# Unintended Consequences

Apr 17 2010 Published by under NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics

Do the post-docs and their supporters who are agitating for a dramatic 6% increase in the NIH post-doctoral fellowship stipend levels understand that--because this scale is frequently applied by institutions to post-doc salaries supported by research grants and because research grant budgets have been and will continue to be flat--this is going to force layoffs and/or attrition of 6% of non-fellowship (which are the vast majority) post-doc positions?

• miko says:

so what? there are too many postdocs.

• leigh says:

DM, do you realize that PIs/institutions don't necessarily give a flying fuck about NIH fellowship salary? i don't think it is going to *force* anything, other than continued postdoc disgruntlement over how we're not paid as much as the NIH guideline.

• anon says:

I guess I thought contracting the size of the postdoc/grad population was part of the goal.

• Dr Becca says:

Not to be a total asshole, but only 1 in 20 of us are going to get TT jobs as it is (and industry positions these days are just as scarce and competitive). If I'm in the bottom 6% of all post-docs everywhere, getting let go might be the best thing that could happen to me, long-term career-wise.
I think who this may genuinely hurt are the young faculty who will either only be able to afford, say, one post-doc instead of two, or have to settle for 2 post-docs who are willing to work for less than the NIH minimum and thus might not be so top-notch.

• Michael says:

Do all these western, do-gooders realise that by demanding that no child-labour be used to produce their products they're putting the poor Chinese children out of work?

• gnuma says:

And trying to fit a PD line into an nsf or usda grant? Very difficult to do and still have money left over for supplies. Forget summer salary.

• whimple says:

Fortunately for PIs everywhere, the much more highly trained postdocs these days with 6+ years of quality mentoring will be able to easily make up for any falloff in production for the PI due decreased postdoc numbers. Furthermore, if postdocs become more expensive, it will actually become economically worth replacing them with grad students again. I don't know what happens to all those grad students after they graduate, but I'm sure things will just continue to work themselves out in a satisfactory manner somehow, like they always have. 🙂

• Namnezia says:

Dr, Becca says:

I think who this may genuinely hurt are the young faculty who will either only be able to afford, say, one post-doc instead of two, or have to settle for 2 post-docs who are willing to work for less than the NIH minimum and thus might not be so top-notch.

Exactly. Although I would initially be able to support two, after 2 years one would have to be let go due to salary increases, unless they are able to secure their own funding. And no, I will not give up my summer salary, as gnuma suggests.

• becca says:

Unintended consequences are intended!

• miko says:

hmmm...it seems the only people bemoaning a potential reduction in postdoc numbers are those with TT jobs who rely on this increasingly experienced, trained and underpaid population of scientists, the majority of whom will be forced to settle for their second or third career choice. Careers for which said TT faculty have completely failed to help them prepare--or, usually, acknowledge the existence of--though the postdocs labor'd terribly in service to the PI's career ambitions. Something about the world's tiniest violin...

• miko says:

and omfg btw, if you can't find resources to cover a 6% increase for your postdocs to help them maintain an approaching-but-not-quite-adequate quality of life, and you really give the tiniest shit about their careers, you should be helping them get a position in a lab that will provide better career prospects.

• Funky Fresh says:

Yeah! Fuck those postdocs for demanding a decent wage! Fuck em, I said!

• Namnezia says:

@11:
That's right miko, I bemoan the loss of all those postdocs slaving away in substandard working conditions in my sweatshop lab, for menial wages while I accrue increasing amounts of fame, recognition and fortune, all at their expense. And when their funding runs out, or they become too expensive I just dispose of them like a heap of old pipet tips.
What is your point here?

• miko says:

"What is your point here?"
One of my point is that if you can't afford a living wage for a postdoc in the top 94%, maybe you shouldn't have one.

• BenWL says:

What next? Would the nurses demand for payrise too?

• Dr. Feelgood says:

Need to up the modular grant limit past $250K. Everything goes up (PD salaries, grad stipends, grad student insurance and tuition, Exec Level 1 salary caps, etc.) except that limit on the modular grants. Don't go telling me that I could ask for whatever I want in a non-modular budget....If its animal work and you ask for more than$250K, they just bitch about your request and let it bleed into your evaluation.
That would help with alot of headaches.

• DrugMonkey says:

A lot of places have flatlined salaries, or even reduced them via furlough, over the past 18mo or so. This includes both research techs and PIs.
This appears to me to be a spectacularly tone deaf time for postdocs to be agitating for raises. *All* of us want to get paid more folks- are you being screwed more than anyone else? All of the most pertinent complaints are about the career issues at heart- why not take a run at those?
CPP is right about the reductions and it is naive to think only the suckiest 6% are going to be affected. Larger salaries are going to go first, the newest crop of fresh-minted PHDs are going go take a disproportionate hit, the largest labs, etc. This isn't going to be about whether an individual is in the bottom 6%...

• I'm disappointed to see this this coming from you, but you're a PI, so go figure. As with any type of government initiative, we like to lobby for the things that are beneficial to *us*, because most of us are inherently selfish people.
Postdocs are the single best bang-for-your-buck investment that PIs can make (maybe aside from an extraordinary technician, which is unusual), esp. the ones that stick around for 4 or 5 years. The very simple fact of the matter is that we are worth more than we currently make. (And although reductions in the absolute # of postdocs may concern you, it in no way concerns me.)
So here's why I'm "agitating" like crazy for the 6% raise. My lab, home to 60-80 postdocs, and home to even more money, pays all postdocs in the lab NIH base stipends. My lab is so fucking stingy with salaries, I can't even begin to tell you how angry it makes me. And there's no caveat here about not having enough money- we cannot even hire the personnel our grants require of us because we are out of space. We regularly send $$back to grant agencies because we can't spend it. ABSURD. I realize that this is an extremely specific situation. But the postdocs in my lab are some of the best and brightest researchers in my entire discipline, and the fact that my lab continues to pay us shit *just because it can* burns me the fuck up. It's one thing if PIs don't pay postdocs better because they simply don't have the money. It's another thing entirely when a lab is awash in money and the lab administration refuses to pony the fuck up. • whimple says: Candid Engineer, why do you allow this to happen to you? What is your longterm goal here? • DrugMonkey says: CE, sorry but 60-80 postdoc "labs" are no basis for policy across the NIH. Atypical. By "base" do you mean yr 0 NRSA withouthe adjustment by experience? If so that is different. If you are complaining about the scale, then answer my point. Why are postdocs more deserving than any other player right at this time. Also, what do you see as appropriate pay right now for techs, grads, postdocs and each professorial rank. Get specific so we can discuss the impact on research budgets. • Why do I allow it to happen to me? Well, I work in arguably the best lab in the world in my discipline. It is a wonderful place to work (salary aside) and is a phenomenal training experience. I have spoken before to our lab administration about the salaries, but I am but a little fish in a big sea, and they don't pay any attention to me when it comes to that sort of thing. My longterm goal is to apply for faculty positions this fall, but delay starting time for a bit- I'll probably stay in my lab until summer 2012. • DM, I was clear to note that I was talking about a very specific situation within my lab. Maybe it's no basis for NIH policy, but it among the biggest reasons as to why I am supporting the increase. My lab offers base NIH salary and gives us 2-3% raises per year- so, no, the lab does not adhere to the salary ladder put in place by the NIH. Postdocs and technicians are more deserving of salary increases right now compared to other academic "players". Any way you shake it, PIs earn enough to live off of. This is not the case for many postdocs I know, who are supporting a family on less than 40k a year in a high cost-of-living area. Technicians also bear the brunt of this bullshit. I recently put out an ad for a tech for myself, and I was *embarrassed* to only be able to offer 28k (32 for someone with a masters degree). My (very) liberal tendencies leak into this arena. Give to those who don't have it. Maybe PIs don't make as much as they should, but in comparison to postdocs and the poor technicians, they are in better shape. In my idealized fantasy world, PIs would bring in >= 100k salary, postdocs 45-50 and techs 35-40. To be honest with you, I'm not sure what current PI salaries are, if they're determined by rank, etc. In any kind of realistic world, I realize that this is not possible. All I know is that an extra 2-3k per year is going to mean a hell of a lot more to a postdoc or tech than to a PI. For many of the postdocs I know, it would be the difference between barely squeeking by and being able to afford an occasional dinner out or a new shirt (godDAMN the foreign postdocs in my lab who wear the same f*ing shirts 3-4 days a week). • miko says: am i being screwed more than others in academia? not other postdocs, i suppose. I'm in my late 30s and make less than when I was 25, have almost no retirement savings (and no retirement benefits). I live in a city where the cost of living is 50% of the national average and pay 1500 a month for a 600 sq ft apartment. In terms of paycheck net, my PI makes between 2 and 3 times my paycheck (but has published less)--in total compensation (benefits, perqs) it's probably more like 5 fold. I do love my job and research, and hold out hope that I'll have a shot at a TT research job. But the "trainee" system is broken for postdocs, faculty passively support it because it benefits them. Postdocs should be paid according to ability and experience adjusted for regional cost of living, employers may have to compete for good ones, like every other job. They should receive raises when other employees do, receive all benefits that other employees do. 6% of shit is still shit, but I'll "agitate" for that, or full reform, or anything in between. The fiction that "postdoc" is some kind of educational experience or internship rather than being a real research JOB should be eliminated. If you don't think "independent researcher" describes your postdocs, than believe me, you have the wrong postdocs. If this means we have fewer postdocs, again: so what? Except as cannon fodder for PI careers, I haven't heard anyone give a reason why we need ten times as many postdocs as there are jobs for them. So the pain of increasing salaries 6% might not be distributed totally FAIRLY? How horrible. • Anonymous says: No question that scientists today at all levels (PD and up) see themselve as part of an entitlement program of the government. This is pitiful! • Namnezia says: CE (@22): In my idealized fantasy world, PIs would bring in >= 100k salary, postdocs 45-50 and techs 35-40. To be honest with you, I'm not sure what current PI salaries are, if they're determined by rank, etc. I'm not sure how much the PIs are making where you are, but trust me when I say that what postdocs at my institution are making is far, far closer to your ideal range than what PI's are making. I actually think techs should make more, since this is a long-term job, whereas a postdoc position is meant to be temporary. Also, the benefits given to postdocs at my university are the same as all other employees, including PIs get. • whimple says: Miko, you're funny. Postdocs are paid what they are worth, which as you point out isn't very much. You seem to have deeply drunk the TT-position-is-the-secret-to-happiness koolaid. You complain about being exploited, yet aspire to become one of the exploiters? What's that about? • miko says: We don't know what good postdocs are "worth" because their salary is determined by price-fixing, not a market. I will be happy whatever my career is, thanks very much. There is nothing sadder than happiness determined by career opportunities. A TT track job does happen to be my preferred choice because I enjoy, among many other things, curiosity driven research. But I'm also interviewing at companies and have a 2-body problem, so chances are I will not end up with my first pick job. The training system is exploitative, I can't imagine what a principled argument that it's not would look like. And I would have qualms about being on the other end of that. I have qualms about lots of things, like consuming an order of magnitude more than my share of global resources, and try and do what I can (nothing near enough) to mitigate it. What's your point? That people should just shut up because the complaining annoys you? • whimple says: My point is that a TT job is not the right choice for you. Look around at all the big TT successes: see many people persons in that group? Are these people you like and respect and that you want to be role models for yourself, or are they a bunch of self-absorbed narcissistic ego freaks? Is TT your first choice because of how you envisage the role according to some romantic notion of how it might have been in the past, or because of the current academic-science-is-a-business reality? Figure out what is the right choice for you, how to get there from here, and get on promptly with doing it. People should shut up because the complaining takes up time and energy, provides the illusion that things could ever be different than they are now, and distracts from productively actively pursuing countermeasures that would enable getting out of the postdoctoral trap. • LadyDay says: I definitely agree with both Candid Engineer and miko. Postdocs deserve an increase in pay due to cost of living issues. However, what I've been seeing more and more of, lately, is the hiring of foreign postdocs who are willing to take less pay than postdocs with U.S. citizenship/permanent residency (actually, the same thing goes for foreign versus U.S. grad students, too). The thing is, though, that most of those foreign postdocs (and grad students) can easily find better positions "back home" after a couple of years of training in the U.S., whereas, postdocs with U.S. citizenship are usually only able to find jobs in the U.S. So, what you end up with is NIH funding (because, even if the these people aren't on training grants or fellowships from the NIH, their PIs are usually using R01 funding to pay for their salaries) going toward the scientific training and bettering of foreign researchers who then can go back abroad and take their experience with them. In effect, you have a lot of scientific training, funded by U.S. tax dollars, going toward the training of scientists elsewhere. Personally, it doesn't matter too much to me what a person's ethnicity is. In fact, I am concerned that the disproportionate numbers of minorities in science are both directly and indirectly due to these same lack of protections that non-minority U.S. scientists have (think about it: although there are some extra grants for minority scientists, once their eligibility for those training awards expires, they can then be out-competed on the job marketplace by foreign scientists who are willing to take lower salaries). There is absolutely no protection for U.S.-born scientists (minority or otherwise) who are seeking to remain in U.S. academic jobs. What we have here is, in essence, not unlike what has happened to the U.S. labor pool, in general, as jobs (both high and low-tech) are increasingly being outsourced to non-citizen labor that is willing to work for less income. • DrugMonkey says: So postdocs are the only ones being squeezed by cost of living increases? Miko- we live in an exploitative economy, science is no different. There is a good argument to be made that science is actually *less* exploitative than many other industries as PP has pointed out. How many people trying for their big break in science are working as waiters like the film industry folks have to? And pick your salary ratio in other industries between the entry point and middle-to-lower-upper management. We still look pretty egalitarian. • LadyDay says: @DM: look - the question is not whether or not the NIH is being "fair" to everyone else in science by giving postdocs better pay. The fact of the matter is that PI's DO make a LOT more salary than academic postdocs, PLUS PI's get many benefits added to their package that postdocs simply don't have (starting salary for a colleague who got a TT position in 2003: 80,000 + benefits; compare that to 40,000 with no benefits, except MAYBE health insurance, for postdocs). For instance, postdocs don't have employer-supplemented retirement accounts, either. Because the average length of time spent as postdoc has increased quite a lot over the past decade, and because postdoc salaries have not increased at the same rate as inflation, it only makes sense for the NIH to increase salary levels for postdocs. As for your argument about other industries: I don't think the comparison can be made. Many of those positions may not pay as well, but the set-up for postdocs is quite different. Postdocs don't get paid overtime compensation for their work, and are essentially not able to work second or third jobs to supplement their income due to the demands of their primary occupation. • miko says: "...And pick your salary ratio..." DM, you're looking at salary only, not total compensation. Before grad school, 2 years out of my BA I was making the same take-home I get as a postdoc, but I also had an employee stock plan, much better insurance, employer-matched retirement savings, etc. I didn't like that job, but my point is that postdocs are EMPLOYEES and should have the same entitlements as other employees. Also, there is a cost of living. Not getting a raise when you live on the edge of it is very different than not getting a raise when you are at 75% or 100% above it. But back to the start: can anyone give any reason at all why there shouldn't be fewer, better-paid postdocs? • pinus says: a few points -US citizens can apply for F32, K01 and numerous other grants that foreigners cannot apply for (K99 is for both). This is a huge advantage, and should be taken advantage of. -post-docs have to have health insurance at every place I have ever been. Somebody please give me an example of a post-doc not receiving this. -Why the fuck are people going on about retirement accounts? Were you all absent the past two years when all of those went to shit? I have to put a shitload of my paycheck in to that fucking ponzi scheme, I am not allowed to back out. -Overtime? most salaried positions don't give you overtime. you simple work. not sure how this comes in to play. -I am perfectly comfortable paying above NIH scale to post-docs. not all of them though. I am not a believer in the 'I have a PhD so I am super great and valuable to you' school of thought. I have seen people who have PhD's from 'good labs' at 'good schools' who can't make solutions. -How the fuck does a lab have 80 post-docs? That is just crazy. Is it all post-docs, or are there super post-docs/research professor or something in the middle? • miko says: "Why the fuck are people going on about retirement accounts? Were you all absent the past two years when all of those went to shit" If you somehow lost money on an employer-matched retirement account, you are a fucktard. Paying postdocs according to their ability/value is exactly a point I'm making. I would never, ever, ever, claim that having a phd means someone knows a fucking thing about anything. Neither does having a tenure track job. Most places, even fancy places in expensive cities, are not as comfortable as you--or have policies against (ostensibly to be "fair")--paying above NIH levels. • pinus says: Touche...I actually haven't lost money, other than the 5% I have to pay in every month. You are not allowed to touch retirement accounts until retirement. So, call me in 35 years or so, and we can see what a 'great deal' employer match retirement accounts are. I think they are horse shit, and I find it amusing that people choose that to be a point to argue about. Value is a funny thing. If somebody really really wants to work for a big cheez PI, then chances are, they will work for less. Whereas, a lesser known (albeit well funded) PI, will hire the same person for more. so value is variable, while ability can be constant. And given that you can't really ascertain how 'good' a person will be in the lab for a year...why should one pay up so much up front? Does it make sense to start high, and then once you see they can get the job done, pay more? What do you plan on doing in your lab Miko? • miko says: Well, employer matched contributions instantaneously double your money, so that's not bad. If I make 4% (conservatively) in a retirement account, a 5000 contribution is worth about 16,000 in 30 years. An employer-matched contribution is worth 32,000. Hard to see how that's a sucker's bet. The low probability of my ever having a lab make it a waste of time to start wondering how I will handle postdoc compensation. I have no idea what my situation will be. Someone above chided postdocs for thinking they are entitled to some level of compensation. I don't know why people with shabby lab finances think they are entitled to underpriced labor. Can you provide some principled reason postdocs should not receive the benefits provided to other employees? Or why fewer, better-paid postdocs is undesirable? • whimple says: But back to the start: can anyone give any reason at all why there shouldn't be fewer, better-paid postdocs? You must already know the answer to this, but just to reiterate: It is because is it not in the interests of the people spending the money (the NIH) to have fewer, better-paid postdocs. The NIH's mission is to do science, not be an employment agency. As the cliche goes, the NIH funds projects, not people. That happens most effectively with lots of high-quality, low-paid, lean and hungry talent competing ferociously against each other for the promise of a limited number of positions they've all been trained to covet. • LadyDay says: @ pinus: Yes, there are NIH fellowships and training grants provided only for U.S. citizen postdocs. However, with most postdocs taking 5+ years to "complete training," these fellowships and training grants are inadequate means of support as they can only cover 3 years of any postdoc's funding. What's a postdoc to do after those 3 years are finished? I know of people who've switched labs and significantly delayed the progression of their scientific careers/training simply because their PIs only supported them when they had funding. After that, the PIs refused to support them. These are hard-working postdocs, too. It wasn't hard for them to find new postdocs, but it was difficult for them to start all over again on new projects, etc. and keep their publication record up. • LadyDay says: @ pinus: the health insurance coverage for postdocs where I work is often supplemented by the postdocs, out of their own salary. It is not completely covered by the institution. This can make a significant dent in an already crappy salary (with no other benefits). • LadyDay says: @ pinus, again: regarding the other funding sources for postdocs, should their NIH training grant or fellowship funding expire - you know how competitive it is to get a K99? Even CDA's and other K awards are incredibly competitive these days (and some CDA's are open to both U.S. and non-U.S. citizens, again upping the applicant pool numbers). You can have a lot of promise as a postdoc, but without sufficient support from your PI, in terms of research funding and even salary (should you lose any funding you came in with), the long, hard slog that is today's postdoc is practically a hopeless endeavor. • LadyDay says: To add to and clarify the sentiments expressed in my first comment: I think the NIH should somehow seek to regulate the pay of U.S. and foreign postdocs such that *both* receive the *same* pay for their work (same work should get same pay, right?). I think it is absolutely unfair that foreign postdocs don't get the same salary that U.S. citizens on NIH training grants and fellowships do, and, conversely, that it puts U.S.-citizen postdocs at a huge disadvantage when they can be competed out of jobs by "cheaper labor." • DrugMonkey says: Well, I am still not hearing why postdocs deserve 6% raises. I understand they would like to make more money. You are not responding, however, to the fact that *everyone* would like to make more money. *I* would like to make more money.I make considerably less that I quote-unquote deserve based on any number of arguments. The total compensation is a dodge. I grasp that and my points still stand. I went through grad and postdoc stints where I didn't have any investments and have crappier retirement/investment/pension opportunities now than in many other companies (or the gov) I could be working for. aaaaaand....I can complain about the ratio difference between me and PIs more senior than I who do exactly the same job I do (does that sound familiar?) but get paid at least 2x more. And did I mention they are all old with their kids far out of college already? in other words, waaaaah. Nor are you responding to the comment that we live in a capitalistic system that works, all up and own the economy, by the fewer some extracting surplus value from the rest. Call me crazy but your argument is going to have to acknowledge and get around this issue if you want to gain traction. We're already flatter than many other businesses, I asserted. Why should we flatten any more? whimple's point is also apt- what argument are you going to make that *the mission of the NIH* is improved by a 6% payraise for postdocs? I also want to reiterate that at least 70% of the arguments going on here are complaining about the postdoc as a short training stint morphing into a substantial part of, if not the very pinnacle of, a science *career*. If this is the root of your problem, whinging for small raises ain't solving the issue. I've made myself quite clear that I think the lack of a career scientist job track is a horrible situation that bears fixing..and would save the NIH money to boot. • "Why the fuck are people going on about retirement accounts? Were you all absent the past two years when all of those went to shit" If you somehow lost money on an employer-matched retirement account, you are a fucktard. "Touche...I actually haven't lost money" Ahaha!! LOLz on this exchange. @DM: How many people trying for their big break in science are working as waiters like the film industry folks have to? And pick your salary ratio in other industries between the entry point and middle-to-lower-upper management. Meh. Film industry is irrelevant to science. If I had gone into industry fresh out of my Ph.D., I would have started at 90-100k. That's hardly waiting for a "big break". And you know, industry would have loved to have had me. But instead of working for a for-profit company, I'm trying to devote my energies and unique capabilities to government-funded projects and the greater good of biomedical science. Maybe the government doesn't need to worry about recruiting talent- but paying a livable wage is going to help keep talent in academia. • And PP, where the hell are you? You post this shit, and then you're off fucking the dog somewhere... • DrugMonkey says: CE you lack imagination. Film and sport and the creative arts are *entirely* relevant to science careers as they are currently construed in academics. You may wish to review this post: http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2008/06/academic-science-not-a-care-bears-fucking-tea-party • DrugMonkey says: And PP, where the hell are you? rumour has it he is tied up over at Isis' place discussing WWII historical trivia and opera. /you asked • New Asst. Prof. says: I'm still laughing at an earlier statement about in an ideal world, PIs would be making >= 100K - WTF? Wouldn't that be nice. Where I am, I routinely see tenured, senior full professors who are PIs of multiple large grants (think P01s and U54s, well over 1 million direct costs per year per grant) with base salaries of 110-120K. It took them 15 years of a FACULTY POSITION to get to that point - I won't be expecting any different. • I'm still laughing at an earlier statement about in an ideal world, PIs would be making >= 100K - WTF? Wouldn't that be nice. You seem to have missed the word 'ideal'. CE you lack imagination. Haha, DM, is this the best you have? I am an imaginative *delight*. The only thing that I think is clear from all of this is that people get pretty fucking worked up about salary. • pinus says: My point about retirement goes beyond this issue. I think retirement accounts are bullshit, part of a flawed system. but that is neither her nor there. But to address some direct questions: -I think post-docs are employees, and should have the same benefits. Better or worse. For example, for a person to cover their family at my institution, it costs 500 a month for health insurance. out of pocket. Insurance for the employee is free. It should be the same for post-docs. They are employees. -Fewer better paid people...? Sure, maybe at some point, that will feedback on to graduate school admissions and we can slow this science employment train wreck down. But, as whimple says, that is not in the best interest of NIH. they want more science / dollar. if we increase pay so that a person can hire 2 post-docs instead of 3, that is 1 'post-doc' year of work gone. Do you think NIH is going to fight for this? I think DM raises the point that a career scientist type job would go a long way towards addressing some of the issues of the post-doc association. -Ladyday, when I started my post-doc, I was guaranteed 1 year of funding. I got a NRSA, which then covered my salary. (although I was productive enough that my PI would have covered me even if I didn't, while he wasn't a big name PI, he had enough funding). Also, I am aware how competitive it is to get a K99, I got one. I have been a PI for about a year, so I am well aware of both sides of the equation. • Namnezia says: I second what New Asst Prof said. How much do you guys think faculty make? It is not orders of magnitude more than a postdoc, that's for sure. And for benefits, as a postdoc I had both health insurance and a retirement account, just as I do now, and just as postdocs in my institution have now. As a separate question - how much do medical residents make? What is the salary ratio between a resident and a fully-trained physician, whatever they are called? • neuropostdoc says: for the purpose of the discussion it does seem that some people are confused by their own experience. At some institutions PDs are considered staff, at some trainees and at other institutions (like mine) they are considered some weird hybrid. Additionally at some institutions (like where I did my graduate work) if you were on a training grant or NRSA your PD status went from staff to trainee and you lost major benefits (my husband had his medical coverage severely downgraded and completely lost his dental coverage when he got his NRSA.) At my current institution, PDs are given "student health" insurance and we're instructed to go to student health. (This is AWESOME when you come down with a horrible infection during semester break when student health is closed for 3 weeks and you have to pay for everything out of pocket which ended up being ~260 which is a little rough on a PD salary.) • New Asst. Prof. says: CE, I didn't miss the word 'ideal.' It's just that, in my opinion, this ideal is as unrealistic as hoping postdoc salaries are (ever) going to improve significantly. The same pressures that keep them low are present across the playing field, and have been for a long time. The issue of how many new scientists are entering that playing field on an annual basis is another matter altogether. I don't think doing academic science requires (or should require) taking some kind of vow of poverty, but for many, many reasons it will never pay to the level that one might earn elsewhere. I wouldn't dare sit here and say that the raise I did get upon transition to a faculty position wasn't welcomed or desired or even accepted with an under-the-breath "damn, it's about time!" I thought/felt all of those things. But over time the new pressures and responsibilities that come with that faculty position could easily have made it difficult for me to continue feeling this way about what I do have. What I *really* stress about, honestly, both when I'm writing the next round of grant budgets and on those occasional (but not rare) nights where I toss and turn at 3am, is how I'm going to provide for my fledgling lab. • miko says: Well, it seems like we actually agree on a lot. An employee is an employee. Postdocs should get the same benefits as other employees. Just note, this would cost a LOT FREAKING MORE than 6% salary increases. But why not as for 6% salary increase, as long as none of this makes any fucking sense? Non-faculty career science jobs in basic research is a dream career path that should exist but does not. The existence of this career path might produce better science at lower costs. Great, where do I sign up? Besides Singapore? The fact that having many lean hungry competitive underpaid postdocs is in the NIH's "interest" is a bullshit argument. As if the NIH were capable of carefully tuning its actions to the scientific goals of...who? fucking congress? It is a byzantine conduit for public funds and a bureaucracy clusterfuck. The NIH doesn't have "interests," it has vague policy directives and endless streams of illiterate documentation. It would take 5 years for them to notice if postdoc salaries were doubled, and no one who approves the funding would give a shit. That would probably cost about as much as every moronic R01 about stem cells or mirror neurons that shouldn't be renewed. "this is going to force layoffs and/or attrition of 6% of non-fellowship (which are the vast majority) post-doc positions?" I still don't care...does anyone? Why? • whimple says: Non-faculty career science jobs in basic research is a dream career path that should exist but does not. You should do a closer examination of biotech companies. You won't have to look too hard to find exactly this kind of position, along with excellent benefits, good prospects for career advancement and without much of the byzantine weirdness of NIH-funded biomedical science. • miko says: DM, I can't believe you can't see the difference between someone who lives in Boston making 38,000 a year wishing they made (.06 x 38000...do the math, it's sad how pathetic this is) more per year is the same as someone making 60 or 80 thousand wanting more. Are you a flat taxer? • miko says: whimple, believe me, i am. i screwed up and chose a research specialty that doesn't transfer well (at least on paper) to industry. and I still love the things about academia that don't resemble Burmese Days. • expat postdoc says: Move to Europe ... it's the easiest solution for postdocs. Not only does one gain international experience, but as an Americans, you are still eligible for NIH F32s (I had one over here) and R01s (my last boss has 2). In Germany, postdocs make TV-13 ... which works out to about 45k€ / year pre-tax. Of this salary, 15% goes to health insurance and 10% to pension/retirement (the uni pays the other 15% of insurance and another 10% into pension) ... in addition, I pay 1.5% pretax into another bonus pension account and the uni matches 6.5% ... so every month I build up about 27% of my pre-tax salary into pension. So, at my position (junior group leader at TV-15) ... it works out to about 1500€ / month. My contributions are refundable if I stay less than 5 years ... and the average pension benefit currently runs about 70% of one's highest salary. After tax, I take home about 3000€/month and have a health pension account and good health insurance (standard postdocs get about 2000€ or so). And, in large cities, one can live cheaper than in Boston/NYC/SF, with a similar quality of life (if you like watersports, wintersports and easily accessible travel). To be honest, the EU is so much more attractive than the US for TT and PD positions. Actually, I think SG and most of SE Asia is the best place to be right now. • Anonymous says: i wish i knew more about this stuff, because it seems to me that this entire comments section is one of those classic struggles where management tries to convince workers that organizing and trying to get more of the pie is not actually in their best interest and really they should be focusing on trying to become management. • cookingwithsolvents says: I am currently a postdoc that moved from boss-paid to fellowship and going to a TT position this summer. It's amazing that so many of the 'postdocs deserve more for a company and the economy. Basic science ENABLES technology and economics but it does not create stuff without a lot of the *D* part of R&D. (look at e-ink, the company that makes the display for kindles...company starts in 1997, knew a guy that started there in 2000-2001, no product until 2008 or something) The only industry I can think of where basic science =$$$in short order is the electronics industry due to the breakneck pace of advances yielding impressive piles of MONEY. The energy sector will hopefully follow a similar model. If you want to make MONEY do not become a scientist. If the value you get out of being a scientist (the coolest job ever for me) doesn't jive with the value you get out of your actual paycheck then you should change careers. That said, sure postdocs should make more. Just understand how the real world works as far as creating SOMETHING that has value to SOMEONE. . .basic scientists just don't a lot of that as far as economics are concerned. People (lawmakers, budget people, philanthropists that start foundations) have to step in and value their contributions at some level because the market itself does not. Again, I do think postdocs (and grad students and faculty) should make more. I'm just not holding my breath. • DrugMonkey says: miko@#55, current first year of NRSA scale is$37,740. It goes up to $44,304 in year 4 and tops at$55,068 with 7+ years of experience.
6% brings that first year up to $40K, a few bucks above what that first year of experience entails. Since, however, you are arguing that it is all about equal cost-of-living and salaries should ignore progress through the career stages you should be comfortable with a flat$40K for *all* postdocs, regardless of experience. I could get on board with that, heck we could even make it a 12% raise and put all postdocs at a fixed $42,269. • miko says: That's not what I'm arguing... I'm arguing that postdocs should be paid according to ability and experience adjusted for local cost of living, like all university jobs, and have the same benefits as other full time employees. My point about the 6% raise--which is peanuts--is that I don't fucking care about the "unintended consequences" you seem concerned about, and don't see why any postdoc should be. Given the huge number of PhDs on the TT job market, salaries could be a LOT lower for faculty. I mean, there are plenty of talented scientists who would probably take$30000 a year for an AP job at a top research uni for the chance at tenure and the career benefits of being at a name brand institution. Maybe their spouse is hedge fund manager, maybe they live with their parents, who knows. Institutions don't do that due to tradition and faculty senates/unions/etc--it's not a salary appropriate to the responsibilities and expectations of the position. I'm saying that the role of postdocs in research needs to be re-evaluated in many ways--the "trainee stipend" model no longer describes what this position is.
expat postdoc: there are great things about working in SG, and some people love it, but the bureaucracy drives other people bonkers (my experience was a mixture of these), and there are deep questions about how long they will stay interested in funding basic research. anyone should talk to lots of people there and get their first-hand experiences before seriously considering this.

• DrugMonkey says:

postdocs should be paid according to ability and experience adjusted for local cost of living, like all university jobs
You are deranged if you think that all jobs are "adjusted for the local cost of living" in some perfect way. Every place I've ever lived that was high cost of living had some array of excuses for why people had to just suffer instead of enjoying a lifestyle comparable to what their salary would bring in east BF someplace.
"ability and experience" is what I'm getting at here. You are relying on some arbitrary argument that really just boils down to "I want to get paid more". Fine, but pretty hard to get the other players in your industry on board. Techs and PIs also think they need to be paid according to their obviously awesome worthiness which is, conveniently, some amount higher than they are being paid right now. And considerably less than they could be making in a related for-profit industry, btw.
Just. Like. Postdocs. Claim. For. Themselves.
So you need to bring something a little better to the table in terms of an analysis. Like I said, I think the issue here is the morphing of a ≤3 yr "training" stop into being the actual career. Small raises aren't addressing the root problem.
I want to return to CE's situation. Big labs with lots of post-docs are HIGHLY motivated to resist across-the-board increases. Why? Well, add 6% to all those "60-80" salaries and you are adding up to a large amount of money (the point of CPP's original post, btw) which is going to make people lose jobs. I'd be interested to hear what the postdocs who were dropped for $$reasons and haven't been able to find a new job have to say about this raise. All very well and good for you who are convinced *you* could never lose your job to agitate for jobpool-shrinking changes. Not so good for those of us PIs who have the responsibility of funding the lab and have at times faced having to drop someone (tech OR postdoc) and/or to cut deep into some promising research program because the money just isn't there. • becca says: "This appears to me to be a spectacularly tone deaf time for postdocs to be agitating for raises. " What wouldn't be a "tone deaf" time? During the influx of cash for stimulus funds? Well we all know that was a temporary injection of cash, and it's poor planning to spend it on things that entail a commitment to long-term funding support (which could certainly apply to salary pay). During the NIH budget doubling? To the best of my knowledge, postdoc salaries did not double over the same period of time. During the recovery of the economy as a whole, creation of jobs for the first time in recent memory? Well, now DM tells us this is a "spectacularly tone deaf time"... Just as a personal note- when I get to the postdoc stage, if I make 37k/year, I will have *exactly* the same level of disposable income I do now, as a grad student at 22k/year (assuming I don't have to move to a place with a higher cost of living than rural PA, which is fairly unlikely). Why? Currently, I qualify for state childcare subsidy. Yes, my daycare costs that much. Basically, if you are going to argue in favor of pauperizing your lab workers, pauperize them enough so they can get on public Welfare. "If the value you get out of being a scientist (the coolest job ever for me) doesn't jive with the value you get out of your actual paycheck then you should change careers." I knew that going into it. I don't wanna travel, I don't have time. I don't wanna eat gourmet food, it's mostly against my environmental ethics. I don't wanna drive an expensive car, I'll just be that more stressed if it gets beat up in a parking lot. I don't want new clothes, goodwill is again better for the environment. I don't wanna own my own home, the subprime mortgage crisis and keeping up with the joneses has left me ill to my tummy. I do wanna be able to feed my kid, and make sure he's safe while I toil in lab. Asking for *a living wage* is not the same as demanding mega-$$$for having fancy letters after your name. Face it, this isn't a struggle because postdocs are over or underpaid, or their training is too long or not long enough. It isn't a struggle because academics in general (up through full professors) just don't make a lot of money. It isn't even a problem of the BigBad Administrators who make *gasp* 6 figure salaries. It's the fact that people all along the line defend the status quo. What we're up against is the same problem elsewhere in our economy, you see it again and again- the middle class is shrinking and the cost of living is rising. DM says the fact that postdocs aren't special is a reason to not give them money. I say that if we wait until everyone who deserves a raise gets one, we'll never act at all. • cookingwithsolvents says: Ok, then look at it this way: Postdoc-ing is an entry-level position for many jobs. The salary runs from 30-50k-ish, which is about the range for many other professional, entry-level positions. The problem postdocs have is that they are 30ish instead of 22ish and they have "adult" costs to deal with. postdocs have spent their "entry level" years earning a PhD (at even lower pay grades, I know, but at least there IS a stipend in science). It would be great for STEM fields if top academics got movie star or pro athlete salaries (and probably great for society...even MORE cheap labor) but that's not going to happen. Profs that produce results valuable to the economy actually do pretty well from patent royalties, consulting, etc. Profs that study e.g. Apple-eating Zebras do it because they love Apple-eating Zebras and can't expect to be paid like some prof that works on something that society values more. How those compensation levels are figured out is a tough problem but again, if your love of a topic isn't enough to offset your financial needs then find a different career. Loving your job is an IMMENSE PRIVILEGE that VERY VERY FEW PEOPLE enjoy worldwide. Some salary tweaking is nice and should happen but as previously mentioned, the NIH's motivation to have young, hungry scientists working uber-hard on projects is obvious. Loosing (e.g.) 6% of the workforce when it IS in many ways a crapshoot to produce the hottest science and best people is tough. I have a amazingly talented colleague that is leaving academia to work for a company and will undoubtedly produce all kinds of cool science for this company which will result in real products (= real $$) for that company. . .that's good for us as a society, right? Or is it a bigger loss that they won't be running a lab and doing what they really think is cool? I just don't know there is a right answer to these questions. • whimple says: Postdoc-ing is an entry-level position for many jobs. Wrong. An entry-level position has possibilities for career advancement within the organization, that is, you can be promoted without having to apply for a new job. Or is it a bigger loss that they won't be running a lab and doing what they really think is cool? This is more subtly wrong, which you as a newly minted assistant professor will discover in (hopefully) very short order. There's no such thing as running a lab doing what you really think is cool. There is only running a lab doing what a study section will give you fundable score to do. Hopefully there will be a reasonable match between fundable-scoreness and personal-coolness, but don't kid yourself that this is necessarily true. • tideliar says: "if your love of a topic isn't enough to offset your financial needs then find a different career. Loving your job is an IMMENSE PRIVILEGE that VERY VERY FEW PEOPLE enjoy worldwide." That is so fucking assinine I just puked on my fucking shoes. And while we 're at it, you're conflating two arguments. Love of your job (WTF does that mean?), and the value of your output. Output value is qualitative, and irrelevant to the argument about raising postdoc stipends. • DrugMonkey says: The problem postdocs have is that they are 30ish instead of 22ish and they have "adult" costs to deal with. postdocs have spent their "entry level" years earning a PhD (at even lower pay grades, I know, but at least there IS a stipend in science). And PIs are older, have more "adult" problems to deal with and have spent their entry level years as (surprise!!!) grad students and postdocs. During the NIH budget doubling? To the best of my knowledge, postdoc salaries did not double over the same period of time. Nobody else's salary doubled as a direct result of this either. you can track the NIH salary cap- it didn't double. around 60% over the interval from FY1992 to FY2010. NRSA scale? From FY93 to FY03 the starting postdoc salary jumped 69%. see http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2008/04/repost-em-postdocs-always-overestimate-their-intellectual-contributionsem#comment-859818 faculty is harder to judge because the jobs vary so much from state schools to private university, med school to regular campus, etc. at least where I am my salary is about 60% over what at least a handful of people (who's salaries I am vaguely familiar with) of similar career tenure were making in the early to mid 90s. So the postdoc NRSA scale has not been outpaced by the senior faculty cap and, from my limited anecdotes, by regular faculty salary. Nor, again IME, by technician salaries-our entry level is up about 60% or so over the early to mid 90s. During the recovery of the economy as a whole, creation of jobs for the first time in recent memory? Well, now DM tells us this is a "spectacularly tone deaf time"... Is this so difficult? The priority here is getting as many people back to work as possible, not paying those who manage to hold their jobs more money. Do you really not know anyone who has been out of work for 9mo or more? How many jobs have you all 6%-ers created in the past two years? Jobs that would not exist save by you doing something. My number is greater than zero. All this "fuck those who don't have jobs, I need a raise" shit is just so....Republican. I will have *exactly* the same level of disposable income I do now Yup. And everyone that crosses a tax hurdle gets "screwed" too- AMT, loss of deductions, loss of eligibility for benefits, financial aid, etc, etc. I most certainly did not say that the fact that postdocs are not special means that they do not deserve, IMO, more money. I said that they need to bring a better argument than "we are special" to bear. Especially if they are expecting help from other players in their own industry to whom the arguments also apply. • namnezia says: miko (@61): Some places do adjust for cost of living and experience, for example here is the postdoc pay scale from Stanford, which is substantially higher than the NIH levels: http://postdocs.stanford.edu/handbook/salary.html Likewise, some places will offer full benefits, housing and child-care subsidies, etc. When you apply to a postdoc position you can and take take a look at the employment policies of that institution or lab within the institution, and if they are unsatisfactory to you, don't go there. There are far more postdoc positions than there are talented postdoc applicants, and unlike when you apply for TT positions you have a lot of training options for your postdoc. • becca says: "My number is greater than zero." So it is for the Census. Creating temporary jobs (be they predocs, postdocs, or techs you end up having to let go when the ARRA frenzy fades) is insufficient (albeit perhaps necessary) to sustain the economy. I'd argue that there's no evidence the model of temporary scientists actually sustains scientific progress for NIH. In the absence of a demonstrated beneficial effect (as opposed to pure conjecture by people whose knowledge of econ is completely unpolluted by the reality of inefficient systems), the human costs make the "lean hungry postdoc" model a poor choice. "All this "fuck those who don't have jobs, I need a raise" shit is just so....Republican. " What about "fuck those that create shitty jobs and expect us to be grateful for them, I need daycare". Fuck creating jobs that don't pay enough to live on, fuck the system that justifies this by "market forces" as though there's something magical and sacred about that phrase, fuck income inequality. Screw you guys, I'm moving to Europe! "Especially if they are expecting help from other players in their own industry to whom the arguments also apply. " The argument I put forth isn't "postdocs deserve more money". It's "Postdocs need more money". Fact is, that argument DOES NOT apply equally to most PIs (in the "living wage" context). • cookingwithsolvents says: re: whimple @ #65 Given the job environment I have come of working age in (late 90's through now), an entry-level position certainly doesn't have to be in the same company. Not a single one of my friends from college or made since are anywhere near the company they started with and all have advanced considerably. Most have changed employers 3-4 times for all of the possible reasons (laid off, advancement, personal conflicts, 2-body problem, weather, etc.) so I'll stick to the "entry-level" description of a postdoc. WRT funding I totally, totally know one has to do what the funding source deems useful. It so happens that I work in the chemistry/energy field so it's a little different from NIH-funded world. I DO enjoy the research I do but I'll certainly focus on less "fun" parts if that's what I need to do to further my research program (i.e. keep my students and staff employed for those that don't think about that kind of stuff all the time). tideliar @ 66...output value in the sense I spoke about, i.e. economic value of one's science to society, is pretty damn quantitative. The salary of engineering faculty is typically > science faculty > humanities faculty. Same applies for grad students and postdocs. All reflect the salary these professions get on the open market which are reflective of the value of these skills to their respective employers. Taking lower pay to do a job you enjoy, even love, is also a pretty obvious concept which is an incredibly personal calculation. If you decide 20k more a year to do something you enjoy less is worth it, then you do it. I understand valuing how much "I like/love this job" is worth to you in actual dollars can be very very tough. Especially as geography/family come into the equation. Back on the OP, there has to be a balance between decent salaries for students and staff vs the # of positions. I am very interested in the balance between it and the hard numbers are very, very useful when thinking about salaries and budgeting. • Zuska says: This is hilarious. Members of the disappearing middle class arguing over whether or not we should just be grateful to hang onto the few semi-decent jobs that didn't vanish in the last plutocratically manufactured dustbowl swirl, and look hopefully to the horizon where maybe a few more just-managing-to-get-by jobs may be soon forthcoming, or whether we shouldn't be agitating to have a dismal salary increase for a few of our subsistence wage jobs that might just barely cover our recent cost of living expense raises but not really put us any much significantly closer to something like financial security. If only postdocs had a union! Then the members of the former group could blame the union leaders for the members of the latter group's unreasonable desire to feed their children and have a few dollars left over to pay a babysitter and take in a movie at the megaplex. There is an enemy somewhere in this melodrama, but methinks it is not the unruly 6-percenters, not yet still is it the unreasonable PI's worried about managing budgets. • Gummibears says: DM: "I went through grad and postdoc stints where I didn't have any investments and have crappier retirement/investment/pension opportunities" miko: "Are you a flat taxer?" Miko, even a flat tax would not completely remove this injustice. It is typical in our line of work that, instead of getting a decently-paid job right after college, we spend an additional (at least) decade getting crappy "stipends" and meager postdoc/junior faculty salaries. Then, after finally we are able to earn around 100k (at the age of 40), the system suddenly considers us filthy rich and wants a "fair share" from as. "Fair", my ass... (It would be fair if I could average it over the last 15 years) • whimple says: There is an enemy somewhere in this melodrama, but methinks it is not the unruly 6-percenters, not yet still is it the unreasonable PI's worried about managing budgets. I think the enemies are the PIs who manage to sleep comfortably at night by deluding themselves into thinking the training they provide is worth the substandard wages paid the postdoc (if they think of it at all). In my experience, the first three postdoctoral years can be realistically considered "training". Anything beyond three years has transitioned to "exploitation". It's a sad circumstance where the shared interests of the NIH and the PIs diverge from the interests of the "trainee". Unionization is the obvious solution, but I don't think postdocs are capable of pulling it off, especially since those who would benefit the most, the long-term postdocs, are considered "losers" and examples of "it won't happen to me" by the new postdocs, which is the population that would need convincing to join. • Gummibears says: @73: should be "from us", of course. Am I getting dyslexia, or what... • The priority here is getting as many people back to work as possible, not paying those who manage to hold their jobs more money. Do you really not know anyone who has been out of work for 9mo or more? How many jobs have you all 6%-ers created in the past two years? Jobs that would not exist save by you doing something. My number is greater than zero. All this "fuck those who don't have jobs, I need a raise" shit is just so....Republican. Honestly, DM, I think you've lost your mind. Whose priority is getting as many people back to work as possible? There is a difference between quantity and quality. There is obviously a set TOTAL$$ = number of postdocs hired x salary. I'm not sure if you're advocating to keep the status quo when it comes to postdoc trainee stipends- but *I* propose that if we want to be so goddamn liberal and non-Republican about it all, let's lower postdoc salaries to minimum wage. That would be so awesome! Assuming an$8 per hour wage, and a 40 hour workweek, that comes to $16,640 annually. Hot damn! We could more than DOUBLE the postdoctoral workforce! Now that's what I'd call a fucking improvement to the motherfucking NIH budget. Because after all, the NIH is a goddamn employment agency and postdocs are just warm bodies in a lab, keeping the pipets moving. This shit is *fucked up*. And as for my lab, with it's 60-80 postdocs (if you wanted to bring it up)- an extra 6% would increase our personnel budget by about$200k. Yeah, that seems large, no? But our budget is obscene, and could easily accommodate a 10% raise for everyone. They pay us what they so because they can. And don't be fooled into thinking that more people are hired into my lab because I'm paid less.
Also, I think all of this PI whining about how you guys deserve raises too is completely beside the motherfucking point. Since when do two wrongs make a right? Sack the fuck up, and get Obama to write a wage increase for you into the NIH budget. I'd like to see if you'd be pissing and moaning then about "unintended consequences".

• DrugMonkey says:

those who would benefit the most, the long-term postdocs, are considered "losers" and examples of "it won't happen to me" by the new postdocs, which is the population that would need convincing to join.
Yep. This.
Whose priority is getting as many people back to work as possible?
If you do not recognize that the US is in a world of hurt because of this economic situation and that we all have an interest in economic recovery you need some growing up. (and I am not directing this specifically at you CE, this is a general point). We should all be interested in the unemployment rate, across the board. Not just in our own specific job category.
This shit is *fucked up*.
Maybe. But so is the fact that there are people that work manual labor or service jobs, work their behinds off day in and day out in HARD jobs. I've done those jobs. For a brief period of time, let me tell you. And sure, academia has its stresses and hardships and unknowns. But you know what? It is pretty cushy in comparison.
So why do you "deserve" more than minimum wage? Because you are so smart and wonderful and blah, blah? So is the postdoc who isn't getting hired. And how did you come up with your ratio? I say the starting PI "deserves" $150K, instead of your suggested$100. Why? well why not? Your postdoc margin over minimum wage is not really based on anything other than a desire to make more money either....
an extra 6% would increase our personnel budget by about $200k. Yeah, that seems large, no? But our budget is obscene, and could easily accommodate a 10% raise for everyone. They pay us what they so because they can. This is just so far outside of my experience, yes including labs that run on the order of 30 postdocs. I just don't know of any labs of any size that are so flush that they turn money back when they don't have to or have an extra$200K lying around. Your situation seems a HUGE stretch to use as a basis for general NIH policy examples. Also, you've already said that the lab doesn't even adhere to the NRSA scale, the first order of business should be getting to that.
Also, I think all of this PI whining about how you guys deserve raises too is completely beside the motherfucking point. Since when do two wrongs make a right?
I'm doing it as an example. I'd like more money, yes, who wouldn't. And I submit that all the same arguments being made here are there for us. Or nearly so. It is by way of pointing out that so far the postdoc crowd is not getting deep into why anyone else should care about this issue. It still smells like a personal desire to make more money, full stop.

• neurlover says:

"DM: "I went through grad and postdoc stints where I didn't have any investments and have crappier retirement/investment/pension opportunities""
And did you walk uphill to the lab both ways, too? I agree with whimple -- the first 3 years might be training, but after that, it's a job, and post-docs should be treated like other university employees. If they already were, then it would be reasonable to give them the same salary raises as others who made the same amount of money.
What do DM & CPP make? if it's more than a post-doc, it makes sense that your raise should be smaller (and, perhaps even 0 compared to 6% for the post-doc). Yes, paying any individual more will shrink the size of the workforce. That's not an effective argument for why any employee shouldn't advocate to be paid more.

• DrugMonkey says:

if it's more than a post-doc, it makes sense that your raise should be smaller (and, perhaps even 0 compared to 6% for the post-doc).
No, it doesn't.
Yes, paying any individual more will shrink the size of the workforce. That's not an effective argument for why any employee shouldn't advocate to be paid more.
Depends on the employee. Familiar with collective bargaining? Despite what you might hear from right wingers, preserving jobs at the expense of individual salaries is occasionally very much a focus of employees.

• axon76 says:

Why should faculty support a 6% increase in NIH postdoc stipends? If the increases passes, you DM will be paying $2,220 more per year for a first year postdoc. Peanuts compared with equipment and bulk reagents. According to the text of the President's budget proposal, the 6 percent increase will result in 92 fewer full-time training positions compared with last year (total of 17,164 such positions), so there won't be significantly fewer postdocs for faculty to hire. The total amount of money needed to pay for the 6% increase is$41.7 million (total $825M for training,$30+ billion total NIH budget) -- the equivalent of several R01 grants or one large consortium grant (that's grant money plus the administrative expense to review/manage them). So there's not really going to be much of an effect to NIH's budget -- it's not as if
paying postdocs more will significantly hamper funding of other NIH grants, equipment, building funds, etc. Pay postdocs more and eliminate some NIH bureaucrats -- that would be one way to spin it.
And why should postdocs care about increasing salary? Well, I personally think that benefits are more important (for a variety of reasons most postdocs lack workman's compensation and don't qualify to purchase private disability insurance) -- but President Obama proposed a 6% increase in NIH training stipends to Congress. It is far, far easier to convince Congress to approve something already proposed in the President's budget than it is to convince Congress to rewrite a portion of the budget.
Nobody is against increasing PI salaries or the overall NIH budget. But the NPA is the National Postdoc Association. PIs have their own advocacy groups.

• DrugMonkey says:

the first 3 years might be training, but after that, it's a job, and post-docs should be treated like other university employees.
Right. So you are admitting that the NRSA stipend levels have absolutely nothing to do with the real problem here. The problem is the expansion of the postdoctoral training interval into a substantial part of the career.
What you really mean then, is to lobby Congress to prevent any Federal dollars being spent to support scientists as trainees, postdocs or any other similar dodge after, say, three years of employment in a science related career after the award of the PhD. No fellowships, for sure, and no research associate support without firm evidence that the University has the person in a job with benefits and security comparable to others in the University.

• DrugMonkey says:

the equivalent of several R01 grants
$41.7 M figure appears to be the single year value. Modular R01 is$250K per year, with typical 56% overhead we're at $390K. 41.7M / 390K is 107, not "several". • axon76 says: I almost forgot -- what is the an argument for why postdocs deserve a 6% increase, ie what makes postdocs special? Parity with government employees: If a Ph.D. fresh out of grad school is hired as a government employee scientist (at the State Dept, Dept of Energy, etc.) then they must be paid a minimum GS-12 level (that's about$75,000 per year in the Baltimore-Washington area). With some postgraduate experience, you start at GS-13 ($89,000; comparable to an NIH staff scientist). So why is it that NIH postdocs, both intramural and extramural, make roughly the equivalent of a GS-7? Why are NIH postdocs held to a lower grade than postdocs working in other parts of the government? Is that fair? • tideliar says:$41.7 M figure appears to be the single year value.
Modular R01 is $250K per year, with typical 56% overhead we're at$390K.
41.7M / 390K is 107, not "several".

And how many R01 get funded every year? In 2009 NIH funded 26,523 R01s (from the NIH data book here).
So, even by DMs numbers that's less than 0.5% of R01s needing to be cut to allow postdocs to live above penury. I'd say that's a fair trade off. When you're looking at 26k grants (just R01s), I think 107 can be counted as "several"

• axon76 says:

$41.7 M figure appears to be the single year value. Modular R01 is$250K per year, with typical 56% overhead we're at $390K. 41.7M / 390K is 107, not "several". DM, are you saying that you'd rather keep funding 107 R01 grants and not increase postdoc pay? • DrugMonkey says: No, axon76, I was correcting the misrepresentation of 107 as "several". tideliar, while it may be a small fraction of the total grants, 107 is not "several" by any reasonably agreed upon use of that term. Why are NIH postdocs held to a lower grade than postdocs working in other parts of the government? Is that fair? I don't know. How do other gov / civilian comparos stack up? • DrugMonkey, you are plain old just being difficult about this. The simple fact of the matter is that postdocs deserve a 6% increase in salary because they are worth more than$37500 a year.
Regardless of what NIH policy is, regardless of what other budgetary items are on the chopping block, regardless of what PIs and technicians make, regardless of whether or not we have decent benefits, regardless of how many postdocs you PIs *want* to have or think you need to have- regardless of all of this: WE ARE WORTH MORE. Good postdocs are worth their weight in gold. And mediocre/bad postdocs do not win NRSA fellowships.
As to why anyone else should care? Maybe you shouldn't. It is, at heart, a selfish endeavor. So by all means, lobby your congresspeople to decline the 6% postdoc pay increase. That's what you can do as American residents.
But do know that, in light of all of your clamoring on this blog about how you two promote minorities and women and young investigators in science, your posts and comments here just make you look hypocritical. Keeping us down for the good of all of us... Thanks so much.

• DrugMonkey says:

As to why anyone else should care? Maybe you shouldn't.
As you know damn well, the heart and soul of being a PI is 'splaining to someone else why they should care about what you think they should pay out money for.
Yeah, I think people in academic science should make more. From grad school to postdoc to faculty level. All of us. The careers should be less uncertain and there should be an alternative to up-and-out.
Griping about salary when everybody except postdocs is flatlined (see whimple's comment in the other thread) or furloughed seems to me to require an extraordinary argument. I'm trying to get someone to make that extraordinary argument.

• becca says:

DM- for the last time, *everybody's* salary is not flatlined or furloughed. That shit is not going down at my uni, it's a local (albeit *way* too common) phenomenon. And the people that can fix it are university administrators, NOT congress as they make appropriations. Although, Dr. Feelgood had a perfectly reasonable proposal to *add* to the postdoc salary increase that might help resolve your woes. That was a productive contribution (btw does anyone know the last time the 250k/year figure went up?)
This whole "I'm going to pretend not to be swayed by the obvious problems postdocs have making ends meet because these arguments would not sway many people during a time when that is ubiquitous" is non-productive bullshit. You know as well as I do that the systematic economic problems of the middle class are appalling. And you know as well as I do that that to say "I can't solve the bigger problem, so I won't act on this part of it" is a bullshit technique. Make a difference to your postdocs when you can. Throw the starfish back. Even if you can't get all of them.
Out of curiosity, you say you have created a non-zero number of jobs. If you were to have given your postdocs a 6% raise, would you have been unable to create those other jobs? I mean, does the argument *actually* play out that way on the ground?

• miko says:

DM, the same reason you don't care that a 6% increase would make it easier for postdocs to make ends meet is the same reason postdocs don't care if this increase makes your lab finances harder. You think postdocs asking for a raise is "republican"? Your argument is pure supply-side economics. The postdoc-PI relationship is inherently antagonistic, particularly for pre-tenure PIs.
Your "yeah we all want more" refrain, however, displays a lack of empathy somewhere in the autism spectrum. "Wanting" more money when you have $350 left over after rent and bills at the end of each month IS DIFFERENT than "wanting" more when your monthly disposable income's in the thousands. • But do know that, in light of all of your clamoring on this blog about how you two promote minorities and women and young investigators in science, your posts and comments here just make you look hypocritical. Keeping us down for the good of all of us... Thanks so much. Yes, this does present a pretty disappointing face. I hear that the PIs are worried about their budgets being squeezed - perhaps we should lobby for a 6% increase in avg grant package in addition to a 6% salary increase for post-docs. Instead, I'm hearing a lot of lip service about promoting women/minorities/young investigators...until it has a potential impact on your bottom line. "We are totally all about supporting advancement of underrepresented groups/young invesitgators in the sciences. As long as we can keep treating you like indentured servants." Disappointing. Clamoring about these issues is still a net good - raising awareness will hopefully get more people "on board" with fixing the system so that it is no longer disadvantaging these groups and is not exploiting cheap, highly skilled labor. But I think you just fell off the boat, Drug. • DrugMonkey says: I'm hearing a lot of lip service about promoting women/minorities/young investigators...until it has a potential impact on your bottom line. You are making the assumption that because I am pressing postdocs to make a better argument for their 6% raise that this tells you something about what I may or may not communicate to my CongressCritter. I would like to know, however, why a 6% across the board raise is so obviously good for women and minorities in science. Since some of you all are talking about the good of the right-here-and-now individuals, seems to me that this logic leads more to arguing for specific programs like minority and re-entry supplements. Arguing locally for childcare policies to improve. Fighting the good fight against bias when it comes to paper review, grant review, seminar slots, presentations at meetings etc. all of your clamoring on this blog about how you two promote minorities and women and young investigators in science I do not clamor one bit about what I do or do not do. I blog. That is all. I am uninterested in characterizing the impact. That is for you to conclude. As I have said on more than one occasion when it comes to feminist issues I make zero claims to being a feminist. Likewise I warn all and sundry that it is inevitable that some or other viewpoint of mine is going to disappoint you if you insist on trying to pigeon hole my views. Just as a hint, showing me where I'm wrong goes a lot farther than expressing "disappointment" that I'm not living up to what you think I should be... • becca says: "I would like to know, however, why a 6% across the board raise is so obviously good for women and minorities in science. " Because, oh dearest Drugmonkey, while YOU are a fair and civic minded PI and pay all your postdocs equally according to NIH scale, OTHER PIs out there are playing favorites. And guess who the (majority)white male greybeards are favoring? When I first came into one of my rotation labs, there was a little bulletin board for news. I posted up an article from Science on disparities of payscale for men and women, highlighting bits. Little did I know what a pile of horse dung I was thereby stepping into! You see, shortly before that time, the university had been involved in a settlement about women's pay, and my PI had been advised/ordered to increase his female postdoc's pay. This resulted in GREAT OUTRAGE from very senior male postdoc, who was, in fairness, great at the bench (although as a person, he was an irredeemable sexist asshat). This did *not* help my relationship with senior male postdoc, who created a pretty hostile work environment. In short, I know about unintended consequences. That doesn't change the Right Thing To Do. All of which is not to say that some of your other ideas for addressing disparity aren't great, it's just that Pres. Obama hasn't proposed any of them (to the best of my knowledge), so they aren't "on the table" for congress. • LadyDay says: I'm still wondering when we're going to address the discrepancies in stipend levels. It's not necessarily that NIH stipend levels are low (at least not for all places, in terms of cost of living). It's that stipends aren't regulated better, and the differences occur in the same lab. For instance, this goes back to one of my earlier points. U.S. citizen postdocs in a couple of labs that I know of will get NIH post-doc stipends as long as they are on a training grant or fellowship. However, foreign postdocs *in the same lab* are often compensated much less, almost 40-50% less. And, when citizen postdocs come off their (more direct) NIH funding, they are either expected to take the same low salary as the non-citizen postdocs (a pay cut), get their own funding (which would have to be a CDA or K award or another fellowship from another funding agency if they have used up 3 years on the T32 or F32s that they are on), or move to another lab. I've heard of PIs "losing" someone on a T32 or F32 who is not able to obtain funding and won't take a pay decrease, only to replace that person with 2 vastly lower-paid (and under-paid, usually foreign) postdocs (there are other issues that some of these foreign postdocs have to contend with, too, that are much nastier - such as PIs who take advantage of the fact that they sponsor postdocs' work visas and basically, whether consciously or not, use fear to overwork those postdocs). I've also heard of labs in which the male postdocs are paid better than female postdocs. I wonder, what is the NIH able to do about this? Can't there be something that essentially regulates stipend levels more forcefully for all postdocs in the U.S., regardless of nationality and sex and ethnicity? It's fine for institutions to mandate greater stipends based on cost-of-living adjustments, but there needs to be something that protects every postdoc in terms of base pay. • miko says: In some places salaries are part of the grant--e.g. there is explicit funding of x amount for x years to do this project for a postdoc. Postdocs are reagents. In others, postdocs are employees of the institution and PIs have entitlements to x number of postdocs, according to rank or grant$ or some other formula. Postdocs are overhead.
These are imperfect, but much more transparent, alternatives to our system. However, they also limit the opportunities of exploitation and PI-postdoc vampirism that makes U.S. research the Best.

• Gareth says:

Many institutions pay scant regard to the NIH recommended minimum. When I was a postdoc, my university eventually introduced a university-wide postdoc payscale which, after the first year, was progressively less than the NIH recommended minimum. To my mind, the biggest rip-off is that a lab gets an NIH grant and the postdocs do not get the money the grant recommends they should get. Whatever the reasons for this, there is no escaping the fact that postdocs are being ripped off.
I sometimes ask my non-scientist friends to guess my salary. The guesses range from $75,000 -$120,000. The public is often very impressed by scientific research. What they do not realize is that they are getting world class research at an absolute bargain price for their tax dollars.

• DrugMonkey says:

it's just that Pres. Obama hasn't proposed any of them (to the best of my knowledge), so they aren't "on the table" for congress.
And there, becca, you are as wrong as wrong can be. Congress makes the eventual bill what it is. They may take Executive suggestions as the starting point but they amend the heck out of it.
So imagine if these good folks of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Other Related Agencies (http://www.nationalpostdoc.org/policy/briefing-room/stipends/2011stipends#senate) in the Congress received a note from every postdoc in their jurisdiction calling for not just the 6% raise but some other specific change. Like a requirement that NIH funds could not be expended on a "training" salary for anyone three years out from the PhD with continuous science-related employment. Or that the institutions had to provide evidence of minimum pay parity for similar work/status regardless of funding source (making the NRSA the defacto standard in the process).
Or whatever else policy you can dream up.
Hit all the subcommittee members hard with large numbers of constituents all calling for the same thing and that will put it "on the table" I assure you.

• DrugMonkey says:

To my mind, the biggest rip-off is that a lab gets an NIH grant and the postdocs do not get the money the grant recommends they should get.
Just so we are clear here, the NRSA stipend levels only apply to people supported on training grants, Institutional or Individual.
There is no requirement that a postdoc / research associate / whathaveyou paid from a research grant be paid anything other that what the local institution decides.
I see this as one very good fix which perhaps people should consider mentioning to their CongressCritter. Require that non faculty postdoctoral scientists supported on the R-mech grants be paid at least the NRSA scale. To head off the first PI complaint, make it apply only to new competitive awards going forward.

• whimple says:

miko, can you elaborate? Everywhere I've ever been all postdocs are reagents. The alternative is that postdocs are staff scientists (of the institution), but there are such good economic reasons to not do that that I don't know of any (North American) examples. Can you give specifics? Around here though, grad students are "departmental scientists" -- you can either get a grad student by writing them into the budget on a funded grant, or alternatively out of departmental largess, depending on a lot of variables. If a PI goes out of business, the grad student isn't thrown out of school but is reassigned to another lab without interruption in stipend (usually). With postdocs, if the PI goes out of business, the postdoc's position doesn't exist anymore.

• DrugMonkey says:

there is explicit funding of x amount for x years to do this project for a postdoc.
To slightly correct myself, in an itemized budget NIH grant (i.e., over the $250K modular limit), the salary and benefits for a postdoc would indeed be specified. But I don't think there is any way that this is obligatory. PIs can use TBD as the postdoc name and list any salary they like (top of their local scale, say). Then hire someone new and pay a lower salary. Or they could list an actual person* in their lab and then put an entirely different person on the project once the grant is awarded. *I feel certain that postdoc's whose name and CV were used to support the grant would feel outraged!!11!! if they were then not supported by that project. • miko says: "miko, can you elaborate? Everywhere I've ever been all postdocs are reagents." Well, in most places a PI can hire as many postdocs as they want as long as they get their own fellowship or the PI pays them out of startup or non-earmarked money. Correct me if I'm wrong, but postdocs are not usually line items covered under project grants. If you look at job listings in the UK, you will see things like "postdoc to study the actions of gene Q on trait X in cell line Z for 3 years for 10 pounds a year." And that's it--that's your job for 3 years and 3 years only. That's not the only system at work in the UK, but it's a significant number of postdocs. This prevents you from becoming the vassal of a PI who withholds career assistance or recommendations until they have extracted all they can from you. In Singapore, as another example, postdocs are usually staff scientists, though chosen primarily (but not only) by the PI. The number of postdocs you can hire is negotiated. • "I would like to know, however, why a 6% across the board raise is so obviously good for women and minorities in science." I think we can all agree that the post-doc period represents the highest rate of attrition for any one of those groups for a slew of reasons. Not least of which is the shitty job market/overpopulation of PhD problem - whether or not this is a causative agent quickly devolves into a chicken/egg debate. But there's also a ton of confounding shit that happens during the same period: it's about the same time that most people are feeling "do or die" about starting families ('cause ya know, those of us with ovaries do have a limited window in which reproduction is safest and most likely, and it tends to overlap with the window during which we are postdocs, and kids =$ down the drain).
If they have student loans it's unlikely that they have ANY savings to work with (so where are those extra $...but those more$ have a vastly different impact on post-docs/trainees/non-employees of the institution than they do on faculty. Full stop. You are kidding yourself if you don't think this is part of the leaky pipeline problem that you profess to give a shit about.
So yeah, that 6% raise would relieve some career pressures that are unique to some combination or subset of the following: women/minorities/early career scientists. Will it also help some single white dudes? Sure. But it will also make some of those highly skilled PhDs who can add some diversity to the scientific community less at risk for attrition.

• DrugMonkey says:

So yeah, that 6% raise would relieve some career pressures that are unique to some combination or subset of the following: women/minorities/early career scientists.
It is a testable hypothesis anyway. I'd rather put the money into K99/R00 awards to women and other underrepresented scientists, personally. More effective by definitively helping "one starfish" return to the ocean, as becca puts it, rather than maybe/sorta kicking a whole bunch of starfish slightly closer to the waterline.

• More effective by definitively helping "one starfish" return to the ocean, as becca puts it, rather than maybe/sorta kicking a whole bunch of starfish slightly closer to the waterline.
Maybe. But maybe a whole bunch of those starfish on the waterline would be more able to stay wet with a meager salary increase. Maybe those starfish that you're "kicking out" are the same ones or equivalent in numbers to ones who are leaving anyway because they need to pay the bills. If they are equivalent in numbers, or in objective output re: scientific progress, or whatever metric you're interested in (data?), which of them are you more interested in retaining?

• It is a testable hypothesis anyway. I'd rather put the money into K99/R00 awards to women and other underrepresented scientists, personally.
Sure you'd rather, because K99s don't come out of your operating budget. I don't think that this is a bad idea - in fact I think it's great. But it's not mutually exclusive with giving people who are still too early in their careers a living wage so that they can make to the stage at which they can apply for a K99.

• yolio says:

I can see that I am late to this party, but somehow I think a major point is missing from the discussion. I have no clue what postdocs "should" be paid, and don't think anyone else does either. But, if you don't pay postdocs enough to be able to make a decent living, then you are going to lose the best and the brightest. This is bad for science.
There will always be some talented kool-aid drinkers who put up with a lot. But with each drop in the quality of life that science provides, there will be a corresponding drop in the number of savvy, creative scientists who are willing to put up with it.
Once upon a time, you could be reasonably assured that if you were talented and you worked hard that you would have a career in science; all you had to do was persist. That isn't true anymore. When there was stability, you could afford to be paid less. These days, talented hard working people frequently find themselves at the end of a long post-doc stint with zero future career options and a need for an entirely new career path at the same moment they are trying to start their families. Science has become a riskier career path. In order to retain talent on a risky career path, you have to pay them more.
Now, a talent shortage may not feel like a very pressing problem right now. But do you really want to watch science become a second rate profession?

• whimple says:

...if you don't pay postdocs enough to be able to make a decent living, then you are going to lose the best and the brightest. This is bad for science.
What makes you say that? You'll lose the clingers-on, those with lives outside science. Why does inadequate pay selectively remove the best and brightest? The beauty of postdocs is, there's plenty more replacements from where that last crop came from!

• Neuro-conservative says:

DM @03 -- I am a big fan of K99, but that mechanism is apples and oranges relative to the present discussion. And it is self-serving of you to "kick the problem upstairs" in that way.
The K99 can only reward a small percentage of trainees who are operating at the highest levels of achievement and potential. But there are still huge numbers of hard-working, talented postdocs who are barely hanging on a the end of each month.
DM, you personally have it within your power to affect the lives of however many trainees are in your lab. Think globally, act locally, etc etc. Unless you are constrained by some sort of institutional T32, you need to own the fact that you are making a choice to pay your postdocs meagerly. You may have many good reasons for doing so, but that is what you are doing.

It is funny to observe how quickly avowed liberals turn into cheap labor conservatives when they are the paymasters with all the same justifications for opposing any kind of minimum pay or better work conditions unchanged.

• Dr. Feelgood says:

I dunno where you people work. The salary range for hard money tenured Ph.D. faculty members at my institution is 120K-205K. Salary range for my technicians is currently \$46K-65K. We generally pay postdocs NIH scale plus 5k. But that is my department. Others can do as they please...more or less. I am in an area of the country hard hit by the recession but at a MRU with a history of good labor relations.
Postdocs get health insurance but no retirement. We get around that by hiring them as "research associates" which is a doctoral level staff position. Doesn't cost us more and they get retirement. A little creativity goes a long way.
I don't care about the NIH, or its dark, sinister goals of oppressing postdocs. It's all bullshit. I just find good people to work with in my lab and move forward from there. Tough to find them too. You would think there is this vast army of hyperqualified stars out there, when I mostly find idiots with social problems who should probably work at a comic book store. It's sucks sifting through the massive piles of postdoc crap out there to find the gems. I am sure ALL of you on here are those gems.....and are not rationalizing your lame ass work through a massive conspiracy to keep you down. Find a better mentor/advocate. My goal is to have anyone who comes to work with me become a successful indepedent TT scientist. It makes me look better. Is it self serving? Sure. Does it give them exactly what they want? Damn right it does. If your PI does not want you to have that ASAP, then he is your overlord, not your senior colleague.
Sounds like you have some douchey PIs.

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