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postdocs -- ask your mentor

Judith Gibber jrg43 at columbia.edu
Fri Aug 15 18:30:57 EST 1997

On Fri, 15 Aug 1997, aloisia schmid wrote:
> Judith mentioned as comparisons undergraduate internships or MD
> residencies, both of which she thinks suffer from being paid in the low
> 20's.  But I don't think those are valid comparisons.  

I was not comparing MD careers to Phd careers.  I was defining the 
concept of traineeships, and bringing to examples to support this.
These are both examples where a stipend is paid that is much less 
than a real job in the same field would pay.  This low pay is acceptable, 
because it is understood that the trainee is learning new skills, 
and because it is understood that this will last just a short time.

I agree that the postdoc position today does not meet the criteria
of that definition.  I think we should act to make it conform to the
definition, rather than act to make it conform to the definition of 

> O.K., so if there are 2000 post-docs now, and they earn about $20,000 then
> currently there is about $40,000,000 per year spent on post-doc salaries. 

So increasing the stipend to make it a real salary would entail 
doubling the funds devoted to supporting postdocs.   I think this is 
unlikely to happen.  By the way, I just saw an article today putting the 
figure at about 15,000 postdocs.

> > 
> So let's just say that we institute that change.  What's to say that we
> don't then simply see PIs using post-docs as cheap labor for 2 years and
> then pushing them out the lab?  

For the individual postdoc?  A horrifying situation.  
For the community of scientists?  Just what we need:  short term postdocs.
This wouldn't be "cheap labor" if the postdoc is getting training.

> jobs after only a year in their labs!  Because it would be virtually
> impossible in this day and age for a psot-doc to get a good job in
> academics after two years as a psot-doc---mainly because the publication
> requirements will not be met.

Again, I am not suggesting that an individual postdoc take this 
reform on themselves!  Obviously, the individual in this day and age must
do what is needed to survive.  I am suggesting that IDEALLY, we should
reform the situation such that ALL postdocs were short term.  Postdocs
would be competing with other newly trained individuals, none of whom 
have accumulated scores of publications.

I would be willing to bet that increasing
> post-doc salaries would do nothing but improve the situation on all
> fronts.  

I think not.   It would simply make postdocs more desirable positions.
More people would go for PhDs and postdocs, and the funds to support 
them all would again be insufficient.

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