Postdocs: How to reform system ? (fwd)

Riekeltje Koedood rkoedood at
Fri Mar 8 13:18:10 EST 1996

Slaveownership? Think about it - if you would work in a company you would also
be financially dependent. In fact your career steps, promotions, salary raises
would be mostly determined by your direct supervisor's opinion of you and your
work. So, by your definiton, he would be a slaveowner too. This kind of 
situation is normal in most everybody else's lives. Why should post-doc fellows
be exempt? 

Maybe I'm not a good one to talk, seeing that I am in fact independently paid
(by the Swiss Goverment), and my boss happens to be very nice. True, if I don't
like him, I can go somewhere else. Not true that I can do just anything I want,
after all, my research is paid by his grant (not my salary), so according to me
he has the right to expect me to do what is beneficial for his group and his
own grant applications...

Just my 2c. worth...


Michael S. Straka (mike.straka at wrote:
: On 06 Mar Alexander Berezin <berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA>  wrote:

: [snip]

: >What we need is a
: >reform, not the axe cutting.
: >
: >Look carefully were is the REAL source of the problem and how 
: >best to address it. The crux of the problem is not in the 
: >postdoctoral training as such, but in the fact that in the 
: >present system PDF almost unexceptionally are funded by a 
: >professor thru his/her research grant. This produce all the 
: >ramification of slaveownership which works REGARDLESS of the p
: >ersonal qualities of a supervisor. Yes, there are 'good' 
: >supervisors [ gentle exploiters ?0 ] as there were 'good' 
: >slaveowners in ancient Rome. But so what ? The fact of the 
: >present PDF system in that it puts one PhD (DOCTOR of 
: >PHILOSOPHY) in a DIRECT financial (and hence career and 
: >often personal life) control of another PhD (supervisor). 
: >This is were we need Lincoln to break this link (but 
: >not necessarily a civil war).

: I would add that in any conflict, the supervisory PhD will almost always
: prevail, and there will be little that the postdoc can do.  Other faculty
: members will not lift a finger, except in perhaps the most egregious 
: cases, and perhaps not even then.  

: >The right system is to fund PDF directly, not thru
: >a professor. In short, paying PDF salaries from the grants
: >of individual professors should be firbidden. In practice,
: >of course, I am not suggesting to delegalize this overnight,
: >but to introduce a gradual de-phasing plan for grant-suppoprted
: >PDF and in-phasing scheme for independently-funded PDF.
: >The latter is virtually indistingushable from soft money
: >junior faculty positions with the difference that they 
: >are not necessarily tenure track. Still this is much
: >better that the present slaveownership system. 
: >Furthermore, postdoc awarded independent funding should
: >be free and encourage to CO-OPERATE (not 'work for')
: >professor of his/her choice. Professors can budget 
: >some allownce to cover common reserarch expences for
: >such work, but NOT postdocs salaries/ 
: >
: >**********************************
: >Alexander A. Berezin, PhD
: >Department of Engineering Physics
: >McMaster University, Hamilton,
: >Ontario, Canada, L8S 4L7
: >tel. (905) 525-9140 ext. 24546
: >**********************************

: I think this is so far the best idea I've heard concerning the funding
: of postdocs and altering the link between supervisor and postdoc.  As
: has been said, the present relationship involves a fundamental conflict
: of interest on the part of the supervisory PhD: no one in their right 
: mind would encourage a postdoc to develop independently of the focus of
: the group, not when grant dollars are at stake.  In addition, the present 
: "benevolent (or not) slave owner" mentality very often destroys rather
: than nurtures the postdoc.  The independently-funded PDF (IPDF) would 
: uncouple the link between faculty and postdoc and is surely a step in 
: the right direction.  However, there are issues which need to be 
: addressed in this regard:
: 1) The IPDF would require a fairly substantial change in bureaucracy (ie
: paperwork).  This should not be too hard to work out.
: 2) Qualifications: who would be eligible? All recent PhDs? Up to how long
: post-PhD?  Three y?  five y?  
: 3) Should there be preferences given to different areas just as there are 
: in the case of RO1s?  If so, this may involve the establishment of a 
: whole new level of bureaucracy - study sections for IPDFs, etc.  Or 
: perhaps a new Institute for Postdoctoral Fellowships to oversee the the 
: entire process of qualification, allocating among various fields, funding 
: levels, etc.
: 4) Sponsorship: I think this would be the stickiest point.  Why would it
: be in the interest of any particular faculty member or institution to 
: take in an independently-funded postdoc?  In my mind, an IPDF would be 
: able to take his money and go anywhere, no?  Presumably, an interested
: faculty would have to agree to some level of supply funding (unless this
: were included in the grant - not likely).  So then there are also 
: implications for direct costs to the institution.  There would also be
: potential questions of authorship, patents, etc, and maybe these are
: minor.  But maybe not.
: 5) Last but not least, who would implement this change, which would 
: amount to nothing less than an assault on the sovereignty of most, if
: not all, present faculty members?  Would the NIH do it?  Perhaps.  
: Remember, though, that study sections are made up of peers, and why 
: should they change the status quo, when it would mean an end to their
: fiefdoms?  Would institutions do it?  I doubt it.  I think postdocs 
: need strident advocates, ones who have uppermost in their interest both 
: the individual postdoc and the well-being of scientific inquiry.

: Please keep in mind I'm not trying to be a naysayer, just that there are
: issues which will need addressing.  And perhaps there are others I 
: haven't thought of.  As I mentioned, I think that overall, this is 
: the best idea yet, and definitely one worth exploring.  Any other ideas?  
: thoughts?  rebuttals?

: -Mike Straka

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