Postdoc salaries: A revised opinion (a long blog post I’ve tried to lighten up by turning it into modern poetry)

I. I’ve argued a few times that salaries
and benefits
are not the important issues facing postdocs*. The problems are
a funding system that promotes training too many PhDs,
multiple/long postdocs becoming the norm, and a scientific culture that favors
prestige and connections over substance.

II. But guess what?

III. No one                                                                               remotely
in any position of power has any intention
of doing anything
about “biomedical workforce” issues in the U.S.
In fact, Francis Collins and Sally Rockey have publicly stated they aren’t sure a problem exists.

III. So fuck it. This system offers you almost nothing,
so take whatever you can get.

And I mean take. Fight for as high a salary as you can get. Unionize. Demand the benefits of full time employees.
Strain the system, make PIs and universities hurt, put sand in the gears of the trainee meat grinder, write your Congressthing.
Forget about the sequester,
forget about paylines…
don’t let them make their problems your problems.

We are not all in this together.

IV. PIs are in leaky lifeboats, but you are in the water… if I were you, I would not be helping us bail.

V. Of course these things are bad and hurt Science
and even hurt trainee careers,
but not much more relative to how they are already hurting.
You don’t have a voice at the table, and you won’t
unless you can get some leverage.

The biggest mistake labor makes
is to be suckered into thinking
that they have substantially the same interests as management.
(If you want a model for this kind of failure,
take a look at how faculty unions have faired
against university administrations in the last 25 years…
and yes, these are now the people giving you career advice.
Sleep tight.)

VII. Did you, Congressthing, know the NIH is spending millions intended for research to “train” scientists we don’t need? That health research is being performed by students and temps instead of professional scientists? The we train thousands of scientists who leave the U.S. right afterwards because we don’t let them stay? That we provide free employee training for the pharma industry? That should lather up the dummies, and you’ve got your pick of dummies.

Obviously, Congress is not the answer to anything. But why not stir shit up?
The NIH doesn’t care about you.
They care about perpetuating a cheap labor boondoggle. 
No one** cares about your career, so the only way to have a voice at the table is
to find
somewhere to push
that hurts.

VIII. I don’t think this will work.
You might as well be trying
to unionize an iPad factory
in a Shenzen free trade zone.

But I have no ideas anymore.
Become an engineer.
Learn to code.



* In a nutshell, if there were reasonable expectations of a research career and training was not unreasonable long, I really don’t think postdoc working terms are bad. But in the current context, trainee labor is almost purely exploitative, and there is no rational or substantive argument that we should be training the number of biomedical PhDs that we are, let alone the number of postdocs.

** Yes, on a personal level (and let’s note with some self-interest) your PI cares about your career. They like you and want you to do well (or, you work on a glam assembly line and your PI mistakes you for a guy who came to fix the incubator. Ha ha. Kidding. How could something like that happen? It’s just a silly story. I heard it like third-hand). But take note that a huge fraction of PIs, funders, universities, and societies have not even acknowledged there is a problem that can’t be solved by more PhDs going into pharma or teaching. If you are paid from an R01, you don’t exist as far as the NIH is concerned. And if you’re on an F32, well… have you filled out your Individual Development Plan? Problem solved.


One Comment on “Postdoc salaries: A revised opinion (a long blog post I’ve tried to lighten up by turning it into modern poetry)”

  1. DJMH says:

    For that matter, if you’re on an F32/T32, kiss whatever postdoc/staff benefits you might have had goodbye, because *now* “You’re a trainee, not staff!” And you should be grateful, because it looks SO GOOD on your resume. Really.

    Shit like that is what makes me most sympathetic to unionization efforts, much though I’m not optimistic that they’ll work.

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