Weary

Jun 05 2012 Published by under Academics, NIH Careerism, NIH funding

Congrats to everyone who got their new NIH grants submitted on time for today's deadline! Make it rain, people, make it rain.

I got mine out and in the end I was pretty happy with it. Felt like crawling over gravel to get it done though. Some of them are like that. Many of the apps just fly along....yeah, they are work to write but it is just in the doing. Some other times it feels like you have come down with acute dementia or something and can barely make the thing hang together.

It's gotta get done though. And my straight up props to all of you who put in the long hours, or the agonizing hours, to try to keep your labs funded and knocking out the science.

119 responses so far

  • juniorprof says:

    Good luck to all of us!!

  • Jeremy Berg says:

    Congratulations and best of luck!

  • MudraFinger says:

    Amen. Two out the gate this week for me - one to NIH, and another to a federal agency which will remain anonymous.

  • Arlenna says:

    Thanks to yall who let me know that because I was just at study section last week I am likely to have my late application accepted as long as I get it in within two weeks! I was driving myself into the ground to get mine done too, and now I have a few more days to polish my overview scheme figures. Soooooo much appreciated.

  • Ewan says:

    Yeah, I have my resub on July 5; pretty worrying to work out what's going to happen if I stop having any money for the lab!

    And to ensure maximum depression, just got back my 'not discussed' from the Feb 5 submission date. Joy. I *liked* that one, too..

    ..sigh.

  • NoobAsstProf says:

    I found this blog while I was writing my first ever R01. I've written smaller foundation grants (and gotten them funded), but this was a whole new beast. Thanks to this blog, I made it through. Now, it's crossing my fingers, drinking some beers, and going back to the bench.
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Virgil says:

    OK, to play Devil's advocate... You're pretty happy with your grant, but it felt like crawling over gravel to get it out the door, and you could barely make it hang together. Those do not sound like the words of someone enthused by their own science, and if you don't believe in it, then sure as hell nobody as study section will!

    Sure, it's tiring, but you gotta stay keeeeeeeeen. The moment it becomes just another task to keep bread on the table for the post-docs, run away!

    </troll>

  • Pinko Punko says:

    My pal had one in for today. I sent him a ref for a paper out yesterday in PNAS that has some bearing on his grant, but also suggested that one of his letter writers might be screwing him over. Not what you want to hear about 18 hours before your deadline. He just absorbed it and kept rolling. No choice, really. Oy.

    To Virgil: grants and actual science these days of 10% paylines are different unless you have some perfect alignment. There are a lot of things that you have to do on a daily or short term that will not get the study section excited. Melding what you have and what you want to get in a way that conforms to a very conservative funding climate is tough. Getting in between "We want more data" and "This work is basically done, so what is next" and avoiding "this is fishing" while aiming for "this will generate new and cool stuff" is exhausting.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    What I am not enthused by is the low hit rate. I like my science just fine....in fact one of the reasons this one was hard was the fact I have data to play with right now and manuscripts to write ..... You know, my *actual* job?

  • I have trouble with this "weary" concept being applied to well-paid people sitting in comfortable chairs doing creative work typing shitte into a computer. Yeah, it's work; but c'mon: perspective.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    True, I am not stapling itchy insulation into an attic for minimum wage in mid June. It's a calibrated exhaustion. Also, a good night's sleep and I'm hitting the fun part again today...hard.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    Otoh, PP, postdocs are still working in slavery, right?

  • Yes, people who are paid > $40,000 per year plus health benefits to sit in comfortable chairs in air-conditioned rooms and do highly creative work that satisfies their own curiosity with little supervision while setting their own hours are slaves. Absolutely.

  • Just for the record: For the past two years I earned less than $40.000 (check the NIH standard salary for post-docs)...

  • becca says:

    I love being a postdoc, though it'd be nice to know if I'll be able to eat come August, and where do I sign up for a *comfortable* chair?

  • Drugmonkey says:

    Highest state min wage in US is Washington - $9.04/hr is $18,803 annual. Federal minimum is $7.25, that works out to $15,080.

    ....just for the record.

  • Dave says:

    The K-deadline is not until next week, so I'm still working on my K01. The research plan has been through about three revisions in the last few month thanks to internal-reviews by some very brutally honest colleagues. The big change came last week when an almost complete re-write was required. I remember reading somewhere on here (or somewhere else) that your toughest comments should come BEFORE you submit. That has definitely been the case for me. I have to say that now it is something that I am immensely proud of, and it is probably the best piece of writing that I have ever done. Whether it gets funded or not, I know I have put everything into it. Does that count for anything? Who the fuckke knows.

    By going through the K99 and now the K01 process though, I have gained so much, and this blog has been incredibly helpful (even small things like using Georgia font and proper referencing - thanks DM and CPP!). When I submitted my K99, I thought I was hot-shite, but I got "taken back to school" a little bit by the study section and it was probably the best thing that could have happened. I made so many rookie mistakes in that proposal. Looking back, it was a miracle I got a decent score at all.

    I think going through the whole K-grant submission should be mandatory for post-docs/junior faculty who have a shot at making it in this game. You have to think about science in a way that you might not want to, and you have to communicate so precisely that it hurts at times.

  • becca says:

    "Highest state min wage in US is Washington - $9.04/hr is $18,803 annual. Federal minimum is $7.25, that works out to $15,080.

    ....just for the record."

    Highest state min wage in US is Washington - $9.04/hr is $37,606 annual. Federal minimum is $7.25, that works out to $30,160 annual.
    ...just for the record.
    #CalculatingWagesBasedOn40hoursAndRequring80isWageTheft
    #THAT'SWhereTheSlaveryComesIn
    #SubsetOfPIs
    #YouKnowWhoTheyAre

  • Dr. O says:

    Congrats and well-wishes to all the applicants!

    And Becca wins today's award for most creative hashtag use.

  • anonymous postdoc says:

    Becca: The comfortable chairs come in when you place a university OSHA request for a laboratory-appropriate (i.e. non-absorbent upholstery) ergonomic chair. I got a Steelcase Leap.* However, the air conditioning blows right on my desk and consequently I am too cold. These are the kinds of miseries to which CPP was undoubtedly referring.

    *But I also have back injuries beyond my young postdoc-y years, so this outcome is not totally just because I am a brat.

  • neuromusic says:

    you can't cry "wage theft" as a postdoc b/c you are an exempt employee... just like all those CEOs that are "enslaved" to an 80 hour workweek.

    http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/hrg.htm#8
    http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/fairpay/fs17d_professional.pdf

    as long as you are making $455 per week, then it is legal and therefore NOT wage theft.

    you can't bitch about "slavery" either because you are not enslaved.

    this is slavery:
    http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html

    you chose to take a modest pay cut to follow your dream. you chose to put off saving for retirement. you chose to join the lab in Big Expensive City. these are decisions you've made and, while you might not be making as much as your friends who got MDs, you are still living pretty cushy compared with people who are *actually* in slavery. maybe it sucks that they are making more than you. I'll give you that. maybe there are systematic problems in funding for graduate students and postdocs, including deferral of retirement contributions. i'm with you. maybe we need a better "pipeline". sure.

    but its still not slavery... until someone finds me a postdoc where the PI took away their passport, didn't pay them anything, and threatened to kill their entire family if they try to tell anyone. #sup3rk3rn3d

    unless that's the case, you are no more a slave than the mid-level manager puting in 80 hours per week trying to secure the coveted Director of Blah position or the bass guitarist on tour, neglecting her family and loved ones trying to make it big.

  • arlenna says:

    word, neuromusic

  • becca says:

    neuromusic- wait, so what about the legality of grad students who do make less than $455/week?
    But anyway, yes 'slavery' is hyperbole. Just like it's hyperbole to say the US genocided the Kerds in Iraq. That doesn't mean that what we did in Iraq was A-OK, and it doesn't mean there is no problem calculating wages based on 1/2 of the hours actually worked. Whether it is *legal* has very little to do with whether it is *ethical*.

    In addition, just as it is hyperbole to compare a postdoc to a slave, it is hyperbole to compare them to a CEO. And just because *I* am no more a slave than the other people you list, does not mean there are not postdocs out there who are being exploited, often via their visas.
    Heck, I know someone with a PhD education who is working in in a lab for no wage and will get sent home to China with her family destroyed if she displeases her PI. The only catch? She's the wife of the PI. It's a much more complicated situation than I want to judge, but the *potential* for abuse is absolutely staggering.

  • Sure, being a postdoc is not literally slavery, and it was also my free choice to do this. But if I think about the fact that a large proportion of my paycheck goes to daycare and we had to move to a cheaper place to be able to pay for daycare, and I compare myself to friends who work in industry jobs, I sometimes feel a little sorry for myself. I love what I do, but it would just be nice if that paid slightly more.

  • neuromusic says:

    @becca - the $455 mark only counts for exempt employees, of which grad students are not. first, they are students and are usually supported on TAships or stipends. Stipends aren't wages, so don't count. TAships are usu. paid hourly and are counted as wages, thus subject to minimum wage requirements and not.

    basically, it can get more complicated for students... but we're still students and the uni could legally make us pay our own way and take out loans, no?

    I understood that you meant "slavery" and "wage theft" as hyperbole. But they are also *legal* terms. And it isn't at all hyperbole to compare a postdoc to a CEO when we are talking about wages because they are legally in the same class of exemption.

    I know someone with a PhD education who is working in in a lab for no wage and will get sent home to China with her family destroyed if she displeases her PI. yep, that sounds complicated. but I suppose that's anonymous reporting is for: http://www.polarisproject.org/what-we-do/national-human-trafficking-hotline/report-a-tip

    @InBabyAttachMode - totally with you on this.

    "I compare myself to friends who work in industry jobs" Exactly. It is 100% accurate to describe postdocs as "undervalued" given that they could find better pay in a different industry.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yet interestingly none of us chose those other industries where we'd be appropriately valued.

  • becca says:

    neuromusic- yes, and from a tax-law perspective it is no hyperbole to compare the $1.60 I earn every year in interest in my savings account to Mitt Romney's $21.7 million dollars. But why would we categorize things by "legally the same category"? How is that meaningful?

    The question is, why do you WANT postdocs to be paid less than truckdrivers? Why do you WANT a society where the CEO of Apple and the Chinese factory workers making ipods are both considered acceptable, as they are "legally in the same category" (i.e. working for a legal wage in their respective countries)?

    Because that is the type of analysis you are doing, the type of reasoning you are performing... your contorted semantic shenanigans are a completely transparent ploy to avoid the obvious conclusion that you are defending anything done in the interests of Capital to exploit workers to the maximum extent profitable. Academia is not exempt.

    DM- in precisely what industry are the babyboomers not outsourcing R & D to China? You can argue we were all idiots to get PhDs, but not that we are all ignoring the plethora of good jobs we are trained for that pay better than postdocs. That shipped sailed many years ago.

  • Bashir says:

    Also working on a K award. Due to the local folks tomorrow so just grinding on proof reading now.

    as far as postdocing goes. It's difficult. I get the need to complain and often join in.
    There are totally legit reasons to. I might use works like "unfair" or maybe even "exploitative" if I were feeling cynical. The word slavery on the other hand is somewhere between ridiculous and offensive. Seems like a Goodwin rule type situation.

  • becca says:

    It's important to note that DM used "slavery" first, as troll bait, and it worked. But if we endlessly tone-troll about the inflammatory word, we miss the point... that there are legitimate issues with the treatment of workers in general. If you care about social justice even a whit, you cannot ignore economic justice (and ONLY pay attention to say, race/gender justice. These things can't even be tackled without the economic justice angle anyway... that's the point of things like the Lilly Ledbetter act). And postdocs are a good example in one sense- because if exploitative working conditions happen to people who are smart/dedicated enough to get PhDs, they happen to *everyone*. Do other people have it worse than postdocs? Sure, although I do think some particularly egregious abuses of foreign postdoc are the kinds of things that should concern anyone (the scenario of demanding work for no pay by using a Visa isn't by any stretch unimaginable).

    In effect, I think mocking the labor concerns of postdocs serves to perpetuate a shifted Overton window where NO ONE will talk about actual labor issues in this country (at least, for anything short of human trafficking). Which is bullpockey.

  • neuromusic says:

    your contorted semantic shenanigans are a completely transparent ploy to avoid the obvious conclusion that you are defending anything done in the interests of Capital to exploit workers to the maximum extent profitable.

    Wow.
    Um, no.
    My "semantic shenanigans" are an attempt to clarify that postdoc != slavery and that your choice of words is, as Bashir said, "somewhere between ridiculous and offensive." I'm clarifying that your math was wrong and that the job does not get an hourly wage. Does it justify an hourly wage? Time-and-a-half? Timesheets and a clock? I think not, but we can debate that if you'd like. But I will certainly argue that the lives we live as academics is WAY more like that of the white collar world than the blue collar world. Way more like that of a CEO than a factory worker in China.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I am way more convinced by your genaralizing of brain-work labor issues, becca, then I am by the suggestion that postdocs have a bad deal. My somewhat oblique point in the last comment is that people claim they would have been a success in other brain-work. I doubt it.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Neuromusic- have you considered that defining white collar information work as if it were management is a longstanding end run around labor protections?

  • becca says:

    drugmonkey- I, as a postdoc, do NOT have a bad deal. BUT I can see that some postdocs (particularly foreign ones where there are visa issues) DO get a bad deal. The fact that I'm one of the lucky ones does not make me inclined to defend the system as a whole. I mean... really? Would you accept "I didn't deal with sexism, therefore it doesn't exist"?

    neuromusic- First, "slavery" wasn't my choice of words. However, I was defending it's use inasmuch as I was explaining to DM why it might be employed. I readily admitted it's hyperbole though. We're all on the same page that postdocs != slavery. Are the employment conditions for most postdocs still wrong? I think so.

    My view is that the entire legal exemption to minimum wage for "intellectual workers" is, given the current economic structure (where a minority of workers do physical labor exclusively), simply a way for capital to exploit workers.
    The "white collar" differentiation can entice people who are intelligent to view themselves as allowed in the outermost circles of social/economic privilege. This has the "coincidental" impact that they do not make themselves as available to fight for worker's rights in general.
    Arguably, the entire academic system serves to separate those best equipped to fight capital from 'the other' workers, by giving them "white collar" work to be proud of such that they will accept lower wages. If it was really prestigious, it would come with money.

  • neuromusic says:

    @becca - had my last comment drafted before I saw your most recent at 5:29

    if exploitative working conditions happen to people who are smart/dedicated enough to get PhDs, they happen to *everyone*.
    Totally with you on this. 100%.

    @dm - I had not considered it... but I wouldn't argue that this kind of work doesn't still necessitate labor protections, fair wages, job security, etc.

  • drugmonkey says:

    becca- wrt your last comment we are entirely on the same page when it comes to analyzing the situation.

  • miko says:

    I also love being a postdoc from a daily life point of view, even though the salary sucks (please for fucks sake spare me a catalog of jobs that are harder and pay less. I know I should just be happy not to be a rice farmer in North Korea, thanks for the heads up). I will be up front and say my spouse has a TT job, we don't have kids, and therefore we are happy, pleasant to be around, and financially ok. I do feel exploited and like there is a seriously damaging COI between grad students and postdocs on the one hand and academic PIs and the funding system on the other. I worked my ass off entirely independently (funded by PI, of course, but every idea and drop of sweat was mine) to get a project done. This project will substantively help my PI (who is an asst.prof) with grants, recognition in the field, and is a big boost for tenure. For me -- well, it might help me make a couple of short lists, or it might not (the more I poll people on search committees and look into who gets shortlisted, the more I am convinced that short lists are based 98% on pedigree and 2% on CV font, and I have no pedigree).

    So as cynical and frustrated as I am at the total asymmetry in the benefits derived from my labor for me and my PI, I just turned down an industry job that a) Paid well over double my postdoc salary, much better benefits, shorter hours, no commute, nice people. b) Is actually mostly basic research in a field I'm interested in.

    This is objectively a horrible decision given my limited job market prospects, and I barf a little if I think about it too much. Such is the dark spell that the ideal of being an academic PI has cast. You people don't even seem happy.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Why did you turn it down?

  • Isabel says:

    "The word slavery on the other hand is somewhere between ridiculous and offensive."

    Some people just love being offended.

    Here are definitions 2 & 3 from my handy dandy dictionary that came with my Mac.

    • a person who works very hard without proper remuneration or appreciation : by the time I was ten, I had become her slave, doing all the housework.

    • a person who is excessively dependent upon or controlled by something : the poorest people of the world are slaves to the banks | she was no slave to fashion.

  • Isabel says:

    The part about being a postdoc that I am not looking forward to is having to move around and get resettled frequently- short term jobs (with no job security) for very specialized, highly skilled workers would normally pay very well. In other fields for example an independent contractor would be paid a lot more for doing the same work as a full time worker with security and benefits. Having to compete aggressively for jobs that are going to pay poorly and just leave one stranded somewhere looking for the next gig does seem a bit weird to me. However, I don't have a good understanding of the postdoc situation yet.

  • Bashir says:

    Some people just love being offended.

    I did not say that I personally was offended. I'm not sure how you could conclude that I "love being offended". I do not use that word lightly. I was saying the term in it's use referring to postdocs/grads is certainly inaccurate and some might be offended.

    And really, arguments based on definitions 2-3 from a dictionary on your Mac? If we're going to play the "but the dictionary says" game at least come at me with Merriam-Webster or something (seriously look at their definition, it's different).

  • miko says:

    "Why did you turn it down?"

    Stupid and impractical. Not emotionally ready to let go of the idea of designing my own research program. Chicken shit.

  • Permadoc McFailurepants says:

    Yet interestingly none of us chose those other industries

    Speak for yourself, hamster wheel.

    As for you, miko, who says you can't design your own research program in industry? All that restricts you is having to find the money to pay for it, and that's the case in the Ivory Tower too. All that differs is the available mechanisms for getting funding, and even some of those overlap.

  • Isabel says:

    "And really, arguments based on definitions 2-3 from a dictionary on your Mac?"

    It just shows how common those usages are. It's like being offended when someone who hasn't eaten all day says they're starving. The key concept is exploitation. And if someone feels their situation is unfair it probably is, and if a lot of people in that industry feel that they are not fairly compensated and their agency is compromised or whatever, their situation definitely fits one of the common uses. Everyone understands which definition is being used.

    Like I said, can you name another industry that expects highly qualified people to take fairly low paid temporary jobs, that involve moving to new places, often new countries, every few years? To do science that as someone pointed out, mainly enhances the reputation of the PIs lab but does not build seniority or job security for themselves? When there are so many less PI positions (from what I've heard around here) than postdocs? This seems to me like expecting only a minority of medical residents (or interns or whatever they are called) to end up as full-fledged MDs and the rest to forge other careers. Maybe it comes down to oversupply (the low pay) but isn't that evidence of exploitation?

  • physioprof says:

    Like I said, can you name another industry that expects highly qualified people to take fairly low paid temporary jobs, that involve moving to new places, often new countries, every few years?

    Sports, music, acting, dance, politics, comedy, just to name a few.

  • miko says:

    "As for you, miko, who says you can't design your own research program in industry?"

    The people who give the company money to do research that they want done. Is who. This is very different from convincing the NIH (or whoever) to give you money for research that YOU want to do.

  • Isabel says:

    "Sports, music, acting, dance, politics, comedy, just to name a few."

    People with the equivalent of a PhD, getting low pay, and having no idea where they are going to be in a year or two? None of the above. The arts are very different anyway as they are concentrated in areas where people can get job after job and form social networks (real ones). Try again. Or be more specific, please.

  • Lady Day says:

    Actually, Isabel, I am extremely familiar with the music world (some of my childhood friends became big name classical soloists, others now perform in big orchestras, some are professional studio musicians for the folk/rock music industry, and some are in relatively well-known rock bands). Music is one field in which a PhD (or equivalent intensive training) doesn't guarantee a better paying job. For instance, most classical musicians who go through extensive training (conservatory/music school), no matter how virtuosic their talents, will have to take multiple jobs in order to make ends meet, even those with PhDs. Most of my musician friends have jobs: 1.) with an orchestra (sometimes more than one or with a chamber ensemble), 2.) teaching (private lessons and/or at the high school or university level), and 3.) doing summer gigs, most of the time across the country. I don't envy them, although I wonder whether giving up on music for science was really a step in the right direction....

  • Isabel says:

    First of all, I'm from the art world myself. And I just don't believe it's the same as getting a PhD in the sciences. A PhD is not just "intensive training". And see my comment about the arts. How about examples *not* in the arts, which are concentrated in exciting cities where people can often spend their entire careers, or at least hang out with family and friends, pets. etc as they make ends meet. Furthermore, when I worked as a commercial artist I made more, not less, than full time employees who were doing the same work.

    I do agree that there are exploitative elements that are similar. At least the stereotypes of starving artists and that only recognized geniuses will "make it", and only after years of suffering for their art, are familiar. Are you and Physioprof suggesting that we bring these stereotypes to science?

  • Isabel says:

    I meant to say that as a *freelance* commercial artist I made more than employees.

  • Lady Day says:

    From what I have observed, people in the visual arts have different prospects than musicians. For instance, you can make quite a good compensation doing graphic arts or in advertising without much talent, *if* you work for a corporation, but music is very, very different. Everyone I know in music has to travel quite a bit and spend hours practicing/rehearsing, outside of their day jobs (whether those day jobs are musical or not). Not to mention performing during the evenings/on the weekends when the rest of the world has time to attend concerts. I'd say that family time for them is just as limited as it is for scientists.

  • drugmonkey says:

    You are deranged Isabel. you are just going to conveniently define every other profession as "not like" the PhD. Ridiculous. The musician, actor and minor league ballplayer are all pursuing a profession that requires the development of talent, is relatively poorly compensated during that time, has highly uncertain odds of making "The Show" and in fact does require geographical flexibility.

  • Isabel says:

    Deranged? I am just exploring the subject. Okay, so science careers are to be seen as needing special talent or genius and perfectly intelligent people pursuing careers in science should accept "highly uncertain odds of making "The Show"". Thanks, you answered my question.

    "you can make quite a good compensation doing graphic arts or in advertising without much talent, *if* you work for a corporation,"

    Hahaha the grass is always greener I guess. Believe me no one is making quite good compensation as a graphic artist without much talent. And yeah, working as a drone doing work that is so uncreative that any hack can do it is every artists dream!

    ps. I know tons of musicians, too. Lots of them do pretty well eventually as producers, sound engineers etc. And they do not have to relocate to often obscure locations every few years- touring and summer gigs are not the same thing at all! And many successful or at least surviving artists and musicians still live in the metropolitan city we went to undergrad in, and most have families there.

  • drugmonkey says:

    perfectly intelligent people pursuing careers in science should accept "highly uncertain odds of making "The Show"". Thanks, you answered my question.

    I am just exploring the subject

  • Isabel says:

    "in fact does require geographical flexibility."

    I just don't see how actors and other artists have to pick up and move every few years. travel is not the same thing!

    So we are left with minor-league baseball players.

  • becca says:

    I gotta say, my Mom was a union teamster, and it's pretty much nothing like the PhD career track. Heck, my grandfather was a PhD in pyschology, but had the option of clinical practice, and it was pretty much nothing like my career path. I have friends from growing up and college in computer programming, law, marketing, publishing, speech pathology, working as a security guard, airplane mechanic, running a fitness business, being a SAHM and working at starbucks. Guess what? None of those jobs are like doing a postdoc either (the lawyer I know is a public defender). I also have an ex-boyfriend who is in the financial industry. That's another "40 hours a week? HA!" field, but is otherwise not very similar.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Wtf does that have to do with the discussion becca? Nobody said every profession is like science, just that some are.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Isabel your lack of understanding is not proof of anything.

  • Permadoc McFailurepants says:

    This is very different from convincing the NIH (or whoever) to give you money for research that YOU want to do.

    No it's not, it's exactly the same. You are trying to convince someone, whose agenda differs from yours, to give you money for a certain research program. Industry funders are looking for ROI, granting bodies are looking for... whatever it is they are looking for.

    Granted, if what you want to do is very basic or very blue-sky research, you *might* have a harder time getting industry money than an NIH/whatever grant. Might. But when was the last time you, or anyone else, got NIH/whatever funding without some kind of boilerplate bullshit about bench-to-beside or potential commercial partnership opportunities or like that?

  • Odyssey says:

    Isabel is right. Being a professional musician is nothing like being a grad student or postdoc. I know because my sister is one. It's much, much harder.

  • physioprof says:

    Loonabel, you think the third violinist at the Akron, OH, City Orchestra always dreamt of living in motherfucken Akron when she was training at Julliard?

  • Lady Day says:

    "Lots of them do pretty well eventually as producers, sound engineers etc."

    Yeah, but some musicians don't want to do that. They'd rather establish a reputation for themselves in the industry by performing on their instrument(s). I have friends who do the producer or sound engineer thing as a day job, and they do rock gigs on the side so that they can keep playing/jamming, because *playing* the music is their number one love, but they couldn't get the bills paid doing that.

    CPP's comment is pretty much how it goes for a lot of really talented musicians who want to keep playing.

  • miko says:

    I get what your saying, Permadoc, but c'mon. There is a difference between translational boilerplate bullshit and a 6-12 month timelines for...erm... "deliverables." Most small biotech companies have to run very closely with whatever big pharma partnership, foundation, or VC is paying the rent, and those questions tend to be very specific. There is no following risky tangents, going off after an unexpected observation.

    I don't know, I have no first-hand experience with this except this recent one... it's just how it was described to me. And it seems like for CNS research is getting tighter and tighter.

  • drugmonkey says:

    CNS research in industry is not getting "tighter", way I hear it is more like "gone".

  • Isabel says:

    "Isabel your lack of understanding is not proof of anything."

    Huh?

    "Isabel is right. Being a professional musician is nothing like being a grad student or postdoc. I know because my sister is one. It's much, much harder."

    Thanks for the N=1 input. Why is everyone obsessed with the arts? And does your sister have to pick up and *move* across the globe and start over every few years? Anyway, we all knew from day 1 that 1 out of 200 art students end up making their living at art. Is that how you all see science?

    Seriously, if artists are the only comparison anyone can come up with it proves the point that it's a weird set up. And you keep conveniently forgetting my point, that when I was a freelancer I got paid more to make up for the lack of security and benefits.

    "..., because *playing* the music is their number one love, but they couldn't get the bills paid doing that.."

    Look, I wasn't born yesterday, okay? I get it.

    "CPP's comment is pretty much how it goes for a lot of really talented musicians who want to keep playing."

    CPP is an ass who never had to struggle financially a day in his life. His trainees can't stand him either.

    It is also a much bigger investment on the taxpayers part to train scientists.

  • becca says:

    drugmonkey- if one grew up working/middle class a very small minority of the professions one is *likely* to encounter function like science, and for the ones that do, you usually get one of the downsides (e.g. long hours) not all of them (e.g. poor salary).
    Maybe you and CPP know tons of professional folk who are in the same boat as postdocs. That doesn't mean it's typical. For the record, I came up with that list after going through my facebook. I didn't leave anybody out of that list (except those that I've met post-grad school or those for whom I have no idea what they do for a living). That's it. It's designed to illustrate the rough boundaries of the entire spectrum of career reality I knew existed.

    Also, I'm sure the Julliard violinist got culturally brainwashed by the "NYC is the only place on earth" crowd, but at least once you *are* in Akron you can live there. (my Mom's trucking company was headquartered there. We considered moving there)
    EACH relocation required of you has the potential to wreck havoc on your social support network, your kid's futures (if applicable), and your net worth (more relevant for those without kids).
    If you live in NYC (particularly if you've never had to leave) and you don't have kids, and home ownership isn't the only path to middle class wealth-building available to you, you do NOT live a normal life and your experiences do not justify the system.

  • drugmonkey says:

    How did this morph from "we're special put-upon flowers that deserve a better career path" to "the system must be justified" becca? Nice sidestep there....

  • odyssey says:

    Thanks for the N=1 input...

    ...And you keep conveniently forgetting my point, that when I was a freelancer I got paid more to make up for the lack of security and benefits.

    Really?

  • Isabel says:

    odyssey, nice try. But you were describing someone you know's subjective experience (her job is hard) and I was describing how a system works so not comparable.

    Why are we trying to get more kids to decide to become scientists again?

    Yes, it's sad that we do not make more use of artists and musicians. There used to be a lot more federal grant money available for the arts. It was impossible for anyone in my generation who wanted to be independent to get a foothold. We all ended up working forever for people of the previous generation who had all kinds of support getting established.

    Well thanks for this, I had no idea science was set up like the arts, and that scientists who go all the way to getting the PhD are thrust into the world to see who makes it, like artists and musicians (though at astronomically higher cost to the taxpayers). With the added challenge of pulling up roots every few years.

    So did the scientists who are now senior and successful go through the same system?

  • Drugmonkey says:

    Yes Isabel. They did.

  • odyssey says:

    odyssey, nice try. But you were describing someone you know's subjective experience (her job is hard) and I was describing how a system works so not comparable.

    I was referring to my sister (and her colleagues) - I have SEEN how difficult that life is. Life, not job. It's not based on what she complains about (she doesn't, she loves being a musician), it's based on years of observation of her having to scrape together a living from multiple part-time/temporary positions with no benefits. And yes, she has had to uproot and move more than once to remain employed. How precisely is that more subjective than your observations of what you (N=1) used to do as a freelancer?

  • Isabel says:

    My experience was exactly the same as your sister's. I never had insurance, and I was always trying to make ends meet. That wasn't what I was referring to. I am referring to a very basic rule of compensation. When independent contractors are hired temporarily to do the same job that others are doing as full time workers of a company they generally are paid higher rates. Sometimes jobs would go on for a year or even longer, and companies would treat them as independent contracts because they still saved money even while paying a higher hourly rate. This was widely considered to be exploitative, and is possibly illegal. There was a whole IRS worksheet, but of course the employers were aware of this and knew how to work around each item (is the work done on site, can the contractor take other jobs at the same time, etc)

    So postdocs get insurance- that's good, but it still sounds stressful to have to start thinking about your next job practically as soon as you start your present one, especially because of the need to keep building completely new social networks at each location. Well, I don't want to be too negative before I even get started - it's an interesting challenge, right? 🙂

  • Lady Day says:

    Honestly, I don't think the comparison should even matter. When I was younger and assessing my chances at success in both the classical music realm (a music professor wanted me to drop all science classes because the labs were taking too much time out of my practice schedule and she wanted me to consider a classical music career) and in the rock music realm (a college friend tried to recruit me into his band, which is now internationally successful, oddly enough), I knew that it was really tough. So, I opted not to take that route. When I thought about an academic science career, I didn't have the same reservations, and I ended up going to grad school and trying the academic route. Oddly, it has not felt much different than how I envisioned a prospective classical music career - long "apprenticeships" with experts and many, many hours spent working instead of with family.

    *However* - and this is key - although there are similarities, it doesn't mean that those situations are "right" or "fair." I agree that it doesn't *have* to be that way.

  • Permadoc McFailurepants says:

    [CPP's] trainees can't stand him either.

    On what do you base this accusation? That's a pretty fucking harsh thing to say about a working scientist -- I hope you have something to back it up.

  • drugmonkey says:

    especially because of the need to keep building completely new social networks at each location.

    social networ..... oooohhhhh, RIIIIIIGHT. Gotcha dude. I can imagine it takes some time to find a new....err, one of those.....each time you move. that is a drawback I guess. especially if getting the "card" isn't as easy in the new state.

  • NeuroGuy says:

    Comparisons to classical music, minor league baseball, etc., miss the point because value isn't being transferred to the "one-percenters" the same way it is in science. The teacher of the aspiring classical musician isn't getting a cut of any performances or recordings made by the student. Whereas the established PI is getting a big cut of the labor being performed by post-docs and graduate students. He uses it for his papers, grants, etc.

    The only answer to this is the only answer that has seemed to work in society in large: progressive taxation - redistribution of wealth from the "one-percenters" in NIH-land to the "99-percenters". No doubt the same squeals will come as it does from the right-wing in society: "but but but merit... but but but the system is fair... but but but we're punishing success.... but but but we're impeding job creation..." blah blah blah.

  • Grumble says:

    "the established PI is getting a big cut of the labor being performed by post-docs and graduate students."

    Spare me. As a PI, I know exactly what my worth is. Decades of experience in the techniques and concepts in the field are an invaluable resource for a grad student or even a post-doc. Even if a grad student or post-doc comes up with a completely original experiment (and that's rare; usually the idea is entirely my own or developed between the two of us), my advice regarding how to carry it out, how to analyze it, how to interpret it, how to write it up (not to mention my extensive editing, which is always required) and even how to present it at meetings -- all this is essential to the success of the project. How do I know? Because I've seen what happens when PIs lose track of what's going on in their labs, letting their students and post-docs founder on their own (because the PI is too busy or clueless to pay attention). Sometimes it works. Mostly it's a disaster.

    OK, so what if we took your 99% solution to it's logical extreme. What if you took my salary and gave it to a grad student and said, "take this money and do some science." Where is my incentive to help said grad student out? You can't have academic science without the academics, and the academics need to get paid.

    And believe me, we don't get paid anything like the real 1%ers in this world.

  • NeuroGuy says:

    Spare me. Yes of course the one-percenters will always claim they're actually creating the value instead of having it transferred to themselves, and claim ineptitude among the 99-percenters. Doesn't make it so. It's not my fault you can't recruit better grad students or post-docs in your lab, but that doesn't change the fact that the better grad students and post-docs are the ones creating most of the value as a whole, and not the one-percenters.

    You know what? When I was a post-doc, I didn't need my mentor's "decades of experience in the techniques and concepts in the field". You know why? Because I could (and did) go to PubMed and read the papers for myself. I had (and still have) a better understanding of techniques and concepts than he did (and does). That's what all the good post-docs do. A good post-doc should be able to learn the skill of how to write a scientific manuscript in three months to half a year (if he doesn't already know; actually, that skill should have been learned in grad school). Good post-docs are the ones getting the experiments up and running, analyzing the data (and developing new analysis techniques, and writing the code for it), and writing it up in abstracts and publications. And that's where the value is created in science, not PIs strutting around claiming how essential they are.

  • becca says:

    Grumble- you're supposed to *pretend* you aren't entitled to your extra cookies (http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S33/87/54K53/index.xml)

    Excellent leaders share credit, but tend to mostly shoulder blame themselves, even (especially!) when they know deep down how little that correlates with what they've actually done. Once you've worked for someone like that, you realize why.

    Also, a point of information: the average prof in my uni get paid $164,000/year (or so said the Chronicle). This would put hir in the top 9% of US household incomes- on a single salary. A two-prof household would more like the top 3%.

    Almost everyone reading this is likely to be close enough to the 1% *in the world* for government purposes (the grad students, who aren't yet near it, will be in the worlds top 3.6% richest people, if they simply make the NIH minimum for a 0 year postdoc). Every tenure-track R1 prof reading this has a decent shot of at least hitting the 10% *in the US*. You do, in fact, get paid pretty similarly to the REAL 1%ers in this world. Or if you don't, move to PSU ;-). We've also got a pretty low cost of living as well.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    ...the average prof in my uni get paid $164,000/year...

    Holy crap! I assume that either a) what you mean is average full prof (and even then that's pretty high) or b) your university in located in NYC or San Francisco.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    Is the football coach technically a Prof or something? That's an astronomical average for all appointed to professorial rank. Full Prof only?

  • physioprof says:

    Good post-docs are the ones getting the experiments up and running, analyzing the data (and developing new analysis techniques, and writing the code for it), and writing it up in abstracts and publications. And that's where the value is created in science, not PIs strutting around claiming how essential they are.

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    http://drugmonkey.wordpress.com/2007/08/30/postdocs-alway-overestimate-their-intellectual-contributions/

  • drugmonkey says:

    And the "good postdocs" end up with PI slots and rapidly become the very people you so disdain, Neurodouche.

    All together now "....it's the ciiiiirrrrrd-cle, the ciiiiiir-cle of Life."

  • Juniper Shoemaker says:

    Excellent leaders share credit, but tend to mostly shoulder blame themselves, even (especially!) when they know deep down how little that correlates with what they've actually done.

    When are you going to quit pop-psychologizing everyone and pretending that you know everything about everyone's lives (particularly when it comes to how "deserving" they are)?

  • becca says:

    Yes, it's just full-profs... in fairness to the Chronicle, they were trying to make the comparison to president's salaries, so using the highest sensible average would be the most conservative way to put things (our president was still ridiculously compensated). http://chronicle.com/article/President-Versus-Professor-Pay/131915/

    And no, State College is most assuredly not NYC or SF.

    Juniper Shoemaker- when are you going to stop willfully misconstruing everything I say such that it is the maximally offensive thing for YOU to read, despite having absolutely nothing to do with you? What is UP with that?

  • Grumble says:

    The funny thing is, NeuroGuy, I was very close to being exactly that post-doc. I conceived of the experiments, I performed them, and I analyzed, interpreted, and wrote them up. Maybe 95% of the hours of work on the project were mine.

    But I never felt the way you do about my PI's role. Why? Because I knew even then that the PI's 5% contribution really was essential. Conversations with him always ended with me considering a new analysis, or a new way of thinking about the data, or considering a new experiment. His edits transformed my papers from good to very good and sometimes incredibly good. I learned a tremendous amount from him, and I am grateful to this very day. He very clearly deserved whatever he got out of my efforts (authorship, salary), and I didn't resent it at all.

    In my own lab, there are some post docs and student who are like I was, and some who need more of my time. It's not a question of "attracting" one kind or the other; you really don't know how they will turn out until they've been in the lab for quite some time. And I've observed that it's possible for them to change from less independent to more independent. Some of that change comes from my advice and encouragement.

    So, you're entitled to feel as resentful as you like, but it certainly doesn't accord with my own experience. On the other hand, if your PI pays no attention and contributes literally nothing to the project but his name, then I can understand why you might feel that way.

    Now, the question of whether I'm overpaid is a different one. I don't make $164,000 per year. But I could probably make more than that if I took my skills and went to industry or consulting, or if I had done these things soon after grad school. Maybe it isn't fair that consultant and industry types make 6 figure (sometimes 7) salaries, either. But before you go off accusing professionals of being 1%-like, consider that the real problem is not that professionals are paid very well, but that financial industry types fraudulently extract shitte-loades (WAAAAAYY more than 7 figures) of money from the rest of us. Those are the 1%ers we need to combat, not doctors, lawyers and academics.

  • NeuroGuy says:

    @physioprof:

    Oh now THAT thread was really impressive. If that's the best you can do, well...

    Best comment in the thread:
    "I’m a postdoc and I never ever think statements like “Postdocs overestimate…” is an insult of any sort. Why? Because I have come to the conclusion that the people in science are the worst, low life scum out there. Of course they want to step on and insult everyone else, because even the “senior scientists” know that their work wont be worth a piece of shit ever. People remember only Einstein, Bohr, Feynman, Heisenberg, Fermi and the like. Only about 1 in every 1000 of those exalted “senior scientists” will ever make a worthwhile contribution.

    So, naturally these pathetic jerks want to take their anger out on postdocs. Major League Baseball! Lol! What an ego! Millions of people follow that… they dont get paid gold for nothing. Your mediocre ideas need to be polished by “experienced grant writing” because they are mediocre. You do know that Watson and Crick got a Nobel Prize out of a half page paper? You think good writing is an intellectual contribution! Lol! I thought it was the science that was the actual contribution.

    Without good scientific ideas, it’s all bullshit. Maybe you were better at bullshitting, which is why you are a “senior scientist”. Good for you. But don’t try to pass that off as an “intellectual contribution”. Who’s overestimating now, sir?

    Jeers!"

    Bravo, Bravo, Bravo!! I couldn't have said it better, "SS"!

    Again, I'm sorry for you that the postdocs in your lab apparently suck. But why do you generalize and imagine that your experiences are the same for everyone? There is competition for the best talent out there, ya know. My guess is you can't recruit the best post-docs because of your toxic personalities. Just sayin...

    Now, the post-docs in MY field generally do absolutely kick-ass work. In my old lab, they learned how to write a paper if needed, but once they got it minimal extra effort was required by the PI (and actually, most of them learned that skill in grad school, as is appropriate); the contribution by the PI rapidly approaches that of a co-author of a paper written by a collaborator. Of course, there are exceptions. We did have one post-doc who was flat-out lousy. They don't disprove the rule. My sympathies if your post-docs aren't at that level. But just a hint: the PI treated everyone there with a simple thing called RESPECT and didn't imagine he was God just for having gotten the R01 that spawned lots of ancillary projects.

    Do you get that funding the lab, as important as it obviously is to get anything done at all, DOES NOT equal "intellectual contribution" and does not entitle you to senior author status on the paper. Journals (in my field anyway) are quite adamant on that point these days. You're conflating "intellectual contribution" with a whole bunch of other stuff in that thread. What frickin' arrogance. You think that YOU are paying for the lab??? Yes, maybe getting grants is difficult, but that does not change the fact that it is THE US TAXPAYERS, and not YOU, who are paying and funding the lab.

    @DrugMonkey:

    What kind of lame-ass argument is that? The good postdocs eventually become professors, therefore the system is fair, nothing to see here, move on. Really??

    Some of us profs actually care about the future of science and more than just the next R01. Some of us actually care whether post-docs are treated and compensated fairly, and have the perspicacity to realize that the future of science actually depends on it.

  • NeuroGuy says:

    @Grumble:

    I'm not resentful. MY former PI was always extremely ethical about matters of authorship. He even removed his name from a manuscript once, saying he felt he really didn't contribute enough to warrant authorship. But I have a real problem with other Dr. Big-Shot PIs imagining their name should appear on every paper that ever goes out of the lab, even if they never even so much as looked at it, because "they" paid for the lab. That's the absolute height of chutzpah and arrogance. No, the taxpayers, or the institution, paid for it, and not for the PI's exclusive use.

    And it's great you don't feel resentful, but that doesn't change the fact value was still being transferred from you (the value-creator) to your PI while you were in his lab. Tell me, in what precise way was your relationship different than between two, let's say, tenure-track collaborators. Collaborators can learn a lot from each other as well, they can benefit from each other's different perspectives, and can generate new analyses, new experiments, etc. Did you never suggest a new analysis or experiment to your PI? Yes you did, by the very fact of designing them.

    Perhaps this state of affairs could go on in years past, with the dangle of a tenure-track job for the postdocs (so that they get to go to the top of the pyramid instead of the bottom), but with the funding crisis we are now in, there aren't near enough spots even for the good postdocs. Value-transference isn't "slavery" (which is hyperbole I've read elsewhere) but it is "exploitative". Attempts to keep the status quo will simply result in a massive rebellion and/or strike by postdocs. That's why (among other things) progressive taxation was instituted in society at large.

    And maybe you aren't a one-percenter in NIH-land. That doesn't change the argument either. There's an elephant in the room of science right now. Burying one's head in the sand won't make it go away.

  • Juniper Shoemaker says:

    Juniper Shoemaker- when are you going to stop willfully misconstruing everything I say such that it is the maximally offensive thing for YOU to read,

    You flatter yourself. Par for the course.

  • Grumble says:

    NeuroGuy:
    "that doesn't change the fact value was still being transferred from you (the value-creator) to your PI while you were in his lab"

    What did my PI get out of my hard work? His name on a few papers and the ability to tell the NIH he was productive, so that they would renew his grants.

    What did I get out of my hard work? The above, plus an opportunity to get a faculty job and continue doing what I love.

    If my PI had *not* gotten his name on the papers and *not* been able to renew his grants, would this in any way have resulted in *more* of whatever I got out of the deal?

    Of course not. So your statement that value was transferred from me to the PI is nonsense. Most post-docs known this already (apparently you missed that particular life lesson), and that is precisely why your predictions of a post-doc revolution are absurd. I've heard of post-doc unions and the like every since before I was a post-doc, and they rarely go anywhere or do anything. Post-docs (and even grad students nowadays) know exactly what the chances are of getting a faculty job, and they still beat down the doors of grad schools and, as post-docs, of productive labs, yammering to get in. I am certainly not dangling the carrot of their own lab when they finish; I tell it to them exactly like it is. They all realize that there are other things you can do with a PhD and lab experience than sit in my chair.

    Squeak, squeak. Your elephant in the room is more like a mouse.

  • NeuroGuy says:

    @Grumble:

    You evidently don't understand the argument at all, even though your own post provides proof of it. It just baffles me sometimes how scientists, who are taught to think critically and logically, sometimes entirely lose the capacity to do so when presented with an argument outside their own discipline. And generally, they tend to be politically liberal, but they turn into rabid right-wingers when the critiques of liberalism are applied to themselves.

    Look:

    "What did my PI get out of my hard work? His name on a few papers and the ability to tell the NIH he was productive, so that they would renew his grants.

    What did I get out of my hard work? The above, plus an opportunity to get a faculty job and continue doing what I love.

    If my PI had *not* gotten his name on the papers and *not* been able to renew his grants, would this in any way have resulted in *more* of whatever I got out of the deal?

    Of course not. So your statement that value was transferred from me to the PI is nonsense. "

    Your post absolutely shows that value was transferred from you to the PI. The PI was benefitting from your hard work which created the value. If value wasn't transferred from you to the PI, only you would be benefitting from it. If the PI had not gotten his name on the papers and renewed his grants, less value overall would have been created, and yes in that case, value would not have been transferred. But in the actual case more value was created than what you profited by, and, hence, transferred to the PI. I don't know what your field is, but mine is physics, and this is as elementary as F=ma. Geez.

    "Most post-docs known this already (apparently you missed that particular life lesson), and that is precisely why your predictions of a post-doc revolution are absurd. I've heard of post-doc unions and the like every since before I was a post-doc, and they rarely go anywhere or do anything. "

    Oh please. The robber barons of the early 1900s would be proud of you. Do you moonlight for FOX news or some other right-wing outlet? The reason why it is difficult to unionize in general is due to the power differential between the employers and the employed, when the employed are dependent on the scraps they receive for their very lives, not because the employed have learned the "life lesson" that in fact they are not transferring value to the employers.

    "Post-docs (and even grad students nowadays) know exactly what the chances are of getting a faculty job, and they still beat down the doors of grad schools and, as post-docs, of productive labs, yammering to get in. I am certainly not dangling the carrot of their own lab when they finish; I tell it to them exactly like it is. They all realize that there are other things you can do with a PhD and lab experience than sit in my chair."

    And you imagine everyone else is as forthright as you?

  • Grumble says:

    "Your post absolutely shows that value was transferred from you to the PI. The PI was benefitting from your hard work which created the value. If value wasn't transferred from you to the PI, only you would be benefitting from it. If the PI had not gotten his name on the papers and renewed his grants, less value overall would have been created, and yes in that case, value would not have been transferred. But in the actual case more value was created than what you profited by, and, hence, transferred to the PI. I don't know what your field is, but mine is physics, and this is as elementary as F=ma. Geez."

    Dude, relax. Extract the wedgie from your ass and calm down for a minute.

    The value my PI got would never have accrued to me instead of him if his name had not been on my papers. Get it? There could have been 65 authors on my publications, with me 1st and my PI last. Or I could have been sole author. The job offers I would have received would have been exactly the same under both conditions. My ability to get my own grants funded would have been exactly the same as well. So if "more value was created" by having 2 authors than one, and that extra value was "transferred to my PI", WHO THE FUCK CARES??? It wasn't my value to begin with.

    But was it my PI's? Did my PI deserve that extra value? I already explained to you that although I did 95% of the work, his 5% contribution was essential and extremely valuable. In essence, although he didn't work a lot on my project, he contributed a significant portion of its intellectual merit. So why should he not receive some value in return?

    The bottom line is that sharing authorship does not dilute the value for each individual author. Maybe in physics you are fucked up that way (I truly don't know), but here in psycho-pharmo-neuro land, we are not. That's why no more than about one out of all the post-docs and grad students I've ever talked to, since starting out in science, has ever complained (to me, at least) about sharing credit on papers with their PIs. It's simply a non-issue, which is, again, why your idea that post-docs are going to hold themselves a revolution is laughable.

    "And you imagine everyone else is as forthright as you?"

    I don't know. I do know that I bring up the hard-to-get-a-job-these-days issue up regularly, and grad students and post-docs still sign on to my lab, and stay on. That suggests to me that, at least for my small sample size, the lack of anything close to a guaranteed faculty position at the end is no deterrent.

    And in physics I'm guessing it's no different. If you can't be the next Feynman, you can always take your skills to Wall Street and feed yourself and your family very nicely.

  • physioprof says:

    NeuroGuy is off the fucekn deep end in loonie land. All that paranoia and vengefulness can't be healthy. And based on the way this dude is talking, there is no way he's ever actually competed for R01s, mentored grad students and post-docs, and run a lab.

  • [...] pissy exchange about postdoc-hood over at the Drugmonkey blog. The usual “postdocs are exploited” vs. “postdocs are deluded about their own abilities and [...]

  • whimple says:

    NeuroGuy has simply overlooked the possibility that value added by the scientific enterprise may not be zero-sum. Just because the PI gets some value does not mean that value was subtracted from the post-doc.

  • Virgil says:

    Neuro Guy is welcome to come and do a post-doc' in my lab*. However, I am going to take away all the equipment, turn off the lights, forbid him from speaking to anyone, and just for good measure I won't say exactly what it is I want him to do. All those things belong to me as PI, and if he won't share his "added value" with me, then why should share my things? He will be expected to publish a minimum of two glamor mag papers per year, using his 99% effort salary paid off my grant (the other 1% is for non-research time, like commenting on blogs).

    *Of course, what I meant to say is he's welcome to come by my office and have a good face-slapping for being a whiney little fucker. FFS get in line and earn your place at the table lke everyone before you. You are probably smart, so just extend that bit of your brain to encompass humlity.

  • katia says:

    "being a whiney little fucker".. This is new. I thought that whiners were not little but big fuckers.

  • becca says:

    I realize there are a ton of foaming at the mouth Glenn Beck types that are comparing profs at Harvard to the 1% of the business world. There's actually a shred of truth to that, for some of the ones actually at Harvard.

    Still, most institutions are not Harvard. Most profs are not #bobchickenshit or the Bentley driving CPP. So attacking profs because they are "the 1%" to sew seeds of discontent toward professors as a whole is sick and wrong.

    What you can say, however, is that when it became the norm for profs to pay people off their grants, this came with it a general incentive to keep wages for trainees as low as possible (at least, if we assume that in general more people hired = more science produced). That makes profs the bourgeoisie, pretty much by definition.

    For the bourgeoisie, it matters not if they *foster the conditions under which labor can be turned into wealth*. It doesn't matter if they are working hard themselves, and adding value. What matters that they are accumulating wealth in a way that is not accessible to the proletariat.

  • Isabel says:

    "So did the scientists who are now senior and successful go through the same system?
    Drugmonkey
    June 8, 2012 at 8:46 am

    Yes Isabel. They did."

    My understanding is that the average length of time as a postdoc has increased, while at the same time the likelihood of getting a tt job has decreased. So it's not really exactly the same, is it?

    Yet all the PIs here seem pretty confident they would still be where they are today...

  • Grumble says:

    "What matters that they are accumulating wealth in a way that is not accessible to the proletariat."

    Except that it is accessible. Just go to grad school for 7 years, get your PhD, work your ass off for 10 years as a post-doc and then research scientist or whatever it's called, and get yourself a faculty job. That's exactly how I did it. I wasn't born into it. I didn't get here the way a capitalist gets from $1 million to $10 million. And finally, my soft money position is barely more stable than that of a post-doc's. So stop with the bourgeoisie-proletariat mumbo-jumbo, OK?

  • whimple says:

    "Yet all the PIs here seem pretty confident they would still be where they are today..."

    But not confident enough to let go of the tenure system... 🙂

  • Odyssey says:

    Yet all the PIs here seem pretty confident they would still be where they are today...

    Not I. Often when I've sat on a search committee, I've come out the other end of the process wondering how the hell I landed this gig.

  • Virgil says:

    @ Grumble
    Just go to grad school for 7 years, get your PhD, work your ass off for 10 years as a post-doc and then research scientist or whatever it's called, and get yourself a faculty job. That's exactly how I did it. I wasn't born into it. [...] So stop with the bourgeoisie-proletariat mumbo-jumbo, OK?

    Amen to that. In my case a shorter PhD (in the UK), bussing tables in the evening to make rent while writing up my thesis, living on ramen noodles for 3 years, followed by 6 months of telemarketing and other sh!tty jobs to stay off unemployment benefits, then 3 post-doc's (6 years, 5 of them here in the US) then finally a "real job" with basic rights such as health coverage at the ripe old age of 32. Of course, my RO1 renewal just got sh!t canned, so who knows how long the "real job" will be around?

    I wonder where the entitlement atttudes of post-doc's comes from, then I look about and I see grad' students driving better cars than me, messing with their new iPhones, buying houses in their 20s, and there's your answer. It amazes me that even though we're technically in a "recession", these people have no concept of real hardship. It even extends to the lab - I explained to my lab the other day that during my PhD we were expected to wash and re-use disposable plastic cuvets, had to rack-up our own pipet tips manually, and prepared many of our own reagents from scratch. The horror! Yeah, I think I just officially turned into my grandpa.

  • becca says:

    Grumble- the majority of postdocs will never land a TT faculty job at a research university, right?
    Now. Can you find kids who are homeless who got accepted to Harvard? Yep. Does that mean that the benefits of Harvard are therefore accessible to everyone (or everyone who "works their ass off")? Not. So. Much.

  • Grumble says:

    Well, Becca, I never said it was easy to get to TT-land; in fact I believe I said the opposite. But this land is just as accessible to others as it was to me. That isn't true of real capitalists (i.e., the real bourgeoisie). They were largely born into money, access and privilege. There are exceptions (Bill Gates, Andy Grove, etc), but there are far more humble beginnings among tenure-track science faculty than there are among, say, Wall Street investment bankers.

    Now, if you want to accuse us TTers of being bourgeois in the Marxist sense (the bourgeoisie control the means of production), go right ahead. But when my college decided to give someone about $300,000 worth of equipment and an expensive lab renovation, they probably thought, "hm, maybe we should give it to someone who knows what the fuck he's doing." That's why post-docs don't get to play with my toys without my permission (and instruction). I'm not (and my college most certainly is not) convinced there's a better (communist?) way to make sure lab resources are put to their best and most productive use.

  • Isabel says:

    "But this land is just as accessible to others as it was to me. "

    This does not jibe with the assertion that it has gotten more competitive overall.

    Also, how many taxpayer dollars are used to pay for these long apprenticeships that will likely come to naught? What a waste!

  • Isabel says:

    "but there are far more humble beginnings among tenure-track science faculty than there are among, say, Wall Street investment bankers."

    Can you cite some statistics that support this assertion? Is this as "true" today, as it was when you were up for tenure?

    For example we all know how important pedigree is when seeking tt positions. The grad students at my highly-ranked university do not tend to be from modest backgrounds. So how does that work? Maybe things have changed since you went to school on the GI bill. At the same time, Wall Street jobs are known to be attractive to ambitious children of the lower middle classes.

  • NeuroGuy says:

    Geez, people are naive. And determined to justify the system come hell or high water.

    @Grumble:

    "The job offers I would have received would have been exactly the same under both conditions. My ability to get my own grants funded would have been exactly the same as well. "

    How the hell do you know?

    "The bottom line is that sharing authorship does not dilute the value for each individual author. "

    Absolutely ridiculous. Why doesn't your lab have a policy then of listing everyone in the lab as author on every paper that comes out of it? If you're worried about ethics, you could, if you tried hard enough, find a (however miniscule) intellectual contribution for everyone to make which would qualify them for authorship. And this apparently isn't transferring value from the two or three people doing 99% of the work, so why not? Hell, why not try to find an authorship role for lots of people in other labs as well. Why should high-energy physics be the only field with author lists numbering in 4 digits?

    And if you believe this, I've got a great deal on a used car you might want to check out (and I'll sell it you, but both our names will be on the title, I'm sure you'll understand). The person who sees all these names on the paper on your CV has no idea who did what, and has no idea whether you were in the 1% token or the 99% real group. Of course sharing authorship dilutes value, just as being joint rather than sole owner of anything dilutes value.

    @whimple:

    "Just because the PI gets some value does not mean that value was subtracted from the post-doc."

    No it doesn't, and the economic term for such is positive externalities. If positive externalities are created by the post-doc, please explain why it is right and just that the PI should be the only one to benefit, when the taxpayers are the ones paying the post-doc's salary.

    @Virgil:

    Fuck you. In the first place, I left post-doc-hood a looooong time ago, and I'm now an associate prof. at an R1. Guess what? I didn't leave my conscience behind. But you did. You think that because you were exploited, it's OK to exploit others. You're a moral cretin. And you're the one with entitlement issues and noone else. It's not "your" lab, you dumbfuck, to do with as you damn well please. You didn't pay for it. While it should be paid out of the pockets of the CEOs and arbitrage traders, in reality because of our bullshit tax policy it's paid out of the pockets of plumbers and electricians and schoolteachers.

    @everyone:

    OK, show of hands. It all comes down to this. Do we have a true meritocracy in science? Can there even be such a thing?

    NO WAY IN HELL.

    Why isn't there a true meritocracy in science? Because there is no truly objective measure of comparison. This is what is such a shock for science majors who have become postdocs, since there was such a measure when their tests were graded (the answer's right or it's wrong). But now, the lack of objective standards gives full reign for BS artists.

    Don't bullshit me by telling me tt positions are "earned". I got a tt position by playing the game right, or at least good enough, or my mentor played the game right, or I just lucked out. You other tt people on this thread, so did you. Don't bullshit me. If you try to claim you were oh-so-much-more brilliant and fantastic than everyone else, you are lying or delusional. There's a certain level of skill necessary to get in the game, true. After that it's all throwing darts. (Of course others played the game better... my colleague about the same age as me, who probably couldn't write a line of code to save her life, is now FULL professor...) I don't really care about that so much. What I do care about is post-docs deserve better than to be shit on by egotistical asshat PIs who are delusional enough to think they "earned" their spot and the post-docs need to "prove" themselves.

    Classical music is an apt comparison, because there's even more BS in that field. Physioprof seems to think that's also a meritocracy. BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!! I know, because I trained for years and years as a classical musician.

  • physioprof says:

    Dude, you say that you know how the system works and that you are an associate professor at an R1, but to be honest you sound a lot more like a Walter Mitty type living in a fantasy world, and not like anyone who has actually run his own laboratory, competed successfully for R01s, and directed a research group. Also dude, nursing all this paranoia, rage, and vengefulness is really not good for your health.

  • becca says:

    Grumble- first, yes, I did mean the Marxist sense. Although I really think having the incentive to pay people as little as possible is far more corrupting than controlling the means of production.
    But really? You seriously think your path is *as* accessible to others as it was to you? What *kind* of others?

    Look, this actually really hit home to me when I had a kid, and started reading early childhood ed studies. I knew that there's already a racial/socio-economic gap by the time kids entered head-start. I didn't know that for these 'at risk' kids going into kindergarten, the average number of alphabet letters recognized is 10. My son knew the entire alphabet (song version and letter-recognition) before 2 and a half. Even if I never read him another book between now and kindergarten, he'd be ahead of most at-risk kids.
    Most of the people reading this were, educationally speaking, born on third base. I sure did not hit a tripple. My education was quite cheap from a US perspective- it doesn't represent atypical socioeconomic privilege for this society. But I can still that I was almost monumentally lucky that I was educated the way I was.
    And that's not even bringing up the notion that people might be born... without the strange intellectual predispositions that make being a prof feasible. To the best of my knowledge, you don't choose your genes.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    No it doesn't, and the economic term for such is positive externalities. If positive externalities are created by the post-doc, please explain why it is right and just that the PI should be the only one to benefit, when the taxpayers are the ones paying the post-doc's salary.

    I know it's been said umpteen times already so I shouldn't bother but:

    What my postdocs need are first author papers in good journals so they're competitive on the job market. What I need are last author papers in good journals so I can convince the NIH to keep funding my group (and thus paying the salaries of said postdocs, among other things).

    We're really not competing for the same limited resource. My getting what I need in no way detracts from the postdocs getting what they need and vice versa.

  • Grumble says:

    Becca - a TT job is just about as accessible to other post docs and grad students as it was to me when I was at those levels. You're right that it's not accessible to your average ghetto kid - but the topic of discussion is whether PI-types exploit post-doc types.

    Isabel - I didn't get into my TT position until fairly recently, and I don't think the competitiveness has changed in those few years. I still see jobs advertised and people I know are getting them.

    As for statistics regarding privilege of faculty vs investment bankers: you are right that I don't have a specific study in mind. However, I remember reading that something like half (or was it more) of Ivy League graduates (who are *extremely* privileged, as a whole, to begin with) go on to work in finance. I'm pretty certain that the other half doesn't go into academia.

    Also: "how many taxpayer dollars are used to pay for these long apprenticeships that will likely come to naught? What a waste!" I disagree that not landing a TT job means "naught". There are other things to do with one's PhD and the training one receives to get it and during post-doc afterwards.

    And finally, we have dear, deluded NeuroGuy: "Of course sharing authorship dilutes value, just as being joint rather than sole owner of anything dilutes value." No, it simply does not. I am talking here about first authors and senior (last) authors. There can be only one of each. It doesn't matter whether there are 0, 1, 10, 100, or 1000 other authors in the middle. The exact same amount of credit goes to a first author (or a senior author) under each of these conditions. And as AcademicLurker (and pretty much everyfuckingbody else who is commenting) explained to you, that means that the first author gets what he needs, and the senior author gets what she needs. End of story. No value stealing. No horrible violations of ethics. Nada.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Physioprof seems to think that's also a meritocracy. BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!! I know, because I trained for years and years as a classical musician.

    this I find to be interesting.

    First, because "meritocracy" does not imply that it is a perfect correlation, does it? Meaning if there are other inputs that also have weight, this doesn't magically eliminate the "merit" part.

    Second, because of our usual points of discussion wrt postdocs not actually "doing the professor's job" as much as they think they do. That is, "merit" in this case, is not a unitary concept and everyone's idea of what "merit" is boils down to, typically those talents they express. And a refusal to credit talents/characteristics that they do not express as real or relevant to the competition.

  • Isabel says:

    "First, because "meritocracy" does not imply that it is a perfect correlation, does it? Meaning if there are other inputs that also have weight, this doesn't magically eliminate the "merit" part. "

    Well, you are already suggesting that some inputs are not "merit". Maybe luck is not merit, nor privilege, but what about being good at playing the game, at getting grants and so on? Is that the same as being a good scientist? When we are talking about the meritorious qualities of the best scientists, is this different from the best PI, or qualities that make one deserving of a PI position?

    As far as the people who "made it" in my previous field- were they the "best"? Well, they were not necessarily the most talented, creative, intelligent, and hard-working artists. Not the most charming or best looking either. Not the people you would have predicted would be successful based solely on talent, execution, creativity and drive. They weren't 'stars' in art school. They are all talented and hard working of course, but they all have a big dose of the ability to schmooze, all outgoing types with a down to earth grasp of politics, interested in other people and their motivations, cheerfully manipulative, etc. They are also driven, but in a much more visible way, that can be overwhelming or irritating to more quietly driven people. The people who are more outgoing and visibly ambitious seem to likewise look down on the less visibly driven as not being "players". Which eventually becomes true...

    So yeah, what is considered merit does change at each level, and in some ways that does seem to go against our ideas of what a meritocracy is.

  • Isabel says:

    In both cases seems like there is a great loss to society. It's sad that so often the it's the most creative and talented artists who flounder. Meanwhile are there enough alternative jobs in science for at least most of those who have earned the PhD and put in the time as postdocs and who want to continue in science? Don't we need more scientists?

  • whimple says:

    Don't we need more scientists?

    Well, Slate seems to think we need more scientists, but that's hardly a consensus view:
    http://justlikecooking.blogspot.com/2012/06/dear-slate-america-needs-more-artists.html

  • Juniper Shoemaker says:

    Most of the people reading this were, educationally speaking, born on third base.

    By the reasoning of this paragraph, Condoleezza Rice, who grew up in a segregated black community with what I sometimes like to call Harlem Renaissance values, was, educationally speaking, "born on third base". But I don't think anyone interested in fairness would describe her preparation for college and career in language that suggests that she's had everything handed to her.

    A child's learning to read (or to do algebra) earlier than others is one variable among many in terms of educational preparation. How did his teachers treat him due to his racial and/or socioeconomic background? How did his classmates treat him? How much formal education did his parents/guardians have? Which neighborhood did he grow up in? Etc.

    Maybe you are trying to say that learning to read (or do algebra) earlier than others is an advantage for which one should be grateful. I have no problem with an assertion of that nature. What I have a problem with is this (stereotypically liberal) ideologue's language. Whether you realize it or not, it's offensive to tell perfect strangers that you know their struggles and their history better than they do. And it's not offensive because everyone who dares to disagree with you is a dizzy, delusional flibbertigibbet who's "willfully misconstruing" such "inoffensive" statements about their deep-down motives for majoring in English and their inability to care about justice as deeply as you do and the like. It's offensive because it's ignorant and irrational.

  • becca says:

    Look guys, I know it's hard. I know that thinking the world is fair, and if something went right for you it must have been because you're totes the awesome, can be a highly adaptive strategy. If you view it that way, and don't assume that if something went wrong for someone else it must be because of their lack of awesomeness, that's really Quite All Right with me. I'm convinced you all work harder than everyone else (except the people on this thread who are not me, and those people all work exactly as hard as each other, and are exactly as smart, and have exactly as many difficulties in life to overcome, albeit perhaps of different flavors).
    But for the record, it is *deluded* to think you can "deserve" to be a PI. To even propose such a thing requires buy-in to the idea of a Just World that there is no data to support. Near as I can tell, the universe doesn't give one rats ass how hard anyone works to be a scientist.
    So really, is it impossible to split the last cookie three ways?

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