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postdocs -- ask your mentor

Diane Carlisle carlisle at gwis2.circ.gwu.edu
Fri Aug 15 08:31:48 EST 1997

Judith Gibber (jrg43 at columbia.edu) wrote:
: I agree with Bart, Alice, Paula, Kit, Deb, et al.: The current situation 
: for post-docs stinks.  Where I disagree is with your characterization
: of the postdoc as a "job", rather than as a "traineeship".

: In a job, you expect 
: 	a. to be there long-term
:         b. to be hired because of what you can do for the boss
: 	c. to be paid a decent salary
: Since you think a postdoc should be a job, you are understandably
: angry about c. -  not getting paid a decent salary.
: In a traineeship, you expect 
: 	a. to be there short-term
: 	b. to be there only as long as you are learning something new
: 	c. to be paid a skimpy stipend

: Looking at it this way, c., the low pay, is okay.  Most trainees are 
: paid very little.  Undergrad interns here make $1000/month;  MD residents
: earn about the same as postdocs.  It's acceptable because of a. & b.

One problem that I have with this analogy has to do with what happens
AFTER residency vs postdoc positions.  We (residents and postdocs) both
have all kinds of student loans to pay back.  But the beginning salary of
an MD after residency is considerably more than a Ph.D's, and increases
much more quickly (thats even assuming that the Ph.D. finds an assistant
professor position after 1 postdoc).  


: I think that the postdoc should be a training period, and we should 
: focus on changing it back to what it was:  a) a short-term position and
: b) a chance to broaden one's scientific skills by learning something new.

: Phrasing the problem this way suggests alternative solutions. For example, 

: 1. Scoring of PI's grant proposals could include a factor based on the
: success of their postdocs:  A higher score if a postdoc gets a permanent
: job after 1-2 years in the lab, a lower score if the same postdocs hang
: around for >3 years.  PIs would be pressured to make the postdoc a 
: short-term position.

: 2. PI's could be required to show that postdocs they support will be doing 
: something substantially different from the area of their graduate
: research.  PI's would only get those postdocs whom they are willing to
: train, rather than taking those postdocs who already have the needed
: skills and can churn out the most papers.

: 3. "Additional solutions are obvious, and are left to the reader as an
: exercise."  ;)

: (NOTE:  I mean the above as an approach to the problem of postdocs
: in general.  I realize full well that for any individual postdoc, 
: batting around imaginary solutions like this may seem trivial compared
: to the more immediate problem of no money in the wallet.)

This is all interesting stuff, but one major problem (IMHO) that none of
this addresses is the fact that many people are forced to do more than one
post-doc before they get that "real" position.  Most solutions like this
will both prejudice the system against those people that don't find a
position immediately after a 1-2 year post-doc, and (at least initially)
put more people in competition for the limited number of postions out

I wouldn't be so concerned about the immediate problem of no money in the
wallet as a post-doc, if I felt like if was limited to certain length of
time.  But, with as common as multiple post-docs have become, my 
perception is that it can last almost indefinately.  

If someone can sincerely tell me that my perception of the situation is
incorrect, please do.  Its based on the faculty search that my dept just
finished.  I noticed that almost all of the candidates had more than one
post-doc, or one very one post-doc.  In fact, one of the candidates was in
her 4th post-doc. It was quite an eye-opening experience for me (and 
a pretty discouraging one at that).  



May 9th, 1998 is approaching quickly......  Will you be ready?

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