Graduate student's loosing Assistantships.

Nicholas Landau nlandau at eden.rutgers.edu
Mon Jul 29 18:40:02 EST 1996

Doug Stemke <dstemke at umabnet.ab.umd.edu> writes:

>Hello.  I am a postdoc doing my third term as a postdoc.  That is not what
>I'm writing to this news group about, however.  In my trips through
>various Universities I've seen a nasty tendency to cut support off for
>students.  In some cases it was because the student, while making
>progress, couldn't get that 'perfect gel' or ran into some other difficulty
>in the project.  The other problems are related to cash-flow in the lab
>where the student comes up high and dry.  In two cases while I was in
>Baltimore I saw students expected to continue their research even though
>they were without pay for as long as a year.

The problem is pretty simple.  Here in the USA, there are just too many
graduate students.  By "too many" I mean "more than will get jobs" and
I also mean "more than can be funded."  The most basic reason for this
is that a grad is much cheaper than a lab tech, even while the student
in receiving stipend and tuition.  The declining welfare of grad students,
and the evaporating job prospects for young Ph.D.s in the USA, has
scared US citizens away from the sciences.  Most labs, as far as I can
tell, are mainly comprised of foreign nationals, to whom just living in the
US is a considerable benefit.

None of this is likely to change until one of two things happens: (1)
funding is alocated to create more positions for Ph.D.s here, or (2)
policies are passed as the institutional level which prevent PIs from
accruing excessive numbers of graduate students.

There are a number of schools in the USA in which the grad students are
organized into unions, although the students are often not terribly
dedicated to improving their own conditions.  We students spend more
time worrying about getting out of grad school than worrying about
how to improve the place.

I know that the grad students at the U. of Massachusetts are organized
under UAW, and they seem to have a lot of benefits as a results.  The
grads at Rutgers are in the same bargaining unit as the staff, but the
situation at Rutgers is not so good.  Last I heard, students, faculty and
staff had been working without a contract for over a year; one of the
sticking points was a cost of living increase for the grad assistants
(who have received no salary increases in something like 10 years.)

>I know that in Canada (U. Alberta and Dahauser (spelling?) U. in Nova
>Scotia) there are special committees set up to watch out for the student's
>interests.  This often included faculty from outside the University to
>independently judge the student's progress and watch out for their

That would be nice, but I think that students are going to have to
do it for themselves.  After all, both faculty and administration
have interests in conflict with those of the students.  Faculty will
often hang onto grad students as long as possible and accept too
many students in the lab; of course, the faculty get plenty of free
labor from this system.  The administration, especially in state
schools (and ESPECIALLY at Rutgers,) has its eye only on the bottom
line, and has no interest in assuring that students receive funds
from the university.  Political imperitives to slice state budgets
have changed many schools' priorities from the education of students
to the obtaining of tuition.  Tuition and fees go up, enrollment goes
up, and assistantships and scholarships go down.

I've been lucky so far, my advisors all being ethical people.  However,
I would say the majority of the students I have known well have been
mistreated by the system.  People who should be sent away from their
studies are allowed to flounder and fail for years.  People are told
that their project has failed, assigned another, only to have the
data from the first published without their name.  Worst of all are
those who succeed and excell at the graduate level, obtain a doctorate,
and then go to law or medical school because there are no jobs available.

Is it any different in other countries?

Nick Landau

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