NPRonNIH continues: The Postdoc

More from Richard Harris at NPR:

Too Few University Jobs For America's Young Scientists

That's because if you want a career in academia, it's almost essential as a postdoc to make a splashy discovery and get the findings published in a top scientific journal. Hubbard-Lucey is working on an experiment that she hopes will be her ticket to a professorship — or at least to an interview for an academic job.

Whether she succeeds or not, she's part of a shadow workforce made up of highly qualified scientists who work long hours for comparatively little pay, considering their level of education: about $40,000 a year.

Potnia Theron wishes to discuss this last assertion: NPR story on Postdocs: what is your salary? edition.

And, I am glad she found a position in NYC. I am sure she loves The City. But $47K is a lot more than median salary in the United Sates right now. Maybe its not enough to live in NYC, but it is elsewhere.

I have an older post for your consideration of what trainee salaries look like compared to when I was a wee trainee. My conclusion that scientific trainees enjoy a 30% or more bonus in inflation-constant dollars over my day was not of any comfort to the Millennial types, apparently. So good luck with your point, Potnia.

Anyway, you'll be happy to know the subject of the NPR piece came out okay in the end:

That first conversation took place in May. Later in the summer, while Hubbard-Lucey was still working on her scientific paper, she heard about a job where she could make good use of her Ph.D. She wouldn't be running a lab or working in academia. But she would be advancing cancer research at a nonprofit institute. She got the job. And now, she says, she's happy with the new path she's chosen.

?
Way to blow the lede, Richard Harris. Way to blow the lede.

176 responses so far

  • My conclusion that scientific trainees enjoy a 30% or more bonus in inflation-constant dollars over my day was not of any comfort to the Millennial types, apparently

    Yeah, but where did you study and do your postdoc? It's one thing to say trainee salaries are fine in some Midwestern cow-and-corn town (where I studied and worked), and quite another thing for someplace like NYC. Of course you can say "well, stick to flyover country, trainees", but...

  • rxnm says:

    Excellent point. You know who else should STFU? Anyone in a union. Because there used to not be unions.

  • dsks says:

    Yeah, I lived pretty good in St. Louis on a salary that rose between $32 to $50 during my postdoc/RAP stint. But judging by the shoe box digs some actual NYC profs have to shack up in on their >$100K salaries, I can't imagine how in hell's name postdoc and grad students survive in that city.

  • dsks says:

    (Ha! there should be a "K" after those numbers. The Lou aint that cheap to live.)

  • Dave says:

    Reposting my comment, in part, from PT:

    Complaining about an almost $50K salary does not look good IMO, especially when median HOUSEHOLD income is below that in many states. It might sound good among other fancy science types, but in the wider community these types of articles come across a tad insensitive.

    But, having said that. The NIH scale means nothing to international post-docs, who are by far in the majority at many places. I don't know any international post-docs getting paid $40K or above locally. Most are on $30 - $35K, which is shite no matter your perspective.

  • Industry Scientist says:

    "But judging by the shoe box digs some actual NYC profs have to shack up in on their >$100K salaries, I can't imagine how in hell's name postdoc and grad students survive in that city."

    Dorm room (i.e. subsidized housing). No alcohol. No girlfriend (until the last year or so). $5 burritos (which were pretty good, actually). About $8K in loans over seven years (for various larger expenses, i.e. laptops - all subsidized Staffords, so not too bad).

    Wasn't easy. Most of my classmates ended up much further in debt.

  • Maybe after one or two post-docs, we really need to encourage them to go do something other than hoping to join tenure-track academia? There are reasonably well-renumerated ways to do cool science without being on the tenure track. More realistic discussions by post-doc advisors (and they are advisors) are needed (and truth in advertizing for grad students as well).

  • Dave says:

    No alcohol. No girlfriend

    Holy shit.

  • mistressoftheanimals says:

    Dave - did not see your comment. Potnia

  • JunionProf says:

    I have no sympathy for the postdocs living in NYC or SF. There are plenty of institutions and PIs doing great science in cheaper locales. No one told you you had to live in a 'hip' city. It was your choice; don't complain.

  • Dave says:

    Dave - did not see your comment. Potnia

    My posts on your blog are always 'awaiting moderation'. Usually lasts several days 🙁

  • The NIH scale means nothing to international post-docs, who are by far in the majority at many places. I don't know any international post-docs getting paid $40K or above locally. Most are on $30 - $35K, which is shite no matter your perspective.

    Many institutions require the NIH NRSA scale as minimum salary for all post-docs, including those from overseas. Mine certainly does.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Word JP. Most myopic claim of all is the " but I train in NYC". No question.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    And btw, I was in locations of far above average cost of living from leaving undergrad to this very day.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Dave- every minimum wage worker disagrees with your assessment of $30K

  • Dave says:

    Many institutions require the NIH NRSA scale as minimum salary for all post-docs, including those from overseas

    Obviously some do, but mine absolutely does not for international post-docs (regardless of what's actually on the budget). I should know, I was an international post-doc here not too long ago, and I weren't getting anything close to the NIH scale.

    Dave- every minimum wage worker disagrees with your assessment of $30K

    Yeh and every paper-boy disagrees that minimum wage is crap. You know what I meant. I'm eye-rolling.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I don't, really. You saw my other post, trainees are getting a third more money. Job prospects sucked back then too. Even grad students make well above minimum wage. I just don't understand the pose that current levels under NRSA scale are some huge insult.

  • Dave says:

    I think $45 - 50K is a half-decent wage for a post-doc, and so I basically agree with you there. But my point was that once you get in to the low $30Ks, it's a bit of a piss take if you ask me. It's livable in some places, but not others.

  • Well, maybe if the trainees really, really refused to work at the University of Obscure State in favor of a hip location, they are somewhat to blame, but honestly, did most of us choose our cities while training, or did the cities (via the PIs) choose *us*?

  • rxnm says:

    "I just don't understand the pose that current levels under NRSA scale are some huge insult."

    They aren't, especially if it's 4-5 years and it's training for a career. The time and age creep in training is a real problem, with real loss-compounding effects on people's lifelong earnings. Yes, you can say that the people on their third postdocs need to just wake up, but the training time has increased for everyone.

    The entire economic/demographic position Millennials are in is an insult. This isn't a generation that is ever going to own homes (or, if they do, have the kinds of increase in values) or get returns on what savings they do have anywhere near those of previous generations. The Boomers are going to spend every cent of the next 2-3 generations' birthright staying alive in ICUs for an extra 6 weeks.

    The latter Gen-Xers and Millenials are fucked. Paying the tiny percent of them that are scientists a professional wage isn't going to help much, but it's the decent thing to do. Mostly, I see raising trainee salaries as a mechanism for throttling the pipeline when the NIH seems to be unwilling to discuss literally any other mechanism.

    These are a lot of smart people who could go do something else. Sure. And they are starting to, and they will continue to--increasingly--as long as the NIH and universities have their heads up their asses and refuse to treat them like the professional scientists that they are.

    "Not willing to gamble your long-term financial security and family planning on a science career? Fuck you, there are others who will."

    Is that the message we want to send out? Is that our goal as a community? Fine. We seem content with increasing mediocrity in most things, why not this.

  • anon PI says:

    There are some important distinctions to make in these comparisons.

    First, federal fellowships (NSF GRFP, NRSA, etc.) are not nearly as generous as they look because they do not count as earned income. I think it's a big deal to be 30 or older and not have much access to tax-advantaged accounts or any Social Security contributions to speak of. This is a small point related to the actual fellowships. Everything below relates to the salary level.

    Second, people have more student debt now than before.

    Third, people stay single longer than before, especially in academia. This is costly.

    Fourth, it has been shown (I wish I remembered the study!) that women of all stages, including graduate students and regardless of partnership status, are more concerned with the costs of raising an actual or theoretical family. I suggest we need to think more about financial risk aversion, especially considering the long working hours and uncertain career prospects, and how it might play out differently among women, minority, and disadvantaged populations in science.

    With respect to spatial variation in cost-of-living: As a NRSA fellow I qualified for heavily subsidized low-income housing in my city. I didn't end up using it because I lived with my partner and could split the rent, but it was there to help cover the difference.

  • drugmonkey says:

    did most of us choose our cities while training, or did the cities (via the PIs) choose *us*?

    I only applied to graduate school in places that I felt would be fun to live it. There were 5 iirc.

    I was probably even more driven by location for both postdocs that I did.

    The affordability wasn't in the top rank of reasons, either. But then, I didn't grow up in a life of excess, merely stability and relative comfort. That was enough for me to feel okay as a grad student and postdoc, I suppose. I nursed an 18 yr old vehicle from sophomore year of undergrad through my first two years of postdoc making it like 26 yrs old when I got rid of it. my generation didn't have cell phone or internet bills and I never paid for cable teevee. ymmv.

    The entire economic/demographic position Millennials are in is an insult. This isn't a generation that is ever going to own homes

    oh cry me a river. The millennials are offspring of the selfish ass Boomers and are going to inherit from them. and even if they don't, they have nobody to blame but their own damn parents.

    Paying the tiny percent of them that are scientists a professional wage isn't going to help much, but it's the decent thing to do.

    I don't necessarily disagree, I think we absolutely should pay relevant wages for a job worked, without reference to the supposed training benefit. How do we set that number?

    the NIH seems to be unwilling to discuss literally any other mechanism.
    The NIH has absolutely been discussing stable, career long staff-scientist type positions. Finally. Whether this is vapor or not is a good question but don't say they aren't talking about it. Our best move is to enthusiastically support such discussion and explore ways this can and should work. See my comments vis a vis a career type of K mech, for example.

    are not nearly as generous as they look because they do not count as earned income. I think it's a big deal to be 30 or older and not have much access to tax-advantaged accounts or any Social Security contributions to speak of. This is a small point related to the actual fellowships.

    None of this has changed in my time in the business. It was stupid then, it is stupid now. Just another way for the NIH to get their labor for less money.

    Second, people have more student debt now than before.

    to some extent a choice. as is the decision to continue on education rather than starting to work. admittedly this ties into diversity issues but I'm just not really sure this goes into whether the 30% bonus trainees have now versus when I was a trainee is being accounted for. Interesting point to consider though.

  • Dave says:

    These are a lot of smart people who could go do something else. Sure. And they are starting to, and they will continue to--increasingly

    Wouldn't bank on it. In many ways, the more competitive it gets, the more the excellent sheep will be attracted to it. If you can make it in this system, your parents will be reallllllllllllly fucking proud. These issues are not unique to academic research.

    Not willing to gamble your long-term financial security and family planning on a science career? Fuck you, there are others who will.

    Well that's exactly the point. There are lines of post-docs that you could pay $30K/year, and they will take it, wont complain and will work 24/7. They will live in the shitty complexes around campus, drive $1000 Corollas, have no retirement, shite health insurance, the lot. They will do it until they get kicked out of one lab, and then invariably you will then find them in another lab down the hall. The cycle continues. Perma-doc recycling FTW!

  • Dave says:

    oh cry me a river. The millennials are offspring of the selfish ass Boomers and are going to inherit from them. and even if they don't, they have nobody to blame but their own damn parents.

    That's an unhinged statement DM, it must be said.

  • toto says:

    "There are reasonably well-renumerated ways to do cool science without being on the tenure track. "

    Which ones?

    "The NIH has absolutely been discussing stable, career long staff-scientist type positions. Finally. "

    Where?

  • AcademicLurker says:

    to some extent a choice

    I have to take issue with this. "Don't go to college" isn't really a viable choice for anyone who hopes for a shot at the vast majority of middle class jobs.

    Back when states actually supported their universities, you could argue that going into debt to attend a fancy pants private school rather than going to perfectly solid state university and paying in-state tuition was a choice. These days, you can expect substantial student debt no matter where you go.

  • Industry Scientist says:

    "Well, maybe if the trainees really, really refused to work at the University of Obscure State in favor of a hip location, they are somewhat to blame, but honestly, did most of us choose our cities while training, or did the cities (via the PIs) choose *us*?"

    Or, perhaps, you had a terrific conversation with a PI who had just given a cool seminar while you were a research tech and decided you really wanted to work in his lab, which just happened to be located in NYC. Some of us really don't give a flying fark about how *hip* NYC is, but there are a lot of good researchers doing good science there.

    The only way to survive in NYC on a grad student stipend is to have no social life anyway - anyone who chooses a NYC grad program for the nightlife has chosen... poorly.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    AL-

    The game of "I want to do X and make $Y" gets ridiculous very quickly. Where in your scenario is there room for the notion that vocational choices are going to come with limits and with differential outcomes?

    I mean, I *deserve* fully funded retirement for me and my spouse, fully loaded college funds for the kids, newer cars for all household drivers, a bigger house, fancier vacations and a mountain chalet. Other people not as smart as me that didn't "train" as long have that so...why don't I get all of that? Huh?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    That is still a choice, IS. Just sayin.

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    Why the willful ignoring the fact that there are multiple tiers in the scientist job market? Those who train at top institutions and publish high-impact papers are going to get faculty positions. The real shakeout is at the lower levels.

  • K99er says:

    The comments implying that a postdoc can't live well in NYC on the standard NIH minimum salary are just plain wrong. First, most of the schools have subsidized apartments. For example, postdocs at Sloan Kettering, Rockefeller, and Cornell live on the upper east side or Roosevelt Island way below market rate, often in apartments similar to those offered to faculty. There's a similar situation (thought not quite as great) at Mt. Sinai and Albert Einstein. Second, there are affordable options in Brooklyn or Queens if you don't want to live so close to your colleagues. Third, the most you spend on transportation in a month is the cost of a metrocard. The idea that you have to sacrifice on a postdoc salary is a myth. I'm really not sure why people are perpetuating this myth, especially when this is supposed to be a temporary training position. As both a grad student and postdoc in NYC, I had an awesome time and certainly never felt poor or that I had to miss out on anything important because I didn't have enough money. And no, before anyone asks, this was not years ago, it is VERY recent.

  • Lady Scientist says:

    NYC grad students and postdocs need to find the artists that manage to scrape by in that city. I have many artist friends in NYC who temped for a long time and lived in crappy apartments, and yet they still managed to date and have social lives....

  • sciencedude says:

    And that is exactly what people going into science should realize. It is a lot like becoming an artist.

  • New Postdoc says:

    I completely understand the tepid response to the whining of our great millennial generation, however I do suspect that today's trainees, both PhDs and postdocs work much harder than our ancestors of times long since past, i.e the aughts. A 30% bump in trainee pay may sound like something substantial but when the stipend is already so low, that's quite insignificant in real dollars. In Canada, where I'm just now finishing my PhD training, the base stipend for grad students is 18K; that's much much less than the janitors that sweep the lab floors and the probably close to the friendly mcdonalds employees. Although the typical postdoc salary is higher than the median income in the US, how many people do we know that earn less who also happened to obtain the most advanced academic degree available and put in 6-7 years (on top of undergrad) to get there? How many people with law degrees, MBAs, and even MPHs earn so little when they finish their training? One comparison is newly minted MD residents, who start low 50k, but are doing much better by the time they apply for a job as an attending, where they can easily expect 6 figures if they want to work for it.

    As far as locations go, how many top research universities are not located in SF, NYC, San Diego, LA, and Boston? Not as many as are in those cities I imagine. How many power labs are there in Nebraska? Sure the living is cheap, but how much harder is it going to be to get the CNS submission sent out for review when the PI isn't as well connected as the good ol' boys at Harvard? This shit matters, don't say it doesn't. How am I going to get an F32 if my boss is junior and can't get a heavy hitter to sign on as a co-mentor?

    I guess I'm saying that shit ain't easy, but I, like many postdocs, am still willing to do it and go for that big fucking paper. Nevertheless, we do deserve better.

  • potty theron says:

    NP thanks for the overwhelming arrogance. Its still a choice. And yes... There are lots of top tier schools outside of flyoverland. ... Hopkins, chicago, wash u, cleveland clinic, md anderson.

  • I do suspect that today's trainees, both PhDs and postdocs work much harder than our ancestors of times long since past[.]

    Yeah! Let's discuss who worked harder when they were a student and post-doc!

  • jmcin9 says:

    As a current PD and TT job applicant, I call BS on working harder now than those that came before. Not to say that I don't spend long hours in the lab and outside, but from the associate profs and up that I've talked to, they put in more hours/worked harder than I. Sometimes it seems that it was easier to get an big splashy paper, but at the same time we've developed some many kits/assays etc that take fractions of the time to days/weeks of work.

    The idea that you have to come from the big cities is simply false. I haven't been at single university that wasn't located within 30miles of I-75. Went to a state school in Ohio, Grad in Kentucky, and PD at UM and UF. I got a F award with a newly tenured prof with 1 R01 and no heavy hitter letters. Not a single faculty member on my K-award advisory committee is a heavy hitter, all solid scientists who do good work.

  • mistressoftheanimals says:

    @CPP - hey, I worked harder than any of you shits. Nobody really understands how hard it was working with .... paper.

  • halcyon says:

    Maybe after one or two post-docs, we really need to encourage them to go do something other than hoping to join tenure-track academia? There are reasonably well-renumerated ways to do cool science without being on the tenure track. More realistic discussions by post-doc advisors (and they are advisors) are needed (and truth in advertizing for grad students as well).

    This sounds great! ... but the only thing I know how to give advice on is targeting academia. I would love to be a more balanced advisor, but I'm not sure what to tell the less-than-stellar trainees other than they might have made a bad choice, or deliver some stock response about industry (I think they make more money, yes?).

  • Dave says:

    The real shakeout is at the lower levels

    Undoubtedly true, but I think the 'middle class' will also be ruined too. Not quite glamour pubs, but very good pubs; not quite ivy institutions, but good schools and departments etc. The question is are we OK with that? There is a lot of good science being done by middle class scientists.

  • @potty theron
    Er, "flyover country" means non East/West Coast. I know Baltimore has its problems (but it really isn't as bad as "The Wire" suggests), but by any definition Hopkins isn't in flyover country, although the other places you mention are.

  • E-roock says:

    As far as post docs (or even the lowly assistant adjunct prof) getting paid as much as our engineering and lawyer dorm mates from u grad ... It sucks (I know), but it's the market. Private companies with consumer cash behind them are willing to pay these people for products and services. I'm sorry, but the market just doesn't value your mad skillz as much as you think it should. It's a rude awakening but you should have done the research beforehand. Yes, I agree that you may have been misled into thinking you'd be rich and famous by now, but most of that was self delusion. You don't like what you're getting paid, get off your arse and do something about it.

  • K99er says:

    New Postdoc - Take it from someone who is newly in flyover country, there are plenty of heavy hitters here too. It sounds like you're relying far too much on the prestige of your new mentor/institution to make a career for you.

  • Established PI says:

    I am truly disheartened by all the millenial bashing. The reality is that the ever-longer training time, anemic pay and virtual absence of retirement benefits is making research in the biomedical sciences a less and less attractive field. It doesn't matter how the pay compares to the average American or minimum wage worker - what matters is what other fields are attracting the best and the brightest college students through a combination of intellectual, monetary and career opportunity incentives. My own perception is that the number of truly outstanding students pursuing careers in science has been heading downward for some time, a combination of poorer career prospects and greener pastures in many other careers.

  • mistressoftheanimals says:

    JB: the cities listed in comments above did not include Balto. I know its not technically flyover (I grew up there), but no one ever chooses to live there (or St. Louis or Pittsburgh or until recently academic Oregon).

  • Established PI says:

    Baltimore is awesome, Hon.

  • I think the Millennial-bashing is just the standard previous generation slagging off on the next. DM has established himself as solidly GenX, and as a fellow GenXer I remember the late 1980s and early 1990s when it was the Boomers claiming that *we* were the lazy entitled ones who never had to face anything hard like Vietnam (or the protests against it).

  • E-roock says:

    I am (I think) a millennial. I struggled during post doc, am struggling as assistant prof. But the reality is that our skills aren't valued as much as others and we are compensated accordingly. I'm okay with that. If I could earn more doing my current job, I would definitely work harder. If my job paid enough to afford a housekeeping service, restaurant food every night, dog walking services, laundry services .... I would put more hours in at my job. No exaggeration, my partners salary is twice mine, so when someone has to sacrifice work to get something done, it's more often me because my work is not valued as much. Is it depressing? Maybe. I also know for a fact that the generation before me worked much harder. Some slept in labs, sacrificed health and family just to get antibodies or water bath PCRs to work. It was a different time and their wives took care of the home and a single income was enough. They are now highly paid top dawgs. That's fine. I work my 40 hours. I get home an hour before sunset to walk the dog, I do laundry, dishes, cook, and clean for my household. I play sports, volunteer for my community, and keep in touch with my family. I will probably never be a top dawg, but I train bright young adults who go into various health professions and industry. I do normal Khunian science and contribute to my department/univ. Sometimes it's stressful and tough but I have never slept in the lab. I don't think I'd be happy if I were isolated, over-stressed, overweight, and producing cantankerous future academics.

  • AA says:

    To the old greybeards and not-so-old greybeards, who piss on this report and say after accounting for inflation we are getting +30% more than eons ago.

    Just answer this question. How many years did YOU postdoc? Calculate the lost opportunity cost before making shallow statements like hey, you still earn more than we did.

    If you were paid $30k (adjusted to today's dollars) and postdoc for 2 years, and if I am paid $40k today and postdoc for 5 years, and if we both moved on to a permanent position that paid $80k, trainees of today lose out: $100k x 3 + $30k x 2 - $40k x 5 = $160k.

    So while we are technically making more than you were, we are still losing money over our careers.

    And to address the idea of move to lower COL areas, guess what? Most of the prestigious institutions and big superstars are in high COL areas. If you want to play the game, you need good pedigree. From a career standpoint, moving to a lower COL area is not viable, as they may be only a handful of superstars in those area.

  • becca says:

    DrugMonkey- every minimum wage worker in Seattle disagrees with you.

    The average postdoc also works 53 hours a week, compared to the average US worker's 34.4 (http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/63/4/245.full). So a postdoc with a salary of 42k makes ~$15/hour. Same as burger flipping in Seattle. This has nothing to do with academic snobbery of "we deserve more for our fancy pants degrees"- it's just math. And if any of you want to argue that bugger flippers et al deserve < $15/hour, y'all can kindly stick it where the sun don't shine.

    Also, the very *idea* it is *possible* to make choices that can allow you to get through university without debt is very much a Privileged or at least pre-Millennial conceit. Now, I do know some Millennials that did get through without debt though unique circumstances (e.g. professor's kids, and people willing to murder Iraqi kids for $). But I also know many more Millennials *with* debt that could not imaginably have gone to college at all without it. They literally chose the cheapest imaginable way to go to college (i.e. CCs, living at home, work-study, Pell grants, ect.) and they still have debt. SES of origin is a huge factor in that, and how the details of that play out with scholarship and need based aid formulas. It's so complicated as to be almost randomized for a particular student, but the numbers in the generational-trend sense are clear: more and more students are taking on more and more debt. Plus with credential inflationism being what it is, it's harder than ever to get a job with just the HS diploma and save up enough money to attend college. The numbers just don't work anymore. And if you are going to argue that we do have ample paths to reasonably decent jobs that do not involve university, once again, you can take your delusions and stick them where the sun don't shine.

    As far as COL by location- how many of you really know how employable you are in different regions of the country? It's one thing to pick NYC over Fargo because, well, FARGO. It's another thing when you have a two career constraint or only one job offer. I wish the comment I made over @Potnias would show up. I'm personally happiest, by far, in the Midwest, but I'll bet you there is a practical difference getting a job in a place with 9.0% (Kalamazoo) unemployment compared to 4.5% (San Francisco), 5.9% (Boston) or 6.6% (New York). Equally importantly, anyone who has paid any attention to the pharmaceutical and biotech industries *at all* lately knows that they are increasingly concentrated in a handful of cities. The idea it's at all wise *in terms of long term career potential* to relocate to the middle of the country, where when your prof (finally) retires the uni will never replace that salary line, is even more foolhardy than the idea it's a reasonable financial choice to not go to college.
    Yes, you can always move away from flyover land after doing your postdoc. But I don't think anyone is suggesting today's postdocs are LESS mobile than those of yesteryear, DM's "Kick the Millennials for fun and profit" fetish aside. If all our financial woes could be solved by taking a medium pay job in a cheap area for a few years, believe me, you would have far less complaints from postdocs.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    5 years AA.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Don't overlook the 30%+ bonus during all of graduate school, either AA. Since we're being complete and all.

  • E-roock says:

    If you do research in certain topical areas, NIH has a loan repayment program. Deadline is Nov 16th, I think. Not in these areas of research? Market forces, make informed choices. Not saying it doesn't suck, but there are options.

  • rxnm says:

    "oh cry me a river. The millennials are offspring of the selfish ass Boomers and are going to inherit from them. and even if they don't, they have nobody to blame but their own damn parents."

    of course that's who they have to blame. and they do, and they're right.

    and they aren't going to inherit shit, because boomers trying to sell their assets and houses in the suburbs all at once to fund "active retirements" (and again, those pesky 6-figure weeks in the ICU) is going to crash everything.

    jesus, back the fuck off millennials...they are the worst-off generation the U.S. has produced since before WWII, they have the highest employment rate and worst debt of any age group, they've grown up in a state of constant war, they are nicer people than any other living generation, and they aren't even complaining that much.

  • PaleoGould says:

    RXNM, thank you

  • potnia theron says:

    I'm not getting any comments showing up on my blog. Sorry Becca. Will investigate.

  • drugmonkey says:

    you have more than 3K comments pending approval Potty. i think you may want to adjust your settings

  • Ola says:

    @AA where do you get the idea that long post docs are a new thing? Mine was 6.5 years in the late '90s/early aughts. Everyone I know of my generation put in at least 6 years as a postdoc. I've never heard of anyone in life sci getting a "real" job (out in the big bad world, not going back to their old grad school) after less than 5 years of post-doc.

    @becca - I see where you're coming from on the student debt thing, but I think a big contributor to this is expectations for standard of living during college and grad school. Debt is "allowable" if all other corners have been cut, but I don't see the current generation of trainees doing this.

    I don't see a single grad student these days without a decent car, smartphone, xbox/wii, Mac laptop, eating organic (sadly in the US this means $$$), drinking/bar/club habit, travel habit etc. Compared to my day this seems extravagant - I had no car, lived in 9 different apartments in a 4 year period, waited tables and tended bar at night while writing up thesis in the day, ate nothing but ramen and canned tuna, brewed godawful home made wine because we couldn't afford to go out drinking, went home to visit family once a year by coach (8 hour journey) because the train was too expensive. All of this in one of the most expensive cities in Europe. Vacation was a week biking in between youth hostels somewhere desolate - none of this spring break in the sun bullshit. As CPP says, cry me a fukken river with the student debt crap.

    If the millennials would just approach the conversation with a bit of humility, it might be OK, but whining about debt while Instagramming your dinner from a hot new restaurant on the latest model iPhone is not going to win you any mileage with my generation.

    This is a filter, kiddos! However "rich" you think we faculty are, throw some kids and a mortgage into the mix and say goodbye to all the toys you have come to expect as a single care free postdoc. If you can survive grad school from a financial perspective, and are happy driving a 10 year old car, you might just about be able to survive as a faculty on an academic salary and make it to retirement with a house and kids in college. If you're already underwater / complaining at the postdoc level, just wait until all that retirement contribution shit hits the ledger (and kid college savings, mortgages, life insurance, etc) and realize that your current financial situation is just a taste of things to come.

    It's the best job in the world, but you ain't gonna get rich doing it.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Preach, Ola. Preach.

  • Isis the Scientist says:

    Ola speaks truth to power on this one.

  • Lady Scientist says:

    A friend of mine left her promising career as an assistant professor in math at some university for some financial job on Wall Street and seems to be really enjoying it. Not that I would advise anyone to go that route (because I'm a Socialist), but it is an option for those of you with sharp analytical skills and excellent training who want to make $$$.

    In the meantime, as (a borderline GenXer) junior faculty who has learned to lower her expectations, I shall continue to drive my 22 year old Volvo with pride. 300 K miles and she's still going strong. Don't be jealous.

  • rxnm says:

    "However "rich" you think we faculty are, throw some kids and a mortgage into the mix and say goodbye to all the toys you have come to expect as a single care free postdoc."

    That's fuckin hilarious. boo hoo.

    Or does "choices" cut both ways?

  • rxnm says:

    Cracking me up that the response to postdoc whining always turns into PI whining one-upmanship.

    "We didn't have things so no one should."

    "Our lives are harder than you think."

    "Wait til you have REAL responsibilities."

    What a bunch of babies.

  • I call shenanigans on "I was so poor I fermented my own wine so I could drink".

  • rxnm says:

    Yeah, and that characterization of grad student / postdoc lifestyle is, in my very recent and extensive experience, a gigantic lie. Most postdocs I know are mid-late 30s trying to keep their family with a <5y.o. kid or two afloat.

  • Ola says:

    @CPP you'd better believe it! $15 bought a white wine kit (mostly apple with a bit of grape juice thrown in) good for 5 gallons. Brewed for 3 weeks, drinkable but "sharp" after 4 weeks, vinegar by 7 weeks. So, a 3 week drinkable window. If you timed it right, you could have a few on the go at once in a house with 3-4 people, and a constant supply of a couple gallons a week for $5.

  • K99er says:

    Anyone who has high debt after college and grad school made poor decisions, and that is not the fault of the NIH or the scientific establishment. Maybe there should be a first year grad school course on living within your means. I went to grad school with plenty of people who took out loans on top of their stipends in order to live in fancy neighborhoods and booze it up every night. My guess is that they're now the loudest complainers about how unfair everything is.

  • jim says:

    Oh yeah, your jobsearch was JUST LIKE ours. You know what? Hate to burst your fragile GenX ego, but your "300-applicant pool for a job" != our 300-applicant pool. Our applicants are, simply put, much much much more qualified than your cohort. In my dept, many many many people used to get jobs without CNS. Some 'stars' had a CSN. Now? Multiple CSN or GTFO. Our post-doc 'winner' PIs are, simply put, much better than yours. Because there's more of us. Natural selection, some would call it. So stop comparing your (0.5 NIH budget) generation to mine, it's insulting. And don't compare your struggle to ours. You went further, on less, with more privileges, in a different economy. End of story. Who cares how much money you may or may not have made? You didn't climb the same mountain, but got the same reward. We get a bit more money, simply so we don't all walk out on day one of this insane mountain climb. You were climbing Mt. Rushmore, we are climbing Mt. Himalaya. But totally, same same. You got us. We'll shut up now.

  • jim says:

    And yes, some of them don't have central nervous systems. You should see them. You guys are wack and couldn't hack it today, is what I'm saying. Refute me.

  • Kevin. says:

    Please. Tenure-track appointment, 9 months salary, R1, with 0 CNS papers. It can be done, even today, by a lazy POS like me.

  • jim says:

    /pats you on the back

    "even today". Exactly. Used to be, 0 CNS TT people like yourself never qualified with "even today". Because it was common, or kinda common, or at least....not really rare. Which brings me back to my point.

  • rxnm says:

    It is ridiculous to discuss this with regard to extreme stances where "no one" gets a job without CNS and shit like that. But denying that there are strong, persistent trends is just as ridiculous. Does anyone disagree that:

    1. A much lower percent (most recent data, a few years out of date, says ~15%, likely lower now) of biomedical PhDs will get faculty jobs. This number was, in the dark ages, in the 30-40% range. The US was undergoing a massive expansion in its universities and its government funded academic research enterprise for most of the second half of the 20th century. It just was. There is no point in pretending the current state of the higher education sector bears any resemblance to 30-40 years ago.

    2. Having CNS papers helps. It used to help less, and there was time when it didn't matter at all. (Not saying that was better, because then it was just the white bro network. Lots of things we hate now were originally feeble but well-intentioned attempts at meritocracy.)

    3. The bro network is grievously wounded but still twitching malevolently...and pedigree helps.

    4. It is dishonest not to consider the general situation and prospects (economic, demographic) of the current generation of trainees when discussing their expectations for what scientific training provides them with financially and in terms of career prospects. "We just did it because we loved science and didn't complain about the shitty pay." Fine, you were naive cloud children... they aren't.

    On average, training is longer, publication expectations for jobs are higher, and the market is more competitive both in terms of number and quality of applicants than it was a generation ago. Every older faculty member I've ever spoken to has observed this change over the last ~20-25 years of search committees. This might not be as true at ILAFs or whatever other boundary conditions you can cherry pick to prove your point, but it is the aggregate, average truth of the academic science job market.

    It isn't whining for people to acknowledge the difficulties associated with the career/life choices they've made, and to advocate to either remove or ameliorate those difficulties through better pay or structural changes. The idea that it would be is appalling to me. Having children and a job is hard. Until very recently, it was the norm for people who wanted workplace accommodations for this were as derisively sneered at as postdocs who want a professional wage are here.

    The same chorus of "we didn't have that" and "suck it up, those are your choices" can be found everywhere, every time any group or labor force tries to improve its conditions. It is not a compelling argument.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    @Ola & k99er:

    I'm sorry but this is nonsense. Have you looked at how much tuition even at (especially at) "affordable" state universities has increased since the late 80s/early 90s when we GenXers went to college? Millennials are not crushed under student debt because of the extravagant lifestyles they were leading as students. Even if they spent 4 years living in a cardboard box and getting by on bread and water, they'd still be screwed.

    I remember graduating (from undergrad) into the recession of the early 90s and it wasn't nearly as bad as it is now, for a variety of reasons.

    As to "well they should just choose not to go to college". Right. Have you seen the numbers showing the differences in earnings and career prospects between bachelors degree holders vs non? I get the feeling the same folks in this thread would be tut-tuting non-degree holders for their plight: "Well, it was their choice to not go to college. Those lazy kids."

    Honestly, the older folks in this thread sound like the Four Yorkshiremen.

    I'd be more sympathetic to all the "well, you should have been more frugal" lecturing if affordable public universities were an option for the younger generation like it was for us, but the option isn't there. And that's largely because older folks are too selfish to pay their d*mn taxes.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Rxnm- it is equally if not more ridiculous to fall all over oneself refusing to admit that trainees at present get paid 30% (and I rounded down) more money. It is ridiculous not to recognize that job prospect suckage has not been linear for the current generations in the Academy. It is ridiculous to refuse to grasp that some subfields are more competitive than others and if you chose a Glamour route that shit is on you. It is ridiculous to continue to insist in the supposed right to live in Boston, NYC or San Francisco.

    It is also, of course, criminally ridiculous to blame fellow academics for the sins of the broader public that bought the Selfish Republican Strategy for 30-40 yrs now.

    But yeah, you keep on fighting for those poor wonderful, not at all entitled millennials, man.

  • rxnm says:

    "entitled millennials, man."

    By what measure are millennials (as a group doing) better than any previous postwar generation? What entitlements are they benefiting from?

    None of your points change my argument. And obviously I'm not blaming academics for bad governance, I'm saying that smugly scolding of the most disenfranchised age group in the country--people who, in every way, have and will have it harder than we did--for advocating to improve their lot is heartless. We are offering them less in terms of career prospects, I think more pay is a fair trade. (And the "30%" that isn't eaten up by changes in policies taxing fellowships is taken care of by real COL increases--mostly rent--that are above the overall inflation rate).

    Finally, the geographic argument is idiotic. Saying postdocs shouldn't work in Boston, NY, and SF is like saying autoworkers shouldn't work where there are car factories. Labor has to go where the capital is.

  • TheNewPI says:

    I might have missed the train here, since most of the discussion was yesterday, but as NYC/DC/Boston person who applied for jobs only in big cities I have a say on the matter of expensive cities as a student/PD/PI.
    NYC as a student/PD is absolutely awesome. Housing is subsidized, museums are free with student ID, Carnegie Hall tickets are $10, Lincoln Center tickets $25, lots of cheap food places and all you really need to do is befriend a local bar tender for free drinks...ours used to call us the "Neurotic Biologists" and give us free beers like treats to puppies.We provided entertaining discussion. As far as postdoc salaries my understanding is that a lot of institutions started above the NIH salary to compensate, MSKCC was at $45K years ago. We were poor, of course. I think my first year we made $18K, but NYC is an awesome place to be poor and happy. This said, I just heard that NYU caps PD salaries at $50K and that sucks!
    Boston is a different story. For some strange reason Boston is just as expensive as NY, but doesn't as easily accommodate the "starving artist" mentality. However, most universities pay relatively well (with full benefits) and you can negotiate a raise if get your own fellowship. I think my salary after 6 years and with a non-tenure track appointment was supposed to be $75K, but I kept it at $65K because i needed the extra money for sequencing (this was 2 years ago). As a postdoc with a lot of postdoc friends, many with kids, I never had this feeling of desperation. Yes, many complained that 1 salary was going to childcare, but almost everyone had a mortgage leading to endless discussions about renovations and we were enrolled in a 403b retirement saving accounts. So I don't know if a lot of these fears about living in NYC or Boston are just fears, because as long as you are careful on how you spend your money it's not that bad.
    This is where a think the postdoctoral associations are really important. To make sure that certain standards are upheld and that the NIH minimum is not just considered a suggestion, since unfortunately it is actually just a suggestion. If postdocs are treated like regular employees with full benefits, matched retirement, housing benefits, and subsidized childcare, then $45K could work to start with, but the universities have to invest in that. One of my old ones (which would have had money to open 1000 child care centers) put a gym in the spot where the child care center was supposed to go because the gym paid higher rent.

  • rxnm says:

    "If postdocs are treated like regular employees with full benefits, matched retirement, housing benefits, and subsidized childcare, then $45K could work to start with,"

    This is totally reasonable, and similar to what I had. No true for many, many others.

  • jim says:

    Man, you really are jealous of that 30%, huh DM? Fine, I'll trade you my 'lavish pay package' for oh, I dunno, cheaper real estate and less student loan debt. Knock a few years off my grad student and post-doc, and kick in a better chance of getting a job, and easier prospects to get RO1s/TT? Sh*t, then making 30% less sounds like an amazing deal.

    And this 'supposed right to live in Boston, NYC or SF' argument is ridiculous, to borrow your favorite word. Would sound a lot better if half the friggin training community wasn't based there. How about you tell your city friends to move all their labs to Cornfields, USA and we'll follow? Cheap rent for everyone!! In the meantime, we'll keep going to the places where strong training opportunities exist. You see trainees whining about their right to live in Hawaii? SF/Boston/NYC didn't grow into strong academic training centers because Millennials suddenly decided they liked to live there.

    Stop trying to smugly suggest that our generation's one 'benefit' (lol) is somehow able to excuse all the rest of the sh*t we have to put up with. "Sure, they have worse job prospects, longer paths to tenure, a crappier economy to bail out into, more debt and steeper house prices but lookit! Pretty cell phones!" And the median US income argument is specious, because median US income hasn't risen in what, fifteen years? Come on.

  • katiesci says:

    "Anyone who has high debt after college and grad school made poor decisions"

    This is absolutely fucking false. AcademicLurker pointed out the tuition differences already and rxnm the inflation on rent but also groceries, etc.

    Mostly though, I take issue with the overarching assumptions going on here. It's an all or nothing back and forth argument just pointing fingers and talking about how you all had to walk to school uphill both ways in knee deep snow all year round. Yeah, things sucked then but circumstances ARE very different now than they were "back in the day" - you blog about them all the time, DM! It's confusing to see this attitude from you of all people.

    I don't know what the solutions are but I know my cohort's outlook sucks.

  • rxnm says:

    Maybe "entitlement" is thinking you have a right to acquire skilled labor at a particular price.

    If postdocs can successfully lobby the NIH to get mandated improvements to their pay or benefits, good for them. If it means we can train fewer people, all the better. You'll just have to cry it out. I can loan you some grown-up pants if you need them.

  • K99er says:

    katiesci - I stand by my statement. Notice the word "high" in that sentence. I didn't go to my top college choice because I would have left with mountains of debt. I looked at the list of "best value colleges" and picked one that had awesome financial aid, automatic scholarships for maintaining good grades, and mandatory on campus housing so that the housing and meal plans were all part of tuition. People are too often choosing their dream college based on the "college experience" without any thought for the cost, or for their future. If you leave college with anything more than the cost of a small car loan and want to go into academic science, you made very bad decisions. My undergrad college has no national name recognition whatsoever, but I wouldn't do anything differently, because most likely I'd have the same faculty job I have now even if I had gone into lots of debt.

    And just to be clear. I am not old. I got through grad school and postdoc in ten years and am in my second year as faculty. The cost of the college that I went to has gone up about 10% in those years (I just checked).

  • katiesci says:

    I would love to see more data backing up all the claims being thrown around in these comments.

  • AA says:

    To those who claimed to do 5 year postdoc, what is the typical length of postdoc for trainees in your field now? If it's like 7-8 years long, even with the extra income after inflation, it's still a loss for trainees. Not to mention opportunity costs, and don't forget the compounding student loans. Hey, if you guys want to go all out, why not bring all the numbers on the table. What was your student loan figure and the interest rate when you graduated? I can almost guarantee you that trainees today are in a shittier position than the last generation if you do a proper comparison on the total financial situation, and not just compare annual salary.

    n my field, which is more multidisciplinary but still having a heavy life science slant, 10 years ago PIs did 3 years postdoc. The greybeards do 1-2 year postdoc, and a generation before that there was no postdoc.

  • AA says:

    And since I am on a rant on this ridiculous millennial entitlement, let's just compare numbers shall we. Data drive analysis.

    Let's explore all the professional career that options that require about 5 years of post-bachelors education, which is the typical length of a PhD.

    PhD Engineers, like scientists get "free" education (which greybeards always like to point out), but many get hired out of graduation for $100k jobs in industry. Postdocs should they want to do an academic position is usually 2-3 years.

    PhD Computer Scientists, again like engineers. Hired for $100k jobs upon graduation. Also, their research can be funded so they get "free education".

    JD Lawyers, have a period of apprenticeship like postdocs. After that depending on the prestige of the school they get $80-120k+ base salary. But don't forget they don't have limited upsides in their career, the top lawyers get big bonuses sometimes in in the 6 figures.

    PharmD Pharmacists, get hired out of school and start at $80k.

    MD Doctors, have a period of residency like postdocs. After that, their base salary is $100k, and with proper specialization it can reach $200-300k, just look at the top 10 paying jobs in America, more than half are doctors with specialization.

    SO... what do PhD scientists get? At least 5 years of postdocs at $40k. If you are the cream of the crop, your NIH K99 pays you $60k but that's realistically only in your 3rd or 4th year of postdoc. If you want to do TT, you start at $70k (that's the average figure nationwide). You only break the $100k barrier after you get tenure, assuming you don't get fired in today's funding climate. And that's for the TOP PhD scientists. The average PhD scientists gets doomed to oblivion. The average engineer, pharmacist, doctor, lawyer, computer scientist still earns $80-100k and can lead a reasonably comfortable life.

    As a trainee, I have some self-respect and I know I am worth $80-100k after graduation. I'm sorry that you see it as entitlement, but I see it as a data driven conclusion on how much I am worth. Yes yes market forces drives payment, but hey NIH policies are driving market forces in the life sciences so don't use that excuse. If magic genies would grant my wish and suddenly your ability as PI to get funded is inversely proportional to the time that your trainees spent from PhD to a (any) permanent job, and proportional to the percentage of your trainees who do not move on to another postdoc, I guess we'll all be singing a different song. So I am not surprised if trainees are all quitting, if academia is not going to provide us with a reasonable means of supporting our livelihood, there's only one conclusion, LEAVE. And yes that IS the message the ivory tower is sending to the scientists of tomorrow.

    In a nut shell, a big F U to those who think that we are entitled.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    AA- may depend on how you parse K99 years but I think the last few ppl I know of that secured jobs in my field of closest knowledge were around 5 yrs postdoc.

    At the time I got my job, 5 yrs of postdoc was certainly not rare and my recollection was that many people expressed that this was "good" relative to expectation. I certainly felt fortunate.

    I am not jealous at all that current trainees have a 30% bump. I felt my pay was decent, particularly when one of the larger NRSA adjustments went down while I was a postdoc. The change from expectation was certainly welcome.

    K99er- yes and guess what? I *also* decided on colleges that I might attend based on cost and likely debt load. Always been an issue people. (I chose a bargain option, relative to the class of similar places).

    katiesci- see comment above you for a different view.

    Rxnm- entitlement is short for "a feeling of being entitled to something" not in the sense of having something.

  • rxnm says:

    That is exactly what I meant.

  • NotAMillennial says:

    There are a lot of nonsensical claims on this thread, but nothing can top blaming today's kids for high student debt. To say that "anyone who has high debt after college and grad school made poor decisions" is to be willfully ignorant of the current economics of higher education.

    A few stats:

    Decrease in government higher education funding per student from 2007-2012: 27%
    Outstanding student debt, 2004: $364 billion
    Outstanding student debt, 2012: $966 billion
    Outstanding student debt, 2014: $1.2 trillion

    Oh, and 58% of that student debt is held by the bottom quartile of household wealth. But of course it's really the kids' fault for making bad choices.

    Simply put, there has been a systematic and accelerating shift of the cost of education from society to young people over the last two decades. Sure, people can always make choices that allow them to avoid these trends. But it doesn't mean that these trends aren't a huge problem for the population of potential trainees as a whole, and the fact that you managed to make good choices when you were 18 doesn't justify punitive policies for those who didn't.

    As an aside, any discussion of smartphones in this context is the clearest possible sign of a much greater interest in millennial-bashing than logical thought (I'm looking at you, DM and Ora). Most smartphones are free. Unlimited talk, text, and data cost $50/mo from major carriers. That's not much different in real terms from what I paid for a landline and occasional long distance phone calls as a grad student in the pre-cellular days. Except, of course, that smartphones give you ALL OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND. Anyone who thinks that we're going to attract good trainees by telling them that they should be denying themselves access to the internet is completely delusional (either that or actively seeking deeply antisocial/incurious minions).

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    This is turning into Lord of the Motherfucken Flies in here. Which, of course, is what all the twisted billionaires want: high-end and low-end labor fighting each other over table scraps instead of getting together with pitchforks and torches.

  • DJMH says:

    Rxnm is on point. If you have retirement benefits and good childcare available, a postdoc on NRSA levels is fine--not glamorous, but fine.

    But God forbid you actually go and get yourself an NRSA, because you'll find that your university won't give you the retirement benefits that non-NRSA postdocs gets. That's the sort of screwing over that really hurts postdocs, and I sure don't think it's "entitled" to claim otherwise.

  • odyssey says:

    But God forbid you actually go and get yourself an NRSA, because you'll find that your university won't give you the retirement benefits that non-NRSA postdocs gets.

    Very, very few institutions give any postdocs retirement benefits. Right now I can't think of one, although I'm willing to believe they exist.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    DJMH- totes with you on the fellowship-isn't-employment scam. Did that just start recently, d'ya know? In 2009 was it?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    All y'all using national data on student debt are taking out the predatory and/or for profit scammy parts of higher ed debtload, correct?

  • Dave says:

    If the millennials would just approach the conversation with a bit of humility, it might be OK, but whining about debt while Instagramming your dinner from a hot new restaurant on the latest model iPhone is not going to win you any mileage with my generation.

    Hate those hipster millennials.

  • NotAMillennial says:

    DM -- For profit institutions accounted for about 20% of new student debt in 2011. Assume it's about the same now. It's not the major factor here.

  • NotAMillennial says:

    Further, ~40% of all loan growth from 2001-2012 was at public institutions. Those are the supposedly "good" choices available to kids now. Look at the UCs as an example -- total costs have tripled in real terms over the last 20 years.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    20% is "not a major factor" in what fantasy land now?

  • dsks says:

    Odyssey said, "Very, very few institutions give any postdocs retirement benefits. Right now I can't think of one, although I'm willing to believe they exist."

    I have to confess I'm still confused about how these benefits work and get paid for for soft money types. I had exactly the same employee benefits as a postdoc that regular faculty had access to. While I know that my share of the pension contributions were covered by the grant I was on, I've never been square on whether the matching numbers came from that too, or the institution (indirects maybe?).

    Either way, notwithstanding 2008 blowing a big hole in it, I came out of there with a decent sum in my TIAA CREF, so there's an N of 1 I suppose.

  • jim says:

    As a recipient of an NRSA circa 2009, I can tell you the not-an-employee scam was alive and well then. We had to scream just to get on the *health insurance plan* at a major R01 medical center--covered by the NIH, obviously. Insane. Retirement benefits? Ha. Childcare? HAHAHHA.

  • NotAMillennial says:

    DM--20% is a minor fraction of 100%, last time I checked.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Oh, well maybe it was 2008? 2005? I mean it is some new screw job on millennials, right?

  • Lady Scientist says:

    The benefits scam is a big one, especially for post docs. When I was a postdoc (only a few years ago), not only did we not get retirement matching of any kind (while ALL other staff get that benefit), but we also had to supplement our health insurance costs, even those of us on NIH training grants and fellowships.

    My grad institution was good about treating post docs as real workers - I believe post docs there received full benefits, just like any other staff member.

    I don't understand why post docs get screwed out of those benefits when everyone else has them (well, not the grad students, but they get tuition cost coverage as a benefit and are students).

    We title post docs as "trainees" - but should we? Yes, they are learning more about their trade, but so is everyone else who qualifies as faculty or staff.

  • NotAMillennial says:

    To clarify, I said not THE major factor. Anyway, it may just be me, but I think it's much more important to address how kids going to public schools have accrued hundreds of billions of dollars of added student debt in the last decade. I think that's a big problem for our trainee pool. If you don't, I'm interested in hearing your non-snarky explanation for why it isn't.

  • jim says:

    If you're gonna screw us, at least buy us a fancy meal we can Instagram, right 😉

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    I was awarded my NRSA in the late 90s, and it was the same dealio: not an employee, so no benefits and no FICA/Medicare taxes. But I am not understanding the issue people are claiming with health insurance. The NRSA institutional allowance was and is plenty to cover the fellow's health insurance.

  • NotAMillennial says:

    CPP -- my PD institution reported my NRSA institutional allowance as income, so my "covered" health insurance ended up costing me ~$1500-2000 in taxes/year.

  • jim says:

    ^^Same, I also had to pay taxes on my health insurance. Also, I had to pay higher costs at institutional events. For example, at the gym I was paying 'student' rate before my NRSA, and 'faculty' rate after my NRSA. Why did I bring in money again?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Gym????????

  • DrugMonkey says:

    What about your tanning salon and laundry service fees jim?

  • K99er says:

    Drugmonkey - didn't mean to imply that smart financial decisions weren't required by all generations of scientists.

    It just drives me crazy when I hear student loan burden being used as a reason for increasing postdoc salaries. There are plenty of ways to get through undergrad without enormous debt, if you make smart choices, and grad school is free.

  • DJMH says:

    Odyssey, I had retirement benefits as a postdoc. It's not unheard of. And it's, imho, an excellent way to support people whose traineeships continue into their late 30s.

    DM, I realize the NRSA thing is not a new issue, but how does that change things exactly? We should invent a time machine to fix this waybackwhen? Rxnm and I and others are pointing out that if a highly skilled workforce is functioning in its 30s at lower wages than they could get in comparable types of jobs, one good way to compensate is at least for chrissakes have retirement benefits that don't hinge on funding source. It doesn't seem like a big "whine".

  • becca says:

    Ola- when was the last time you lived on $100/month for your food budget and were glad to get your dumpster bagels? When was the last time you not ONLY didn't have any car but considered a *new, unbroken* bike to be a totally superfluous luxury item? When was the last time you were educated at the local community college and lived at home? When was the last time you worked three jobs, counting work study and the unpaid one you needed to get your foot in the door of a good lab?
    Because *those* are the terrible life choices I made to get my Bachelor's degree for *the average amount of debt for someone the year I graduated*. I reserve the right to cut anyone who rants about fancy climbing walls and college tuition.

    Also, shockingly, I was easily able to feed 14 people on $1400 ORGANIC food (and lots of it). Vegetarianism, a good local farmers market for cheap produce, beans and rice, oatmeal and buying in bulk from Blooming Prairie go a long way. People who think organic food is a luxury are the problem with our food system. Food is, in fact, the one major expense that is getting *cheaper* over the decades, and given scale and trajectory of the metabolic syndrome health issues vs. lung cancer, getting people hooked on Ramen is more evil than getting them hooked on nicotine.

    And no, I did not experience lifestyle inflation in grad school to the point where I got any of the luxury items on your particular list. I did get a kid though, which dwarfs all the rest of them by a big margin. Were it not for subsidized daycare, I would've drowned in debt long ago.

    Odyssey- I'm at Michigan State, and they call postdocs "research associates" and will start contributions to retirement accounts after 3 years of employment. I probably won't last long enough to benefit, and if I could be kept it would be because I got a fellowship, so it's a bit moot. But it's a start. You might suggest a similar policy at your institution.

    *sigh* the trouble with this argument is that it lines up exactly the same as the Tea Party Vs. Reality. The thing about conservatives is that they're happier (liberal societies are happier, but that's a different thing). The reason is that there is a LOT out there that is F*ckedupandbullshite, and if you can *blame* people for their suffering, you personally get to be less bothered by it. It's a sociopathic impulse collectively, but on a personal level highly adaptive, so it persists. Even among people who are all smart enough to know better. Look- every single person is doing the best they can with the choices they see, and not everyone has equal access to information about things like what college debt will really mean. Sniping among the 99% does not result in more pay for postdocs or more grants for profs. Kumbaya and all that.

    I'll still cut the first person who rants about climbing walls though.

  • dsks says:

    There is simply no way in hell I would have pursued a postdoc for $30k and no benefits. People have to vote with their feet on this sort of thing, there are alternatives.

  • kevin. says:

    Jesus, leave the guy alone for trying to go to the gym. We can't all afford our own bicycles.

  • becca says:

    Also, my health insurance (the PPO, or cheaper of the two plans offered) costs my employer $9060, or less than the NRSA $7850 allowance. So I doubt it's a given that the NRSA fully covers the healthcare benefit, which was probably the original reason some unis did not cover fellows.

    And I have to pay taxes on the "imputed income" of my health insurance, but I could probably get out of that by getting hitched.

  • jim says:

    Hey, GTL, I gotta look good if you're gonna be screwing me, right? Need to work off all those fancy dinners, too.

  • jim says:

    Oh, and Kevin, I had a bike. It got stolen. From the 'secured' University-provided bike shed that was supposed to be one of my 'generous perks'. Even heard the Chair complaining about how 'extravagant' the shed was. All the shed did was provide shelter for bike thieves to do their work.

    Alas ye olde bike shed got taken away, because the medical center needed room to store renovation equipment.

    So, to recap: no retirement, no childcare, had to fight for health insurance, and the few dinky little 'perks' I did receive (not-insane prices at a nice gym, a bike shed) were pulled without notice. Wah wah I'm so entitled wah wah.

  • icearoni says:

    K99er, an undergraduate education at a state school can leave a person with relatively high debt, if that person is paying for it all themselves. Yes, even at a "bargain" state school that one has chosen for its low costs. My husband and I are GenXers who married in undergrad and both have fairly large debt loads. We did well in high school and had lots of options, but chose cheap undergrad schools. We both had scholarships to cover part of the costs, and the cost of living was average.

    When mommy and daddy aren't paying for anything, it adds up FAST, and part-time or summer jobs are a drop in the cost bucket. College for newer generations simply costs a lot of money, and you can't work enough as an undergrad to pay for it all. My father worked during the summers in the and paid for ALL of his own college expenses with that money. Those days (the 1960's) are long gone. Then if you go to grad school right away...

    When you take long training times, low-ish grad student stipend (not every school pays you even CLOSE to $30K), and add a kid or two into the mix because you're afraid to postpone having them until after you've gotten your PhDs and your fertility has plummeted (infertility is $$$ and devastating), that can put you squarely near or below the poverty line. WIC benefits were an enormous help for us during that time. We made $1K too much to qualify for food stamps and Medicaid. 25% of our GROSS income went to pay for our (student!) health insurance. Retirement? LOLOLOLOL. I'm a postdoc and I still have no retirement benefits.

    During the first 14 years of our marriage, one or both of us were students. There was no fancy stuff: no cable, no cellphones, almost no buying meat or eating out, one shitty car, riding the bus so we didn't need a parking pass, clothes from secondhand stores, etc. -- I know the drill because we lived it for a loooong time. In many cases, it's not about lacking the ability to live within one's means. It's the fact that if you and your partner both get undergrad and grad degrees, and you have no financial help from family, you can amass "high" debt even if you are thrifty.

    Let me be clear - I am not whining. These were the choices that we made. It was hard but I don't regret it. I am just not understanding what we were supposed to have been doing differently to avoid having "high" debt. Now that we're done with all that school, we are paying off the debt without trouble, but that's because our kids are older and we both make decent wages now.

    I do have sympathy for many of the people with high debt loads, and in some cases, it can't be avoided. Yes, even if you go to a cheap state school in flyover country. Of the people who chastise EVERYONE who's ended up with high student debt, how many of them had to pay for 100% of their own higher education within the last couple of decades (without help from a real-job-having partner)?

  • drugmonkey says:

    DM, I realize the NRSA thing is not a new issue, but how does that change things exactly?

    It means you can't justifiably use it in the "our lives are easier/harder than yours were" part of the discussion.

    in the "postdoc treatment sucks as it always has" category....okay.

    We title post docs as "trainees" - but should we?
    To the extent this allows them to be treated as anything other than employees of the workplace, no. This is part and parcel of my comments opposing the exploitation system, you will note.Defining the workers under the NIH extramural science system as something other than Labor permits all sorts of shenanigans.

  • poke says:

    It means you can't justifiably use it in the "our lives are easier/harder than yours were" part of the discussion.

    Fine. Could we just not have that discussion? Is it helping anyone?

  • jipkin says:

    To be fair poke, I've learned a few things watching the rantfest that I didn't know before. So while none of the participants have changed their minds (have you ever seen DM change his?), at least it's been good for getting some thoughts on the table.

  • Jmz4 says:

    I get that the NPR piece in question was really cringe-worthy. They must have went out and found the whiniest, worst post-docs to interview. Speaking as a postdoc in Boston, however, there are a couple things that the PI's on here should note.

    Urban rent has outpaced income growth and inflation by out 5%:
    http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-07-17/housings-30-percent-of-income-rule-is-near-useless

    Second "urban" as defined by the CPI does NOT mean cities. It means where 90% of the country lives, which most of us would call suburbs. The gentrification of cities means that they have gotten drastically more expensive then they were in 2002 (where the CPI shows PARITY between today's stipend and 2002's). I was in college, and I (or my parents) could afford a room in DC for 500 bucks a month, or 620 in today's dollars. Go find me a room in Georgetown for that today.

    Thirdly, as for the "choice" to live in one of these cities. It isn't really a choice. Here's a cost of living calculator for cities: http://money.cnn.com/calculator/pf/cost-of-living/

    Find me a city with multiple good research universities of 200+ faculty that have a significant difference with Boston, New York, DC, or San Fran. Congratulations, you found Durham, NC, and maybe Chicago. There's no denying that biomedical research is clustered in expensive cities.

    Fourthly, we (trainees at graduate and postdoc levels) are not permitted to work 2nd jobs (a couple people mentioned this and I thought it was worth clarifying) while on NIH support.

    Fifthly, it is not a "training" position. Postdocs do damn near all the bench work, and train the people that do the rest. As a side benefit, we may get some tips on grant writing and presentation skills, depending on our bosses. You are hiring us to do science you cannot or do not have the time to do. As DM notes, this is the reason why there needs to be an increase in staff science positions, so that Universities and the NIH can stop their shenanigans by shoving us through loopholes and skimping on wages. An alternative would be to simply rewrite the rules so that Universities have to treat us like employees no matter what support we're on (with the 401k's and fringe benefits coming out of their money, not ours).

    Finally, as a last note, yes I think the pay sucks and I wish it was more. But you know what I would give 10k a year up for? The ability to write project grants and have some say in how the funds are spent. Job security is great and all, but why can't I write up a 1-aim grant, to get a specific set of experiments done, have it reviewed by a set of postdocs selected in a panel by the NIH, get it funded to the tune of 15-20k, and get some fucking science done even if my boss thinks its not a worthwhile use of his time or money?

    I think you'll find that, behind all the whinging about salary and job security, what's really there is a lot of frustrated, bruised egos crying out for some sort of autonomy and a modicum of respect for our efforts. No one got in this game to make money, but having to sublimate your ideas (or have your boss pass them off as his) is what is really galling to a lot of the postdocs (and probably behind this generational message board feud). Give us the chance to prove ourselves, to be creative, and do what we got into science to do, and I think we'll be much happier with the salary. Or pay us more, and treat us like drones (the system, not the individual PIs, some of whom are quite nice), and we'll probably be happy with that, too. Like you know, the rest of the people who work jobs they hate for good money.

  • K99er says:

    icearoni - the fact that you are easily paying your student loans with a job in your chosen field would suggest that you made responsible choices, and are not at all what I was talking about. I was blasting the person, for example, who gets a biology degree at NYU for 60K a year, all on loans, and then complains that they don't make enough money as a grad student/postdoc to pay their loan bills. I mean, yeah, no kidding.

    Jmz4 - why do you require a city with MULTIPLE universities in order to do good science? I've made the point before that most Big 10 schools have hot shot faculty and are very competitive with NIH grants, AND have low cost of living. You've also ignored the points made by me and The New PI on this comment thread about the fact that postdocs in the big cities enjoy subsidized housing and cheap transportation options that make big city living totally possible as a postdoc. Now your points about grad students and postdocs wanting to be more independent -- lab trainees with their own fellowships are almost always given more leeway in terms of taking on small side projects of their own design. So get a fellowship. Second, PIs have EARNED their independence by proving themselves to be able to manage projects and to be good stewards of research dollars. You have to put in your time before expecting to be the boss.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Jmz4-

    Using what resources? Which protocols and approvals?

  • rxnm says:

    scolding individuals for geographical choice remains ridiculous.

    most postdocs will be where most of the research money is. period.

    it's like if someone complained about traffic and you said THERE ARE LOTS OF PLACES WITHOUT TRAFFIC WHY DON'T YOU MOVE TO ONE OF THOSE?

    but of course it is easier to put people in their place if systematic problems can be blamed on individuals, so carry on.

  • mistressoftheanimals says:

    This:
    Find me a city with multiple good research universities of 200+ faculty that have a significant difference with Boston, New York, DC, or San Fran. Congratulations, you found Durham, NC, and maybe Chicago. There's no denying that biomedical research is clustered in expensive cities.

    is utter bullshit. And arrogant utter bullshit at that. Baltimore. Cleveland. Cincinnati. St. Louis. Kansas City. Atlanta. Denver. St. Lake City.

    Pointing out that people have hard choices to make, and that those choices have consequences is not the same thing as saying there are no problems in the system. But as a young trainee you are still solving your life problems. Others can work on making the system better. But meantime, you can chose to be in SF or NYC and pay more for rent, or you can chose to look for/go to other cities that are good and strong research places that are cheaper.

    The arrogance of saying that only expensive places do good science is one of the incipient signs of becoming a BSD.

  • boehninglab says:

    Houston is cheap and has the largest medical center in the world. Traffic sucks though.

  • rxnm says:

    I said nothing about "good science" or "strong research"... it's just numbers.

    http://report.nih.gov/award/index.cfm#tab1

    If it feels like postdocs are disproportionately complaining about high rent it's because a disproportionate number of them live in high rent places because a disproportionate amount of NIH funding goes to those places.

    Biomedical research IS clustered in expensive cities. Not "exclusive to." Clustered.

    Yeesh.

    If anyone has a principled reason that ALL postdocs (paid from any mechanism, regardless of nationality) should't get $45K/year and benefits to start, with reasonable raises from there, I'd love to hear it.

  • neuromusic says:

    Find me a city with one good lab that I can join, where I can have a 6-10 miles year-round bicycle commute to lab from my 600sqft apt/house with a garden and rent that is under 30% of my income, hiking trails for the weekends, 3-4 good breweries, and camping where I can't see city lights within a 90 minute drive, and regular direct flights back home so my daughter can visit her grandparents.

  • Spiny Norman says:

    Dallas isn't terribly expensive, either. Or Madison. Or Pullman. Or Evanston. Or Iowa City. Etc., etc., etc. The laser-like focus on bos/nyc/sf is a strong indicator of provincialism. Caveat emptor, kids.

  • rxnm says:

    It's like you're scolding water for finding its own level.

    How. Do. You. Think. Postdocs. Get. Paid.

    http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2014/04/04/the-nih-grant-have-states-resist-sharing/

  • Spiny Norman says:

    "Yeah, but where did you study and do your postdoc?"

    Places that apparently aren't on your radar. And I'm now tenured, in a hard-money position, in one of the best departments at a top-20 US med school.

  • rxnm says:

    I've lived in 3 countries in the last 14 years. I feel like my radar is pretty broad. I promise you are not familiar with my PhD institution. I am just saying that it feels tautological that where there is more grant funding there will be more trainees. I can't imagine why any further explanation is required.

    The NIH geographical skew is enough, but you had other sources it's even more. The Broad just got a single donation that is larger than the annual NIH investment in all but 9 states. Entire states.

    I am not saying this is deserved, or that it means there will be better training or research or whatever. (I've talked about this before http://rxnm.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/on-elite-institutions/). But it would also be naive in the extreme to suggest there are not career advantages to being at some institutions.

    Finally, people have dual career or other personal reasons (e.g. non-heteronormative identity) that make some place much easier to live despite financial strain.

    In summary: fuck all y'all for judging people's choices when you know almost nothing about them.

  • Spiny Norman says:

    I'll gladly judge people's choices when they defend their choices by saying, essentially, that the good choices I and many of my friends made don't exist or aren't possible.

    There is a lot of that going on in this discussion.

    And the fact that an institution (e.g., Broad) has a lot of money is not equivalent to saying that it is a good postdoctoral training environment on a per-capita level. Such a place may be able to hire a lot of people; but it may, then, be that much more difficult for a given postdoc to separate her- or himself from the crowd when it's job search time.

    Once again: look at the per-capita trajectories of current and ex-trainees in the PD lab you're considering. Institution doesn't matter. Location doesn't matter. Department doesn't matter. Many big, hot, famous labs in big, hot, famous institutions are Darwinian meat-grinders run for the sole advancement of the PI. One Stanford PI in the '80s was known for running two labs in different buildings, in competition with one another. Second to the line? Too fucking bad.

    On the other hand: not a few Big-10 labs have populated entire fields with dozens of trainees going on to productive, successful, stable careers.

    If you don't understand that as a postdoc you have choices, that you have agency, that your choices will have consequences, I will empathize. But I will not make you feel better by lying, by saying that you did not have choices, that you couldn't have possibly known.

  • Jonathan says:

    AA - not sure what year you think this is but your comment about JD lawyers is a decade out of date. Going to law school today is about the stupidest thing someone could do unless it's a top 10 school and someone else is footing the bill. Paul Campos has been particularly good on just how fucked that whole career path has become, and it makes the postdocapocalypse look like a hangnail: http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/author/paul-campos

  • rxnm says:

    yeah, spiny, I agree with what you say. I think we are responding to different threads of this conversation.

    I am irritated by the reflexive "choices, google, fuck you" response to postdocs who are struggling in their careers or financially or whatever. That many postdocs will be in shitty career circumstances is an inevitable outcome of the current state of things. Many of them could individually have made different choices at some point in their lives. So what? Until the NIH and program web sites start saying "now might not be the best time to get a PhD" instead of "STEM SHORTAGE" I'm gonna go ahead and spread the blame around a wee bit.

    There are many reasons that people are constrained in their geographical choices. Some of them are "good" reasons, some not. The point is that for a given person, we have no idea. I agree that anyone who is saying their only chance at happiness and a career and to bask in the glow of Great Scientists is to go to a certain kind of institution needs a smack in the face. I've met a lot of postdocs, many at that kind of institution, but almost none fit that description.

    I think this person is 95% a straw man invented to diminish the frustrations of struggling trainees and excuse a shitty labor scam.

    "Choices, motherfucker" is a useless and rarely valid criticism...people are not stupid and are aware that they made choices. But most don't deserve that...not if I moved to follow my wife's career or I stayed near an aging parent or we decided to have a baby and it's expensive as hell. Everyone is balancing competing demands and interests in their lives...the difficulties resulting from those choices are rarely ridiculous or deserved.

    I mean, Potty has been a great chronicler of the difficulties of working at a BSD MRU and the slow process of choosing to leave. I have yet to see anyone say "you deserved that unhappiness and frustration for choosing to work there in the first place." Yet that is what postdocs get all the time.

  • John says:

    I don't really get the big city complaining. I've been a postdoc in NYC for almost 4 years and have managed to save money. And I eat, drink and travel plenty without being particularly miserly. In some sense with the doubling in salary from grad school in North Carolina I break even with the cost of living in NYC--except the big city has more to offer both personally and professionally.

    Mind you, if I had kids this would be a whole different ball game, but for people not raising a family the postdoc salary should not be a deciding factor.

  • Spiny Norman says:

    "Choices, motherfucker" is a useless and rarely valid criticism...people are not stupid and are aware that they made choices.

    Actually, I'm stunned by how clueless most of the grad school applicants I interview are. I entered grad school with the assumption that I'd spend five years doing science and then change careers because no jobs. I could, you know, read. And the job outlook, then as now, was incredibly glum.

    I'm even more stunned that after 4+ years in grad school, many -- a majority -- of the students I encounter don't know how to think about a search for postdoctoral positions, how to maximize their chances of success in an academic track, and how to think about alternatives if that doesn't work out.

    I never for a minute believed that I was going to get a decent TT job until I had arrived and was ordering equipment for the lab. Until I had tenure I always assumed that another career was around the corner. Even now, I think about alternatives. About jumping off the track.

    It's our job to think about alternatives, and contingencies, for chrissakes.

  • Spiny Norman says:

    John: do you have substantial student loans? Health problems? Dependents?

    If not, you're lucky and privileged.

  • K99er says:

    Neuromusic - University of Pittsburgh and Ohio State meet all of your requirements except maybe the direct flights. Cheap living, lots of bike lanes, microbreweries galore, surrounded by state parks for your hiking adventures. Even though you didn't ask for it, both cities also have museums, awesome restaurants, and nightlife. Plus, these are two of the country's biggest universities, both with rising prestige, and that's just off the top of my head based on where I've visited recently. This is why it's so outrageous that people are complaining that they must take jobs in SF, NYC or Boston, and that they can't afford to live there.

  • K99er says:

    Spiny Norman, I love this!

    "I'll gladly judge people's choices when they defend their choices by saying, essentially, that the good choices I and many of my friends made don't exist or aren't possible."

  • rxnm says:

    "This is why it's so outrageous that people are complaining that they must take jobs in SF, NYC or Boston, and that they can't afford to live there."

    It certainly would be outrageous if anyone claimed that.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Sorry rxnm, but I still hear a lot of "I want it all, right now" whinging. Perhaps choices is the wrong avenue, I don't know. But I'm still seeing your spirited defense as a claim that one should be able to have everything (perfect desired career, life of ease in Baahstn, NY, SF, etc) because......?

    Life comes with tradeoffs. It comes with risks and failures to get what we imagine we deserve. And people who can't seem to recognize this are going to come under the judgy gun.

  • Dennis Eckmeier says:

    About the rent thing:

    rent is not just a thing we complain about because we mostly live at expensive places. It's also because that's how 'affordable apartment' is defined. Which is 30% of your income, including utilities. On Long Island it was hard to find any apartment for (a little) less than $1100 (including utilities), and those were mostly nasty. I mean, really nasty. Most colleagues that at some point told me how much their rent is, gave me higher numbers than that.

    This means that one has to make a minimum of $44 000 so that *the cheapest non-dirthole* apartments here could be called 'affordable'. I am lucky to be paid more than that, but it is really not so much more. I get some money for a retirement fund which I hear is not even standard. But while employees get 9% of their income put in their fund, PDs get only 1% (because we are supposed to be 'just transitioning'... transitioning for average 6-8 years l.o.l.). We also get a relatively decent (relatively because I am one of those spoiled Europeans) health care, which I also hear is not that common.

    Did I have higher expectations? To be honest, yes, I expected more. Simply because I assumed my life style would improve from my college years because I have research experience that I got a PhD for. It hasn't. I am doing research now 'routinely' (which is relative in research but you do develop some routine in doing science even when the projects change continuously). But my experience doesn't seem to matter if it comes to salary.

    We are also still being called 'trainees' and this is in part why I think people are very comfortable paying us as little as possible. A 'trainee' for a PI position. And this is just laughable. Not because I secretly decided to go into industry but because I have not met a single young PI who said 'I was trained for a PI position during my PD'. It is mostly just doing your work (and yes, I consider it work no matter how much I love it and how independent I am). People say learning new techniques and all that is my training. But I don't see how this is not part of everyday research appropriate to my level of education and experience. What I get is more working experience. You get working experience in industry jobs, too, and nobody calls you a 'trainee' and you are being paid for what you are: a highly educated and trained researcher.

    Another way of looking at it is comparing your own life to that of your parents. At my age my parents had secure jobs with retirement plans, their own house and land, two children, two cars. Both of them had degrees from a musics academy and finished around the age I started my PhD. I have a higher education level and I have a car that falls apart, a crappy apartment that I can so so afford, no job security, no real retirement plan, no clear outlook on where I will be in 3 years and thus zero incentive to commit to relationships. And don't forget, we were told that an academic degree is an investment first and then you will make up in terms of life quality to those guys who went to become plumbers at age 16.

    But there are two ways of looking at it. Either the PD salary is too low or the PD time is long. While those of my advisers who were seniors all told me how they did 0-2 year postdoc *total*, today biologists average 8(!) years of postdoc. This is not a 'transitional training phase', it is a significant part of our lives. 10% of my life expectancy! In my book this is too long to be in some transitional limbo phase, especially when you are in your 30s and society expects certain other things to go on in your live which I don't think I can do, now. Being at least able to invest financially for the future would help a lot. I am lucky, I actually can put some money away for later.

    But I am single, no student loans, no health problems and no dependents, and as I hear I am paid more than most others. I already feel inappropriately paid, I can only imagine how it must be for those who have to support banks and families and health insurance companies. (btw, something is wrong when a 35 year old calls himself 'privileged' for being single, I think)

  • drugmonkey says:

    You do understand that the generational screw job has nothing to do with the academic life yes? It's in every sector. B/c Republicanism, ascendant since Reagan, has truly fucked this country.

  • Dennis Eckmeier says:

    I realize that during the time I took to craft the last comment, the discussion went on about 'choices'. When I came to Long Island I had no idea of where is what in the USA. I came to the USA because I was being advised to go to the USA ("Going to one of the few countries with comparably or better equipped facilities to gather international experience is a requirement for a leading position!!!!!!!!1111!!"). I went to the current place because I was told this would be a great place for science (and it is) *and* in the time window I had to make a decision it appeared to be the best option in many regards, until it wasn't, also in many regards.

  • Dennis Eckmeier says:

    @drugmonkeyblog: I give you that. So I can laterally compare to my high school friends who didn't even finish college and find the same picture. Better?

  • @ Dennis: Long Island ain't all it's cracked up to be; but it's better than most folks give it credit for- you can make a lot of connections you would not otherwise. (I did my PhD there. The rent alone nearly killed me, and you bet I had roommates most of the time. Still payin' it off, sigh.)

  • Heck I mean when I saw how much the Germans would pay me compared to cost of living, even with the tax......man. I just wish they would have some sort of stable contracts in place- you know, 2 to 4 years instead of 6 months at a time.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Every single "expensive geographical region" has tons of people who make a lot less money than graduate students (working full time) in it. And their prospects of advancement are much lower.

  • Dennis Eckmeier says:

    @drugmonkey ... and children are starving in Africa.

  • DM, most of the expensive places to live are flooded with people- because for some reason people want to live there; and drive up the rents. Which is why I generally flee at the 1st signs of total saturation of the rental market. Good science can be done anywhere, and I'm adaptable.

    Although, my kid brother (who is 30)- with just an undergrad degree in technical writing that he has zero debt for since he attended in-state at the UW and paid as he went- just bought a house in Seattle. Because he has a "job". Grrr he's totally winning with his knowledge of Java and work experience in programming since he was in high school. 🙂

  • drugmonkey says:

    Seattle is not reputed to be an inexpensive housing market....

  • ...Seattle's getting up there in terms of housing in the "popular" places; albeit *hardly* at NY or SF levels.

    Thank goodness Renton is still cheap. Heh. Renton- don't move there people, it's TOTALLY NOT POPULAR WITH ANYONE AT ALL

  • katiesci says:

    "Every single "expensive geographical region" has tons of people who make a lot less money than graduate students (working full time) in it. And their prospects of advancement are much lower."

    You use this example a lot: "the poor people make less money than grad students and postdocs so quit yr bitchin'." But most of the poor people didn't go to school for 20+ years and then have to spend another 5+ years in "training". I was poor and on food stamps almost all of my adult life and I went into science because I'd been told it was a stable, well-paying career choice. But obviously it's my fault because I didn't google enough to find out for myself that science careers aren't all they're cracked up to be. But why would I? Some of the smartest people I knew kept telling me how awesome it was and that there was a shortage of scientists and even the Occupational Outlook said it was a growing field (at the time, I think it says stable now).

    My point is: quit comparing postdocs with 20+ years of schooling with people who didn't finish high school and/or college. It's apples to oranges. Yes, we have a higher ceiling on our income range but we're not equal to start with.

  • drugmonkey says:

    So who forced you into it?

  • katiesci says:

    No one forced me, it was presented as an awesome choice and I took it.

  • katiesci says:

    I also don't see how that's relevant to what I said. More education should equal more money. Getting a BS in Social Work, for example, has incomes starting at $35-40k (in ND even!). Spending another 5-6 years in grad school should start at >$40k. Why is this whinging? Why is this too much to ask?

  • dsks says:

    "Find me a city with multiple good research universities of 200+ faculty that have a significant difference with Boston, New York, DC, or San Fran. Congratulations, you found Durham, NC, and maybe Chicago. There's no denying that biomedical research is clustered in expensive cities."

    Jeebus. That is one misinformed comment.

    BTW you find a particularly disproportionate number of foreign postdocs even at prestigious fly-over country institutions like Wash U because these areas are not deemed attractive to domestic applicants. which is a bit insane when you consider that living in a low cost area would seem to make sense to someone paying off student loans and thinking of starting a family. I think folk should probably peel the blinkers back a bit and look a little harder at the research landscape across the country.

  • Physician Scientist says:

    "Find me a city with multiple good research universities of 200+ faculty that have a significant difference with Boston, New York, DC, or San Fran. Congratulations, you found Durham, NC, and maybe Chicago. There's no denying that biomedical research is clustered in expensive cities."

    Emory (Atlanta), Vanderbilt (Nashville), UT Southwestern (Dallas), Baylor (Houston), Case Western/Cleveland Clinic (Cleveland), UPITT....

  • drugmonkey says:

    Because grad school is defined as half time "work" and half time , katiesci. The real question is why postdocs (particularly the grant paid variety, not fellows) don't start at 2X grad salary, given this.

  • katiesci says:

    I was talking about postdocs.

    "My point is: quit comparing postdocs with 20+ years of schooling with people who didn't finish high school and/or college. It's apples to oranges. Yes, we have a higher ceiling on our income range but we're not equal to start with."

  • rxnm says:

    If everyone looking for a postdoc applied for a postdoc in all of the cities you guys have mentioned, there would STILL be more postdocs in Boston, and they would still have to pay a lot of rent, because there would still be way more positions there. It's like you've never played musical chairs before.

    But it is still far easier to blame individuals than to give an inch on admitting our training system needs vast improvement.

  • drugmonkey says:

    That is just plain dishonest rxnm.

  • NotAMillennial says:

    How is that dishonest? There is demonstrably a concentration of research funding (and correspondingly a concentration of postdoc positions) in a few high-cost cities. The answer to an individual's problem may be to do a postdoc in a less expensive city. That is not and cannot possibly be a solution to the system's problems.

  • drugmonkey says:

    It is dishonest for anyone who has been reading this blog as long as rxnm has to suggest that I (as well as many other long term commenters around here who are not that sympathetic to the myopic whining) am/are not "admitting our training system needs vast improvement".

    I have written many a blog post and comment detailing not only what needs improvement but ways that I think the system could relatively easily improve.

    I just don't think that additional pay rises for postdocs, without any other fixes, is helpful and indeed it is likely to continue the downward spiral of the system.

  • NotAMillennial says:

    In terms of your total blog output, yes, you have done an excellent job highlighting some of the ways in which the system is broken.

    Whenever postdoc pay is mentioned, though, you and others devolve into an endless loop of harping on personal responsibility and smartphones. I think plenty of people on this thread have made interesting points about how postdoc compensation fits into the broader economic picture that shouldn't be dismissed as myopic whining. But you don't seem at all interested in engaging with those points. Instead, it's all about your precious cherry-picked comparisons to stipend levels back in your day and complaining about entitlement.

  • drugmonkey says:

    In terms of your total blog output, yes, you have done an excellent job highlighting some of the ways in which the system is broken.

    So then you are agreeing that rxnm is being dishonest?

    It is fascinating that my observations are "cherry-picked" whereas your evasions of reality are "interesting points". If you all advocates for the postdoc salary rises would admit that pay is higher (when hardly anyone else's has seen such increases in the past 20 yrs), you snobbily consider yourselves much better than the people making minimum wage far below graduate student scale, "expect" for god knows what reasons that you get to work a preferred job in a preferred location and yes, pay iphone, cable and car bills that a prior generation did not then we wouldn't have to keep "harping" on the facts.

  • drugmonkey says:

    You should also think a little harder about why you agree with my analysis about the academic science system right up until it steps on your particular toes.

    Surely you cannot have missed that one of my underlying themes is that arguing for "fixes" to the NIH-funded extramural research system that always seem to blame the other guy, over there, and make things better for oneself is a flawed strategy?

  • NotAMillennial says:

    Where have I evaded reality? I haven't stated or implied (nor do I think) any of the things that you seem to be attributing to me here. I don't think rxnm is saying those things either.

    What are my particular toes? You have no idea what my personal interests are. I think you need to think harder about why you automatically assume that people who argue that pd pay should be improved in some (not even necessarily all!) cases are entitled postdocs trying to improve their own financial situations. I am not a postdoc. I'm a PI who thinks that there are real problems with the training system as a whole (which I think we largely agree on) and that the way that we compensate our trainees leads to a loss of talent to high paying tech industries and make it very difficult for students who do not come from upper-middle class backgrounds to financially justify a career in science given other options available to them. I'm worried about what my trainee pool is going to look like in 10 years if we continue the current system. Again, as I and others have said in this thread, I think conversations about these issues could be productive and interesting. Name calling isnt.

  • DJMH says:

    I agree with basically everything rxnm has said, with the sole exception that because I have friends with Ph.D.s in the humanities, I thank my lucky stars that I was never interested in the Odyssey (the book, that is).

    But unless I missed something key, I don't know that rxnm's solution is universal raises for postdocs. Certainly it's not mine. But I think they should all have health care and benefits similar to staff, regardless of what university they work at and what their funding source is. That does cost some money, at places that don't do this already, but it's more about fairness and recognition that the postdoc goes well into one's 30's these days.

  • drugmonkey says:

    But I think they should all have health care and benefits similar to staff, regardless of what university they work at and what their funding source is.

    Since I do as well and rxnm keeps tilting at something...we can but presume it is the salary.

  • rxnm says:

    I think I have said that postdocs (regardless of nationality and funding mechanism) should be paid $45K plus benefits.

    DM, it's because I know you think the current system is a cheap labor scam that I am surprised to hear you deploying so many stock pro-status quo arguments: it's always been this way, choose your battles, I'd be for it if only X and Y, it won't solve other problem Z, what if unintended consequences, why do you think you're special.

    I think paying postdocs more is a great place to start because it will create a bottleneck at the PhD-PD transition, which is needed. This would come with the reduced expectation of doing a postdoc after a PhD and will promote the diversification of PhD training so that they really are preparing for different kinds of careers.

    More importantly it's a step toward professionalizing NIH-funded research instead of the "throw 60,000 temps at the wall and see who sticks." I think treating trainees like shit leads to a general devaluing of PhD scientists and publicly-funded science in general, and this devaluation is bad for everyone. Why virtually all of the essential biomedical laboratory research paid for by the government is being done by "trainees" is a legitimate and difficult to answer question. "They are cheap" is a terrible answer that suggests we are both not serious and don't care about the mandate we're supposedly fulfilling. Unfortunately it is the only answer.

    Professionalizing our medieval patronage-based trainee system can only lead to better things. I see this as part of a transition toward more work done by staff scientists and less by trainees.

    As for "the downward spiral of the system." This is not going to change that either way. I am more worried about looking back on the rubble of the NIH-funded research enterprise and saying "why did we spend 10s of millions making see-through brains and neuroscience screen savers" more than I am about saying "why did we bother treating our junior colleagues better."

  • DJMH says:

    "why did we spend 10s of millions making see-through brains and neuroscience screen savers"

    Wait, there are screen savers? I would totally take a really good neuro screen saver over retirement benefits, wouldn't everyone?

  • Jmz4 says:

    RE the housing cost thing:
    I will concede that dsks and Physician Scientist (and others) are right. I should have looked into housing costs in various areas before deciding where to apply. I just want to clarify that this wasn't done out of any sense of elitism. When I was applying, I just looked on NIH reporter for places that had gotten grants to study what I wanted to do (neurobiology of aging), and applied to those places that had recently published. They happened to be at in Boston, San Fran, Scripps and Rutgers. Rutgers had already hired their grant appointees and so turned me down for lack of funds. There wasn't any desire to attend prestigious places (though I was advised to do so), and now that I'm in the field, I know of places I could have applied to instead. So I'm done with the "rent is too damn high" debate. Biomedical research is clustered in big expensive cities, yes, but its certainly not the NIH's responsibility to subsidize the postdocs decision to live there (it may be the university's if the want to attract people). I didn't think I had a choice, but comments here convinced me otherwise. If I end up in a position advising future postdocs, I'll definitely urge them to consider their options in cheaper places. Looking at that cost of living calculator, its like doubling the stipend (Pittsburgh!).

    On the subject of autonomy, K99er and DM:

    DM and K99:
    Basically, I'd like to see a K99 type award, without the R00 portion, with the funds being dedicated to and managed by the postdoc (maybe like, supervised for items over 1k).

    I'm not saying it should be a independent position type award. No one's saying I should be the boss of anything, yet. Probably, the easiest way to do it would be to take the mentored fellowships and just beef up the "research costs" section that everyone uses now to pay healthcare or get a computer. When it gets to the university, put it in a separate pool, and let me order out of it.
    How are we supposed to get experience to be, as K99er puts it, "able to manage projects and be good stewards of research dollars", if we never get the chance to do just that? I can put in all the time I want at the bench and writing papers, its not going to give me experience with management.

    It would be a valuable training opportunity, and provide some autonomy.

    As far as where the money would come from, my suggestion would be to first stop the abuse of "fringe benefits" being paid out of the research costs. We're university employees, they should pay our health insurance whether or not we're on a fellowship. There's 6k or more right there.
    Second, you'd just have to drop some of R01 funding, or score a boost from Congress.

    Let me know if you guys see practical or logistical hurdles with implementing that kind of approach. I'm not really familiar with the how funds are drawn from the grants to pay for research supplies (which is kinda the whole problem, right?).

    Actually, as I'm typing this up, there'd be nothing to stop a PI from setting this up with their own funds if they really wanted to provide some of that much vaunted "training" we're supposed to be getting.
    Do any of you PI's talk to your PD's about budgeting and how you manage your grants?

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