Sigma Whatever: part II
Ugh, Worked 13 solid hours today, and have another day of potentially infinite length tomorrow. I think my hourly wage this week is significantly less than the $14.95 quoted in the report.
Okay, whatever, we're not in it for the money. That's news.
But the part where postdocs can supposedly
focus on research without having to teach or be burdened with administrative responsibilities... freedom from ancillary responsibilities enables these scientists to be tremendously productive
This is in the 2nd paragraph, and it's COMPLETE BULLSHIT. I'm sure there are some postdocs, somewhere- maybe in Howard Hughes land?- who don't have to train graduate students and technicians, do ordering, write their own or their PI's grants, attend meetings about policy and safety....
I'm not sure these spoiled brats really exist in significant numbers as postdocs, but somehow they all magically appear when it's time to snatch up the few available faculty positions. How that does work??
I was surprised that Molecular and Cellular Biology have more postdocs than any other field, and that Developmental Biology, for example, has so few. What's up with that?
I always assumed that the kinds of biology that tend to take longer (say, waiting for mice to grow) might require more years to complete X # required publications to get a job. So it would stand to reason that the 'slower' kinds of biology would have more postdocs, not less. But according to these numbers, that's not true. Does that mean Developmental is just a really un-popular field right now?
More frightening claims made in the report:
Women with children report working almost six fewer hours per week in the lab than their childless peers, whereas for men the reduction associated with parenting is only three hours per week. This difference may explain part of the 10-percent disparity in publication rates between men and women, something observed both in our survey and in previous studies.
OH. MY. GOD.
I couldn't believe the way they said this. Don't they have any conscience whatsoever?
And, I find it very interesting that already at the postdoc level- does anyone know if this is true in grad school- women have fewer papers than men do.
Since only 1/3 of postdocs have children, this seems to imply that most female postdocs have children-?
Has anyone really done any kind of correlation analysis on whether women with children have fewer papers than women without children? This is all so Larry Summers to me. Somebody should check the actual data for the survey (I don't have time right now!).
In general, what bothers me the most is fundamental contradiction in the way the report is written:
On the one hand, supposedly postdocs are complaining that they need more guidance. I think what we really mean when we say 'guidance' is in terms of how to deal with having a boss and getting our next jobs. I don't think we need more guidance in the lab. Yet postdocs also report that they have very little freedom to set up their own collaborations, terminating failing projects, write papers, or determine authorship on papers. This would imply that postdocs are not, as the report suggests, flailing in the wind with no direction and too much freedom.
On the contrary, the survey results strongly support the notion that far too many postdocs are being treated like SuperTechs far too much of the time.
Finally, and I should get going here because it's late and I'm exhausted (but pissed off!!!), the Hypotheses they list at the end for whether structured oversight, their main proposal, is a solution.
Hypothesis 1: Structured oversight would make postdocs happier.
Huh? The more rational among us realize that in a broken system, instituting more systematic control is NOT the solution. We have to THROW THE WHOLE SYSTEM OUT AND START OVER.
Hypothesis 2: Structured positions attract people who like structure.
Okay, this statement by itself makes sense. Then they go on to say something that I can't interpret, because it's a totally nonsense run-on sentence. Can someone please translate convoluted run-on into English? From what I can make of it, they say Hypothesis 2 makes no sense, and that they 'tested it', but I can't see how they possibly could prove this statement wrong, since it's a very logical statement.
If anything, I think more structure will do exactly that: attract people who like rules and classes and being told what to do. Is this good for science?
I think not.
Hypothesis 3: Structured oversight, satisfaction and productivity are all associated with a common, unobserved, underlying cause.
HELL YEAH. And it would have been OBSERVED if they had analyzed the survey data correctly.
I'm 90% certain that if the responses to every question were analyzed for gender and race, they would find great evidence that satisfaction among young white guys correlates highly with being in well-funded labs, predominantly headed by old white guys.
Satisfaction among everyone else is pretty low.
Oh and I LOVE their suggestion that NSF or NIH "could" require research plans and formal feedback "of a randomly selected subset of fellowship recipients."
NIH already requires progress reports for fellowships, just like for Real Grants. PIs don't read them or make them an occasion for more formal feedback than usual. And random checks? Give me a break.
Either institute some accountability for PIs, or don't bother.
We should build something into R01 review requiring that PIs help place their postdocs in gainful employment of some kind.
I don't think forcing postdocs to attend more classes to make up for their PI's complete lack of mentoring is the solution.