postdocs -- ask your mentor

Bart Janssen bjanssen at
Fri Aug 15 17:42:38 EST 1997

Judith Gibber wrote:

> My point was that postdocs were never intended as "jobs" at all.
> They were intended as short-term training periods, accompanied by
> stipends, which are always lower than the salary a job would pay.

Not true, for very many post-doctoral fellows, the fellowship was very
generous, often tax free, and frequently included benefits such as
overseas travel.  I remember when I was a grad student those people on
such post-doc fellowships were considered lucky.  What has happened in
the last 15-30 years is that many of those fellowships are now funding
twice as many post-docs from the same pool of money.  Since we've
already used him as an example Jim Watson was considered a rising star
before he went to England, thats why he got the fellowship, and remember
he was the one that was considered the rich American by the local
scientists (he could afford the beers).  At least that's my memory from
the histories that I  have read.  I am also pretty sure no one ever
thought Linus Pauling was anything but brilliant at any stage of his

> In light of this, I found Bart's
> assumption that "a postdoc should not be and is not a training period"
> puzzling.  It SHOULD be.  If it's not working out that way, you should
> rage, rage against the dying of the traineeship.

Doh (sorry that's kind of insulting but tough).  I've said several times
that the point isn't that you don't learn anything during the post-doc,
of course you do.  The point is that having gone through a PhD you are a
highly skilled and trained scientist already (if you don't believe that
then try explaining what you do to a cab driver!).  As such you should
be paid for the skills you do have.  The fact that you have more to
learn is irrelevant, every PI has more to learn, every doctor has more
to learn, every graduate of the bar has more to learn, but all these
people are still paid for what they already know at the same time as
they continue to learn.

To call a post-doctoral scientist a trainee or a student is insulting.
It is also self serving propganda.  If I call you a trainee or a student
(in spite of your experience) then it's OK for me to pay you this

> >      What I think we all find so appalling is that we are expected
> to
> > continue to train and train with so little MONEY!
> I'm right behind you on that.  It's awful that the scientific
> enterprise
> is in such a state that people are compelled to spend years as
> low-paid
> postdocs because there are too few jobs available.  I just think that
> some
> historical perspective on how the situation developed would be useful,
> and might help direct efforts to try to remedy it.

You are still not getting the point.  A post-doctoral scientist should
never be paid the kind of salary that they are currently paid, no matter
how long it is before they get a "real job".

Ok deep breath calm down (a bit).  I'm sorry.  A lot of what I wrote
above is angry and somewhat rude and for that I apologise (I guess I
should crawl back into my hole and lurk again).  Maybe it's the


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