The stuff a liberal arts college education stamps out of you (if you still need it)

Jul 08 2015 Published by under #FWDAOTI, Academics

A: "Strong assertion that this thing should be so!"

B: "What is the basis for your assertion?"

A: "hmmmina..hummina....umm WHAT IS THE BASIS FOR YOUR COUNTER CLAIM????"

I weep for science some days people. I really do.

28 responses so far

  • Emily says:

    Here's what I weep about.
    Funding in sci right now is shit. This affects labs and individuals from all levels, from "volunteering" undergrads to PIs who are forced to close their labs. In the middle of this system are postdocs, who many agree there are way too many of, so the bottleneck squeezes on them very hard, probably more than others. PD conditions evolved as "training" conditions, as in many other lines of work, where a low salary, longer hours, no pension plan, no negotiation position and overall low compensation are a long-term investment which balances out with the relative stability as a tenured faculty down the line. While the chances for the latter have dived down to about 5-10%, the conditions have stayed the same. As a result, thousands of people are essentially being used and thrown out by the system.
    But this is not why I weep.
    I weep because when you complain here on a weekly basis about this or that NIH funding policy, you expect and get solidarity from your fellow scientists, many of them PDs or young PIs. I don't recall anybody posing you the "question" of "why complain and not close up shop? why do you feel worthy of leading a lab? who says you deserve a cent more from the NIH than what you get?". And the reason is, most people understand we're all in this same shitty boat together. The sad thing is that when it doesn't affect you personally, but rather people lower than you in the hierarchy, solidarity goes out the window. Suddenly demand for better pay is attributed to being entitled and spoiled.
    You can think that a PD does not deserve any more than he/she currently gets, but don't count on my support the next time you whine about the BSDs/oldies getting more than you think they should.

  • drugmonkey says:

    In reality we do not get "solidarity" with my preferred solutions or pet whines at all. If you think that is so, you are not reading carefully.

    What really happens is we fight out our respective nuances and positions and in doing so we illuminate the issue broadly. Giving many good rationales and talking points (and strategies) for all who are listening to deploy as they see fit.

    I recommend you view the current discussion in a similar light.

  • Emily says:

    I believe you that is how you feel. But trust me, for us PDs and maybe others you just seem like switching at your personal convenience between claiming to fight for the good of the sci community and between sectorially fighting down ppl at weaker positions. Looks really bad, just fyi.

  • drugmonkey says:

    claiming to fight

    I claim to do nothing other than write a blog and host discussion of interest to the conduct of science and occasionally drug abuse science. The rest of that stuff my readers paste onto me from their own individual perspectives. Consequently they are almost invariably wrong in some particular or other.

    Looks really bad, just fyi.

    I really don't care, just fyi.

  • Dave says:

    @Emily: you're on shaky ground attacking DM for not fighting for the scientific community. Seriously. This blog, and people like CPP etc, have done more to prepare me for an academic career than most fuckers at my institution, who dish out stock advice that is detached from the funding reality. Trust me. I'm sure there are many here that feel the same way. You might not like some of the things that are said here, but you have to understand that everyone has a view that is based on their own perspective and circumstance. You're a PD, so you see it one way, and that's totally understandable. But not everyone is going to agree with you, or see it from the same angle. You should be used to that as a PD by now.

    Stop throwing your toys out of the pram and just enjoy the debate.

  • Since DoucheMonkey has a much greater tendency than I to be oblique, I'll say this flat out: What many people sometimes lose sight of is the long-standing and frequent use of hyperbole by DM and CPP as a very useful rhetorical device to establish one or another endpoint of a range of possible outcomes/policies/etc.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Alternate hypothesis- you presented your questions similar to a poop poker- very critically, without directly and immediately stating your side, knowing or should have known that the other side might simply conclude you were contrary instead of just opaque. Then when the inevitable over-twitteraction happened, right in the old trap teaching moment. Huzzah!

  • Emily says:

    CPP- if that's "flat out" I don't know what oblique is

    Dave- I don't really get the point of your comment. If you support DMs view (or "question") in this case- just go ahead and say so. Me, I find it disappointing that instead of fighting TOGETHER as a scientific community for the improvement of the PD situation, on this issue DM takes a divisive stand. I see no difference in fighting for increasing the NIH budget, fighting for a larger share of the pie for younger PIs, and fighting for reasonable conditions for PDs.
    If you're happy with how it is- fine, but please spare me your Stockholm Syndrome preaching.

  • drugmonkey says:

    instead of fighting TOGETHER as a scientific community for the improvement of the PD situation

    Is raising the salary of postdoctoral fellows the best, obvious and un-pitfalled route to improving the PD situation?

  • physioprof says:

    Even more flat out: Neither DM nor CPP are "taking a stand". Perhaps it would be easier for you to think of it as "exploring the parameter space"?

  • Emily says:

    In my opinion, that combined with reducing numbers of PDs and GSs. What's yours?

  • Anonymous says:

    "Stop throwing your toys out of the pram and just enjoy the debate."

    Oh, that's really classy, Dave! What a mensch you are!

  • physioprof says:

    Can you accept that sometimes some people have good reasons not to express their "opinion"?

  • Emily says:

    yes

  • physioprof says:

    Then why are you obsessing over what DM's "opinion" is? He is just one single schmuck with a blogge.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    ^Ditto to Dave's response.

    "I weep because when you complain here on a weekly basis about this or that NIH funding policy, you expect and get solidarity from your fellow scientists, many of them PDs or young PIs."
    -Actually, I think DM's (and others') advice and complaints regarding grants are cynical as a result of realism and pragmatism. This is in contrast to most people complaining about funding, who don't even acknowledge that more money is both unlikely and will not fix the underlying problems. Peopon this blog seem to have internalized that message, so it is often not outright stated. But we mostly all come from a rather unidealistic stance of "more funding would be nice, but, if we are going to cut...", much to Quaz's annoyance (who advocates for advocating for more funding).

    Perhaps this is why you seem to see it as "sectarian fighting", since an acknowledgement of constrained resources necessitates finding some places to trim, which means fingers will be pointed. Again, this is in contrast to people that think PIs can just make money appear in their budgets from ... somewhere. However, this finger-pointing response is so predictable, there's a term in the glossary: "Do it to Julia". As much as we try to avoid it, it is inevitable that our current position and experiences color our suggestions on what needs to be fixed most urgently.

    Trust me, I'm a postdoc and I've been engaging in these discussions for two years now. I started out believing increasing postdoc salaries was the most important thing that could be done to promote stability in the workforce. I still do, in some ways. However, it is way more complicated than it seems when you start digging through actual data, and understanding how things are funded, and where money goes.

  • Philapodia says:

    "What many people sometimes lose sight of is the long-standing and frequent use of hyperbole by DM and CPP as a very useful rhetorical device to establish one or another endpoint of a range of possible outcomes/policies/etc."

    Not a single expletive? Are you feeling well?

  • drugmonkey says:

    that combined with reducing numbers of PDs and GSs. What's yours?

    ah, but we are not discussing "combined with" solutions to multiple variables that the Boss of All Science can wave into being. I've said pretty explicitly that I think the least painful way forward is to sharply decrease production rate. I don't get into it so directly but I also think we need to control foreign postdoc labor exploitation as well. dropping the labor pool is a core element, if we assume there is no political will for massive budget increases.

    If all we do is continue to raise PD salaries with no decrease in PD numbers or increase in the grant budget we end in disaster. We continue onward to a position in which the entire enterprise spins its wheels keeping people employed without the wherewithal to accomplish science. That's a bad end game.

    So, in my estimation any discussion of raising PD salaries needs to come with the discussion of the other parts, and action on those other parts. Or we kill the golden goose of NIH extramural research.

    schmuck

    watch it.

    an acknowledgement of constrained resources necessitates finding some places to trim, which means fingers will be pointed. Again, this is in contrast to people that think PIs can just make money appear in their budgets from ... somewhere.

    exactly. It is necessary to follow your plans all the way down and to place them in reality space rather than MagicUnicornFairyLeprechaunGold space. My view is that it is irresponsible not to have some clear idea on who you are pointing the finger at when you propose some new "fix".

    As my readers know, I point one finger at those undergraduates who would like some day to be a PhD scientist and say "sorry, you are the ones getting hosed. go find some other career." And I point another finger at those PIs who are post-normal-retirement age and tap my toe expectantly. I'm sure I can think of more targets but those are the ones that come up most frequently. (and of course I have to reserve my middle finger to respond to PP who is pointing at me)

  • Philapodia says:

    " an acknowledgement of constrained resources necessitates finding some places to trim, which means fingers will be pointed. Again, this is in contrast to people that think PIs can just make money appear in their budgets from ... somewhere."

    I think this a key difference in viewpoint between PDs and PIs. Post-docs should be focused on learning new technique, publishing good papers, and building their career. Most PDs don't have to think much (if at all) about allocating financial and scientific resources, thinking strategically multiple-years out about staffing/space allocation/biosafety:IRB:IACUC approvals, trying to make sure that all of your people can be paid as well as yourself (esp. if you're soft money), writing multiple grants/year, ect. It's a big balancing act that is hard to do well. I don't think anyone here is trying to abuse post-docs by paying them dirt-wages, we're just trying to make due with very limited resources. Forums like this bring issues like PD wages to the forefront and get a discussion going, which hopefully will result in better conditions for PDs in the long run.

  • Ola says:

    I'm late to this post, but it appears that herein DM has demonstrated once again his absolute mastery in the art of the "sub-blog". The rest of us have to make do with sub-tweeting.

  • Overpaid postdoc. says:

    "I don't get into it so directly but I also think we need to control foreign postdoc labor exploitation as well."

    Hey now. Us foreign postdocs (at least where I'm from) are just fine being exploited, thanks very much. For those of us who don't make the jump to faculty in the US, we come here, earn a decent wage for a few years, get a bunch of papers, and then go back home to cushy jobs as the top-frog in our little pond. Good deal! Over the previous two years as a postdoc earning in the low to mid 40s, I've saved what, back home, counts as a downpayment on a house. Please keep exploiting me!

    I do feel sorry for my fellow US postdocs who can only bail into industry positions, and not into a *different* academia - one where we actually get grants to do research, and not the other way around.

  • imager says:

    Provocative thought - lets raise postdoc salaries. This will lead to an exodus of postdocs from the science pool as the current number of postdoc positions will not be sustainable any more (heck, it barely is currently). Now, who will be leaving? Of course the bottom feeder, those postdocs who are already on the brink. Will they find employment elsewhere? Probably not as they were not the best ones to start with. So they will migrate to industry - if lucky - or drive cabs, who knows. Sort of an increased evolutionary pressure with survival of the best. Less PIs in the long run so more money for the remaining PIs. Cheers all around.
    Do I think this is a good solution - no but I am sure that something alike that scenario will happen (except maybe the last bit) if salaries are going up significantly.

  • imager says:

    Hey overpaid postdoc - pray, what country would that be? The one "where we actually get grants to do research, and not the other way around"? Where milk and honey are flowing down the rivers with beaches of sugar? My peers in my original home country seem to have it currently worse than us here in the US of A

  • chemicalbilology says:

    I heard through multiple direct grapevines that postdocs get a pretty damn sweet deal in Switzerland (IF they can get a position--that's the smaller labor pool part). But then, Switzerland's government science funding comes from potentially yucky historical sources, so there's that.

  • Dennis Eckmeier says:

    "I weep for science some days people. I really do."

    I got 99 problems with academia, but this ain't one.

  • Dennis Eckmeier says:

    "Us foreign postdocs (at least where I'm from) are just fine being exploited, thanks very much. For those of us who don't make the jump to faculty in the US, we come here, earn a decent wage for a few years, get a bunch of papers, and then go back home to cushy jobs as the top-frog in our little pond. Good deal! Over the previous two years as a postdoc earning in the low to mid 40s, I've saved what, back home, counts as a downpayment on a house. Please keep exploiting me!"

    'Us' foreign postdocs?! 'Some' foreign postdocs come from high income countries. I down-graded when it comes to quality of life, and what I've gotten out of this certainly doesn't give me an awesome middle class life or an academic job where I'm from.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    @Emily - Attacking DM as double faced and self serving is ridiculous.
    DM's blog, and comments from Potnia, CPP, Ola, Dave, etc. have had a definitive effect on my career. I owe them a lot. They have been my career mentors, from early PD to funded PI. It would have been much more difficult without them. Thanks!

    This doesn't mean I agree with everything they say. I sure don't.

  • jh says:

    @chemicalbilology:
    Compared to most other countries, salaries and the standard of living in Switzerland are high, and this also holds for academia. In my experience one can live quite decently off even a grad student's salary and even more so as postdoc (definitely if you have no kids). But of course the gap to industry is there and it's quite sizable.

    So even starting from this "not so bad" level, the Swiss government (or main government funding bodies) has recognized in the last few years a need to improve postdocs' working conditions, including salary. If a postdoc is funded through government grants, the salary can now approach entry-level industry positions at the Masters or PhD level.

    Apparently one reason for this push for improved working conditions is that the funding bodies are seeing that less and less Swiss PhDs want to continue as postdocs and instead the universities are full of foreign researchers who leave the country again after some time and take their knowledge and added value with them. My guess is that for the Swiss the deciding factors are the salary gap to industry and all the other issues with academia (e.g. discussed on this blog); whereas for foreigners working here as a postdoc is a pretty good deal.

    As for funding sources, most of research in Switzerland is funded through taxes, so I'm not sure what you mean by "yucky historical sources".

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