Whining, Immigrants and the American Way

Dec 05 2008 Published by under Careerism

Research science differs in few ways that matter when it comes to the political, economical and social power structures of the workplace. Even including the fact that the powers that be use the implicit and explicit argument that we are in a unique environment placed outside of normal job-space as a tool to pull the usual exploitative, hierarchical shenanigans. (I should say "necessary" shenanigans. Do not, DearReader, confuse my analysis of the situation with an objection to capitalistic social structures per se. Consider it rather an exhortation to consider science a career path that requires many of the same bandaids and workarounds that we've found to improve other workplaces.)
My rather sustained focus on careerism issues is easily fitted into a larger picture of my understanding that science is just another job in many essentials. One of these essentials is, of course, the relationship of the industry to its labor force.


In a recent discussion, our grumpy Uncle S. Rivlin has been pursuing his thesis that native American scientists are lazy, whiny lame-o's who are being bested by hard working immigrant labor:

I've said it before and I'll say it again, American students (undergraduate and graduate) and postdocs are spoiled whiners. Many of them have no work ethics, no self discipline and no real plan and direction of how and where to go in their future. This is in contrast to the majority of foreign students and postdocs who come to this country and over-achieve significantly compared to their American counterparts. Most foreigners experienced tougher hardships than any American student, they originate from families where there is greater respect to the parents and the elderly, and where the university is a place you go to study, not to party.

Wow. Strong stuff. Can he get even more inflammatory?

...as is the case in most American universities today, you can easily distinguish between the hard-working, over-achieving Chinese students and the spoiled, whining American ones. Moreover, the results of this hard work can be seen in the list of authors on many publications in scientific journals of high IF.

Yowsa, Sol!
Except I agree. Sort of.
This is the history of our country. Nativists and reflexive bigots aside, it is indubitably the case that some significant segment of new immigrants to the US come in and work their tails off to succeed. Making sacrifices and doing jobs that the native born disproportionately refuse to do. This has been going on for hundreds of years. The offspring of prior generations of hardworking immigrants are our native born who are now, well, whining about the current immigrants. Because they, in the security of already being advantaged by being US residents for at least a generation, can afford to have....airs.
Look, I don't mean in a bad way. It is a good thing that US citizens are relatively comfortable, on average. That we can afford to be snooty about what we will and will not do to earn a living. That we can afford to have conceits about lifestyle, as opposed to sacrificing all to succeed vocationally or economically.
And saying that immigrants disproportionately work their tails off doesn't mean that some significant fraction of nonimmigrants doesn't also work their tails off and sacrifice. A large number of non-immigrants do work hard. Most certainly.
Academic science careers differ very little from the general plan. Some grad students and post docs keep their noses to the grindstone, work insane hours, are wackaloon productive and succeed accordingly. Some trainees are, for reasons multihued and varied, less committed to the workplace because of other lifestyle choices. And their career success is shaped accordingly. It is not a direct relationship between hours worked and career success, far from it. There is a correlation, however.
So what? Is this news to anyone?
You want to have "balance" and other things like hobbies, family or a "life" you are going to have to accept that things are going to be harder and less certain in your academic career. This is obvious, right?
I am pretty upfront about the fact that I make the "balance" choice in my career. I advocate for fairness and opportunity for those that want balance in their lives, I think this is a societal Good. But never think that I ignore the fundamental reality that those that dump everything into their scientific work are going to, on average, be more productive. One thing I try to slip in now and again is that when you make balancing choices it is imperative that you understand the risks to career that you are running.
And we should face facts. On average, immigrant scientists are going to be more likely to prioritize work over "balance". Not exclusively, let's not get into that ignorance here. When you have substantially overlapping distributions, the group identity tells you next to nothing useful about the individual in front of you absent more specific performance information. Sol's intemperate comments are just reflective of the general trends of workplaces that we've seen over and over and over again in the US. Get. Over. It.
Now, the practicalities are devilish and detailed. We're in a deep hole economically and in such times there is an argument for a degree of nativism. "Buy American" when it comes to your postdocs and Assistant Professors, if you will. I'm not sure the general principle of globalism versus parochialism in economic recovery is going to be settled in labs. But labs should certainly be seen as part and parcel of the general picture. Whatever is good for the Big Three automakers ought to be good for the Ivy League.
Fascinatingly, it was Uncle Sol hissowndamnself who in prior discussions was pointing out that excessive focus on science careerism was actually a BadThing for science itself! And unfortunately this is indeed one darkside to immigrant scientists if they have their balance shifted so far to the "success no matter the cost" direction that it tips over to the cheating and data faking side. Careful, careful here people. I'm talking on average and we should realize that my point generalizes to anyone who tips over so far to the side of "success" by any measure that cheating becomes acceptable. I'm just saying that if being kicked out of the lab for lack of productivity means being deported back to a place you are keen on never seeing again, this may change the importance relative to going back to Peoria. Again, averages people, averages.
Okay, enough blather from me. Did I have a point? Yeah. Sol is totally right that immigrant scientists work harder than domestic trainees.
N.b.: Let's try to keep away from any overheated rhetoric about particular ethnic or country-of-origin classes in the comments please.

54 responses so far

  • juniorprof says:

    I'm just saying that if being kicked out of the lab for lack of productivity means being deported back to a place you are keen on never seeing again, this may change the importance relative to going back to Peoria.
    This is undoubtedly true but I have seen it turn into a reason for what I would consider abuse and coercion on more than one occassion. The problem is making a sufficient case to bring action against such abusers and coercers.
    I would also add that this argument is not US specific. I have heard the same argument (that immigrant trainees work harder) from colleagues throughout Europe. Moreover, as DM notes, Sol is completely wrong to label a certain nation's immigrant trainees as the hardest working (if that is what he meant). I've seen immigrant trainees from all over the world working in a variety of labs. The people that I have known that least want to go home are the most likely to work the most insane number of hours. Often times to the detriment of their actually productivity, in my view.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Agreed. My objections are to Sol taking differing circumstances and turning them into a referendum on the intrinsic worth of the people involved and to his comparison of a highly selected population to a general population.
    Well, that and the personal superiority that he somehow finds in not being one of the current generation of grad students. I don't get that at all.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    First, DM is less blunt than I was and, of course, more elaborate. For that I thank him.
    Second, I mentioned one group of immigrant students because they are the biggest group in the US and thus does have the greatest impact. This, however, in no way meant to reduce the achievements and hard work of most other immigrants who come to this country, as DM so eloquently explained.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Stephanie,
    Pointing out certain deficits in one, does not necessarilly mean personal superiority by the pointer.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    I am a fourth generation Texan who immigrated to the United States. My hobby is model airplanes. When I started PhD work I gave models up and did not resume until I made Full Professor, a period of some 15 years. Later I decided to focus on a particular area of research and dropped out for about five years. When I became Department Chair, I took up models again to help retain my sanity. Now I am retired back to Texas and doing lots of models.
    I think having a non-obsessive hobby might be a good thing whilst going at the career full steam.

  • lost academic says:

    I must agree with Sol. We all fall into the trap of dual or multiple critique, or the lack of doing so. We are poorly trained, I think, or just indoctrinated accidentally that the criticism of one item or method is necessarily an implicit support of the antithesis of that item. People usually don't mean that, and it's a waste of time for all of us to make such assumptions.
    At any time in any given scenario there will be an ideal type of person with a certain background or focus on the work that will prove to be ideally suited to the solution(s). If there's enough luck, perhaps, one can see what that will be beforehand and not just after the fact. But that's generally going to be pretty situationally dependent, and don't all of our situations change in so many ways every day?
    We're all Good For Science, you might say, but that's because it's a 'we'.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Sol, you may well be correct that the last part is something I'm reading in. Our communication styles are very different.

  • Becca says:

    "I'm just saying that if being kicked out of the lab for lack of productivity means being deported back to a place you are keen on never seeing again, this may change the importance relative to going back to Peoria."
    OMGWTFareyouBBQing?
    Have you been to Peoria?!!?!
    *shudders*
    It's worse than KKKankakee!
    So like, immigrants are great. But you know, African immigrants aren't underrepresented in STEM fields, unlike African Americans. Ergo, African Americans must be...?
    Uhm, NO!
    One has to meet some fairly strict selection criteria to come to the US. Historically, they have often been people who were very driven to succeed. We don't take the tired.
    Many of the Africans immigrants the US gets are from places like Nigeria, and they are every bit as socially-priviledged, *on a relative scale* as the Yalie legacies here. We don't take the (world's) poor.
    Furthermore, if we're doing it right (and we might not be) there's a good chance we're getting some of the very brightest among the 1.4billion Chinese people to come and do science for us. This is the "they have more honors kids than we have kids" issue.
    We don't take the huddled masses.
    Immigration to the US is a deep and important piece of our culture. There is also a pernicious strain of evil-petty-minded "let's just build a fence and keep out everyone who isn't a HardWorkingAmerican(tm)" jingoism in some Americans(as CPP has attested to). So I can understand why we'd want to defend immigrants as hard working. But analyzing this with *only* disscussion of work ethic is misleading too.

  • Interrobang says:

    In terms of focus and the possible lack of direction in immigrants versus native-born (North) Americans, one thing I've noticed personally is that immigrant parents tend to be much harder on their offspring about not just choosing a vocation young, but sticking to it and doing well at it. (This is so common it's a cliche by now.) I won't say it doesn't happen among native-born people; it sure does. (The most tragic case I ever saw involved a guy whose family had been here for generations. His parents had somehow decided before he was born what he was going to do for a living when he grew up, and trained him -- in all senses of the word -- accordingly. I never saw a teenager who was so non-rebellious.)
    The difference in family culture could very well account for some of that focus, when one set of parents may very well tell the kid at a young age, "You're going to be a scientist when you grow up," and the other might wring their hands and give half-assed ignorant suggestions when their child is floundering at finding a major in university...

  • LMh says:

    As a native-born American graduate student in chemistry working with immigrant students, I can tell you that some of the difference in work ethic comes not only from being from another country, but from a different class. I am from a blue collar background and far and away the most educated person in my family - other immigrants from similar backgrounds also work quite hard. We have some "upper class" immigrants who don't work as hard and feel as though they are entitled to things without having to work as hard.
    It seems to me that another contributor (as a generalization) is your desire not to return to government cheese and teenage pregnancy OR that country of origin you were escaping.
    The real question - how do I instill in my offspring the desire to work hard, and that you are not entitled to anything? If I and my husband do our jobs correctly and don't return to the class from where we came, our kid will have a higher probability of being a spoiled pain in the ass.

  • Cashmoney says:

    Sure interrobang but look what happened to Marinovich later.
    (I'm here all week)

  • I'm not going to get into an argument with anyone, but thought I would add my 2c worth as a non-American who came the US to do a postdoc and is now a junior faculty here.
    Firstly, yes, my PhD was free. It didn't cost me one single cent. The government in the land far, far away makes research higher degrees free for its citizens in the hope of encouraging them to stay. What it doesn't do is provide adequate research funding to allow them to stay once they earn their degrees, hence the decision to relocate.
    Secondly, yes, I found that I was working my ass off during my postdoc and that was partially due to (1) my amazing personal work ethic and (2) the ever-present fear that I would have to leave within a very short time frame if I lost my job, regardless of the reason (J-1: 30days, H-1B: 10days).
    From a personal standpoint, I came from a low working class background, had to work my way through college (which included taking several years off between undergrad and grad school) and continued to do so during grad school even though I was on a scholarship. Financially, it cost me EVERY SINGLE THING I OWNED to fund my move to the US so that is another factor that drives my will/need to succeed here.
    My opinion? The American grad students and postdocs I've worked with have all worked incredibly hard and I wouldn't say that there were many differences between us in terms of work ethic. The motivation behind this may be different, but the outcome is still the same.
    One small point for Sol: you are assuming that all of those foreign sounding names on papers are from recent immigrants but you haven't considered the fact even the 4th and 5th generations of descendants from immigrants still choose to give their children traditional names from their ancestral homeland ...
    Thus endeth the rant.

  • DSKS says:

    It's worth noting that the success of the US is in no small part due to the propensity of its citizenry to "whine" and stamp their feet whenever they don't get things their way (indeed, it is a founding principle of the country). Because generally, it has consistently led them to dream up all sorts of innovative and ingenious methods to reverse the problem.
    Paternalistic autocracies, on the other hand, tend to be quite stagnant in terms of quality of life and liberty, and in terms of innovation.

  • DM,
    I think both you and Sol are wrong on this one.
    Firstly, I'd like to see the data that immigrant students/scientists are more productive than US ones.
    And leaving that aside, Becca nailed part of it. Foreign students are selected for drive and academic achievement. what Becca didn't point out was another equally important factor---over the past 25 years, the systematic war on science and its social image, the inability of funding to keep up with wither growth/inflation as well as with other areas/professions/careers etc, have provided lesser and lesser incentive for top American talent to join the ranks of science. That doesn't mean it isn't there---just that science looks pretty unattractive as a career.
    For most foreign students, the financial aspect of science here was historically better than most careers back home. I should know. The financial power balance is now slowly shifting, but is still quite heavily in favor of the US.
    Anyway, so the USA is importing top talent from abroad while also failing to provide significant incentives to its top talent to pursue careers in science. Should there be a performance disparity (and I am not conceding that) is it really surprising?
    Also, I would love to get into a discussion on how one defines hard work and productivity---Fucking around for 15 hours every day in a lab or getting on a bunch of papers from a prolifically publishing lab don't necessarily indicate either superior work ethic or superior scientific skill/performance.

  • Lora says:

    Eh...I think in some respects you are both wrong.
    In the case of many postdocs and grad students, either foreign-born or national, I would argue that hard work specifically does NOT result in success for many. At least, success in the material sense of finally getting gainful employment with a 401(k) and all that. For sure, success proportional to the work put in, definitely not. This, specifically, is what a lot of postdocs are currently bitching about--that you get stuck doing postdoc after postdoc after postdoc, for decades on end, with no hope in sight because of simple economics. Not enough academic, or even industry jobs, to go round. Working longer hours will not make it so, drinking more coffee will not magic more jobs out of thin air.
    It has nothing to do with how many hours spent in the lab; you know as well as I do that being over-tired and over-caffeinated, spending all your time pouring liters of agarose and grading exams, is not the way to conjure up brilliant insights.
    Plenty of my immigrant colleagues are on flex time for family reasons, or are in at 9 and out at 5, and spend half of every meeting fussing at their Blackberries. And they still get wonderful publications in sexy journals and lots of awards, patents, promotions etc. I guess my observations just do not match yours and Sol's at all.
    My personal observation is that recent immigrants spend a LOT more time networking and working on the career side of things than the native born USAians: They participate with enthusiasm in professional societies, have their own nationality-associated societies (SAPA, CASTAF, RASA, etc.), they make a concerted effort to strike up conversations and introduce themselves to people at conferences, exchange business cards. Whereas I see the American students sort of huddled in a clique with their friends, not making any effort, only spending time with others like themselves. This is not how you find out about upcoming job openings, how you talk to venture capitalists about funding your startup, or how you connect to new collaborators.

  • TreeFish says:

    I worked really hard in graduate school, and pull approximately the same as hours as a post doc, but the 1-hour-each-way commute brings my 12-13 hour a day in lab to 10-10.5 as a post doc. I promised Mrs. TreeFish that we would end up where we are now, and then end up where I just accepted a tenure-track position. There is not one thing I wouldn't have done to end up where we are; Mrs TreeFish is happy, I am happy, and we both were still able to achieve our lifelong dreams...professionally and personally.
    If I am tired, I have a smoke...or a tea...or a coffee...of a MiniThin...or, I do push-ups. I don't give a flying fuck about the fuckwads jackasses who smell the cigarette on my quilted flannel. I am achieving a goddamn dream here, so sniff your fucking ass of. You want smell my feet? Me, neither.
    My point is that I always know there is someone out there...working harder than me...thinker harder...reading the TINS article that I've been putting off...doing another round of experiments to get that fucking protocol to work right...waking up with histograms pasted to their drooling-sleeping-face...But, I do know that if push comes to shove, I will learn from THEM. If you want TreeFish to throw down, get ready for an urban-raised, non-college-educated parents but my brother's a Harvard-trained-neurosurgeon, whiteboy ass-whooping. These immigrants of whom you speak make up some part of that population, but there are also people just like me.
    The silverback is always influenced by the silverback whom he defeats. Same goes in science; we leave the dinner table just a little bit hungry, so that the next meal is even more delicious than the previous one...and we don't give a shit if it's a piece of Oscar Mayer turkey wrapped in two pieces of Kraft American cheese. We eat the motherfucking shit, we give thanks, and then we go back to knowing that the next meal isn't any more guaranteed than our kids college fund.
    Bottom line: it doesn't matter who the peeps are that are working their ass off...the only thing that matters is that you are one of them.
    Non-sequitur: In Vonnegut's novel, Slapstick, the Chinese found a way to reduce their size to sub-micron levels. They were therefore able to get by on next to nothing, and pursue science and technology with all the saved monies. They end up ruling the world, as tiny, sub-micron people, who depend on two really weird twins to save the world. You can either be really small, or a weird twin, but the one thing you hafta do in science, is rule and save your own goddamn world.
    Lemon, out.

  • leigh says:

    so we're basing this entire discussion upon names on papers? i find that a little... lacking. we're making wild ass assumptions about everything leading up to the publication of said papers, including the origin of the birth certificate of the author whose name sounds foreign. how much more unscientific can we get here?
    why not bring up class issues too then? if we're going to speculate, how much you want to bet a lot of these folks are pursuing a better life to escape poverty? it's a strong motivator that sticks with you. every hour i work now makes for many hours i can live in comfort later on down the road, one hour i don't have to worry about going back to that life.
    i don't think that we can make any conclusions whatsoever based upon this kind of speculation, no matter the height of the pile in the discussion.

  • cashmoney says:

    that part was the non sequitur, TF?

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    The real question - how do I instill in my offspring the desire to work hard, and that you are not entitled to anything? If I and my husband do our jobs correctly and don't return to the class from where we came, our kid will have a higher probability of being a spoiled pain in the ass.

    The textbook answer is: don't let them have anything without sweating for it. How they (you) live when they're teens sets their expectations for when they're young adults.
    When I see a high-school parking lot full of Lexuses and Beemers (and I do, I do) then I know that I'm looking at kids who are headed for one of two fates: either Mummy and Daddy are going to grease the way so that Junior has to really work at screwing up or Junior is going to learn some hard lessons when the family stops paying the bills.
    "Living poor" is not only a damn fine financial plan, it's the best kind of lesson: example.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    so we're basing this entire discussion upon names on papers? i find that a little... lacking.
    Oh come on now leigh. sure anecdotes are not data. but c'mon.
    if you work in a research university environment, you tend to have a big sample. labs you work in, near and around each and every day. multiply that by the spouse who also happens to be in science. add up the several different institutions you may have been around from grad to PIdom.
    then you post some schmack on a blog and people chime in as though they know exactly what you are talking about.
    this goes beyond paper authors...
    so if someone else has anecdotes to put up against the wall with mine, throw down. do you work in an area or institution that is NOT populated by immigrant scientists? (as a matter of fact my fields are not presently all that populated by nonUSAians in comparison to other labs in different fields that I know and see on a regular basis)
    but I'll take the point about economic background being as good as immigrant status as a predictor. much of the time the two variables are conflated in my datastream.
    becca and AM on selection bias- yeah, good points. is it directly relevant to mine though? I may have given the impression I was only talking about "effort" but I'm perfectly willing to entertain the notion that immigrants trainees are just plain smarter as well.

  • lylebot says:

    If the null hypothesis is that immigrant students are just as likely as American students to try to get out of work, then I can't say I have seen evidence to reject it. Their methods may differ, and the specific type of work they try to avoid may differ, but overall I think my Chinese and Indian students try just as hard to get out of doing things they don't want to do as my American students.
    My sample is biased though. I have a lot more Chinese and Indian students than American students.

  • It's fucking awesome that Solly can't control himself, as it is very instructive for young scientists to get a clear picture of the particular category of deranged scuzbucket senior scientist Solly represents who are secreted away in dank musty corners of academia just waiting for the opportunity to indulge their sick prejudices that have been steeped in decades of bitter disappointment.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    I may have given the impression I was only talking about "effort" but I'm perfectly willing to entertain the notion that immigrants trainees are just plain smarter as well.
    Good point, DM.
    Now, to all of those who argue that authorship in CNS papers is either anecdotal or does not really mean anything, allow me to bring another point, which I am sure many will tip toe around, but I won't.
    Look at the number of Jewish Nobel laureates in proportion to their numbers in the world population. Are they smarter than the rest of the ethnic groups or is it up-bringing, family structure, tradition, necessities or discrimination that have made them achievers?
    Mark my word, in the next few decades we'll see increasing number of Chinese, Korean and Indian Nobel Prize winners, and most of them will be graduates and/or postdocs from American universities.

  • Becca says:

    DM- it is directly relevant to your point. It is not a direct refutation of your point... your point is not without merit. I'm just saying your explaination is not the only relevant one, or even a primary cause.
    (always assuming that the phenomenon described by your anecdotal data stands up to rigorous analysis and shouldn't just be swept away with "sterotypes we know and love but that have absolutely no basis in reality"... I think I've already alluded to why we might *want* to believe this one, whether or not it's *true*; since it's obviously it's not the sort of thing that lends itself to handy quantitative objective data analysis, this leads me to be cautious in believing it... as Dr. Isis might say, questioning assumptions of comfortable beliefs is always totally hot)

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Look at the number of Jewish Nobel laureates in proportion to their numbers in the world population. Are they smarter than the rest of the ethnic groups or is it up-bringing, family structure, tradition, necessities or discrimination that have made them achievers?
    Is this Razib's blog?
    /looks around

  • S. Rivlin says:

    CPP, if you just knew how happy I am and were as a scientist. Hard work has always worked for me. Mix it with a little bit of luck, working for and with the right mentors and collaborators, keen eye for spotting pompous asses who are nothing but hot air baloons and staying away from them, and, of course, my own smarts, all have made me a happy scientist.
    BTW, what sick prejudices are you talking about? And I want to thank you for your contribution to the current discussion here; heavy stuff!

  • DM,
    ---"but I'm perfectly willing to entertain the notion that immigrants trainees are just plain smarter as well"----
    If you concede selection bias, then this is merely a logical extension.
    Smart people abroad find the scientific system here lucrative compared to their options at home. A lot of smart people here have been incentivized to go to Wall St or K street or the sports industry or the entertainment industry at large or any of a number of careers where they can make at least twice the money for half the stress compared to science. In a capitalist society, talent will largely follow the money. Absent of competitive career/financial incentives, you end up relying increasingly on the fraction of smart people who are also willing to/can afford to?/ take on the increasingly worse odds and make the sacrifices it takes to make it through the PhD and postdoc years and then some more.
    All that having been said, I still don't but the fact that pound-for-pound, immigrant scientists are more productive. Many focused people can accomplish in five hours what it takes an average dude or dudette ten to accomplish.
    Another peripheral factor---I think a lot of people mistake the absence of any social life (or the lack of the desire to integrate with the host country's practices and traditions) with a better work ethic.

  • Becca says:

    "Are they smarter than the rest of the ethnic groups or is it up-bringing, family structure, tradition, necessities or discrimination that have made them achievers?"
    Yes.
    We also control all the money.
    "Now, to all of those who argue that authorship in CNS papers is either anecdotal or does not really mean anything,"
    FAIL!
    I (at least) conceeded this point for the sake of discussion. I granted you your metric for testing your hypothesis and you're still wrong.
    It's not like there aren't more Chinese authors in scientific papers then there used to be. There have been amazing strides in globalization, education, and STEM training in China. And it's not like there aren't just more frickin Chinese out there than there used to be. So your hypothesis (Chinese students are becoming The Awesome) is probably partially right, even if it failed by your own measure.
    Yet your airy assurances that Teh Chinese are kicking USian butts (ergo USians must be lazy bumskis) is patently false. Even were it true (and likely it eventually will be, due to sheer numbers), the assumption that work ethic would be the cause is totally without evidence.
    You can do better, S. Rivlin...

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Becca,
    I have already did much better than expected. You took CPP place cursing me; CPP himself made a short appearance here to add to your vulgarity, DM devoted a whole post with active discussion to the topic, etc, etc.
    Can you do better?

  • Hey Rivlin,
    Becca's posts were cursing and CPP added to her vulgarity?
    Dude, you're fucking pathetic. Now thank me for giving you legitimate reason to whine about profanity.

  • One side note: do you think that these hard-working immigrant types will be likely to have problems advancing within the US science system due to problems with English? (Not that all immigrants have difficulty with English, but it's not unheard of and can cause problems with grant-writing etc once one is out from the protective rewriting wing of one's PI.) I'm never sure if the extra hours get canceled out by the unluckiness of not speaking English as a mother tongue.

  • Dave says:

    Based on personal observations , I agree with Sol. But based on several years experience on admissions committees for two different graduate programs, I disagree with the inference that non-American students are somehow better at grad school than American students.
    Foreign students tend to be better performers in U.S. schools because the selection process for foreign students has been much more rigorous than for domestic students. Thus, Sol only sees the very best foreign students, whereas he's more likely to see mediocre American students.
    First, relatively few foreign students ever even get the opportunity to apply to grad school. Just about any U.S. citizen willing to pay (or take out loans) can get a college degree, which makes just about any U.S. citizen minimally eligible for grad school. In many other countries, however, college education is more heavily subsidized and only the best students gain undergraduate admission. So the worst foreign students never get a bachelor's degree.
    Second, only the most privileged and 'clued in' foreign college students tend to apply to U.S. institutions. Mediocre foreign students aren't aware that a U.S. graduate degree is relatively valued in world academia; mediocre foreign students aren't motivated enough to spend several years abroad; mediocre foreign students can't navigate the potentially hard-to-understand U.S. application process.
    Third, the hurdles for admission to a U.S. graduate program tend to be higher for foreign applicants compared to domestic applicants. There are several reasons for this: 1) It is not easy or cheap to interview foreign applicants; therefore, only 'sure thing' students tend to get admitted. 2) Preference is given to domestic applicants because U.S. citizens are eligible for training grants that foreigners are not. Domestic students are therefore potentially less of a financial burden on the PI or program. 3) Xenophobia. Language and culture issues can sometimes be annoying to deal with, so it's easier to avoid them unless it's obvious that the foreign applicant has excellent English language skills or previous U.S. experience (which only the very best foreign applicants have). 4) Ultimately, U.S. institutions subsidized by U.S. taxpayers (which is all research institutions, either through federal funding or state support) have somewhat of an obligation to train U.S. workers before foreign ones.
    So, basically, only the very best foreign applicants ever end up in U.S. grad schools. It shouldn't be surprising that they're good, compared to U.S. students.

  • becca says:

    confidential to DM- re: Ali al-Marri
    Apparently, even Peoria is way more fun than a Navy brig near Charleston SC. Why do graduate students want to come here again?

  • Becca,
    I have already did much better than expected. You took CPP place cursing me; CPP himself made a short appearance here to add to your vulgarity, DM devoted a whole post with active discussion to the topic, etc, etc.
    Can you do better?

    I am convinced that Sol comes around these parts for the express purpose of saying inflammatory shit to get PP riled up. I mean, the frequent commenting on PP's literary stylings when this is a topic that has been driven by DrugMonkey? I once defended Sol, but it really is troll-like. Perhaps it gives him some weird kind of science-boner, but I frankly find myself less amused by the same old antics on his part. I wash my hands of it until Sol has something original to contribute.

  • leigh says:

    so if someone else has anecdotes to put up against the wall with mine, throw down. do you work in an area or institution that is NOT populated by immigrant scientists? (as a matter of fact my fields are not presently all that populated by nonUSAians in comparison to other labs in different fields that I know and see on a regular basis)
    i may have neglected to mention that i am just one of the overwhelming majority of white americans in my department here at privileged asshole u. i mean, the enrollment statistics are sad- we have 7 foreign students and fewer nonwhite americans. the majority of the foreign students work in a certain lab, with a culture of insane hours. (i know, i rotated there.) i don't think i can make a relevant comparison since lab culture is an important aspect of how many hours one puts in at the bench.
    i can tell you that as a white american i personally bust my ass, and before i learned better i nearly wound up in the uni hospital from the stress. (while working for a foreign PI, if that's at all relevant and/or confounding.) but that's all anecdotal too. it's all anecdotal, and easily subject to personal bias whether you are conscious of it or not.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    Ugh I guess I should weigh in:
    First, I dont agree that foreign immigrant scientists necessarily achieve more per unit of time than ther american counterparts. I only have my own experience but here it is. In my laboratory I have had one chinese research assistant professor, one chinese grad student, and two chinese technicians. I have had many more US born, mostly from non-college educated blue collar families.
    I have noticed that the foreign nationals in my lab, tend to spin there wheels alot, work on the superstitious belief that continuing to conduct an experiment the same way over and over might produce different results, and ignore lab protocols designed to ensure quality results in favor of shortcuts.
    I cant say this applies to anyone other than those I have had experience with. None of them lasted with me for more than a single year except that grad student who was rehabbed.
    My view is, at least in my experience, the chinese nationals I have had in the lab, are more opportunistic, duplicitous with data, and poorer in data quality control than natives. They will work longer hours and come in on any day you need them to, but whats the point if they only half listen or produce crap data?
    I was never a 12 hr a day student or postdoc, but I am good at what I do, and that enabled me to make full professor at 38. I prefer a thoughtful deliberative scientist who works an 8 hr day in my lab to a furtive 14 hr day jerk off.
    So far the only covariate I have experienced that distinguishes these two behaviors has been chinese national vs. native.
    I have met many foreign nationals, particularly chinese, who are excellent scientists, but the younger immigrants so far have been a disappointment in my lab. Maybe its me?
    Dr. F

  • I am convinced that Sol comes around these parts for the express purpose of saying inflammatory shit to get PP riled up.

    .
    Perhaps. But we surely are also seeing the true colors of the kind of washed-up bitter old asshole who lurks in the shadows of study sections, editorial peer reviewer lists, and hiring/promotion/tenure committees. Dumbfucks like Solly don't even recognize their own unconscious classism, racism, misogyny, and gross misconceptions about the mechanisms of scientific progress. It's very important for people to understand that nasty scuzbags like Solly are out there fucking real shit up and not just gibbering on blogs.

  • Dave says:

    Regarding Dr. Feelgood's comments in post #37: I agree with everything he says (Particularly: "I prefer a thoughtful deliberative scientist who works an 8 hr day in my lab to a furtive 14 hr day jerk off,") except that my experience with Chinese nationals does not support his stereotype.
    Regarding PhysioProf's comments in post #38: Like all successful PIs, I have learned to avoid working with or hiring certain types of people. I obviously don't want to hire lazy people, inefficient people, or people who tend to break things. I don't want people who can't think logically, or show no real passion for figuring things out. Most of all, I never want to hire or even work with bitter paranoid people that talk like PhysioProf. I would fail them at a prelim no matter how smart they are, just to be rid of them. I would vote against them for tenure, for fear they would someday target their anger at me or ruin the reputation of the department or drive sensible people away. Basically, I would act the way people around PhysioProf seem to act -- not because of a conspiracy, but because of his attitude, which is destructive and toxic. It is difficult to overestimate how bad and far-reaching that sort of angry paranoid bitterness can be.
    My advice to others reading this: Don't be like CPP. Or if his comments ring true, seek help. Seriously.

  • Dave says:

    Subtract one from the post numbers in my post above, which right now appears to be post #38.
    Do post numbers change here? Or can I just not read numbers or count? Either possibility is a reasonable hypothesis.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Isis,
    You are full of godly shit. Have you read the one response by CPP on this post prior to his response to your shitty comment? I'll help you. Here is CPPompous's quote:
    It's fucking awesome that Solly can't control himself, as it is very instructive for young scientists to get a clear picture of the particular category of deranged scuzbucket senior scientist Solly represents who are secreted away in dank musty corners of academia just waiting for the opportunity to indulge their sick prejudices that have been steeped in decades of bitter disappointment.
    This gem came in response to my comments on the topic, none of which even mentioned him and his language.
    I made a promise to DM not to rile this foul mouth and stay on topic. This whole post by DM has originated from one or two comments I made on othet posts of his. Becca chose to use vulgarity responding to a comment of mine on another post (the gender disparity one). I realize that certain people, like CPP and you, have a need to release certain accumulating pressures in their lives by using profanity. It is true that initially I was dumbfounded by such a need, but now I try to ignore it. Maybe you feel a bit ignored by me not visiting your blog as frequently as I do DM's. The main reason is that I prefer DM's choice of topics more than yours, that's all; nothing to do with CPP, nothing to do with trolling. So get over it and say something valuable that would contribute to the discussion at hand or shut up.

  • I never want to hire or even work with bitter paranoid people that talk like PhysioProf. I would fail them at a prelim no matter how smart they are, just to be rid of them. I would vote against them for tenure, for fear they would someday target their anger at me or ruin the reputation of the department or drive sensible people away. Basically, I would act the way people around PhysioProf seem to act -- not because of a conspiracy, but because of his attitude, which is destructive and toxic.
    I know that CPP's more than capable of standing up for himself, but have you actually ever taken the time to read his posts either here or at his own blog? There's not too many other bloggers out there who express themselves with such clarity and have the knowledge and expertise to back up their statements and arguments. I've yet to see much evidence of what you refer to as his "destructive and toxic" attitude.

  • juniorprof says:

    I second Professor in Training. Moreover, Dave and Sol, CPP and DM have both personally invested themselves in my career development through their blog (whether they realize it or not). I've gotten nothing but good advice from them here and elsewhere.

  • anon#12 says:

    I'd like to respond with two points of my own anectodal data. First, my grad advisor was forced to throw out his first (inherited) grad student, due to some really odd behavior like erasing system files. It was later revealed that the student's allegation of already having an MS was BS. In short, this person lied to get here, then lied once he was here. Is it xenophobia on my part, to be suspicious of his motives for being here?
    Second, in my present lab, one postdoc is Chinese. His English is very poor. He's spent 18 months performing and repeating 1 experiment, and needs to be re-taught basic procedures on a regular basis. He's spent 3 months putting together a 20 minute lab meeting talk, with weekly hours-long coddling/coaching sessions. He spends at least 20-30% of his 8 (or less) hours a day just studying English - I'd sure like to be paid so nicely to learn another language.
    So I am xenophobic, to resent a coworker who should be my equal, but with whom I can't even hold a basic conversation, let alone a scientific one? I will counter this and say: I resent people who waste my time with equal opportunity, thankyouverymuch.

  • msphd says:

    I disagree.
    I think the PERCEPTION is that immigrants (esp. Chinese) work harder.
    Let me say, I worked in a primarily Chinese lab for a while. Here's the thing. In Chinese culture, normally you live near your family and friends. This is an important part of life, never being alone.
    When you come here, you're very much alone. So where do you find your replacement family and friends? IN LAB.
    So the Chinese tend to stay in lab day and night, just to avoid being alone at home. And they're mostly poor and/or cheap, trying to save money to buy a car and take driving lessons, because they never did that before, so they live in crappier apartments than the rest of us.
    But. While they were in lab a lot, they did NOT work any harder than the rest of us. They still went out for an hour-long lunch as a big group almost every day. They still surfed the web and talked on the phone, just like most lab types do while waiting for gels to run and centrifuges to finish spinning.
    (Meanwhile, I usually eat lunch at my desk. I'm just sayin!)
    However, the PERCEPTION, the bias, the assumption in US culture is that Asians work hard and are Smarter than the rest of us.
    However, I've also worked with some Asians who never tried to reproduce any of their results, but the ASSUMPTION by the PI was that everything they did was 100% correct.
    Meanwhile, as a US YFS, everything I did was questioned, doubted, and held up to repeated scrutiny of a kind my immigrant male colleagues NEVER experienced.
    I think it is hard to be an immigrant, it's hard to be away from your own culture and language. But don't make the amateur mistake of confusing "many hours in lab" with "hard work."
    Those two things are NOT the same. And don't make the cultural mistake of confusing "generalization" with actual representing reality.
    So I'm with CPP on this one. Sol and DrugMonkey are just wrong.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    Huzzah I Say!!!
    Im with MsPhD and her insightful observations of Chinese national socialization and lab loitering. Remember folks, these are NOT stereotypes, they are actually observations.
    Dr. F

  • becca says:

    Thanks anon#12!
    First, I'd like to say that you're definitely not xenophobic for being "suspicious of the motives" of someone who was dishonest. Now if you question the motives of every foreigner you ever meet, maybe you have a problem...
    Second, it occurs to me that it might take a special kind of determination to survive the filter of xenophobes who *will* be "suspicious of the motives" of any foreigner. While I'd love to believe this attitude is less common among scientists, I have no particular evidence for that, and I'm sure it's not entirely absent in any event.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    First, of course there are many negative anecdotes of foriegn students and postdocs. I have many of my own I can tell you about. But, I am sure there are as many similar ones about native students and posdocs, too.
    Second, does it really matter whether the process of allowing foriegners to join the American science is through selectio of the best among them or not? Do we expect an affirmative action type of selection that would allow the stupid native to compete with the smart foriegner?
    If science and success in it are about 'the best scientist wins,' then I do not understand all these excuses in explaining the advantage the foriegn student or postdoc has over the native one. We sure do not allow foriegners to come here out of altruistic resones. Or do we?
    I know that with the collapse of the Bush economy and the loss of jobs that we'll surely see in the coming months at universities all around America, there will be the regulars who will whine about foreigners who take the jobs away from natives. These will probably be the same ones who have stated that the foreigners going into science because it offers them much more than they can find at home, while Americans consider science to be too low a pay to really slave so hard to succeed in it. Sound to me exactly like those who claim that illegal immigrants are taking away jobs from Americans and that is why we must do everything to deport them. I would like to see a TV report showing American onions or orange pickers somewhere in the fields or orange groves in Georgia or Florida, respectively. Americans are lazy and spoiled and, unfortunately, there are certain jobs that are below them, even during a recession. After all, it is much easier to pick up unemployment checks then oranges.
    Give me a break!

  • CPP and DM have both personally invested themselves in my career development through their blog (whether they realize it or not). I've gotten nothing but good advice from them here and elsewhere.
    Me too jp.

  • juniorprof says:

    I would like to see a TV report showing American onions or orange pickers somewhere in the fields or orange groves in Georgia or Florida, respectively. Americans are lazy and spoiled and, unfortunately, there are certain jobs that are below them, even during a recession. After all, it is much easier to pick up unemployment checks then oranges.
    You know what Sol, you're completely full of crap. Immigration issues are very complicated and "lazy American's" have nothing to do with it. That entire argument is a heap of political lies made up by corporations and xenophobic politicians that want to have their cake and eat it too by taking advantage of workers that they can exploit.
    I come from a farming family that still owns a medium sized farm in fly-over country. Its back-breaking work and there are Americans, Mexican and Guatemalans out there working together on the land everyday trying to make a decent living. I used to spend my summers and winter breaks bailing hay and vaccinating pigs, out working in the field with my entire family to help keep the operation going. I'm happy that I make a living doing something that I enjoy and, frankly, working on the farm is too hard for me. However, I have enough experience with it to know that working the land is fulfilling and satisfying work. The problem comes when giant corporations forget about the people that do the work and pay them too little wage for too many hours. Everyone who is capable should have the opportunity to work but they should also have the opportunity to work with dignity, no matter what they have to do to put food on the table. Taking on these issues with gross generalities and old, racist stereotypes (anyone who has grown up in the south knows what "lazy worker" is code for, whether you meant it or not, Sol) is only making the problem worse.
    Finally, MsPhD (as noted by Dr F) makes an excellent point. Maybe we should all be thinking more about how we can help immigrants feel more welcome in our society. Even though some of our politicians would like to pit us against one another, we should not allow that to stand.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    junior,
    I am a farm boy myself and working on the farm for me has been second only to science. I tend to agree with your arguments and the fact that this is a complex issue. Nevertheless, my point was intended mainly to respond to those here who somehow explain the stream of foreigners into American science by arguing that the pay is too low for the natives when considering the hard work it requires.

  • juniorprof says:

    Nevertheless, my point was intended mainly to respond to those here who somehow explain the stream of foreigners into American science by arguing that the pay is too low for the natives when considering the hard work it requires.
    Those are two completely separate issues. You know full well why there are streams of foreign scientists coming here. We have the best funded and best established academic science establishment in the world. As long as this continues, they will continue to come. I hope they never stop coming and I also hope that we continue to give them a strong incentive to stay here. They make us better. Period.
    The pay issue has been explored by many sociologists. When times are good, like during the IT bubble, recent grads are more apt to jump into the market to make money. When times are rough they go back to school, especially to grad school. Native language broadens the opportunities for Americans when they consider what type of grad school they would consider. Science and math have a universal language. Business and arts and humanities do not. Having said that, I find that many Americans are surprised to find that they would receive a stipend to do a PhD in the sciences whereas foreign applicants all know this. I'm not so sure that the expectation of low pay and hard work are big disincentives. After all, all forms of grad school are hard work, and most of them do not include pay, quite the contrary, they include large amounts for tuition payments.

  • becca says:

    Honest question, do any of the people who firmly believe foreigners work harder actually pay them more?

  • BikeMonkey says:

    do any of the people who firmly believe foreigners work harder actually pay them more?
    If by this you mean more than the minimum they can get away with for the job? hells no. If you mean they will only give the job to foreigners? Sure. I'm sure you can find someone. Just like you can find people who will refuse, absent really good proof of excellence, to hire anyone from a non US or European or ?? training environment.

  • venk@ says:

    From my limited experience, i'd say that the foreign grad students perform better in class for sure, on average - mainly coz they are chosen more stringently, from a large pool etc....and this aptitude helps a bit in the research side too.
    But i find the American students more open-minded to ideas and more aware of certain practical issues, on average - imp for research too. I guess these too factors cancel out to some extent. The result finally being an environment with lots of interesting people.

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