November 4, 2005

VU named among top academic workplaces

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VU named among top academic workplaces

Vanderbilt University ranks fifth among the “Best Places to Work in Academia,” according to an extensive survey of practicing scientists to be released Nov. 7 in The Scientist, a magazine catering to the life sciences.

The third annual survey has Vanderbilt up 29 spots from 2003, when the magazine first polled academic researchers about their universities and organizations. The university ranked 13th last year but only the top 10 were published.

“Those of us who do research here know that Vanderbilt is a collaborative and rewarding place to work, and our ranking in this survey is evidence that our institution truly is a national leader in fostering research,” said Harry Jacobson, M.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs.

Clemson University (S.C.) topped the 2005 list of U.S. institutions, followed by the Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake, N.Y., and the J. David Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco. The University of Florida in Gainesville placed fourth, one spot ahead of Vanderbilt.

Respondents were asked to assess their working conditions and environments by indicating their level of agreement with 41 criteria in eight different areas — job satisfaction, peers, infrastructure and environment, research resources, pay, management and policies, teaching and mentoring and tenure.

Vanderbilt scored an overall 4.22 out of a possible 5, which ranks in the 96th percentile. Last year's overall score was 3.91 and in the 82nd percentile.

“I think the scientists really feel like they are a part of the team, that their input is respected and responded to,” said Steven Gabbe, M.D., dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“They feel free to tell us what their needs are, now and in the future, and we work very hard to respond as quickly as possible. We have a very open exchange.”

“What they do in their laboratories has an important impact on not only science, in terms of discoveries that will hopefully benefit our patients in years ahead, but in training the next generation of scientists,” Gabbe added.

According to the survey, the two most important factors for U.S. tenured or tenure-track life scientists working at non-commercial research institutions were doing work that provides “great personal satisfaction,” and working for an institution that provides “adequate health care coverage for me and my family.”

Good peer relationships ranked third among the most important factors, followed by a fair tenure review process and a tenure system that is clearly laid out for the faculty.

“What makes the results of this survey so valuable is that professionals are providing unfiltered insight into their workplace,” said Richard Gallagher, publisher of The Scientist.

“Our participants feel free to express their true opinions about their employers, and that's what's so significant. You know that the responses are really genuine, especially when it comes to the top ranked institutions. People don't praise their place of work in a blind survey unless they truly mean it.”

A total of 1,808 individuals from the U.S., which includes 113 from Vanderbilt, participated in the 2005 survey.

Last year 895 individuals participated nationwide and only seven were from Vanderbilt.

In both surveys the university's overall score was lowered considerably in the topic of pay, apparently because the pay system is not published for everyone to see.

This year's score of 2.56 out of 5, by far the university's lowest in any of the 41 categories, placed Vanderbilt in the 34th percentile.

The magazine received 2,603 valid responses representing 135 individual institutions. Overall, The Scientist evaluated the 91 U.S. institutions and 44 non-US institutions that had five or more responses.

The Scientist, now in its 20th year, is printed biweekly and provides information on research, technology, careers and business. It is available online at