Re. postdocs ...

Bart Janssen bjanssen at
Fri Aug 15 17:15:18 EST 1997

> Hi there

Me again.  As far as I can tell there are a lot of depresed post-docs
and grad students.  There seems to be a general understanding within the
post-doc and grad students that salaries are low and academic prospects
aren't good (kind of an understatement).  But as has been pointed out
there are other career paths that use the skill pf a PhD in science
(although from what I've seen those options are not generally applicable
to the bio field).  It does still seem difficult to get some of the
generation that are currently PIs to understand the difference between
saying that a PhD is a trained scientist and should be paid as such, and
saying that there is nothing to learn after a PhD.

So what can be done???  I personally think paying the next generation of
scientists low wages and expecting them to work insane hours is a bad
thing and I think it needs to be changed.  Ultimately, the change must
be a political one.  Ultimately, it is going to be a political decision
that will increase salaries within grants (not just increasing the total
pool of grant money but specifying that that incrase must go to an
increase in salary).

The other way in which changes can be made is incrementally, quite
simply while it is highly unlikely that PIs will raise post-doc saalries
to 40 000 it is possible that an increase of 500-1000 may be possible.
If that can happen every year for the next ten years, then we might
start to get to more reasonable numbers.  The question I have is how
many people have actually talked with their PIs about salaries and what
is reasonable for the kind of skilled work that you are doing.  In my
experience, while there are always some who simply respond with the
tired old hacks about "market forces" "you should care about science not
money" "it's a training period" (like you're an unskilled labourer),
there are also very many PIs who are aware of the problem and are
willing to make some effort ($500 or $1000 often doesn't hurt the grant
that much).  If this kind of increase happens often enough then in not
too many years we may find that the accepted salary for a post-doc is
suddenly 4-5000 higher than it is now.  This is the approach we have
taken in NZ and it works up to a point.

But as I said before ultimately the decision is political, so the change
has to be made in the minds of the politicians.  As far as I can tell
there are only a couple of ways to do that.  First and best is to change
public opinion, tell your mother what you get paid and get her to write
a letter to her local politician, don't laugh, that kind of approach has
worked before (oh yeah and don't forget to hammer home just how
important scientific research is).  The second approach is to become a
politician, hey you said you wanted career alternatives :). The third
approach is to buy a politician, but I don't think any post-docs have
enough money :).

Whatever you do, do something.  So long as you sit back and do nothing
and accept the tired old cliches then nothing will change.


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