Postdocs' (In)Dependence

David Mannock dmannock at gpu.srv.ualberta.ca
Tue Mar 12 19:02:48 EST 1996


The problem here is that the opposing camps are talking about their experiences
of two different systems. The US system permits more independent funding of PDFs
and faculty than does the Canadian system, where almost all funding must go
through the laboratory supervisor. There are semiindependent agencies which one
may apply to in the biomedical areas, but even on these the PDF is considered as
a co-applicant who is to be supervised by Prof. X. There is more freedom in the
UK system for such independent funding from grad students and PDFs thru to
faculty. The notion of team work and independence varies from system to system.
The problem with the Canadian system is that it has become too political and too
inflexible. It prevents a person achieving "independence" unless one is prepared
to jump on the wagon/join the club and apply for a faculty position. That is the
only step up. One can just as easily have several independently funded PDFs
working in the same lab towards a common goal as one can have a number of PDFs
supported from a common operating grant. The difference is that in the latter
case ONLY ONE person controls the purse strings [the grant holder]. Such a
position is open to considerable abuse of power. For example a supervisor might
say to a PDF "if you want a job next year, you write the operating grant!"
Please don't tell me this doesn't happen, because I know better. Thus, a young
scientist may be put into a very difficult situation. If he says no, his career
may be over. If he says yes, he may still be trapped. In this age of University
and research funding cuts times are tough and lets face it those who have the
positions of authority fight to keep them in some very unscrupulous ways.
Something does have to be done to address these problems in the Canadian system.
The trouble is that the political will does not exist, because the elder
statesmen who control the system and decide who gets what money are afraid that
if they change it they will lose out. To some extent this fear is likely to be
valid, since up and coming faculty with hot new ideas are likely to attract more
PDFs than older, less sexy labs. Doing away with the whole system and starting
over just is not feasible let's face it. Perhaps all we can hope for is that in
systems which are restrictive that more independent PDFs become available and
perhaps that the system will find a way of cutting out some of the dead wood  so
that  younger more productive people can move up.  In Canada at least these
issues have come to a head following the Fabrikant incident. In order to
initiate change in the system the MRC and NSERC have introduced compulsory
courses on scientific ethics for all personnel funded by them and from the sound
of it studies are being conducted under their sponsorship to look at the
problems of PDFs [mailings on this have been in this newsgroup]. Perhaps our
role if we have one is to examine the problems in these systems, come up with
feasible solutions and put them under the noses of enlightened people at the top
who can do something about them.  For example, I myself tried to apply for
independent funding with the intention of using the money as a Senior PD
Research Fellowship. Everything looked fine until the 11th hour when I was told
that the University had regulations which did not permit me to do this because
they had no legally binding contract with me which would make me responsible for
any over expenditure. Apparently, such regulations do not exist everywhere (even
in the great white north), but the effect of such a regulation is to prevent
people such as myself from pursuing independent funding for my own salary
[something I would have thought that the University would have been happy to
encourage in light of the difficult times] and consequently to limit ones
options. I have written to the VP Research asking for some advice concerning
this issue. Hopefully, I will eventually get a reply. Dave Mannock




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