postdoc disparity

Bart Janssen bjanssen at ag.arizona.edu
Wed Aug 13 12:04:40 EST 1997


Cynthia M. Galloway wrote:

> When I postdoced 10 years ago, I was more interested in the lab and
> project
> than the money.  We had the same concerns as those posted here and
> there was
> talk of Unionizing but, since a post-doc was a temporary position, you
> were
> out of it before any action such as that could take place.  A post-doc
> was
> looked upon as an extension of ones education and if you made enough
> money
> to support yourself that was all that was necessary.  I understand
> that more
> and more people are having to take multiple postdocs but, if your in
> Science
> for the money, you picked the wrong profession.  Many NIH postdocs
> make more
> than I do as an Associate professor at a small school but, it's the
> choice I
> made.
>

Hi there
Yes I'm one of the male lurkers :).

I'll probably get myself into trouble but since this kind of response
really annoys the hell out of me here's my opinion.

1)  A post-doc should not be and is not a training period.  If a
scientist hasn't learned how to do research in their PhD then they
shouldn't be employed as a researcher and the University that gave them
the degree should be soundly critisized.  That is not to say that during
a post-doc you will not be learning, if you ever stop learning in
science it's time to retire.  But by the time you are awarded a PhD you
should (and most usually can) be a valuable member of a research team
and you should be paid accordingly.  To say that post-docs are any less
productive and valuable to the lab than the PI is specious arrogance.

2) Simply because many people choose to enter science in spite of the
ridiculously pathetic salaries DOES NOT MEAN that paying pathetic
salaries is a good thing.  The two concepts are unrelated.  Science as a
profession is profoundly valuable to society and people who enter this
demoralising and frustrating profession should be rewarded accordingly.

My opinion, and it is very cynical, is this.  Because by the time that
most scientists are actually in a position to alter salaries in science,
they are a) paid reasonably and b) in a position where paying the people
below them less means getting more workers per grant, most (and not
certainly not all) PIs are not particularly interested in improving
salaries.

I don't necessarily think that scientists should recieve huge incomes
BUT the consequence of paying scientists below average wages (yes US$30
000 is below average given the education of scientists) is that science
will not attract the best minds.  The response to this is usually along
the lines of "well we don't want anyone who isn't totally dedicated" and
"if your in Science for the money, you picked the wrong profession".
This is bullcrap, very many professions use high salaries to attract the
best minds and get not only the best minds but also very dedicated
workers (eg. computing, medicine, law ....),  they also get some money
grubbing morons, but PIs should be able to tell the difference.

In addition, it annoys me that most young scientists have to spend more
time worrying about their mortgage/rent than their work.  And don't even
consider being able to afford a family, that is if you actually want to
send your own kids to college.

The sad thing is, I don't think anything will change, precisely because
the people in the position to make changes (PIs, and those on the
granting agencies) don't care.  By the time they reach those positions
they are paid reasonably well, they've forgotten what its like to be a
post-doc and have never experienced anything like the current post-doc
market and most importantly if they can shave a few bucks off a salary
they can afford another worker in the lab.

Arrgh this is too depressing, sorry people I ranted a bit much, but I
really think science is suffering from not attracting and keeping the
best minds and society as a whole will pay the penalty.

Oh and by the way, I personally am very happy with my last boss and my
present boss and I think while they haven't paid me what I think society
should pay scientists they have paid me as much as they could afford
given their grants, and I appreciate that.

cheers
Bart




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