 Best Places to Work Postdocs survey

Whitehead has been at the fore in redefining the postdoc experience—a focus that helps explain its dramatic rise in the rankings. In 2008, Whitehead introduced a suite of benefits for postdocs, including salary increases, contributions to a retirement savings plan, and access to subsidized child care. As a result, Whitehead went from being unranked in 2007, to 15th place in 2008, to the top spot in 2009. The Institute fell back to third place in 2010 before reclaiming the number one ranking in 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Whitehead’s postdoc benefits helped convince Batula Zaidi to become a postdoc in the lab of Whitehead Founding Member Rudolf Jaenisch.

“The culture of Whitehead allows you the creative latitude to drive how you and your research develop,” says Zaidi, who is a co-chair of the Whitehead Institute Postdoc Association. “And because postdocs here have so much support, you can take advantage of that latitude because you don’t need to worry about the little things, like paying bills. Whitehead’s support is a strong statement in a tangible way that you are valuable part of your lab and the Institute.”

Although much progress has been made, Zaidi’s co-chair, Hannah Blitzblau, worries that overall postdocs remain underappreciated.

“There are some places, like Whitehead, that have very good pay and benefits for postdocs, but that model has not become general practice” says Blitzblau, a postdoc in Whitehead Founding Member Gerald Fink’s lab. “I’m disappointed to hear that this is The Scientist’s last year for producing this list because issues facing postdocs still need to be addressed at many institutions, especially in this tough job market.”

Full survey methodology and additional results, including rankings of the top 25 institutions, can be found in the April 2013 issue of The Scientist, both print and online.