Will Obama's revamp of the overtime rules mean postdocs are paid more?

Jul 06 2015 Published by under Careerism, NIH Careerism, Postdoctoral Training

Justin Kiggins has launched the discussion at The Spectroscope.

Those postdocs who are salaried employees, however, are currently "exempt" from overtime pay if they make more than $23,660. The new rules mean that they will need a salary of at least $50,400. So if their institution is following the NIH standard, which sets a minimim of $42,840, it looks like they'll either need to get paid overtime for any work done over 40 hours or get a raise to meet the exemption requirements

Go on over and read, especially for the links to places you can comment on this rule prior to implementation.

208 responses so far

  • Kevin says:

    Can poorly paid faculty get on this OT action?

  • neuromusic says:

    @kevin probably not. "teachers" (along w/ doctors & lawyers) are exempt employees regardless of their salary.

  • physioprof says:

    Without opining on whether this will likely apply to post-docs, let's assume for the sake of argument that it does. I am curious why none of these giddy post-docs on twitter have considered the possibility that they might be the ones that are gonna get fired to support the required higher salaries of the others.

  • Namaste_ish says:

    I don't know any giddy post docs. I will beat post docs until they exhibit giddiness.

  • sel says:

    For faculty on a 9 month salary who work during the summer (so, pretty much all of them)....will that count as overtime?

  • physioprof says:

    And seriously, do post-docs really want to have their hours scrutinized to prove they work over 40 hours per week? Like punch in and out for their 90 minute lunch and multiple 30 minute coffee breaks? And do they really want to lose the freedom they currently have to go on Monday, "Hey, next Monday I'm going to Belgium to get married and I'll be back in three weeks? Is that ok?" Or, "Hey, I've gotta take my car to the shop. I'm leaving at 1PM today. Cool?"

    The way I run my lab, I tell all my trainees, "I don't care about your weekly hours. I don't care what time you come and go every day. I don't care how many vacation days you take every year. I don't even want to know. Just be productive in the long term, and we're cool."

    You wanna start getting paid "overtime", then all that shittio is out the window and you're gonna start to have to fill out time sheets and show up at a certain time every day and ONLY GET TWO WEEKS PAID VACATION PER YEAR. No more disappearing for three weeks every August and from Thanksgiving through New Years and for multiple three-day weekends throughout the year for your friend's wedding or your parents' anniversary.

    Think this shittio through and see whether you really want this. Because it goes both ways. You wanna be paid "overtime", then *all* your time is gonna be scrutinized and controlled to a level you probably can't even imagine.

  • DJMH says:

    Oh sure it's all interesting when "Justin Kiggins" brings it up but not when "DJMH" brings it up in your comments section.

    Also what CPP said.

  • physioprof says:

    I would have commented at that Spectroscope shittehole, but you have to "log in" to comment, so fucke that shittio.

  • drugmonkey says:

    DJMH- if you spent all day flogging up the disgruntledoc shitstorme on Twittr then maybe I would have responded to yours too 🙂

  • neuromusic says:

    The disgruntledocs on Twittr are a pessimistic bunch. They're all convinced the unis & PIs are going to find a loophole to prevent them from getting the fair pay that convenience store managers will be getting come Jan 1.

    CPP, all of those things you list are the perks of being an exempt employee, no? No one seriously wants PDs on the clock.

    Lemme rephrase part of Obama's OpEd...

    "This week, I'll head to Wisconsin to discuss my plan to extend overtime protections to nearly [100,000 postdocs] in 2016, covering all salaried [postdocs] making up to about $50,400 next year. That's good for [postdocs] who want fair pay, and it's good for [principal investigators] who are already paying their [postdocs] what they deserve -- since those who are doing right by their [postdocs] are undercut by competitors who aren't."

    And sure some postdocs are going to get fired. As are a number of convenience store managers. And I've no doubt that the nonprofit my wife used to work for will need to consolidate a few managerial positions. But I see no reason why postdocs are any less deserving of fair pay than other employees in other sectors who are stuck in low-paying "exempt" positions.

  • MorganPhD says:

    At many Uni's, postdocs are classified in some nebulous category somewhere between grad student and indentured servant. My university (top 5 in total NIH funding) does not pay payroll taxes or withhold federal taxes, thus furthering their claim that we are not employees, but, rather, are "trainees".

    With that being said, methinks many universities are going towards some form of "non-employee" for postdocs as it has significant advantages, including adding an additional layer of psychological guilt upon postdocs, as they aren't even technically "employed" and are thus doing this for the greater good.

    (I will say the only added benefit for us is that we can skip all of our stupid Environmental Health and Radiation Safety training and since we aren't employees, they can't withhold our pay or punish us in any way.)

  • To CPP,

    No one wants postdocs to get overtime. The goal is to increase the salary to $50K.

    Yes, some postdocs will get fired. Yes, graduating PhDs will have more competition for fewer postdoc spots. Yes, many PIs will find it hard to pay the higher salary. No, none of these are compelling arguments for avoiding reasonable minimum salaries for postdocs.

    The same arguments can be made in any business or sector. "You poor laborers asking for minimum wage - you are the ones who will get fired!"

    If you don't believe in labor laws or minimum wage, then I understand your position...

  • jipkin says:

    let us indulge in the dream for a bit:

    I am notoriously poor at math so I might be about to embarrass myself but I seem to calculate that a postdoc making $40k a year earns roughly $19 an hour at a 40-hour week workload. So if that postdoc is working (only) 47 hours a week, that's 7 x ~$28 (time and a half) x 52, or an extra $10,500. Which puts the total compensation at $50,500 which is, of course, greater than $50,400.

    So yeah, if the PI has offered me a position and isn't firing me and wants to pay me less base than the exemption line even though I have to sacrifice the freedom of my life and literally punch the clock, that might be kind of worth it. I wouldn't enjoy it but I might just grind 80 hours a week for a year if it meant I would make six figures and could build up some savings.

    -----

    So when I first heard about this I assumed there must be some mistake, but as Justin points out it seems that this base exemption line does in fact apply to scientists.

    http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/statutes/FairLaborStandAct.pdf

    These are the relevant sections:

    § 207. Maximum hours
    (a) Employees engaged in interstate commerce; additional applicability to
    employees pursuant to subsequent amendatory provisions
    (1) Except as otherwise provided in this section, no employer shall employ
    any of his employees who in any workweek is engaged in commerce or in the
    production of goods for commerce, or is employed in an enterprise engaged
    in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, for a workweek
    longer than forty hours unless such employee receives compensation for his
    employment in excess of the hours above specified at a rate not less than one
    and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed.

    213. Exemptions
    (a) Minimum wage and maximum hour requirements
    The provisions of sections 206 (except subsection (d) in the case of paragraph (1) of
    this subsection) and section 207 of this title shall not apply with respect to—
    (1) any employee employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or
    professional capacity (including any employee employed in the capacity of
    academic administrative personnel or teacher in elementary or secondary
    schools)

    At first blush, you might assume that because scientists fall under the "professional" category, that means they are default exempt. However, the regulatory language accompanying this law makes clear that this is not the case.

    The following comes from the regulations as enumerated in something called Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 541: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2011-title29-vol3/pdf/CFR-2011-title29-vol3-part541.pdf

    § 541.300 General rule for professional
    employees.
    (a) The term ‘‘employee employed in
    a bona fide professional capacity’’ in
    section 13(a)(1) of the Act shall mean
    any employee:
    (1) Compensated on a salary or fee
    basis at a rate of not less than $455 per
    week (or $380 per week, if employed in
    American Samoa by employers other
    than the Federal Government), exclusive
    of board, lodging, or other facilities;
    and
    (2) Whose primary duty is the performance
    of work:
    (i) Requiring knowledge of an advanced
    type in a field of science or
    learning customarily acquired by a
    prolonged course of specialized intellectual
    instruction

    Note that, as you read through the section, teachers, doctors, and lawyers are indeed explicitly not governed by the section above [ 541.303(d) and 541.304(d) ]. No such language exists in the section describing scientists (541.301).

    Bonus fun fact, from the FLSA:

    The provisions of sections 206, 207 and 212 of this title shall not apply with respect
    to any employee engaged in the delivery of newspapers to the consumer or to any
    homeworker engaged in the making of wreaths composed principally of natural holly,
    pine, cedar, or other evergreens (including the harvesting of the evergreens or other
    forest products used in making such wreaths).

  • I-75 Scientiest says:

    PhysioProf- For all those PDs that get lots of vacation and extra time, there are those of us that get scrutinized for time in the lab. That get harassed for leaving an hour early to pick up their kids, let alone take a couple days for a school trip. First four years of my PD, I might have just taken that total 3wks of "vacation" that others take a year.
    Personally, my goal is to run the type of lab situation you describe, to be focused on results and not hours. That said, I think that if this forces PD minimum wage to 51K, and we keep that its a good thing. I may force some of the work force to actually go find jobs, and not just wallow in a position, and will help those that are in PD position make a little more money to support their families.

  • Philapodia says:

    Pros of PDs getting overtime:

    -More disposable cash for PDs to buy craft beers and the latest Dave Matthews bootleg.

    Cons of getting overtime:

    -Grant funding you runs out quicker, so less money for research. Get ready to start re-washing pipette tips!
    -Fewer PDs/grad students supported per/grant. Sorry I have to let you go, Julia, but I'm sure there's a job as a convenience store manager for you somewhere!
    -If PI doesn't allow overtime, less productivity and lower chance for that glamhumping paper. "It only took 4 years to get the data for that Cell paper that got rejected last week!"
    - Less freedom to travel for faculty position interviews. "Sorry Mr. Chair of the search committee, I can only travel on the weekends due to my restrictive work schedule. Can you set up a seminar on Sunday morning for me?"
    -More paperwork for PIs by making us track PD hours. We hate paperwork and already have too much of it to do. Don't make more work for us! That's just mean.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    "I am curious why none of these giddy post-docs on twitter have considered the possibility that they might be the ones that are gonna get fired to support the required higher salaries of the others."
    -Cause we're all special snowflakes, obviously. But haven't we all been saying we need fewer postdocs anyway? Higher postdoc salaries are one way to get that result.

    Also, as per a labor lawyer I know, under the proposed changes as worded now, postdocs paid through lab funds ("salaried postdocs", or whatever term your uni uses) will no longer be overtime exempt, as they will fail to meet all three requirements for exemption (by failing the new salary threshold). However, universities have multiple avenues to circumvent this. They can add on a "training" component to the salary (essentially kicking up the salary, but charging "tuition" and taking it back), which could hurt faculty if the money isn't re-dispersed back in to the lab funds. Does anyone think their departments are cash-hungry enough to try this?

    They can also just ignore it, and rely on PIs and postdoc apathy to discourage lawsuits. Finally, they could seek court injunctions to forestall compliance pending legislative/administrative review, which can drag on forever.

    My question is, if this does apply, and universities comply, will the NIH go along? Will universities raise the base and keep the graded (year 00, year 01, 02) salary structures, or just pay all postdocs the new base?

    One thing is for certain, this is going to be an absolute shittestorm of whining either way.

  • PaleoGould says:

    You all sound like a delightful bunch of little capitalists. And are missing the point. If you don't want to pay postdocs overtime, pay then 50k. Again, give me a reason we are so goddamned different to the bar managers, restaurant managers that will benefit.
    Other than sheer snobbery and pitting labor groups against each other of course. Because, right now, you are making Wal Mart's argument for them.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    Also, how would that work for the R01 budgets if the NIH goes along? Can you submit revised annual budgets for your R01s to recoup the higher salaries?
    Taking the low end of postdoc numbers (40k) and multiplying out by an 8 grand increase, this is going to cost the NIH at least 320 million/year. Or, quite a few R01s.

  • Avinash says:

    Might be a bit off-topic, but I'd be happy with getting paid the NIH recommended salary first.

    I'm paid 32k/year as a first-year post-doc. Yes, it is much higher than the 21k/year I got as a stipend during grad school but it still sucks.

    I'm not saying I don't support higher pay for post-docs, just that let's get everyone paid the NIH scale first please while we wait for changes (if any) to kick-in.

  • Jonathan says:

    When I was a postdoc at Scripps at the turn of the century, the minimum that postdocs could be paid was $28k/yr because any less and they'd be eligible for overtime under CA law. So yes, I would think this would apply to any postdoc that was classified as an employee (which is not all of them).

  • jmz4gtu says:

    "If you don't want to pay postdocs overtime, pay then 50k."
    -I think that's what postdocs are hoping for, that this will force an increase in base postdoc pay. The PIs here are pointing out that the money has to come from somewhere, and it'll come out of either firing postdocs (about 20%) or cutting research expenditures.

    Which is why they find the giddiness with which postdocs are receiving this news to be somewhat self-centered and short-sighted.

    I'm just trying to think of all the ways universities will game this to their advantage.

  • PaleoGould says:

    Well we all agree that the trainee/PI ratio needs to go down anyway, right?
    And furthermore, I accept that vested interests will seek to oppose this reform. What I do not accept is that the reform is intrinsically wrong. Neither for other employees, nor for postdocs.
    And, as a rule, American work hours culture is ludicrous anyway.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Some Comraddes are more equal than others.

  • Established PI says:

    Raising postdoc pay would solve this in one fell swoop and would be in line with the recommendation of the recent postdoc report by Petsko et al. It is a fantasy to think that the NIH would provide the extra money, though - they will tell you to eat your losses, just as they do when they cut your budget by 24.9% (so you can't reduce the number of aims).

    The alternative, to keep pay as is and have postdocs punch time clocks, is incompatible with training. If someone is just getting paid to do a job, with 1.5x for overtime, why give them time off to sit in on classes, get teaching experience at a local college, participate in outreach activities or go to conferences? For those who are already Postdocs In Name Only (PINOs), this will put a bit of extra money in their pockets, but in exchange the PI has no obligation to provide any training or career advancement. Removing all pretense that PINOs are trainees would at least be honest, but I can envision many ways in which this could make their situations worse and make it less likely that they could obtain a second postdoc that may provide better training opportunities.

  • physioprof says:

    I think ive always been pretty transparent that my views vis a vis biomedical labor policy represent those of bourgeois middle management, and neither labor nor capital.

  • mH says:

    CPP always assumes that all labs are run like his crystal palace of high-fiving each other and all PIs take a rational and humane view of the obligations PIs and trainees have to each other.

    It would be great if we didn't need policies and the world could run on handshakes and a gentleperson's word, wouldn't it?

  • physioprof says:

    I dont assume that. But I refrain from formulating my own policy preferences on the basis of least common denominator, as i am not interested in participating in a race to the bottom.

  • Jonathan says:

    "Some Comraddes are more equal than others."

    From now on postdocs are forbidden to walk on their hind legs.

  • neuromusic says:

    but that's exactly what this rule change is saying:

    "If you want the benefits of treating your employees like bourgeois middle management, you need to pay them like bourgeois middle management"

  • genomicrepairman says:

    I've been toiling in the lab but I heard someone utter the word pay raise?

  • neuromusic says:

    and I'm not sure where all these "giddy postdocs" are. most are pessimistic as hell that PIs and unis will find loopholes to prevent this from going through or will pull outright illegal stunts like falsified timesheets.

    the PIs on the other hand are obviously in a bind, as they face a zero sum game. they are pessimistic as hell that the NIH (where the responsibility here ultimately lies) will increase grants to cover a 20% raise for a huge chunk of the workforce.

    ultimately, we're talking ~1% of the NIH budget needed to prevent losing ~15% of it's postdocs.

    So while "flogging up the disgruntledoc shitstorme" was fun, that's not why I care about this. I think it's a Big Deal with major ramifications for science at large.

    So instead of punching down at the postdocs who will clearly benefit if this plays out right, can we direct our criticisms at the funding agencies that might prevent PIs from Doing The Right Thing?

  • mH says:

    I'm for almost anything that lowers the trainee:PI ratio. Yes, some PDs might lose their positions. But if your PI is <$8000 away from firing you, you've already got problems. And if you survive this, then you will go on to an impossible job market. Or you won't get an R01 and your soft money med center will can you. Or you'll get culled at renewal. So? All those things suck, and all systemic solutions all require reducing average direct costs.

    We've got a series of bottlenecks of vastly different size. The PhD-PD one is pretty wide open (because yay cheap skilled labor at 50% market value) and the PD-PI one is throttled. We should be trying to make the bottlenecks more consistent.

    The only issue I see is that it makes it a bit harder for new/small labs to get postdocs compared to rich labs. So I think a salary boost would be most effective in combination with some of the other proposals from the UW Madison group that would reduce lab sizes across the board.

  • drugmonkey says:

    neuromusic- I agree that this is a big deal. I also see it as an opening to continue my own broader agenda wrt TruCost (including Labor) of GoodsProcurement under the NIH system.

    I don't think most trainees really truly understand the bind that endless postdoc raises put PIs in. Obviously you do and you are to be congratulated. But this understanding is far from universal in Postdocistan.

  • drugmonkey says:

    if your PI is < $8000 away from firing you, you've already got problems.

    This appears to be a classic example of the type, neuromusic.

  • mH says:

    One way to gut-check your statements on employment practices:

    Are the points I'm making (efficiency! I'll have to fire half of you! manager autonomy! competitiveness!) making me sound more like a pre-worker rights 19th century mill owner or like someone who recognizes the collective benefits of growing up in a society that has labor protections.

    Yes it strains the system. It should, and the obligation of the NIH will be to modify the system to accommodate a new reality imposed by the FLSA, like everyone else.

  • mH says:

    DM, your issue is with POTUS's principles, the FLSA, and the NIH, not what trainees do or don't 'understand". But yeah, easied to engage where you can argue from authority.

  • drugmonkey says:

    As far as "punching down" goes..... I think we'd be better off if every trainee calling for more pay coupled this with a demand that NIH figure out how to do so without putting PIs in the bind of declining grant income and rising labor costs. I would argue that a-hole PIs are not the real problem. The broader problem is the larger population of well meaning PIs that cannot make an impossible situation work by themselves. My options, for example, are limited to writing more grants or firing people. And we know which one of those I have any control over making a real difference with, given grant success rates.

  • So instead of punching down at the postdocs who will clearly benefit if this plays out right, can we direct our criticisms at the funding agencies that might prevent PIs from Doing The Right Thing?

    Who's "punching down"? Stating facts from the perspective of management about the consequences of massive across-the-board raises and overtime rules is not "punching down".

    But if your PI is <$8000 away from firing you, you've already got problems.

    This is a delusional perspective. If a PI currently has five post-docs in the lab, then to give $8000 raises to all of them costs $40,000. So one of them is gonna have to get fired to support the raises of the four that remain.

    Yes it strains the system. It should, and the obligation of the NIH will be to modify the system to accommodate a new reality imposed by the FLSA, like everyone else.

    The historical evidence indicates that NIH won't do jacke fucke about this, if it happens, and will simply pass the increased costs down to RPGs without increasing their budgets.

  • drugmonkey says:

    mH- how so?

  • mH says:

    "So one of them is gonna have to get fired to support the raises of the four that remain."
    Yes.

    "NIH won't do jacke fucke about this"
    I agree this is a strong possibility based on current leadership. So if I were the employer of 5 postdocs paid off of NIH grants, I'd start advocating for a response and reforms that address new realities without delay. There is no shortage of ideas.

    None of these objections about how it sucks when things cost more address why postdoctoral scientists should be exempt from progressive labor policy just because academia views itself as a charming snowflake industry instead of a medieval apprenticeship system, clinging to the very features (cheap labor) that have made it bloated, unsustainable, and exploitative.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I am not arguing postdocs should be exempt. Not at all.

  • Selerax says:

    "But haven't we all been saying we need fewer postdocs anyway?"

    I thought the focus for reduction was on PhD admissions? Fewer PhD with better job prospects?

    Surely if there are too many qualified applicants for research positions, it seems more reasonable to drive away applicants at the entrance door, rather than after they've lost six years of their prime in grad school?

    Oh, wait. All this dirt cheap, definitely-non-overtime-eligible grad student labor (wait, did I say "labor"? Of course I meant "training"!) Never mind.

  • Selerax says:

    More seriously, I guess we all have a different Julia in mind.

  • Pippso says:

    In the planet where I come from, a raise in salary is also mirrored by a raise in benefits - which means that for any extra $8k there is an - average - $2k on top of it for benefits. So every PI will need to have an extra $10k or so/PD to support the higher pay.

    Don't get me wrong, I am not against it, but again here in this planet the postdoc who wants and deserves higher pay goes out there and hunts for his/her own money. It is not sustainable otherwise.

  • mH says:

    The three ways to have fewer postdocs are 1. have fewer PhD students, 2. Hire fewer postdocs, 3. Fire postdocs. I think 1 and 2 are great ideas, 3 should be avoided if possible. But 3 is not such a tragedy that it warrants the rending of garments or its use as a specious argument against reasonable reforms, particularly if those forms would also result in 1 and/or 2 happening.

    Again, I think all policies should be evaluated on their effect on the trainee:PI ratio. Things that strengthen the Cull are bad, things that limit PhD programs, postdoctoral hiring, and the cumulative funding advantages that leads to bloated labs are good.

    We have to get over the idea that anything like the 20th century research careers the Boomers had can continue to exist. We should kill that model before it kills us.

  • Dennis says:

    This will be a good thing for everybody, fired or not. If you are the one to be fired, then maybe you should have left ages ago and there will be a better job with better pay elsewhere. If you don't get fired, there will be less competition, PIs invest more in you, and you have more personal security. As for poor PIs with 100 postdocs... they also have the funding for 100 postdocs, no? So it would be a strain of only 8k per salary covering grant. I'm convinced big labs will actually be able to compensate easier, than smaller labs, which is sad. It would also increase the likelihood of being transferred into a proper long-term position, because the difference in costs for the PI will shrink.

    Yes, it would be crazy... but not because the threshold will be >$50k, but because the threshold wasn't continuously adjusted in the past, when it should have been.

    I wrote my opinions about this issue here http://www.eckmeier.de/?p=861
    and here http://www.eckmeier.de/?p=851

  • Joe says:

    At my R1 university, staff are exempt from this policy, but I don't yet know about post-docs. I would expect administration to make the argument that post-docs are exempt due to being in a training position (like students).

  • AnonNeuro says:

    I think some PDs, me included, would not want the raise if it comes at the expense of our productivity. We know out PI isn't going to pull money out of thin air, so the extra $16k to pay me and the other PD in the lab means we're now casting our own gels, pouring plates, purifying proteins, and other time-consuming stuff we used to pay for.

    I think this is a similar mindset to junior faculty who are reluctant to take summer salary from their first grants. They might deserve it, but there is a guilt to taking it away from the lab.

  • Dennis Eckmeier says:

    According to the latest study I've seen, there is no long-term productivity gain >50 hrs/week anyways. Don't work hard, work smart. 😛

  • PaleoGould says:

    Another possibility: the 50k figure is high ball offer which will be negotiated down to 40k. Then problem solved, right?

  • poke says:

    Dave Matthews bootlegs?!?!?!?!?

    Seriously?

  • jipkin says:

    I'll admit that I'm pretty giddy about this. Not so much at the prospect of getting more money (hey, my offer could get rescinded) but more so because I'm a sucker for drama and the ensuing Shittestorm seems like it could be pretty fun.

    I'll also admit that academic science is in a unique position relative to other industries. The amount of money available to employ administrative assistants is more or less proportional to the strength of the economy. The amount of money available to employ postdocs is, on the other hand, set by government budget and of course I share in the the pessimism of all here that science funding will increase enough to cover this raise and, in general, to get back to where it was as a % of GDP in the 90s. So I can empathize a bit with the inner Republican that's coming out in all the PIs hearing about this.

    On the other hand, Justin is absolutely right - this is a case of Doing The Right Thing at the end of the day. In fact, real talk, why the hell are teachers, doctors, and lawyers getting screwed out of this? Why is there an exemption line in the first place? Am I a raving communist or does it not make sense that everyone should be entitled to overtime pay regardless of the work they do?

  • Newbie PI says:

    I don't understand the sentiment that postdocs are paid below market value. If there's some market out there paying newly minted biomedical science PhDs tons of money on a regular basis, I'd like to know about it.

    99% of newly minted PhDs are in no way ready to run their own scientific enterprise. They rarely know how to write papers on their own, how to write grants, how to write safety protocols, how to mentor students, how to give presentations well, how to devise a long term research project, how to write an email asking for a collaboration, how to do anything other than the three techniques their PhD lab did, etc. The postdoc period is a totally necessary training period, if for nothing else than to get a second scientific perspective from a new mentor and lab. I think those who say it is not a training period are being disingenuous, and those who aren't being trained should have chosen a better lab.

  • dr_mho says:

    is there any hard evidence that a rampant capitalist approach (no labor protections, full-on social Darwinism) is actually *bad* for the science itself?

  • mH says:

    "I don't understand the sentiment that postdocs are paid below market value."

    Salaries of biomedical PhD holders in industry are the comparison. My anecdata are based on starting salaries in the Boston area for biomed PhDs with no postdoc experience. PhD holders outside academia have higher starting salaries, lower unemployment rates, and better lifelong earnings.

    Academia is not the same kind of market because, as you point out, there is additional training that is specific to an academic research career. I think it's clear that if this training is wasted or unusable for 85-90% of postdocs, it's compensatory value is degraded.

    "is there any hard evidence that a rampant capitalist approach (no labor protections, full-on social Darwinism) is actually *bad* for the science itself?"

    Who cares? We can safely bypass morally bankrupt ways to make decisions.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Newbie PI: "The postdoc period is a totally necessary training period...."

    Oh no, not this rap again! This is utter BS. How do you explain the success of PIs who never did a postdoc, or the success of entire fields where postdocs are neither common nor required? Why is it that biomedical PIs do such a shitty job of training their students in the 1st place?

  • JuniorPostdoc says:

    The unspoken supposition of the argument that salaries will have to be raised above the new threshold seems to be that postdocs absolutely must work more than 40 hours a week, every week. Alternatively, postdocs could be paid the same old NRSA scale and work the hours of the unwashed. Am I missing something?

  • Dennis says:

    "I don't understand the sentiment that postdocs are paid below market value."
    I suggest you inform yourself about the market, then? When an undergraduate can drop out of grad school to earn $60k starting salary, I may think my market value is higher than $42k?

    The single reason so many postdocs feel so comfortable with low pay is that they don't know better and they buy into this nonsense:
    "The postdoc period is a totally necessary training period...."
    Again, in industry people get mentored and trained and gather experience on the job while still receiving full salaries. GS and PDs are driving science. They do all the actual work. It's their PRODUCTION PHASE, not their 'training' phase.

    "They rarely know how to write papers on their own, how to write grants, how to write safety protocols, how to mentor students, how to give presentations well, how to devise a long term research project, how to write an email asking for a collaboration, how to do anything other than the three techniques their PhD"

    1. indeed, many GS don't learn what they should have learned, better programs ftw?
    2. some of these things most postdocs don't get 'training' in either
    3. I've heard from enough PIs about how many of these things were not on their radar when they started their labs.

    "is there any hard evidence that a rampant capitalist approach (no labor protections, full-on social Darwinism) is actually *bad* for the science itself?"

    Of course not. How could surging stress related mental disorders among young scientists possibly be bad for the work they do?

  • kalevala says:

    "is there any hard evidence that a rampant capitalist approach (no labor protections, full-on social Darwinism) is actually *bad* for the science itself?"

    I don't know how you go about measuring hard evidence for "bad" or "good" science, but when that approach results in everybody glam humping because that's perceived to be the only way to survive, then I would venture to say it can't be all that great for serious scholarship and experimental rigor. But that's just like, my opinion.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    "I don't understand the sentiment that postdocs are paid below market value."
    -We had this conversation on the blog before, and it really depends on where you live. Cost of living is a huge factor in this discussion. But yeah, postdoc salaries are below the median income in many parts of the country where biomedical research is concentrated. Postdocs in industry are usually in the high 50k to low 60k, and permanent positions that require only a PhD are usually around 75-85. So if you're a bright grad student that published well, industry can be a very appealing option, which means academia is probably losing out on some these people. If this persists for another couple decades, we could find ourselves like Comp Sci, where only the very dedicated and esoteric PhDs go on to academia.

    "I think those who say it is not a training period are being disingenuous, and those who aren't being trained should have chosen a better lab."
    Not really. You pick a postdoc based on scientific interest. You have to, since what you do in your postdoc will be the *only* thing study sections will consider you qualified to write grants on. Depending on field, that doesn't allow for much latitude in lab choice. Also, most non-scientific postdoctoral training is minimal, in my experience, so there aren't that many "better" labs to choose from.

    To encourage proper training during postdocs, I'd like to see a Sith model for postdocs going forward. One master, one apprentice. Choose wisely, PIs, and then invest the time in your legacy (i.e. a type 1 evolutionary strategy).

    "Alternatively, postdocs could be paid the same old NRSA scale and work the hours of the unwashed."
    -Do you want to the be the PI that has to count your postdoc's hours so you know when you can ask them to come in on the weekend to do an experiment? Or the postdoc who says that she can't do that cause she hit 40 hours on Thursday?

    "According to the latest study I've seen, there is no long-term productivity gain >50 hrs/week anyways. Don't work hard, work smart"
    -Again, this assumes PIs are going to be *expected* to temper their demands of postdocs. Without institutional enforcement or unionization, that's not a viable solution.

    In general, from my discussions with postdocs, this idea prevalent among many faculty that the postdoctoral period is a "gift", when the labs are so clearly dependent on postdocs as a labor source, is what draws a lot of the derision and calls for higher pay.

    On a somewhat related issue, given that we're talking about reducing the postdoctoral workforce. How many PIs, would, if they could (by say freeing up grant writing time), return to doing benchwork (assuming you don't do any now)?

  • AcademicLurker says:

    To encourage proper training during postdocs, I'd like to see a Sith model for postdocs going forward.

    If this results in TT job placement being determined by lightsaber duels, I'm totally on board.

  • Oh FFS - stop whining and pay your postdocs a living wage. I've been doing it since I started three years ago, and my lab isn't suffering. Anyone who thinks a good postdoc isn't worth >$50K/year is either delusional, or needs to reconsider their hiring policies.

  • newbie PI says:

    To the people quoting me on Twitter and those telling me to look up what market value means, I'd tell you to do the same. Market value is determined by what the market is willing to pay. You seem to be confusing market value with how much your mom thinks you should be paid.

  • newbie PI says:

    "Not really. You pick a postdoc based on scientific interest. You have to, since what you do in your postdoc will be the *only* thing study sections will consider you qualified to write grants on. Depending on field, that doesn't allow for much latitude in lab choice."

    If you are so narrowly interested that you can only find one lab to choose from, then you are doing something wrong.

  • newbie PI says:

    Daniel MacArthur, your situation is not in any way typical, so your own personal ability to pay your postdocs 50K is not a good argument that the average lab at State U should be doing the same. You also qualified your statement by saying "good" postdoc. What about the mediocre postdocs? It seems to me that they make up the largest pool of applicants.

  • drugmonkey says:

    The Sith model also involves either the apprentice killing the master or the master engineering a nasty death for the apprentice so a new apprentice can be trained.

  • jmz4 says:

    DM, I find the simplicity of that system refreshing. And hey, it solves the workforce bloat elegantly.

    "If you are so narrowly interested that you can only find one lab to choose from, then you are doing something wrong."
    Hah, you'll have to look at more than 3-4 labs to find one that gives the kind of mentoring you describe.

  • anon says:

    @newbie PI

    I've had my State U lab for ten years and also pay all my PhD level staff a starting salary of 50k. Though I classify them as staff scientists rather than PDs so they also get full benefits of University staff. It means my lab has fewer people, yes. And I'm always worried about being able to pay them full freight off grants. But in my mind, it's the right thing to do to compensate highly trained, qualified employees in a way that shows I value their expertise.

    Also, I don't understand why you would want mediocre employees at any level. One really good scientist has more value than two or more mediocre ones, IMHO.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    I am also for living wages. Absolutely.

    While we are at that, I am also for taking responsibility for your work and not wasting two weeks working on something I told you not to do, but that you totally thought was worth doing. Physioprof has it right. Want to make the PD a real job? Great, then we can stop with the training stuff, and the obligation to pay for conferences. Just do everything I say, and we can do away with taking that project with you. Let's also sign a non-compete before you are hired.

    My lab is decently funded, and it would not be easy to find $28k/year to pay the two PD's (many of you conveniently forgot the extra costs).

  • Zizou says:

    I'm just getting started as a PI, so I have limited knowledge here. That said, higher wages are good for postdocs. Yeah, many of us were there not that long ago wanting a bit more pay. I agree that this will suck for PIs. I would guess that big, well funded labs will be less affected by this than newbie PIs like myself and smaller labs that have smaller operating budgets.

    Not sure how PostDocs won't be fired with equal money having to compensate the same, if not growing, Postdoc force. In the end, I have to imagine that new PhDs will have to go to non academic careers earlier due to less PostDocs jobs available.

    Someone said this already, but is this going to make grad students, especially senior ones even more valuable to the point where their graduating is held back?

  • jmz4gtu says:

    " Want to make the PD a real job?"
    -The PD is a real job, it just doesn't have the pay commensurate with that status, in some places.

    "Great, then we can stop with the training stuff, and the obligation to pay for conferences. Just do everything I say, and we can do away with taking that project with you. Let's also sign a non-compete before you are hired."
    -Yes. Agreed. If you're a PI, and this is what you really want, absolutely do not hire a postdoc, hire a technician. And if your are a recent graduate, and this is what you really want to be doing, then **don't become a postdoc**.

  • mH says:

    "Great, then we can stop with the training stuff, and the obligation to pay for conferences. Just do everything I say, and we can do away with taking that project with you. Let's also sign a non-compete before you are hired."

    Happy recruiting.

  • Anonymous says:

    @newbie PI, @Daniel MacArthur: "Daniel MacArthur, your situation is not in any way typical, so your own personal ability to pay your postdocs 50K is not a good argument...."

    That's right, Daniel MacArthur, how dare you step in and say that you are actually doing what many people on here are claiming is impossible. The nerve!

    Also, the reason that postdocs aren't paid more, according to newbie PI, is because most of them aren't any good. Except ... perhaps the "good" postdocs don't want to work for a no-name PI who obviously thinks that most postdocs aren't worth 50K. As someone else said, "Happy Recruiting!" -- you reap what you sow.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    Look, I absolutely agree that PD's, students (grad and undergrad) and technicians should be paid more and be less stressed. But the idea that this is only an issue of PI's not wanting to pay people more is a delusion. We have to get the money from somewhere.

    By the time I have money to hire a PD I typically have been working on a project over two years. Often on weekends. Yes, I want to stretch the money to accommodate horrible budget cuts and actually get the project done.

  • "But the idea that this is only an issue of PI's not wanting to pay people more is a delusion. We have to get the money from somewhere."

    You have a choice. You can pay postdocs a decent salary - and we're not talking extravagant here, just something more than the NIH poverty line, and more in line with their skills - and spend less money on something else. Or you can choose to keep paying them badly. There is always some other cost that can be moved around, deferred, or reduced; stop pretending that this is anything other than a choice that you make to value that other thing more than your postdocs.

    Yes, we all work hard. So do they.

  • AnonNeuro says:

    "Salaries of biomedical PhD holders in industry are the comparison."

    This can't be correct. The market rate for academic postdocs is not what PhD scientists in industry are paid; it's what academic postdocs are paid. You're confusing market rate and opportunity cost. This comparison is like saying all lawyers should make the same salary, whether they're working on Wall Street or for an environmental non-profit.

    And it also shouldn't matter what some people make straight out of undergrad. Those are different jobs in a different market.

  • Lrkt says:

    Shh, don't out all our secrets! Supra NIH pay offers to PDs (and real deal mentorship) is how hot shot noob PIs from BSD labs get strong candidates in year 1.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    I agree, Daniel, but I think it is worth pointing out that the situation might be a little different for you, since your lab is primarily computational. It means the postdocs with the skill set you're hiring (bioinformatic analysis and statistics) are actually in much higher demand than your average biomedical postdoc. You're also in a more expensive environ (Boston) than some others here, which means the actually salaries you're all paying may be comparable when adjusted for cost of living (which still makes you saint compared to other Boston-area, hospital-based PIs, who often don't even hit NIH min).

    Of course, PD salaries probably compose a bigger overall fraction of your budget, and they turnover a lot faster. So maybe it's a wash?
    Overall I've found that human genetics labs pay their postdocs more. I wonder why that is (other than the reason I pointed out above)?

  • jmz4gtu says:

    "The market rate for academic postdocs is not what PhD scientists in industry are paid..."
    -That wasn't really what was being discussed. The market rate for postdocs is more or less set at the NIH standards. That's what most big universities use to assemble their salary structures. The question is whether or not this is "too low" , which of course, necessitates the calculation of opportunity cost, by comparison with other options for a new PhD, to see if the relative benefits of academia are outweighing the financial punishment. If they don't, one would predict a net flow of the most talented and accomplished (presumably with the most options) out of academia. Issues of fairness are somewhat tangential from the NIH viewpoint.

  • jipkin says:

    Dear PIs in this thread who pay their postdocs less than 50,400 - what would you rather do if this regulatory change goes through?

    (A) cap their hours at a nonexempt salary [establish/enforce timesheet system]
    (B) leave them free to work as much as you need them and pay the overtime at a nonexempt salary or [establish/enforce timesheet system]
    (C) bump their base salary above the exemption line. [keep existing system but perhaps put off hiring new postdocs or fire existing postdocs in order to make room in budget]
    (D) hope that there's some loophole to allow you maintain everything as it is

  • Pippso says:

    It baffles me that in this context PDs are seen as dead weight that the poor PI has to support and pay for 100%. There is money out there and opportunities that PDs can apply to, and typically PIs let the PD bring home a better salary if successful.

    It is good for the PI if a PD gets his/her own funding, but it is terrific for the PD - good experience writing grants, great for CV plus that fantastic feeling of being able to afford a better life, one not on the verge of bankruptcy.

    As we all know, money brings money. If you are a PD and rely on your boss to bring in all the money and have no interest in going out there and build your own opportunities, maybe academia is not the career you should be considering after all.

  • JuniorPostdoc says:

    As long as we are going to throw around terms like opportunity cost. It is not necessarily incorrect to say that postdocs aren't paid the market rate. Market rate in economics is often synonymous with what a price would be in a free market. On the other hand, the market for postdocs is more reminiscent of a cartel or monopsony, as wages are essentially set at NIH scale for all labs and at most universities. This indeed says it all: "The market rate for postdocs is more or less set at the NIH standards. That's what most big universities use to assemble their salary structures." In addition, obstacles are often placed in the way of PIs that want to pay more. My university requires approval from the dean for raises more than 7% and the guidelines for postdoctoral salaries state that "equity considerations should be taken into account", which seems a lot like code for "try and pay your postdocs as shitty as everyone else".

    Of course, it is possible that the NRSA rate actually represents a price floor or that it falls right around where the rate in a free market would be. So what would postdocs be paid in a freer labor market ? Say the NIH ends the F32 and its sainted scale and the NLRB rules that universities cannot set salary standards. Given that the current approach ensures postdocs are treated as faceless commodities, my guess is that you would see a much larger spread in postdoc salaries, though not necessarily much of an increase in the median wage.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    "You have a choice. You can pay postdocs a decent salary - and we're not talking extravagant here, just something more than the NIH poverty line, and more in line with their skills - and spend less money on something else."

    jipkin,

    You still don't get it. The choice is far less obvious than you think. It is not about paying a PD a living wage or taking that trip to Italy. Those amounts cannot just be moved around, deferred or reduced. Budget is very thin. I can't afford most of the things that would be great to have and would save us a ton of time. Also, it is scary to never know when another grant lottery ticket will win. It could be many years.

    Maybe you would be surprised by how many people don't work as hard. Writing papers on your PhD work is not motivation for me to pay you more. Write a paper for my lab, get some data, improve a process, etc. those are. Do something that saves us time.

  • jipkin says:

    that ain't me you're quoting, that's Daniel MacArthur.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Juan Lopez: "Maybe you would be surprised by how many people don't work as hard...."

    So again, postdocs don't make more because they don't work hard enough?! PUHLEASE!! I guess that's why you don't make more, eh?

    Kind of makes me doubt your comment upthread to the effect that "Look, I absolutely agree that PD's, students (grad and undergrad) and technicians should be paid more and be less stressed." Is this the kind of BS you tell your people while complaining about how lazy they are behind their backs?

  • qaz says:

    This whole argument is silly. The issue of paying postdocs overtime is not about how much they get paid. If NIH feels postdocs are underpaid, they can raise the salary. Almost all PIs pay their postdocs the NIH NRSA salary. It's just easier than negotiating with each one. (Some universities/institutes mandate that. Heck, NIH could mandate that any postdoc paid on an NIH grant must be paid the NIH minimum... and then they could raise the NIH minimum.) And, of course, what makes a reasonable salary changes from place to place.

    The issue of paying postdocs overtime is that you can't track scientific time. We've talked about this before. If a postdoc is writing a paper or working on an analysis that takes an unknown time, how do you count that? Do you count the time the postdoc is taking long walks in the park? Do you count the brilliant moment the postdoc realizes why their data is looking so weird? Postdoc is not supposed to be about cranking through experiments at the bench. A postdoc is about science. Sometimes that means cranking through experiments at the bench. Sometimes that means writing a paper. Sometimes that means taking a break from the bench and thinking.

    It's really hard to measure thinking in hours.

    Every postdoc has to find their best way to be productive. I don't care if a postdoc wants to work at home or at the desk or be home at 5 to feed the kids or sleep all day and work all night... as long as they are productive.

    If you want to raise the postdoc salary, do it. But don't turn them into technicians.

  • AnonNeuro says:

    "That wasn't really what was being discussed. The market rate for postdocs is more or less set at the NIH standards."

    Somewhat. The NIH can't just pick a number. Thousands of postdocs need to "agree" with this figure by accepting the jobs.

    I once heard an HR presentation that summed up salary negotiations in a way I thought was useful. They said that your salary is not set by how good you are or even how important you are to the organization. It's set by the salary someone else would accept to do the same job. Industry pays more because the PhDs they want won't leave academia for a lower price.

    Public defenders have advanced degrees and do important work, and they are paid lower salaries compared to lawyers in the private sector. But that doesn't mean that taxpayers should match their salaries to other lawyers in their graduating classes. Using opportunity cost to justify your salary only works when labor is scarce.

  • MoBio says:

    @AnonNeuro

    "Industry pays more because the PhDs they want won't leave academia for a lower price."

    My sense is this is not the case--PhD's are generally recruited into specific positions for which there are defined salaries.

    I've had many postdocs take jobs in both pharma and academia.

    Salary was never the deciding factor--although those taking jobs in pharma were delighted to see a substantial boost in their salaries as well as all the other benefits of working for a major company (generous relocation packages, signing bonuses, and the like).

    The downside--of course--is lack of any real job security in pharma.

  • jmz4gtu @ 11:37pm - all fair points. My perspective is skewed in a number of ways; there's no question it's true both that computational postdocs have competing offers with higher salaries, and that Boston is a damn expensive place to live. I'm also doing fine for funding. However, even if funding did get really tough, I'd focus on savings in areas that don't involve cutting postdoc salaries.

  • Newbie PI says:

    "Also, the reason that postdocs aren't paid more, according to newbie PI, is because most of them aren't any good. Except ... perhaps the "good" postdocs don't want to work for a no-name PI who obviously thinks that most postdocs aren't worth 50K. As someone else said, "Happy Recruiting!" -- you reap what you sow."

    If you think I have any trouble at all recruiting good postdocs with a 40K salary, then you're delusional. That is the market rate, or maybe even higher than the market rate. And for the record, my lab does employ a staff scientist who gets paid 46K. He has 5 years of postdoc experience, can provide continuity in my lab as a long term employee, and can run a killer Western blot. However, he is not even close to being competitive for any type of faculty jobs, is not flexible in moving to an area with biotech jobs, and his writing is not great. So I think his salary is fair and have no problem with giving him yearly raises as he becomes skilled in the more technical assays we run in my lab. But to say he deserves 50+K to start because...PhD!!...is silly.

  • If Newbie PI's postdocs are reading this: http://macarthurlab.org/jobs/

  • AnonNeuro says:

    @MoBio

    I see your point, but the "price setting" might not be happening on a one-on-one basis. If industry jobs paid the same as an academic postdoc, do you think your postdocs would have still left academia (and given up their flexibility, chance at a TT job, etc.)? If not, then industry is paying more to get them to leave.

  • MoBio says:

    @AnonNeuro

    My sense is they took the job they judged was right for them. $$ had --as far as I can discern--little to nothing to do with the choice.

    Two examples:

    I have a former postdoc who currently has a position with a major Pharma and will soon take a TT job with a substantial salary +benefits cut.

    He decided Pharma was not a good fit for him.

    I had another postdoc--literally the best I ever have trained--who told me up front that he wanted a job in pharma/biotech and not in academia. He was recruited heavily by both pharma and academia.

    It had nothing to do with the cash but because he didn't want an academic job.

  • Newbie PI says:

    I wonder how many postdoc applicants from the blogosphere would be deemed worthy of a 50K salary in Daniel MacArthur's lab. Given his notoriety, level of funding, and institutional prestige, he is likely choosing from among the top 5% of postdocs in the world. Why is he paying so little? Apparently it's easy to just make some cuts and pay more. Why not 100K?

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    @newbie PI "99% of newly minted PhDs are in no way ready to run their own scientific enterprise.....how to write grants...how to give presentations well...."

    Spoken like a typical dumshitte. Glad you are just a newbie PI, because there is hope that you will recover from this naivety and inflated opinion of yourself. If you haven't realized yet, you fit all the above points very well. And if you think you already know how to write grants (aka get them funded; any monkey can "write" grants) then please do enlighten us because many experienced PIs are still struggling.

  • The Lab Mix says:

    "The downside--of course--is lack of any real job security in pharma."

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    As opposed to all the amazing job security postdocs have currently in academia. Half this dialogue is composed of "If I have to pay them any more money, then the firings begin!"

  • Colin says:

    I think this discussion has lost sight of the fact the changes in overtime rules were neither proposed by postdocs, nor specifically targeted toward them. Postdocs just happen to fall into a category that will be affected if the rules go into effect. Now, obviously, the ramifications of the changes are made no less real by this fact, but I think we could do with a little less finger-pointing at the greedy little "disgruntledocs" who had very little to do with the proposed rules under discussion.

    In the course of this discussion there has also been a lot of argument about what salary postdocs deserve. I'm not sure desert theory is the right way (or complete way) to determine postdoc salary. Postdoc salary is not set by a traditional labor market, postdoc salary almost certainly cannot be determined by direct economic output (nor can PI salary for that matter), and even comparing academic postdocs to similar positions in the private sector is probably not the best way to determine their salaries (See AnonNeuro above). Postdoc salary must be determined by considering and balancing what is fair to the postdoc (not completely objective), what can be supported by the average grant, as well as the effects of salary on quality and quantity of postdoc attraction and retention. The latter two factors are not only important in the short term, but also have long term effects on the scientific workforce. The challenge is to train enough postdocs to ensure a high quality pool from which to draw future PIs but not so many to make becoming a PI absurdly unlikely for a given postdoc. There are also non-salary means to regulate the size of the postdoc pool, but salary certainly has a substantial influence.

    I think it should be clear that the various, (and sometimes competing), criteria do not result in a clear, simple way to determine salary. This is something that will always require some degree of empirical adjustment. The recent NAS report on postdocs and various other studies, including some internal to NIH, have argued for a reduction in the size of the postdoc pool, and also for an increase in postdoc salary (partially to achieve the former and partially on its own merit). If one agrees with these reports, then increasing postdoc salary above the overtime threshold is probably a good thing even if it causes some short term pain; PIs will lose some flexibility on whether to spend $ on personnel or research costs, some postdocs will be paid more, and some postdocs will lose their jobs. If one thinks there are no structural problems in the scientific workforce, then increasing postdoc salary is bad because it will reduce both the funds and the postdocs available to do science.

    Finally, I completely agree that tracking postdoc time in order to pay them overtime would be a nightmare. However, do we really need to invoke 3 hour lunch breaks and 3 week vacations to prove this? Not all postdocs operate this way. In any case, as qaz said above, counting hours would be difficult for any postdoc (as would it be for a PI), not just those who take 3 hour lunches. In many labs being a postdoc is a 24/7 job. That doesn't necessarily mean being physically in the lab all the time (thought it sometimes approaches it), but it does include the expectation of reading and writing from home, in the evening and on weekends, and to be constantly thinking about one's projects. I am disappointed at the evident distain many of the PIs who have posted in this discussion have shown for their postdocs. Can you imagine how this makes us feel? How far removed is this from Steve McKnight's "riffraff" comments many of the young and mid-career PIs have (rightly) decried here on this blog. Similarly, some postdocs posting here and on twitter have also shown a lack of sympathy for the budgetary pressures PIs are now facing, and a lack of awareness of the possible (or likely) negative consequences of a salary increase. However, those of us who hope to become PIs share PI anxiety over minuscule grant success rates, and are well-familiar with the rapidly graying average age of first independent award. So, it would be great if all involved could display a modicum of empathy and respect for each other. Again, these rules are coming down from heaven, and are not the sole or deliberate product of the evil cabal of whiny, greedy, digruntledocs. We're all in this together.
    /rant

  • mH says:

    What worries me here is the expectation/entitlement of some early and mid career PIs that they can and should have the kind of careers the Boomers had, running 10+ person labs with full time tech support and leaving behind a trail of dozens of trainees over your career.

    It's not going to be like that. Or if it is, it will be for a minority chosen by panels of McKnights selecting Great Minds from their friends' ILAF labs, and the Cull will grow and grow (if you're crying at the unjust prospect of firing one postdoc, head somewhere where entire labs are closing every month).

    The growth phase is over. Thinking that it's not is a huge barrier to all reforms, because every rational reform that tries to deal with the trainee:PI ratio puts another tiny dagger in your dream of being like some BSD you trained with once. This attitude is going to kill us.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yep, although you are wrong about size. It's the stability that is the real hardcore entitlement feeling of my generation. Not the 10+ postdoc lab. Stable expectation of continued funding.

    This is absolutely an issue.

    I've tried to grapple with it numerous times in blog posts, you will recall.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    jipkin. It was intended as a response to both. It wasn't clear.

    Anonymous, you shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Saying that not everyone works as hard is the same as saying the people in my lab are lazy. There’s a huge difference between being lazy and not working hard enough as is needed in the tough funding environment in science. I have yet to find someone truly lazy. But I meet a lot of people who are unwilling to work as hard as is needed. Note that this is not MY definition of what is needed. What I think doesn't matter. It is the reviewers in funding agencies and journals that do.

    Last year a PD told me: “I know I was distracted by other stuff this year, but I still earned my salary”. He had done some cool stuff, but that is not the same as earning our salary. When can we confidently claim that we have earned our salaries? Not clear. But, when someone else has to get the funding to pay you it is even more difficult to make a strong claim. This is not a philosophical argument, I have to sit with my dept chair once a year and prove that I am earning my salary.

    Daniel: “Even if funding did get really tough, I'd focus on savings in areas that don't involve cutting postdoc salaries”. I do too (also for tech's who make the least of everyone). What do you do when you have cut all you can and it still isn’t enough? Would you buy a piece of equipment that would save everyone in the lab hundreds of hours, or would you give the PD an increase for one year? Let me guess: you move on to computational work where you can always wing it…

    I stand by my first claim: The idea that this is only an issue of PIs not wanting to pay people more out of that big pot of money they hoard is a delusion. Other than Daniel, the rest of us have very little leeway in our budgets. I wish I was able to pay people more AND still get the work done.

  • bagger vance says:

    @Newbie PI:
    "99% of newly minted PhDs are in no way ready to run their own scientific enterprise.....how to write grants...how to give presentations well...."

    "And for the record, my lab does employ a staff scientist who gets paid 46K. He has 5 years of postdoc experience...he is not even close to being competitive for any type of faculty jobs"

    So postdoctoral experience is necessary, but five years of it alone aren't enough. Are you sure you're really training these people?

  • jipkin says:

    Everyone arguing about what postdocs should be paid and no one arguing about whether or not they should be paid overtime...

    @newbiePI How many hours does your 46k staff scientist work? Do you carefully track those hours to make sure he doesn't go over 40? Because it's almost certain that there will be no loophole (nor should there be!) denying a staff scientist overtime if their base salary is under the exemption line.

    With regards to people saying that it's impossible to track postdocs hours since they're expected to think and read all the time - this is true. But I'd be perfectly okay with a world where one is allowed to think and read outside of work (but not necessarily expected to) but only get compensated for time spent in the lab, assuming one's base salary is nonexempt.

    Seriously though, PIs. Are you leaving comments on the regulations begging them to make postdocs exempt? Hoping for a loophole to emerge? Staring forlornly at your budget? These rules are expected to go into place in six months after all....

  • neuromusic says:

    market rate, market rate, blah, blah, blah

    the whole point of the Department of Labor raising the salary requirements for exempt employees is that the "market rate" (that is, what they are currently getting paid) is less than a fair wage.

    so... in less than 6 months, Newbie PI will have to pay their $46k staff scientist more (or let them go home at 40 hours), regardless of whether or not they think that's "market" because the DoL says that's "fair"

    "That's good for [postdocs] who want fair pay, and it's good for [principal investigators] who are already paying their [postdocs] what they deserve -- since those who are doing right by their [postdocs] are undercut by competitors who aren't."

    Obama has clearly put Daniel MacArthur & Newbie PI on two different sides of the fence here.

  • Colin, that is the most sensible thing I've read on the internet for a long time.

  • neuromusic says:

    DMacA - Agreed. If that's how Colin rants, I'd read a whole blog such rants.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Seriously though, PIs. Are you leaving comments on the regulations begging them to make postdocs exempt? Hoping for a loophole to emerge? Staring forlornly at your budget? These rules are expected to go into place in six months after all....

    We're writing more grant applications, of course.

    Obama has clearly put Daniel MacArthur & Newbie PI on two different sides of the fence here.

    This is once again, so typical for MacArthur priggery, down to the usual issue of "what works or is best for my type of science must surely be the answer of everything funded by the NIH everywhere. And futhermore, not only is my way the best OneTrueWay but your other way is unethical and/or evil".

    This comes up time and again from discussions of authorship lines to OpenAccess to Data Deposition and now to postdoctoral pay. So MacArthur is not alone in this general trend.

    Of *course* if the main driver and priority for your laboratory productivity is a very spendy type of personnel with focal expertise then this is what you have to preserve at any cost. If, alternately, the people doing the work are relatively less important (let's call it "elastic") compared with animal colonies, behavioral assay throughput, services you purchase from outside vendors, machines that go ping! or whatever, then a given PI's lean on this is going to shift.

    It's down to relative circumstances and contingencies, not PI moral fiber. This latter can only be compared realistically across individuals with similar drivers that contribute to productivity.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I wish I was able to pay people more AND still get the work done.

    So say we all.

  • neuromusic says:

    Take it up with Obama, not me 😛

    I totally get that different labs have different expense profiles. I sure as hell don't want to trivialize the difficult decisions PIs are going to have to make later this year. (Merry Christmas! But don't come back because I have to give the other 4 postdocs raises.)

    But that is a totally different argument from Newbie PI's justification for paying a staff scientist with 5 years of experience $46k...

    he is not even close to being competitive for any type of faculty jobs, is not flexible in moving to an area with biotech jobs, and his writing is not great. So I think his salary is fair

  • neuromusic says:

    Anyway, can't you just crowdfund the extra money for increased salaries?

  • Lady Scientist says:

    I'm not a postdoc anymore, but I say: go ahead and scrutinize the hours PDs work. I know of many PDs who work - really work - for 10-12 hours/day, even on weekends. A lot of them are foreign, on Visas, and underpaid, but I wasn't, and I worked just as many hours. Make everyone an hourly employee, and count everyone's time spent doing actual work (following FMLA policies), and you will see an exodus of folks who aren't truly committed to the job in no time, thus trimming down the pool of potential faculty applicants. Give PDs full-time benefits of staff, too. I'd rather we trim down the workforce to the committed - and keep them happy - than float a bunch of folks who don't really care about their jobs and, thus, may do actual harm to science conducted in labs.

  • jipkin says:

    @juan lopez Well if that was directed at me as well I don't know what you think I don't get. I understand that some postdocs work harder than others and that some are "better" than others and that some people think they're paid just enough and others think they're paid too little and that budgets are tight and grants are hard to come by and so on and so on.

    I also understand that none of that matters since POTUS has decided that white-collar professionals (which seems to include postdocs) working for a base salary of less than 50,400 are entitled to overtime pay for work they do in excess of 40 hours a week. Assuming nothing changes and no loopholes are found, this will be a fact of life in six months time. I'm just curious what PIs are planning to do about it.

    @drugmonkey I know the "writing more grants" comment is somewhat facile, but I'll still point out that this doesn't totally answer the question. One can write more grants with the intention of using them to pay for raising postdoc salaries above 50,400, or one could be writing more grants with the intention of keeping base salaries where they are and paying overtime instead. Or one could just be writing more grants because that's all one does anyway and be planning to implement strongly-enforced 40 hour work weeks with a timecard system.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    I'd second that, Lady Scientist, except that it seems like it would be super difficult to quantify the time, and not just the outside of lab stuff. When my western is blocking or a gel is running, sometimes I set up another experiment, sometimes I read papers, sometimes I hit up a blog, etc...when should that 1/2 hour block count as work?
    If literally every extra hour spent in the lab doing something vaguely "work-related" would qualify me for overtime, then hell yeah, I'd take that over a 50k salary. Even a regular week of 55hrs or so would net me more money than the overtime exemption level.

    Re: PI attitudes toward paying higher salaries, I want to note the people on this blog seem much more level-headed about it than some PIs I've encountered. In a perfect world, they'd be happy paying their postdocs more. However, I know of PIs that have trimmed back salaries from fellowships. One boss literally told a PD that he couldn't take a higher salary offered by a fellowship because he didn't want people in his lab with similar levels of experience making different amounts of money. Another PD was told that he "didn't write that application to make more money, he did it for science", and so shouldn't get the higher pay offered under the fellowship salary guidelines.

    So while the PIs on this blog (and I think, generally most young PIs) DO agree that postdocs should be paid more ideally, *some* PIs seem to think that the postdoc *should* be a monastic existence of pecuniary suffering.

  • becca says:

    We've all got to watch out, the dastardly wreath making industry is diabolical in their lobbying.

    In all honesty, if you'd ask me what a postdoc wage "should" be before this came out, I'd start with $50,360. Which is the median salary of a full time worker with a Bachelor's. I look at what productivity friends with Bachelor's degrees add and can confidently state that the median productivity from a postdoc is at least equal to that. That is, I believe strongly that postdocs *earn* at least that much, and in a less constrained job market, would be making it (albeit subject to more geographical variations and than are currently present in the NIH-defines-standard-pay model we've got).

    I don't know the last time any of you actually worked an hourly job, but the auditing is just not necessarily so onerous- for reasons legit and otherwise. It's not like people won't write in "40 hours" every week and just ensure they work that on average in academic labs. At least, this is what I've seen techs do (despite the legal implications, and despite a unionized environment... overtime pay is only as real as people make it).

    The biggest practical advantage I'd see to being able to work overtime is when you come to the end of a grant and funds need to be spent. As it stands, no PI I know is inclined, or possibly allowed, to give that as a severance package. If I could at least work overtime, it would take some of the sting out of being ever so modest with my requests for premade buffers and other lab extravagances only to have the leftover grant funds blown on yet ANOTHER PCR machine at the end of the grant. I'd love to work a last burst of 70 hours for a month to write up All The Things and have more financial padding to find another job. It'd be good for the lab, good for me, and arguably even good for the taxpayers who are buying superfulous PCR machines.

    Also, lawyers track hours and they do plenty of thinky work. There is nothing impossible about the model, and I question the entire idea "exempt" from overtime should exist on anything other a "your salary is gigantic" basis.

    That said, I doubt the idea of exempt types of work will vanish, so if PIs are really bothered by this it behooves them to be at least as organized as the wreath manufacturers industry. If you don't like it, write your congresscritters to explain why you are special snowflakes who are benevolently offering to subsidize the training period of the Mysterious Beings of Pure Intellect known as the Postdoc.

  • Joe says:

    My guess is no one will pay post-docs overtime. Either universities will find a way to make post-docs exempt from this rule, or post-doc salaries will be increased to the $50,400 level. If it is the latter, then any lab with more than one post-doc is going to have a problem figuring out what experiments they can't afford to do or which people to let go.

  • PaleoGould says:

    Colin, thanks for keeping it real and pointing out this is not about postdocs qua postdocs.
    Becca, thanks for reminding everyone that academic jobs are not completely unique and special and incomparable to all other things.
    DM: you still haven't addressed the fundamental question: do you think that lifting the cap for overtime exemption is a good thing? Because THAT is the question. Period.

  • drugmonkey says:

    do you think that lifting the cap for overtime exemption is a good thing?

    Yes, I do.

    Period.

    so wrong you can't even see right from there.

  • Watching DM tie himself in logical knots, dodge questions, and generally do his best to avoid actually articulating his position, just so he can avoid paying his postdocs more, is pretty remarkable. Especially given the low income has a disproportionate impact on groups he claims to care about (e.g. people without well-off parents to bail them out, and postdocs trying to raise families).

    I guess he's a progressive only when it doesn't interfere with his source of cheap labor?

  • Industry Scientist says:

    "I once heard an HR presentation that summed up salary negotiations in a way I thought was useful. They said that your salary is not set by how good you are or even how important you are to the organization. It's set by the salary someone else would accept to do the same job. Industry pays more because the PhDs they want won't leave academia for a lower price."

    Uh.... no. For every open scientist position, we get now hundreds of postdoc applicants. If we told them they'd have to fight a gladiatorial-style pit fight in order to be hired, we'd probably have enough agree to have a decent round robin.

    No matter what you earn as a postdoc in academia, the starting salary of a postdoc in industry is higher (ours usually start at 60-70K). The starting salary of a Scientist (basically the same job, just a permanent position) is usually double what a 4-5yr postdoc makes. Industry pays more because it can, not because it needs to recruit from academia (and typically, they can lowball academic postdocs because no matter what they offer, it's going to be more).

  • Lady Scientist says:

    "Except that it seems like it would be super difficult to quantify the time, and not just the outside of lab stuff. When my western is blocking or a gel is running, sometimes I set up another experiment, sometimes I read papers, sometimes I hit up a blog, etc...when should that 1/2 hour block count as work?"

    As someone who employs other people in the lab (techs) who are paid by the hour, it is really not hard to quantify the time, even if the person doesn't use a punch-card (which we don't have at my institution). It's understandable that everyone has downtime during the day, even hourly workers in other jobs. I count physical absences from the lab as time not worked, as well as lunches if no work is performed for more than 20 minutes. If it's clear - over a period of time - that the person isn't really working during the time that he/she says he/she is (i.e. not producing), I conduct a performance evaluation. Sure, it sucks to have to do one (and I've had to do them before), but it does document things so that, if things don't improve to a reasonable level of productivity, the person can be let go (and BTW, as faculty, I'm subject to annual performance evaluations).

  • drugmonkey says:

    Ah, joining the ad hominem pivot defense squad are you, D-Mac? It really is amazing how reluctant people are to defend their strong claims and instantly go on the attack when asked to provide the rationale for their claim.

    but by all means. out with the "logical knots" evidence. or are you just making that up ?

  • Dennis says:

    A lot was said since I last looked into this thread. A lot of good things and some weird things.

    One thing I want to comment on is the whining about how the postdocs can't don't take into account hard this is on PIs. I know how hard this is on PIs. I also know that PIs can feed spouses and kids from a single salary and buy houses and cars that don't fall apart. There is also no question that PIs are pushing postdocs into working to improve the PIs career more than their own.

    Don't you dare buddy up with us on this to make us feel bad about it. It's *your* job to deal with that. If the pressure needs to go somewhere, then it should go up. So, go and ask for more money for your postdocs when writing grants, speak to *your* higher-ups, don't tell *us* not do have self-esteem.

    Or fire postdocs and hire less. I have no problem with this. I hear from many postdocs that they feel not at least threatened by it. No matter how this goes, a raise in postdoc salary will make everything better for postdocs. And I know because in my institution, we already fought for better salaries and the director 'warned' us this would mean fewer postdocs in future. You know how many were sad to hear that? Not a single one. This is again *your* problem and *your* responsibility to deal with, not ours.

    I also usually found academics to be rather liberal and progressive. Now, people pull their little libertarian out of their pants, because the minions dare say they deserve more pay. Sad.

  • PaleoGould says:

    DM:
    so wrong you can't even see right from there.
    I'll admit to some rhetorical grandeur, but I don't see how that's beside the point.
    Department of labor is proposing raising the limit for overtime exemption to a level where postdocs would no longer be exempt. If people don't like this (which I realise is not your case), then either they must argue that postdocs ought to be exempt for other reasons, or they must argue the proposed cap is too high. NO ONE so far has addressed the proposed cap question. All the discussion has been of the exemption question.
    If what you're doing is schooling me on the difference between 'is' and 'ought', I am aware. But as I've said elsewhere, the onus is on TPTB to prove we are different from other white collar workers if they want us exempt. I don't think that's actually all that trivial, and none of the arguments I've heard so far have seemed convincing.

  • Elsie says:

    Let's say this change becomes enforceable in 2016. It'll be 2036 before it's even semi-common practice. Nobody is going to comply with the law. As others have commented above, there are plenty of labs that don't even comply with NIH minimum pay standards.

    The only choice for the post doc is to bring a lawsuit against the institution/employer for non-compliance, and that will result in their getting fired in the long run anyway, negative prospects for getting a second post doc (who's gonna hire the person that sued their last PI?), and not to mention be completely unable to pay for such a lawsuit.

    If this happens, I'll believe it when I see it.

    The best chance there is at raising base salary for post docs is for NIH to raise their minimum standards.

  • jipkin says:

    just to be clear DM, if this change happens as is would you prefer raising the base salary of your postdocs, leaving it but paying them overtime, or leaving it and capping their hours?

  • Anonymous says:

    @Colin: "We're all in this together."

    This is a nice sentiment. But if you're a postdoc and your PI sets your salary according to how little he thinks he can pay you before you'd walk away and he wouldn't be able to find anyone to replace you (e.g., newbie), then forgive me, but no, you are most definitely not in this together.

  • physioprof says:

    I think people are a bit confused about the fact that PIs and post-docs can be "in this together" and "not in this together" simultaneously, but along different dimesions of their relationship. And frankly, I am surprised that supposedly mature individuals who are also scientists are so oblivious to human psychology, sociology, and economics that they fail to grasp that this multidimensionality and mixed incentives occur in *every* human relationship: management-labor, PI-trainee, parent-child, teacher-student, etc. The oversimplification and collapsing of complex multidimensional relationships into cartoonlike dichotomies here is absurd.

  • drugmonkey says:

    PaleoG- What I was addressing was the idea that answering the cap issue was the end of every possible discussion of interest. Clearly it is not. As you have probably grasped by now if you are paying even the slightest bit of attention is that I think the whole "white-collar employee therefore exempt from hard fought labor protections" thing is long past its sell date now that our economy is so much shifted towards non-manual-labor compared to 1938 or whatever. The postdoctoral trainee scam and the freebie internships are somewhere in the same space. labor exploitation. And I am agin' it. Despite this, I also am a professional that exists in a job that comes with constraints on my personal choices as to how I can middle manage my staff. Again, there is no "period" on this situation from the standpoint of national policy , institutional policy, government agency policy or personal middle-manager policy.

    if this change happens as is would you prefer raising the base salary of your postdocs, leaving it but paying them overtime, or leaving it and capping their hours?

    I have no idea what I would "prefer" until I see whatever new contingencies that I have to operate under. What I generally and nonspecifically prefer is what I always prefer. The ability to do my job while treating my staff as well as I possibly can.

    As far as your options go, at present, I would estimate that trying to cap hours is a cynical ploy for no change. unless I am missing something that is a nonstarter, assuming we're on the side of Obama here wrt to "postdocs" as employees/workers.

    paying overtime lets bad actor PIs say that official hours are 40 but setting an environment of extra work. Since I don't behave like this at present, this would be no change for me- and I would be paying the overtime if it came up. The unknown is the degree to which I would have to enforce a 40 h workweek that is my soft expectation of staff at present. I don't particularly like to manage people's time in my lab but I assume this would make me have to do it.

    Raising base salary is conceptually the same as it has ever been for me in matching NRSA levels- outside of my hands and basically default behavior for my salary practices.

  • Colin says:

    Anonymous: In the sense that the plights of both PIs and PDs are dictated by the same crappy funding situation, we are in this together, though PIs and PDs will at time be affected in different ways. Also, the new rules would probably not prevent some PIs from underpaying PDs any more than current rules do if we're talking about PIs who already ignore salary guidelines (or rules even depending on the institution).

  • Pippso says:

    @Anonymous: seems like lots of you guys have horrible bosses. Go out there and pretend more, find a better postdoc position, make yourselves irreplaceable.
    Most postdocs I know, would never ask for a raise, even if they have a rich boss. Talking about impostor syndrome anybody? Lots do not even know that at our institution you actually *CAN* be paid over NIH standards.
    Someone asked how do you think you deserve a better pay. I know I deserve a better pay. I work hard, I get things done, papers published, grants in the door, students mentored. I pay my salary and two techs with the money I bring in. I sacrifice family time to get it all done and done right. I deserve more than $40k/month for whateva sake.

  • neuromusic says:

    Elsie sez Nobody is going to comply with the law. As others have commented above, there are plenty of labs that don't even comply with NIH minimum pay standards.

    The NIH standards aren't legal standards.

    The only choice for the post doc is to bring a lawsuit against the institution/employer for non-compliance, and that will result in their getting fired in the long run anyway, negative prospects for getting a second post doc (who's gonna hire the person that sued their last PI?), and not to mention be completely unable to pay for such a lawsuit.

    I think you severely underestimate the ability of lawyers to find their salaries through additional damages (e.g. liquidated and punative). Penalizing an employee for raising these issues only makes the legal case (and likelihood for punative damages) stronger. I bet every lawyer dealing with labor issues is paying very close attention across the board right now. If I was a one, I would find out which institutions have the most postdocs on staff and pay close attention to what happens to them come Jan 1 so I could be ready to file a class action lawsuit on their behalf by the end of 2017. If (as you predict), the universities don't comply, the first lawyer to settle a class action case of this magnitude will be taking a very pleasant vacation to Fiji.

    Remember, 80% of these postdocs aren't going on to TT positions anyway, so won't have as much to lose by burning a bridge over fair wages. And if non-compliance is the majority, won't it be a little easier to sign on to that class action lawsuit if all of your peers are, too?

  • JuniorPostdoc says:

    Elsie and neuromusic. In addition, to trial lawyers looking to wet their beaks, let's also not forget that almost all postdocs employed by the University of California are now members of the UAW. If there is a legal fight to be had over this, I rampantly speculate that these would be the principles. I highly doubt this will be an issue of Dr Erin Brockovich, PhD against Professor BSD science jerk at Evil U.

  • JustAGrad says:

    "There is money out there and opportunities that PDs can apply to, and typically PIs let the PD bring home a better salary if successful."

    Where are these magical pots of money? If they're federal, then the PI can't let the PD double dip and receive compensation from another federal grant.

  • kalevala says:

    "Uh.... no. For every open scientist position, we get now hundreds of postdoc applicants. "

    Thank you for pointing out the fallacies of anecdata. When a PI sees a postdoc leave for industry, and thinks "gee that was easy and all about fit", what she doesn't see are those 300 others who were beat out for the job, mired in hopelessness, still looking for a way out (but with their best game faces on).

  • Pippso says:

    @JustAGrad: for starters there are fellowships - lots of them for biological disciplines (can't speak for other fields), including lots from great foundations. Then there are very specific funding mechanisms which are open for everybody, from PD level and up - DOD has some of these as an example. Now will this apply to your field? not sure. But a careful search can go a long way.

  • another new PI says:

    My prediction is that most PIs will officially state that postdocs should only be working 40h work weeks, but expectations for productivity will not change. Those who want to succeed will work more even when their boss isn't willing to pay overtime.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    jipkin, you argue that you do understand. Clearly you don't, because you write: "I'm just curious what PIs are planning to do about it.". There is no real option for me at this moment: I do not have the extra $10-$15k/year per PD. Paying them more is out of the question because I simply do not have the money. You don't have to be curious about it. There is no magical pot of money that I am hiding. I also suspect I am not alone in this.

    I may be able to scramble 6 months for one of the most productive PDs, but after that he/she is gone. Some here suggest that they would leave celebrating their victory. I doubt it.

    In the future I may be able to gather the money for a PD at these salaries, but I sure will never pay them overtime per se. I need to know how much money I will have. I also will ride them much harder than now, because they will be taking a lot bigger pie of my grant.

    Maybe an option is to stop considering all the training time as paid work. Workshops, help writing grants and papers, attending conferences. From now on, they will be on the PD's time and dime. Come to think of it, why do I pay the PD for their training? If the PD wants my help with a fellowship, I can set a reasonable hourly cost for my services and for all that equipment in my lab that they use for free. Ha ha.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    "Come to think of it, why do I pay the PD for their training?"
    -Because that's what a postdoctoral fellowship IS. You're supposed to train them, and pay for their training. That is the deal. This doesn't change just because they get a slight pay increase. If you want hands with no professional training, hire a tech.

    "I may be able to scramble 6 months for one of the most productive PDs, but after that he/she is gone."

    -So this is an issue we haven't touched on. Let's assume this goes into effect, and postdoc salaries go up 20% starting this September. The NIH budget for the year is set, so you can't expect much in the way of defrayment from them.

    Would universities have any funds to cover this? Would they use them?
    Is there a currently established system to adjust the funded R01 budgets to cover the new salaries in the coming years? (e.g. through the JIT client?)
    Are there other ideas about how to avoid a complete system shock for labs?

  • JuniorPostdoc says:

    @justagraf. I suggest being proactive in discussing money with potential postdoc labs: negotiate your salary and ask if your would be PI(s) can and will supplement fellowships given their current funding situation. The worst that can happen is you get told
    No. Anyone who is so offended at this they rescind an offer, isn't someone you want to work for. I am on an F32 now and my PI supplements it quite a bit from nonfederal funds, something I asked about before signing my offer letter. Also, of the three labs I got to the point of talking salary with, all offered above the NRSA minimum up front, though two were at places with institutional salary scales above NRSA (these do exist).

  • kalevala says:

    I feel for the PDs working for some of the PIs here. They are obviously not getting valuable mentoring from their wannabe BSD PIs, and are probably not going to be competitive for TT positions.

  • drugmonkey says:

    jmz4gtu- you are kidding, right?

  • Juan Lopez says:

    Look, I was kidding in the last part of my previous post. Let me explain the thought:

    While some PIs abuse PDs, this is not always the case. I haven't seen a single post here where a PD is in the least appreciative of all the things they do get from the PI and lab. I can't pay the PD more, but I give them some of my time, flexibility in projects, credit (useful for their careers), a salary (not enough but at the top of the people in my lab), health care, access to career resources, access to people and equipment, expendables, software, computers, etc. All of these are valuable and cost me money.

    I am not blind to all the awesome things that PDs bring to me and the lab. It's a good thing! And I love working with PDs.

    If I am forced to channel everything to salary (plus half as much more as F&B), then I will have no choice but to cut back on the other parts, and to hire less PDs.

  • AnonNeuro says:

    The question isn't "should we pay postdocs more or not", it's "should we divert funding from other things to increase postdoc salaries". A mandatory bump in salary requires that either less science is done or grant paylines drop. Either way, more PIs will be closing their labs due to loss of productivity or funding.

    Even if the NIH wants to "do the right thing" for postdocs, they seem focused for now on stopping the damage to PIs already in the system. And they can't do both with the money they have.

  • physioprof says:

    Would universities have any funds to cover this? Would they use them?
    Is there a currently established system to adjust the funded R01 budgets to cover the new salaries in the coming years? (e.g. through the JIT client?)
    Are there other ideas about how to avoid a complete system shock for labs?

    Yeah! I'm totally sure that the universities and the NIH would take care of this to avoid "complete system shock for labs"! Yeah, that's the ticket!

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHHHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAAAAAAAAAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • jipkin says:

    @juan lopez I assure you I'm quite lucid. Regardless of whatever situation you're in right now and will be in during the transition (if it happens) you will presumably have a lab afterwards. And therefore I ask what sort of arrangement you and other PIs would prefer. Would you prefer being able to offer the salary levels that you do, but capping the hours they work? This keeps your budget the same, but potentially decreases lab productivity if your postdocs are routinely working >40 hours right now. And this also means that you have to enforce when they go home each day or else they'll be due their overtime pay, which I suspect in almost every lab would be an almost crippling cost to endure. The other option is to eventually move people to an increased base salary above the exemption line.

    In any scenario, you can imagine yourself firing or not hiring or shuffling resources around or whatever. I'm just curious as to what PIs' preferred arrangement would be. I strongly suspect that most don't want to mess with any cultural status quo and would rather just pay above the exemption line.

    Of course it should also be mentioned that at the end of the day I doubt any of this will be up to the PI - the university/institution is the one liable for legal problems stemming from overtime violations. If this is an issue, they will surely set the policy.

  • PaleoGould says:

    DM
    OK I think I get your point. And I think ( if i'm not misrepresenting you) I ultimately agree. Any debate like this must ultimately be a compromise between mutual competing interests, and we can assume some good faith from all parties (and some bad). I accept that this debate is therefore only yet another skirmish in an endlessly evolving debate.
    That being said, the solidarity argument ( namely that this isn't about postdocs, it's about people earning a certain amount,before they forgoe the right to overtime) is stil valid. We've been lumped together with others, for better or worse. For now at least.

  • PaleoGould says:

    I have friends whose MBAs were paid for by their firms....

  • Juan Lopez says:

    jipkin, You still don't get it. Your curiosity stems from your belief in that mythical pot of money we can tap to keep the status quo. Big labs might have it. Most don't.

    The university will do whatever brings them less trouble and more money. It will be up to the PI's to remain competitive despite the loss of people and another budget cut. It has always been like that.

  • neuromusic says:

    @Juan Lopez - puh-lease. there are always options. jipkin hasn't asked where the pot of money is... he asked what you are going to do without it. you've highlighted, you don't have more money and so the options that cost more money are out. so are you going to give your current PDs timesheets, cap the hours at 40 and suffer the lost productivity? fire them and bring on grad students to replace them? cull one to put the other 4 on a 50k salary and expect them to work longer hours?

    I assure you, as a grad student talking to potential postdoc advisors, the question of "what are the PIs going to do?" is very very sincere.

  • jipkin says:

    I'm not making myself clear. You don't need any additional money to adapt to a new pay structure. As many have pointed out, you can raise salaries of 4 postdocs and fire the fifth. Or you can imagine a system where you're allowed to keep their salaries the same and force them to only work 40 hours a week.

    I certainly don't believe in a mythical pot of money and I'm not sure where I gave that impression. Funding sucks now and it will suck six months from now and it will suck 1 year from now. That's constant. But the rules might be changing for how postdocs are paid. Hence, I ask what kind of structure you all would prefer (even if you're not the ones to set it), because the one you have now would be, by law, obsolete at the current postdoc salary level.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    I don't have 5 PDs to spread the pain. I am also not willing to sell our second beach home to pay for the difference. Most PIs don't have either, despite what you have been told.

    You think the drop in productivity is a hit only for me to take? The forced 40hrs/week system will suck for PDs. You don't get any more money and you will be far less competitive than the PDs working hard to put papers out. The best PDs don't work over 40hrs because we force them. It's because they know it's the only way to succeed in this environment.

    @neuromusic: I never doubted the sincerity. I questioned the assumptions of what PIs have. Have you tried approaching your potential PD advisors and informed them that, by law, you will stop working at 40hrs unless they pay you $50k+? Try it. I am curious how far it goes. And don't forget to tell them puh-lease when they respond. It should close the deal.

  • drugmonkey says:

    neuromusic, jipkin-

    I think I am finally grasping your uncertainty but I think it is pretty easy to deduce the answers.

    1) PIs will do what their institutional policies make them do, first and foremost. This is going to be the main formal influence. Most PIs are going to have zero input on how their University chooses to interpret and implement. Their supposed preference is immaterial.

    2) Asshole PIs will continue to be asshole PIs and decent PIs will continue to be decent PIs. That means that if given half a chance, the Mu-ming Poos and Kerns of the world are going to pay for 40 hrs and do whatever they can to induce trainees to put in many extra hours on their "own" time. Decent PIs (most of them) are going to either pay the overtime or do whatever they can to really make it a 40 h / week gig. This will likely be negotiated one by one with each trainee.

    3) All PIs will be constrained in their "preferences" on this by the available dollars, as has always been the case and will always be the case.

  • jipkin says:

    I fully understand (as I've said a few times) that what actually happens will be set by the institution (the legally liable party). My curiosity is first and foremost just curiosity. I want to see what, if any, the diversity of opinion is. And secondarily I don't believe it's fully immaterial what PIs think. Do not the Mu-Ming Poos have some influence over what policies their institution implements? I truly don't know. But one imagines that gathering faculty input (alongside the legal opinion) would be a prudent thing for a university to do before setting a policy. Again I won't pretend to know what would actually happen.

    Juan of course there's a drop in productivity for both parties. That's why I suspect everyone will favor bumping salaries to 50,4. Does that mean 1-postdoc labs without the budget get screwed? Probably? This is what I'm trying to suss out with this question. I really want to know, honestly, what you would do if this comes to pass. Your budget doesn't change, but you're forced to deal with these new overtime rules. What, Juan, if you were in charge of the rules at your institution, would you want to happen? If you view all the options as bad for your lab, then I'm asking you to pick the one you view as least bad.

    "Have you tried approaching your potential PD advisors and informed them that, by law, you will stop working at 40hrs unless they pay you $50k+? Try it. I am curious how far it goes. And don't forget to tell them puh-lease when they respond. It should close the deal."

    No of course not. I don't plan on bringing it up until it's officially a Thing. And in any event hopefully the University takes care of it first (though I can imagine that won't be the case). And given the option I would definitely not curtail my hours... I will gladly take that time-and-a-half. In the event that the law is clear and I'm being wronged, I'd strongly consider legal recourse.

  • qaz says:

    Say, not to throw a wrench into this, but why aren't graduate students covered by this? Is it because they are "trainees"/"students"? If so, then it would be trivial for a university to declare postdocs "trainees"/"students", which would solve this problem completely. We can even make them write "habilitation" defenses.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habilitation

    Done.

    PS. Universities would love this because they can get tuition from postdocs now.

    It is really important to separate the issues of "should a PI pay a postdoc more?" from "is a postdoc job measurable by hourly wage?" We could, for example, reduce postdoc hourly pay so that a 60/hr work week adds up to the current NIH NRSA levels, after factoring in overtime. We could alternately increase postdoc salary just because we want to. This is like the 9/mo vs 12/mo salary debate. It REALLY does not matter whether you get that salary in 9 monthly-installments or in 12. What matters is how much money you are getting annually.

  • poke says:

    qaz:

    Postdocs are already considered trainees (not employees) at some (most?) places. This is why, for instance, they are not eligible for retirement plans at my institution. I don't know how widespread this is, but it's certainly something that is happening. They don't pay tuition here though...

  • […] been several good responses to a post on the same topic. One of the smartest I’ve seen is by Colin Brinkman (boldface […]

  • Science Grunt says:

    The age of the average age of the student now when they become a postdoc is around 28 years. And they are burdened with a student loan level that will take 3-5K/year of their paycheck for the next 10 years. At least 5 years of those would be on a postdoc salary. The average COL (with food) for a postdoc is probably around 30K a year. With student loan payments, this means we are talking about a 5K disposable income per year.

    So we are talking about a postdoc at age 33, with very little savings who on average has only 20% chance of getting a better job. Now think about how much that extra 8K would be VERY appreciated. That is 40K over 5 years. That could mean starting a family, or paying down the student loans or having the luxury of not living with a roommate.

    Now go around your lab and ask your trainees how many of them are in their parents cell phone plans, and how many of those under 25 are in their parents health insurances. For the ones that are married, ask if their spouse work and who earns more and how much. Go and check the cars your trainees drive. Ask them about how much they are paying in student loans.

    Think about the impact that has on minorities or people from disadvantaged backgrounds, some that support their parents. Sure, nominal 20/hr beats flipping burgers at McDonald's for 10/hr and is a living wage, but it looks horrible from the perspective of someone that have been in school for this long. And even worse when some (at least most of the ones I know) spend easily 60hrs/week to be in the top 20% that gets to move on to better positions.

    Biological sciences academia is one of the worst labor markets that exist right now - it's closer to a lottery with heavy time investment. And regardless of how it got to this point, we are in an environment where the average scientist (hint: the postdoc) is being exploited by the taxpayer and producing large amounts of science for cheap. The solution for this? WE NEED TO PRODUCE LESS SCIENCE. If the government wants more science, it should increase the funding. Yes, this means more cull in more levels are on their way.

    So yeah physioproffe, you're punching down. If you are so sure that the postdocs are going to end up working less than 40 hours a week anyway, why are you so concerned with the potential changes? Life will go on as usual for you.

    And you DM, where is your progressiveness right now? You do understand that a bump from 20/hr to 25/hr will make a giant difference in the lives of the underprivileged postdocs, right, the ones that don't have parents helping out with the student loans? It may mean that female postdocs would afford having kids without having to rely on a high earner husband.

    We are all debating what's the worth of a postdoc. That is not the question here. This is a question of quality of life for what is supposed to be the middle class. Obama's regulation is about eliminating free market ruling on the lower income market. That is exactly what minimum wage laws do.

  • Science Grunt says:

    @juan

    "(...) You don't get any more money and you will be far less competitive than the PDs working hard to put papers out. The best PDs don't work over 40hrs because we force them. It's because they know it's the only way to succeed in this environment.
    (...)
    Have you tried approaching your potential PD advisors and informed them that, by law, you will stop working at 40hrs unless they pay you $50k+? Try it. I am curious how far it goes. And don't forget to tell them puh-lease when they respond. It should close the deal."

    You're description of reality is accurate. I'm sad that you fall back to the "this is just how things are" response. THIS IS A HORRIBLE CULTURE. Again: BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES ACADEMIA HAS A HORRIBLE LABOR CULTURE. And your response is "well, this is just how things are".

  • Juan Lopez says:

    @Science Grunt. Yes, it is the way things are, whether you hate my response or not. I hate it too! I complain and protest too. Then I have to pull myself together and work to publish papers and get grants to feed myself, my family and several people in my lab (plus a large group of managers and admins...). I have no choice to live out of this reality. I am also not willing to not do science, because that's what I love and where I think I can leave a positive mark in this world.

    You are mistaken if you think the fight is with me, DM or physioproffe.

  • Science Grunt says:

    @Juan

    Well, your response outside this forum might be complaining and protesting for better conditions for everyone but all I saw from you and several PIs is coming in this thread and shitting on postdocs for wanting better and "not understanding economy".

    If you noticed, the thread and the overall debate started with "what will the NIH do about it?" Then all you PIs came here with the "oh you guys just don't get it HAHAHA we'll have to fire 20% of you dumb fucks, now stop whining and go back to the bench". What I'd have like to hear is something like "well NIH, what are you going to do, bump the grants or take less science from it?"

  • Juan Lopez says:

    I never shitted on anyone for wanting better. I pointed out that they do not understand the PI situation, and that it is delusional to think that paying PDs more is just an issue of greedy PIs.

    You think that we can threaten the NIH or Congress that we will do less science? That's precisely what I mean by not understanding. If NIH and NSF closed Today, few politicians would blink.

    I would never presume that your opinion in this forum represent the totality of your perspectives or actions. That would be silly.

  • Science Grunt says:

    Well, the fact this started with "your turn, NIH" instead of "your turn, PI" shows that a good number of postdocs are painfully aware that the salaries aren't low because the PI is a douche.

    Now, if you noticed, the 50K regulation would put pressure on the NIH/NSF to bump funding or accept lower productivity. Not on the PI. because this will be an across the board change. You shouldn't produce less than your peer proportionally.

    You are too cynical. Also, unfamiliar with the political process. Universities are the main lobby for funding here and they are fighting hard for increase in research spending. You might not be aware that all this complaining for the past 2 years about lower NIH funding is actually making its way to congress right now.

    But you guys, instead of supporting the cause or just stating that funding needs to increase for this to happen, decided to call postdocs naive and to fight the change in regulations because SCIENCE.

    Also, you're aware that Nature cited this blog post. There are eyeballs here. This IS a public forum for this debate. You may have a different persona in different forums, but this is part of your public discourse.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    DM: "jmz4gtu- you are kidding, right?"
    CPP: *laughs so hard he breaks the web frame*

    -I think your guys' reflexive cynicism makes you read things I didn't actually write, or you are assuming way to much knowledge of the grant system and budgeting process on my part. I was honestly asking questions about how this would play out because I have no experience with how university payroll and grant appropriations work.

    The NIH currently pays your postdocs' salaries (some of them at least) at "a level commensurate with standard practice or whatever" at your institution, right? So that's in your budget that you submitted, but if you were now required by law to pay them more, starting in 10/01/2015, how would you even do that? Is the money for that year already disbursed, and so any adjustments for this policy would have to wait until the next year's budget gets handed down?

    Also, Universities cover faculty with "bridge funding" right? So why wouldn't that be an option here? Just not enough of it? The places with the most postdocs also generally have the most resources for this sort of thing.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    Science Grunt: I didn't call all PDs naive. I called the people making naive comments naive. Both you and jmz4gtu just wrote a fresh batch.

    Nature cited it? I'll go get a tie.

  • jipkin says:

    There is something odd about the preoccupation with how naive we underlings are. (Or that we're unable to articulate a position - see DM's new shtick about liberal arts educations and the twitter storm he created). I mean, we might be naive and stupid. Sure. But that is irrelevant to what the law says when it comes to our compensation. And yet so many PIs in this thread have their first comment speaking to the reactions of postdocs to the law rather than to the law itself. I guess people just talk about what interests them.

  • jipkin says:

    "We could, for example, reduce postdoc hourly pay so that a 60/hr work week adds up to the current NIH NRSA levels, after factoring in overtime."

    Doing the math, this means a postdoc's salary would have to be $24,564, or $11.81 an hour in order to make $43k for a year working 60 hours a week. But math aside, this is clearly a horrific scenario where now you're forcing people who could have gotten the work done in 40 hours, or 50 hours, to work overtime in order to earn the compensation they think they deserve. If you told me today that I could do a postdoc for $11.81 an hour but I'd be able to work as much overtime as I wanted I would find a job somewhere else. Also, you'd run into minimum wage issues in certain places in the U.S.

    If grad students were eligible for this (one has to then make the case that getting a Bachelor's is sufficient to qualify as a "long course of specialized instruction" which it probably is) then universities could simply raise tuition, as tuition paid for by the PI counts as compensation to the grad student. It's also worth mentioning that many GSs teach quite a bit, and qualifying as a teacher makes them exempt at any level of compensation.

    I think the trainee issue is worth looking into. I'm going to peruse the law/regulations and see what it has to say about trainees, apprentices, and contractors.

  • neuromusic says:

    @qaz -

    The DoL has specifically exempted graduate students from overtime because of the nature of the "student" relationship.

    The "Field Operations Handbook" (http://www.dol.gov/whd/FOH/FOH_Ch10.pdf) actually specifically clarifies the DoL position on graduate students...

    In some cases graduate students in colleges and universities are engaged in research in the course of obtaining advanced degrees and the research is performed under the supervision of a member of the faculty in a research environment provided by the institution under a grant or contract. Normally the graduate students involved in these programs are simultaneously performing research under the grants or contracts and fulfilling the requirements of an advanced degree. Under such circumstances, WH will not assert an employee-employer relationship between the students and the school, or between the student and the grantor or contracting agency, even though the student receives a stipend for their services under the grant or contract.

    TL;DR - there is not an employee-employer relationship because GSs are pursuing an advanced degree.

    This handbook was last updated in 1993 (when, I'm told, there were far fewer postdocs than there are now. I wouldn't know. I was learning to write cursive, read chapter books, and memorize my times tables back then). If you read the Rule proposal from Monday closely, you'll see that the DoL wants to revise this handbook. Business owners have asked for more clarification on how the DoL will interpret the existing law with regards to specific occupations. Part of what the DoL is soliciting in the comment period is examples of specific occupations that the DoL should clarify in the new handbook.

    I really really hope that there is a line for "postdocs" in the new handbook.

  • neuromusic says:

    Doing the math, this means a postdoc's salary would have to be $24,564, or $11.81 an hour in order to make $43k for a year working 60 hours a week.

    Or...

    Doing the math, this means a current first year postdoc working 60 hours a week and getting paid the NIH's standard salary of $43k is making $11.81 an hour for the first 40 hours and $17.72 for the last 20.

  • jipkin says:

    What the current rules say about trainees:

    § 541.705 Trainees.
    The executive, administrative, professional,
    outside sales and computer
    employee exemptions do not apply to
    employees training for employment in
    an executive, administrative, professional,
    outside sales or computer employee
    capacity who are not actually
    performing the duties of an executive,
    administrative, professional, outside
    sales or computer employee.

    A fair reading of this to me does not include postdocs as trainees. Even if you assume that they are training to become PIs, they are doing so by actually performing those duties. They learn to write grants by writing grants. They learn to manage people by managing people.

  • jipkin says:

    And actually that rule means that if postdocs ARE called trainees then they are non-exempt at ANY salary point. Which is interesting.

  • jipkin says:

    What if universities/institutions decide to call all postdocs independent contractors?

    Based on how "employer-employee" relationships are defined by DoL, this seems like a highly dubious strategy. From this DoL fact sheet: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs13.htm

    "In order for the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime provisions to apply to a worker, the worker must be an “employee” of the employer, meaning that an employment relationship must exist between the worker and the employer. The FLSA defines “employ” as including to “suffer or permit to work”, representing the broadest definition of employment under the law because it covers work that the employer directs or allows to take place. Applying the FLSA’s definition, workers who are economically dependent on the business of the employer, regardless of skill level, are considered to be employees, and most workers are employees. On the other hand, independent contractors are workers with economic independence who are in business for themselves."

    Somehow I don't think universities are going to get away with claiming that postdocs have economic independence and "are in business for themselves." There's much more in that link which makes it pretty clear that defining postdocs as contractors would be legally tenuous.

  • physioprof says:

    Universities will go along with whatever the Feds decide, and will not engage in any kind of questionable shenanigans. They will pass the increased costs along to laboratory budgets (as they do for everything else now). This is why increasing year 0 post-doc salaries to $50,000 per year (and almost certainly propagating those increases upwards in the years-of-experience scale) means fewer post-docs can be employed: less hires and more lay-offs.

    I find it bizarre that acknowledging simple arithmetic is viewed as "punching down".

  • jipkin says:

    My hypothesis is that people infer others' opinions based on the tone of what they say as much as the content. So maybe that's might be why you and DM tend to get accused of things.

    It should also be noted that fewer jobs for post-docs isn't the end of the story. One imagines that the pressure on small laboratories, especially those just starting up, will be worse than that on large labs. A big lab can afford to fire a couple post-docs and keep on trucking, presumably.

  • Science Grunt says:

    It's punching down because you're in a position of power and you are employing a condescending tone. As a good comrade you should be familiar with the lingo.

    This scenario is like an union negotiation scenario and you are the middle manager saying "well guys, if you get a raise, some of you will be laid off". Yes, that is also acknowledging simple arithmetic. But fuck off. We aren't asking PIs to individually increase postdoc pay (or a stable science career). We're asking NIH and universities to do so. Yes it will go through the PI but, as you mentioned, you'll conform with university policies anyway.

    So if postdocs are trying to adjust NIH and university policy, why do you care?

  • drugmonkey says:

    It's punching down because you're in a position of power and you are employing a condescending tone.

    Are you sure about that dumbass?

  • Juan Lopez says:

    Science Grunt. You tell CPP to "fuk off", and ask why PIs care "if postdocs are trying to adjust NIH and university policy"?

    I thought you were only naive. Now I know it's much deeper. You sure look setup for a stable career indeed.

  • Science Grunt says:

    Are we going to argue about the semantics of punching down? Well it comes from boxing, right? Punching down is beating someone from lower weight class. In comedy, punching down is mocking someone that is in a weaker position and is one explanation to why some jokes can generate discontent, even when they are funny. People will take mockery of their kind if it is coming from a peer but not when it's coming from a superior.

    But perhaps you're arguing that PP isn't in a position of power relative to PDs on this issue. That is strictly true. But I stand by the assertion that people are pissed at Physioproffe more because of his mocking of people ("giddy postdocs don't know they'll be fired LOL") than from his assertion of mathematics. If all he wanted was to enlighten us, he could have chosen a different rhetoric "be careful what you wish for" instead.

  • Science Grunt says:

    @Juan Stop profsplaining.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Ok, SG gets a LOL for "profsplaining".

  • jipkin says:

    Serious questions from a Naive Underling:

    (1) For those of you with techs paid under the exemption line, what will it mean to the productivity of your lab when your University implements a policy forcing you to track their hours?

    (2) Assuming the new minimum salary for postdocs is 50,400, does this make a significant or marginal dent in the number of people any given grant can support?

    (3) If answer to (2) is yes, then does this mean that small town grocers are going to take a bigger hit to their productivity than big labs?

    (4) If answer to (3) is yes then then doesn't this make it even harder for small town grocers to acquire new grants?

    (5) If all of that is true, then what does this suggest about how a reduced population of science labor affects the distribution of lab sizes? Note that this is a generically applicable question to all Cull scenarios as well.

    (6) What should the distribution of lab sizes look like, and what policies do funding agencies need to pursue in order to reach or maintain this distribution given substantial increases to the cost of labor?

  • MoBio says:

    @jipkin

    Clearly if one is required to pay more than is currently budgeted the $$ has to come from someplace. It won't come from the NIH (e.g. a supplement) nor from the University so it will likely come from the parent grant.

    I think most anyone can quickly run the numbers in their own lab and see how this will affect things.

    FWIW I'm in favor of increasing PD wages and for me this would likely mean way less travel and probably decreasing supply/animal budget for each trainee.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    So your issue is PP's rhetorical style. You don't come here often, do you?

  • […] of new overtime rules for non-exempt employees making less than $50,000 per year. Apparently some postdocs have interpreted this to mean that either a) they’re in for a windfall of overtime pay or b) they’re going to get […]

  • […] a discussion about whether the Department of Labor’s proposed expansion of overtime eligibility will raise […]

  • […] a discussion about whether or not the Division of Labor’s proposed expansion of overtime eligibility will […]

  • […] will be getting a raise – Justin Kiggins – The Spectroscope and Will Obama’s revamp of the overtime rules mean postdocs are paid more? – […]

  • jmz4gtu says:

    It looks like Standford may be anticipating overtime laws moving to incorporate postdocs below the 49.5k range:

    http://postdocs.stanford.edu/handbook/salary.html#fund

    I wonder if this is going to cause a ruckus with the newly minted 4th year postdocs?

  • Jon says:

    40 hours a week? Hah

  • DNAdrinker says:

    Francis Collins on the postdoc overtime issue:

    > we are working with the Department of Labor on the postdoc overtime issue; we are strongly supportive of postdoc fellow and want to achieve an outcome that is fair to the incredible work they do.

    https://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/4gcwwy/science_ama_series_i_am_francis_collins_current/d2gmrtp

  • drugmonkey says:

    Nice sentiment. How is he planning to pay for it?

  • jmz4 says:

    That sounds like a dodge to me. My guess is the university lobbies will make sure postdocs are largely exempted from this law for at least the next few years. Although most postdoc associations and unions seem ready to sue if they do, which given the length of time this can be tied up in the courts, will achieve largely the same effect.

  • DNAdrinker says:

    I read it as "working with the Department of Labor" means we are asking to exempt postdocs from the new rules.

    Then he says "strongly supportive of postdoc fellows . . ." meaning we can't live without them, but we can't afford to pay them that much.

  • DNAdrinker says:

    Here's the Department of Labor guidance for higher education

    Short version: https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/overtime-highereducation.pdf
    Long version: https://www.dol.gov/whd/overtime/final2016/highered-guidance.pdf

    By my quick read, it looks like its possible to "pay" overtime to postdocs in comp time, but only at public institutions (UCLA could do it, but not Stanford). If you pay with comp time, it has to be 1.5 hours of comp time per overtime hour.

    Another loophole, if postdocs teach they would be exempt. . . OK, prepare for an onslaught of classes in laboratory techniques required of graduate students taught by postdocs.

  • jmz4 says:

    I won't benefit from this change, but I fail to see any compelling reasons why postdocs' employers should be exempt from the new regulations.
    That being said, this will be very tricky and messy to implement, and probably result in a lot of frustration on all sides.

  • jmz4 says:

    I'd be very interested in hearing how the US PIs' departments are reacting, if at all to this news.

  • jipkin says:

    At my university:

    It seems they've been caught unawares (somehow?) by this coming rule change. At least one administration person has said they expect PIs to keep salaries the same and let the exemption status change instead (from exempt to non-exempt). No word at all on what the hourly tracking mechanism would be.

    Here's an excerpt from a friend's university email about the subject:

    "What could this mean for me?

    Depending upon your current annual salary and the new threshold for overtime, it could mean that your payroll status may change from exempt to non-exempt and potentially you may be required to keep track of your time worked with payroll subject to supervisor approval."

    This trend worries me.

    It's not unexpected that universities will seek the path of least resistance. But if they leave everything up to the PI and the employee they're leaving themselves liable for some serious legal issues with noncompliance. PIs have an incentive to get the most work possible out of a postdoc. Nonexempt postdocs will be incentivized to work as much as exempt postdocs in order to compete. There is considerable cultural inertia. All of these factors could contribute to a maintenance of a (soon to be illegal) status quo. And then what happens when someone has an at-work accident at a time of day they weren't supposed to be in lab? What happens when a postdoc with family needs sues the university for allowing a work environment to persist in which the unsaid expectation is that nonexempt postdocs continue to work uncompensated overtime?

    I think the better solution is that the university themselves enforces - strictly - the hour requirements. Does that mean someone doing spot checks by walking into each lab at 5-6 pm and making sure people are going home, or checking when they clocked in? It honestly might for a few years until all labs can adjust to the new postdoc base salary.

  • DNAdrinker says:

    There's some loopholes in the guidelines:

    1. You can "pay" overtime to postdocs in comp time, but only at public institutions (UCLA could do it, but not Stanford). If you pay with comp time, it has to be 1.5 hours of comp time per overtime hour.

    2. If postdocs teach they would be exempt. . . OK, prepare for an onslaught of classes in laboratory techniques required of graduate students taught by postdocs.

    3. You can agree to overtime! Here's the example they give:

    Example: Jamie, an HR manager at a university, earns a fixed salary of $44,200 per year ($850
    per week) for a 50 hour workweek. The salary does not include the overtime premium. Because
    the salary is for 50 hours per week, Jaime’s regular rate is $17 ($850/50). In a normal 50 hour week,
    the employer would pay Jamie the additional half time overtime premium for the 10 hours of overtime ($8.50 per hour). If Jamie worked more than 50 hours in a week, the employer would also owe overtime compensation at time and a half the regular rate ($17 x 1.5) for hours beyond 50 (because the salary does not cover any payment for those hours).

    This information is from "Guidance for Higher Education Institutions on Paying Overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act" I posted a link in another message, but it got stuck in the moderation queue until DM wakes up from his midday nap or whatever he's doing.

  • jipkin says:

    Thanks for info.

    Trying to wrap my head around a world in which the PI states that to work in their lab you must agree to a 50-60 hour work week in writing... Somewhere out there the Kerns of the world are gleefully rubbing their hands together.

  • neuromusic says:

    Comp time will make things easier, but it can really only be used for incidental overtime. On average, they'd still need to be at 40hrs/wk.

    More "Teaching Postdocs" is a fair prediction.

    For the "Jamie" example, note that the employer is still paying OT for the 10 hours beyond 40.

    That said, Jamie could get her salary cut on Dec 1 so that the math still works out including the OT and she takes home the same pay even though she's technically getting overtime now.

  • neuromusic says:

    The examples in that guide are clear: the employee can agree to a salary an >40 hours but they still get OT for anything beyond 40.

  • neuromusic says:

    If my math is right....

    Say PD has 45,000 salary and works 50hrs/wk

    PI could force them to take a pay cut to 40,909 salary then pay them OT for the remaining 10 hrs and their total income would stay the same.

  • DrabDoc says:

    Actually, that example is not clear. It states that Jamie has a fixed salary of $850 per week for 50 hours of work per week, or $17 and hour. It then goes on to say, " The salary does not include the overtime premium. Because the salary is for 50 hours per week"

    OK, so Jamie is paid $17 per hour for 50 hours per week. No overtime.

    Example then states, " In a normal 50 hour week,
    the employer would pay Jamie the additional half time overtime premium for the 10 hours of overtime ($8.50 per hour)."

    Is that meant to read, "In a normal *40* hour week," or is it meant to imply that a, "normal 50 hour week" would include 10 hours of overtime over 40 but Jamie's schedule does not because 50 hours in contractual?

  • DNAdrinker says:

    More from that same document

    It is also possible for an employer and employee to agree to a fixed salary for a workweek of more than 40 hours, in which the salary includes overtime compensation under certain conditions. If, however, the employee’s schedule changes in any way during any week (either by working more or fewer hours), the employer must adjust the salary for that week. Employees must be paid based on the hours actually worked during each workweek. This method of paying for overtime, therefore, might be most helpful for employees who consistently work the same amount of overtime every week.

    So, it sounds like you could just say I'm paying you $40,000 for 60 hours/week. But you need to be sure they work 60 hours/week and not more.

  • neuromusic says:

    It helps to have the full paragraph preceding the Jamie example:

    Employers also have the option of paying a straight time
    salary for more than 40 hours in a week for employees
    who regularly work more than 40 hours, and paying
    overtime in addition to the salary. Using this method,
    the employer will only be required to pay an additional
    half time overtime premium for overtime hours already
    included within the salary, and time and a half for hours
    beyond those included in the salary.

    So salary for X hours, from which you back calculate hourly rate and compensate an additional 0.5x rate for hours over 40 that have already been compensated within the salary and 1.5x for anything over the "normal" negotiated weekly hours.

    So in Jamie's typical 50hr week, she gets her salary for the 50 hours plus "the employer would pay Jamie the additional half time overtime premium for the 10 hours of overtime ($8.50 per hour)."

  • neuromusic says:

    @DNAdrinker - no. read the example after this. there is still OT compensation over 40 hours.

    Andre, a college admissions counselor, has
    an agreement with his college where he is paid a
    fixed salary of $39,520 year ($760 per week) for a
    45 hour workweek. The fixed salary includes both
    straight time for the first 40 hours ($16 regular rate
    x 40 hours) and overtime compensation for hours
    41-45 ($24 overtime rate x 5 hours)
    . If Andre’s
    schedule changes in any way for any week, his salary
    needs to be adjusted for that week to reflect the
    hours actually worked.

    An employee can't just sign away their right to overtime pay.

    These examples are just simply clarifying how the OT regulations apply to salaried employees which are below the exemption cutoff. They still aren't exempt.

  • DrabDoc says:

    How is half-time premium for hours already in the contract over 40 different from time and a half for those over the contractual amount? 50 hours at $17 an hour plus 10 hours of $8.50 an hour half-time premium (total $935) is the same as $17 an hour for 40 hours ($680) plus time and a half ($25.5) for 10 hours (total $935). They are mathematically identical, so what's the point?

  • neuromusic says:

    They are mathematically identical. That is the point. DoL is clarifying that they aren't forcing salaried employees to become hourly employees or 50 hour employees to become 40 hour employees. They are clarifying how the OT requirements work under a variety of salary/hours scenarios.

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