Reclassification

Betty Woolf woolf at mpi.com
Tue Jun 17 17:45:01 EST 1997


In article <33A6FF77.35C at nospamsalk.edu>, forsburg at nospamsalk.edu wrote:

> > From: matkisso at opal.tufts.edu
> 
> > *sigh* He can change your status, or you can work the legal 40. If you
> > do
> > anything different, you'll resent it.
> >
> 
> We had this thread a while ago, about what is fair
> to expect from a tech.  IMHO, Linnea is being exploited,
> and that's not right.  In my lab, if my tech comes in
> on the weekends it's only to inoculate a culture or
> something. I am cool about him swapping time or
> pulling a long day one day to make up for a short day
> another--he works an honest 40 hours, that's what 
> he's paid for, and he's not getting a degree at the 
> end of it so there's no gain in working more for
> free.  And I can't afford the overtime.  Techs get 
> paid, students get degrees, and  postdocs get 
> advanced training, that's the bargain.
> It benefits the students and postdocs to work more
> than the minimum, because of the downstream compensation.  
> It doesnt benefit the tech in the same way.  And no one
> likes feeling used.
> 
> What really annoys me is that these sorts of PIs 
> continue to get away with it.  It's unfair and 
> disrespectful and exploitive and WRONG.
> 
> I agree with Peg: Linnea should put her foot down.  Her
> PI should classify her fairly, or she works 40 hours
> only.
> 
> And this time, please -- I am not insulting any techs out
> there, I am instead respecting them by expecting their
> work to be compensated fairly.  So please don't flame me again!

I certainly don't mean to flame you, but I see here an underlying
assumption made by PI's, postdocs, and graduate students that I've never
cared for: that techs lack the love of science that folks who choose to
pursue a PhD possess.  When I was a tech, I worked 45-55 hours per week
because I couldn't wait to get to the lab in the morning, couldn't stand
to wait until Monday to see how Friday's experiments worked out, just like
the other members of my lab.  I made a personal decision not to pursue a
PhD, and it's one I've never regretted, but it doesn't mean I don't love
science.  I wasn't thinking about "downstream compensation" -- I was
thinking how lucky I was to love my work, and the hours never bothered me
until personnel in the lab changed and I was once again judged by my title
and not my abilities.  When my work was no longer fulfilling because of
the lack of respect accorded to me due to my lack of advanced degree, I
left that lab.

It was my impression that Linnea was not so much complaining about the
amount of work, but rather the lack of recognition that went along with
the reclassification (sorry if I got this wrong -- I was in a similar
situation and that's how I reacted).  Given that she has been a lab
supervisor with her own project, it's insulting to be reclassified as
someone who "performs experiments according to standardized procedures and
*reports the results to the researcher in charge*"!!!  The PI should move
to get her reclassified immediately if he values her work.  The situation
as it stands now is certainly exploitive.  

When I was in a position similar to Linnea's, once it became clear that I
had hit the top of the ladder there and my PI wouldn't go to bat for me,
working there was intolerable.  I was quite unhappy forcing myself to only
work 40 hours -- not so much because of pressures from the PI, but because
of the type of person I am.  I am lucky to live in Boston, where there are
a lot of labs and companies to choose from, and I was lucky to find a
position with a terrific company that rewards my talents despite my lack
of an advanced degree.

I'm not saying that exploitation of techs doesn't exist -- it certainly
does, and it sounds like there's more than a little of it in Linnea's
lab.  And I'm not saying that every tech wants to work overtime with no
monetary compensation.  However, please understand that some techs can
feel "justly compensated" working 50 hours a week and being treated as an
integral part of the project, including first authorship on publications,
inclusion in strategy meetings, etc.

To Linnea, I have a few thoughts:

You could try acting, even for a few days, as though you really are only
what your job description says you are.  Ask the PI for help planning
experiments or interpreting results.  If you are performing new protocols,
ask questions even if you could figure it out yourself.  Go home after 8
hours.  If you work even 15 minutes overtime, ask for comp time. 
Depending on your situation, this may or may not work -- it sure made a
point in one situation I know of.

If you have a reasonable relationship with the PI, you could state that
your ambition is to be promoted to the next level by a specific time
(soon) and ask what you would have to do to get there.  This worked for
me.  It was difficult to be humble, because I just *knew* that the
reclassification was unfair, but at least I got to find out what was
expected, I preserved lab relationships, and my boss didn't feel
threatened.  My promotion happened within 6 weeks of the meeting about
what I would have to do -- because I was able to make my case that I was
already doing it.

If all else fails, you may be happy only if you leave that position.
Good luck!

Betty Woolf

> 
> -- 
> -susan
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> S L Forsburg, PhD  forsburg at salk.edu
> Molecular Biology and Virology Lab          
> The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA 
> http://flosun.salk.edu/~forsburg/lab.html
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