postdocs -- ask your mentor

Linnea Ista lkista at UNM.EDU
Fri Aug 15 14:41:24 EST 1997

On 15 Aug 1997, Karen Allendoerfer wrote:

> In article <Pine.SOL.3.95.970815094047.18836A-100000 at>,
> Kimberly  Snowden  <ksnowden at> wrote:
> >So shouldn't we talk about some sort of birth control on producing new
> >PhDs?  If we have such a glut of PhDs, shouldn't we limit how many we
> >produce? 
>  Other professions limit their numbers so that these problems
> >don't occur.  Unfortunately, given how difficult the funding climate is,
> >many labs are reliant on the labour of graduate students.  So how can we
> >continue to get our science done, in order to compete for the next grant,
> >without contributing to the problem of producing more warm bodies who
> Frankly, I think that more grant space and resources should be devoted to
> technicians and less to graduate students and postdocs.  I think there
> should be a kind of "permanent" job in academic and/or research science
> that isn't P.I.  Some people just like to do science, like working for a
> mentor they respect, and don't want to have to deal with all the classroom
> teaching, grant writing, committees, travelling, giving talks, etc. etc.
> I can't begin to enumerate here all the ways in which having a technician
> in a lab who is around for 5 years or more has benefitted the labs I have
> been in--in terms of organization, institutional memory, training of
> students, taking some of the load off the already overworked P.I., etc.
> And yet many labs seem to try (probably because of funding constraints) to
> get by with only transient workers--the graduate students and postdocs.

I have this sort of a job-- and I have to say I love it. One reason I
think that this isn't seen so often is something to do with funding. I
noticed when helping to prepare the grant report for this year on the
grant for which I am pretty much the sole person working on it, I was
considered a "non-enitity" by the granting agency. They (the ONR in this
case) asked about number of faculty, number of post-docs, grad students
and undergraduates working  on the project, but didn't have a listing for
research staff (my official title is Research Scientist). 
I am working in a Chemical Engineering department, where most of the grad
students are working toward an MS not a PhD (the acception being two
"regular science" students from other departments who are collaborating on
a project and in which the PI has a joint appointment). My boss likes
having me around for just the reason you cited, continuity.

I *do* help write grants and give talks at meetings, but mostly because I
don't mind so much --and two brains writing a grant, with one of them
actually being the brain of the person who will be *doing* the work, are
better than one. 

One thing that  I have found out from this discussion is that I am
woefully underpaid given my education and experience, but I also live in
New Mexico, where *everybody* is woefully underpaid. 

> When I write what I write above, I don't mean that fewer resources should
> be allocated to individual graduate students and postdocs (I agree with
> everyone who says we're underpaid, given how long it takes), I mean that
> in any given lab, there should be fewer people "in training" and more
> people who are already trained and working at a permanent job.
> And those people should be respected and paid what they're worth (including
> benefits, etc.)
And that is one thing my boss does grumble about: my benefits cost more
than those of the postdocs. I have a set amount of vacation I am allowed
by university policy to take, for example. If I don't take it, I have to
get paid for it. Everyone who is not a student at the University has the
same health coverage, but seeing how the postdocs  get taken advantage of
in terms of time off, (it is politely "suggested" at the time they begin
their employement that they take no more than 2 weeks a year off, even
though university policy allows, but does not mandate as it does for
staff, 4 plus university holidays), I can see where this is a *big* issue.

My more permanent stature also allows me to put down a few "roots"
luxuries I did not have when I was either in gradschool or working as a
"visiting instructor" at various universities. 

I am one of the more productive members of the lab and the hardest working. 
Unfortunately ( or probably fortunately for me if I decide to try for a
new job and need a letter of recommendation ;-) ), my boss sees no
correlation between my relatively "better" working climate and my
value to the lab. He attributes it all to my supposedly superior skills
and attitude, which is flattering, but slightly misplaced.

I think I have nattered on for long enough!
 Take care,

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