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WHOI Ranks No. 2 in Top Ten Places for Postdocs to Work

Ranks No. 2 WHOI Postdoctoral Fellow Emil Vahtera setting a plankton emergence trap at Salt Pond, Eastham, Mass., during a field campaign aimed at measuring cells of the toxic algae Alexandrium fundyense. (Photo by Zachary Bonin, Northeastern University)

March 1, 2011

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is ranked second of the ten best places to work for postdoctoral researchers, according to a 2011 survey by the magazine The Scientist.  The rankings included 76 US institutions.

In 2010, WHOI ranked ninth and has been in the top ten in past postdoc surveys by The Scientist, but this marks the first time the Institution has been rated in the top three. The Whitehead Institute (Cambridge, MA) ranked first; Van Andel Research Institute, Grand Rapids, MI, ranked third.

“WHOI is very pleased to have been recognized in this way,” said WHOI Vice President and Dean Jim Yoder.  “The Institution appreciates the important contributions our postdocs make to our research programs and to the intellectual atmosphere of our Institution.  Thus, we try hard to make WHOI a nice place for postdocs to work.”

The survey received 2,881 responses from non-tenured life scientists working in academia, non-profit research institutions, government, hospitals and other organizations. Respondents were asked to assess their working environment and experience according to 38 criteria in nine different areas.  Criteria included access to books and journals needed for research, training, support of the principal investigator and laboratory colleagues, quality of the research facilities, and pride in their research.  The results were collated and compiled to show rankings for the best US and international institutions.

“The postdoctoral years are extremely important in helping young scientists mature into competent lab leaders,” says The Scientist’s Associate Editor Jef Akst, who oversees the Best Places surveys. “Our survey provides information about both the strengths and the weaknesses of institutions in training PhDs for that transition — straight from the postdocs themselves.”

This year’s postdoc respondents said they value creative freedom and individualism when rating the working environment at their institutions. WHOI received high scores for the value of the postdoc experience and for training and mentorship.

“It’s such an academically stimulating environment,” said Amy Apprill a postdoc in the WHOI Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry department whose research focuses on how animal-microbial relationships adapt to globally changing marine environments. “Postdocs are treated as junior colleagues, so we’re able to come in and start new projects.”

“I really do have the opportunity to do whatever I find is interesting,” added Kakani Katija, a postdoctoral scholar in the Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering department, who studies the propulsion mechanisms of marine organisms.

Postdoctoral fellows, who come to WHOI with fellowship support from external agencies, also work on their own projects, often in collaboration with multiple advisors in one or more departments. And while postdoctoral investigators, initially funded by grants obtained by faculty, tend to work more closely with their advisors, all postdocs are allowed to be the lead principal investigator on grant proposals.

Between 60 and 90 postdocs are in residence at WHOI at any one time.   While postdoctoral scientists and engineers have been associated with WHOI since the Institution’s founding in 1930, the current year-round program was formalized in 1960. Private donors have provided funding for the WHOI Postdoctoral Scholar program for decades, and federal grants and contracts awarded to the scientific and technical staff also provides support for postdocs.   Some secure their own funding from other national and international sources.



The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment.