from someone on the Twitts going by @ilovepigenetics
Annoyed that PIs prefer to cut positions vs. experiments. #sciquester #dotherightthing #shortsighted Fewer jobs=less taxes=less funding
this was followed with an interesting response to YHN:
@drugmonkeyblog Do the right thing. You have a responsibility to your trainees.
and the lunacy goes on (reverse chron):
- @SciTriGrrl @BabyAttachMode I choose to pay my people and live on 75% salary. Is it hard, yes. Am I lucky that I can do it, yes.
- @SciTriGrrl We are smart people. Don't take the easy solution. Figure out a smart solution.
- @BabyAttachMode @SciTriGrrl Who needs the $ the most-a PI who makes ~100K or a student who makes $25 K?
- @neuromusic @drugmonkeyblog Find ways to make it cheaper. I'm very disappointed. You have a responsibility to those you took on.
- @SciTriGrrl Cut your salary. Don't hire new people, but your first responsibility is your trainees. $25K doesn't support a student or a PD.
- Lessons from my Father: Cut YOUR salary if you must, but pay your people first. The #1 rule I learned from my Dad, a small business owner.
There are two main problems here. The first one is related to whom the PI owes "responsibility".
The NIH Grant funded PI typically has a number of responsibilities in my view.
She has a laboratory of employees and trainees with a good bit of smear between who is an employee and who is a trainee. On the one end is the straight-up employee who is a technician and on the other end an undergraduate "volunteering in the lab for experience". The former might have a reasonable expectation of life-time employment (within the confines of normal variation and the grant cycles). In between there are the postdocs who are on for a 2-3 year training stint without explicit expectation of a life-time job and graduate students who are there to achieve a semi-defined task (the doctorate). The PI has a responsibility to do well by these people, there is little doubt. But there is also little doubt that perfection cannot be achieved for everyone. Not everyone is going to have an outcome commensurate with their expectations. This is reality, not evidence of a PI who is uncaring, irresponsible or insufficiently "creative".
The PI also has a laboratory. This is the edifice built by and for the prior trainees, the current trainees, the future trainees, the PI herself...and her University. Sometimes this laboratory has been inherited from a prior investigator (or a chain of investigators). It may be a laboratory that will obviously be passed down to subsequent investigators. It may be a laboratory that has enjoyed considerable University support over the years. It may have enjoyed considerable support from a specific Institute or Center of the NIH. The PI may have to compromise on other responsibilities to service her responsibility to the laboratory, from time to time.
The PI has a career. She has to continue to publish papers, secure funding and supervise research to keep this career going. You may view this as a selfish responsibility but hey, if you are complaining about the fact that another person is taking a career hit by the PI not being "creative" enough...you need to explain why one person's selfish goals are to be prioritized over another's.
The PI has a life. Just like you do. Sure they may be further along in years, stage(s) or whatnot than you are. They may have some things that you cannot see yourself ever attaining (like a mortgage, twopointseven kids and even a stay at home spouse. perhaps college bills for offspring). And their salary is clearly higher. It looks to you like they are totes moneybags and should just forgo 25% of their salary so that someone else can stay in their job for another 6 months. Guess what? It's time to get real. NIH grant supported investigators do make a lot more than postdocs do, mostly, but they are by no means insanely compensated. And just like you, they went through a period of training and fell into debt, behind the mortgage curve, behind the 401K explosion, they came along post-pension, etc, etc. Just like you they nursed ancient cars through postdoc and into the first years of faculty. They ate pasta. They did all that and got lucky to get a job. And started a life. And now they have people who depend on them to maintain that life. My sympathies are limited for those who claim that the people farther down the path just aren't responsible or creative enough to ensure that each and every person to come through their lab achieves the same outcome as they have.
There is another big one, this one related more to "what" the PI owes responsibility. I might suggest this is even the first priority of the NIH funded Principal Investigator.
The PI has a responsibility to the grant. You know, the tax payer funded money that has been dropped on the laboratory, under the PI's guidance, in expectation of some sort of return. A return of information, otherwise known as published papers. Yes, the PI has a HUGE part of her creativity and responsibility tied up in making sure that some science actually occurs. Published science. It is very easy for the trainee who has just been told that they have two months to find a new job to overlook this. The PI should be a good steward of the public purse. And sometimes that role is going to conflict with the above mentioned responsibilities to staff members. This is why the salvo from @ilovepigenetics about prioritizing salary lines over experiments drew my attention, btw.
If you keep people employed "over experiments" this means that the experiments aren't getting done. Or aren't getting done efficiently. Then where are we? If you can't buy reagents, can't analyze all the samples in the freezer, can't support cage costs, can't maintain mouse lines, can't buy rats, can't recruit human subjects, can't afford scanner time... then everything in the above list crashes down. Because eventually productivity suffers, no new grants come in, no new trainees can be afforded, the dollars eventually run out and everyone needs to be fired.
Just to avoid firing one postdoc today.
postscript: This Twitt is also spectacularly clueless about the fact that the current extra good news of the sequester comes after a good 5-8 years of serious squeezing and pressure on the NIH budget and NIH funded scientific labs. PIs have been scrambling like crazy to be creative about funding, maintaining trainees salary lines as far as possible and to get the most work done that they can. Like crazy. For years now. And believe you me, this ain't news to any postdoc with half a brain. They've known about how bad things are for ages. If they've been burning the midnight St. Kern oil to write fellowships and papers and assist the PI with grants (so that s/he can get one more out per cycle) then hey, I'm a bit sympathetic. Somehow I suspect not all of them have been doing this though....