Postdocs: How to reform system ? (fwd)

William Tivol tivol at
Fri Mar 8 12:40:51 EST 1996

Michael S. Straka (mike.straka at wrote:

[many snips]

: 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.

	I agree, although there may be departmental or other oversight
committees already in place.  I have seen a similar situation involving a
technician, so the "me-Professor-you-peon" attitude extends beyond postdocs.

: >The right system is to fund PDF directly, not thru
: >a professor.

: 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.

	I agree.

: 1) The IPDF would require a fairly substantial change in bureaucracy (ie
: paperwork).  This should not be too hard to work out.

	More to the point, the NIH + NSF + etc. would have to decide how
many postdocs (& in which fields) are to be funded--this is not necessarily
a bad thing.  At present a PI can decide how much resources to devote to
equipment, how much to additional hands (i.e. postdocs, techs, etc.), etc.
There would be some resistance to losing this flexibility, although there
should be ways to allocate postdocs within a department.  Postdocs would
become a limited, but "free", resource.

: 2) Qualifications: who would be eligible? All recent PhDs? Up to how long
: post-PhD?  Three y?  five y?

	I spent 13 years in postdoc positions--I changed fields--so I think
there is a better system than strict time limits to determine qualifications.

: 3) Should there be preferences given to different areas just as there are 
: in the case of RO1s?

	There inevitably will be--again not necessarily bad.  There is
a danger that politics will pervert the system--i.e., a senator from a
small state can decide that Harvard, UCLA, etc. shouldn't have all the fun
and that his/her favorite institution should have a larger postdoc alloca-
tion.  I forsee the possibility that a postdoc doing good work could be
faced with the possibility of giving up the fellowship or moving to an
undesired location.

: 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?

	For the same reasons that it is in one's interest to take in a grad
student.  One would get a dedicated, skilled worker for free.

:  In my mind, an IPDF would be 
: able to take his money and go anywhere, no?

	Within the department/institution.  This gives the IPDF leverage if
being mistreated.  Departmental machinery to deal with this is usually in
place for grad students already, so extending it to cover postdocs is easy.

:  Presumably, an interested
: faculty would have to agree to some level of supply funding (unless this
: were included in the grant - not likely).

	If not, the IPDF can go elsewhere.  At present, the PI provides
supplies and the PDF can take it or give up the fellowship.

:  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.

	I see no essential differences from the present system.  The IPDF
would be linked to a sponsor, as now, for questions of patents, etc.; any
difference would only come if an IPDF switches sponsors--then there could
be questions of where the IPDF was when the patent/paper/etc.'s essential
work was done. 

: 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?

	My guess is that Congress would initiate a block grant for IPDF
funding, and the granting organizations would implement it.

: 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.

	Institutions, in doing it, would extend *their* fiefdoms, so there
would be a bureaucratic incentive for departments to handle the IPDFs.

:  I think postdocs 
: need strident advocates, ones who have uppermost in their interest both 
: the individual postdoc and the well-being of scientific inquiry.

	I agree, and for more than just the reasons in this thread.
				Bill Tivol

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