Money and self-esteem

Leemor Joshua-Tor leemor at CSHL.ORG
Tue Sep 16 11:28:43 EST 1997

Sabine wrote:

>Hi there,
>today, when thinking about the choices I have made in the last week
>(namely to look for a job in industry and forget about academic science,
>and maybe about actively doing science at all), I came up with one thing
>which, small as it may seem, in a way looks to me like the driving factor
>in my decision making process. I don't know how typical my situation is,
>but I thought it would give a good point for discussion.
>Up to very recently, I always thought I would try
>to stay in science. Once in a while, whenever I saw people doing so much
>better outside, and whenever I saw what a hard time excellent (in all senses,
>in their subject and pretty good at political things like marketing
>people had in finding jobs, I seriously considered getting out, but this
>never lasted long. I applied for a post-doc grant, and thought everything
>be fine. However, when trying to find out what possibilities there are for me
>if this grant does not come through, I found out that nobody of the people I
>know in my field and who keep telling me how they value my work is able (or
>willing?) to pay me at least for a few months until the next deadline for
>another organization approaches. I know that I did not play this whole game
>too well politically (I don't want to go into details, but I think there would
>have been ways to pay me if I had negotiated differently with people from the
>start), but still the fact remains that these people tell me they would love
>me to work for them, but I have to bring in my own money.
>Not a very uncommon situation, but thinking about it I started to wonder
>about a few things. I admit that I am one of those people who see science
>pragmatically as a job, who have fun with their work, but who also enjoy
>(and have always managed to have at least to an amount large compared to many
>of my colleages, small compared to people I know outside science) a lot of
>other things. I wanted to stay in University because I think I am a good
>teacher and am good at doing research, besides being able to sell my work
>to other people, so I thought it was the ideal job for me. Only now I'm
>realizing that probably this is not enough - that you have to put up with
>far more than I am willing to put up with, and which you maybe can only
>put up with if you feel a far deeper love for science than I ever did.
>But then, I wonder - even if one does it for the "love of science" -
>if people do not seem to have high enough esteem for your work to pay you
>a decent salary (or to pay you at all) - is this work really worth it?
>For me, it definitely is not, so now I am definitely and seriously looking
>into other possibilities (whoever suggested patent law here a while ago -
>this is one of my favoured options at the moment, especially as there are
>presently openings at the European Patent Office, where I would even get to
>(and have to) use the 2 foreign languages I speak).
>So, the question I would like to put up here is what you feel about it -
>do you think your work is really so valuable to yourself (it it were valuable
>for society, society should pay for it) to put up with the financial situation
>as it is? Because if it is really valuable for society or your employer
>PI, whatever), doesn't the small amount of money paid for it show that
>or your boss does not esteem your work high enough, and you should go
>where this is valued?
>(Somehow I feel I am not getting clear what I really want to say, but maybe
>it starts a discussion that will clarify it.)
>Just some thoughts,
>(who's thinking too much about other things than writing the last
>chapter of her thesis)
>| Sabine Dippel     | e-mail: s.dippel at                  |
>| HLRZ              | phone : [++49] (2461) 61-2318                   |
>| FZ Juelich        | fax   : [++49] (2461) 61-2430                   |
>| 52425 Juelich     | WWW   : |
>| Germany           |                                                 |

It's really hard to tell from what you write what happened w.r.t.
having the respective PI's pay you in an interim period before
getting a postdoc fellowship. Things are also probably very different
in that respect between Europe and the US. But you have to keep a
few things in mind before passing judgement. We, the PI's, don't
have the type of control over money and salaries like some people
in this newsgroup seem to think sometimes. At universities, or research
institutions, there is no profit and we work completely from grants
that we must raise. Usually, if you are lucky to get a grant funded
which takes several months after writing one, you even get that cut,
either just an 'across the board cut' or they may cut some of the
personnel etc. that you asked for. So in most cases, there isn't much
of a margin to work from and you are almost always at the edge.
Now, unless the PIs have a slot open from a grant, a new slot from a
new grant or someone leaving it may be pretty hard to raise another
salary just like that. Especially, if this was not arranged quite a
few months in advance.
So, they probably truely would have loved to pay you, but they may just
simply not have the cash floating around. It doesn't have anything
to do with how much they value your work. That's just life these days in
academic science.


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