Some good some bad at AAAS

An article at Science Careers reviews a panel discussion on workforce issues (Panel to NIH: Do More to Reform Biomedical Training). This guy states the obvious:

Yamamoto said. “We can’t depend on new ideas from the top.”

Then, this Petsko character makes a lot of sense:

We are now running a multi-billion dollar enterprise employing umpteen-thousands of people with a structure that was created in the 1940s and ’50s for a mom-and-pop candy store operation. And it’s clear that however nice the mom-and-pop candy store operation was, we can’t do that anymore. That system … is rife with perverse incentives.

Petsko favors dramatic increases in trainee salaries to force PIs and institutions to make more careful decisions about hiring and to decrease the number of trainees.

The net effect would be to force people like me, who run labs that maybe are too large, to decide who I really want to keep and how many postdocs I really need to do my work. We’d keep better people and pay more attention to them, and if some of the groups shrunk by a good bit, what’s wrong with that?

Obviously the problem here is that not everyone runs a lab that is “maybe too large.” If a young or otherwise small-scale PI can *maybe* afford one postdoc and a couple students, that increase would be a pretty devastating blow. Someone else made noise that grad students and postdocs should be paid their “market” value. I am not sure what “market” is being referred. In law schools and medical schools, the faculty are paid much more because there is a reason to believe these people would command much higher salaries in the private sector. The fact that a pharma scientist is paid $80,000 does NOT mean that there is an $80,000 job out there “on the market” for most or even many of the ~100,000 biomedical postdocs. There is not.

I have often argued that there are ways to limit trainee numbers without raising salaries:

1. Ban spending research funding on salaries and tuition.
2. Increase the number of F awards.
3. PIs apply for F awards or they come as earmarks on grants (e.g. 2 per R01).
4. PI hires whoever they want using these awards.

I don’t see any problems here.

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One Comment on “Some good some bad at AAAS”

  1. qaz says:

    It would be really nice to decouple the postdoc/graduate student “slot” from the price. I really hate that I am responsible for negotiating how much a postdoc is paid.(*) It would be nice to have some way for me to say “I have 3 trainee slots in my lab” and then to fill them with whomever I can.

    * I don’t negotiate graduate student salaries because those are set by the graduate program, but I do have to make the decision about whether it’s worth $X to pay a graduate student or whether I should spend those $X on a postdoc or a new 3D printing machine.

    I didn’t go through my career path to run a small business, but that’s what my lab is.


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