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> 

: [snip]


I am not aware about the details of the postdoc situation 
in Switzerland, but in Canada (and perhaps largely 
in USA ?) most of the above points are highly questionable 
by the follwoing reasons:

(1) Yes, it is true that when you work for a company your
immediate boss often (but not always) can make your life 
a hell. Yet in practice, this is more exception than a rule.
In companies as a rule the subordination system is much more
broad than the direct boss-worker line. Your career is 
generally defined by some kind of consensus of a number of 
people while in University postdoc indeed depend almost 
solely on the whims of his/her supervisor. Often in large
departments Chairperson does not even know who the 
postdocs are, while even in a pretty big R&D Centers all 
research people almost invariably are personally well known 
to at least some VPs (often to a President). 

(2) Consider the following direct (though maybe unplesant)
example: your boss suddenly dies.

   In a company not much changes in your life - next day
you have another (direct) supervisor (or quite often may
get in his chair yourself).

   In a University the death of a supervisor will almost
certainly lead to the termination of a grant (unless it 
is a group grant, but that's rare) and postdoc is out in 
a job serach line again. (Did anyone ever heard of a case
when postdoc was apponted as a tenure track replacement
of a deceased professor and inhereted his grant ?). 

(3) In companies, even if you have a boss, it is not he
who personally pays your salary. Company does. But the
Paradox of the Universities (Canadian, American) is this
respect is that though they are very big organizations
(and supposedely 'enlightened' and 'democratic') their
principle of paying postdocs is virtually almost the 
same as pay to a help boy in a corner variety store. 

Professor pays your (postdoc's) salary directly, as if 
it is his/her money (usually, profs honestly believe 
that these are indeed their money), while in fact 
these are the government money, often obtained for the 
work where the said postdoc(s) contribution were much 
more instrumental than of that of the boss.

(4) Postdocs are as a rule have quite inferior and unfair
benefit package. In Canada, for example, they are not 
alllowed to contribute to the pension plan. This means 
that if you are 'eternal' postdoc (growing category now) 
you can work for some 20-30 years on rotaing PDF positions
and not earining a penny for your pension looking forward
for the welfare only. I know few case of postdocs who are
already in their mid (perhaps senior) 40s who are exactly 
in this situation.   

Alexander A. Berezin, PhD
Department of Engineering Physics
McMaster University, Hamilton,
Ontario, Canada, L8S 4L7
tel. (905) 525-9140 ext. 24546


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