Monday, October 30, 2006

Sigma Why?? Constructive Critique of the Summary Report on National Postdoc Survey

Oddly, although my university at the time was one of those that participated in this survey , I only found out the summary report was released because a friend of a friend forwarded it along (his university did not participate).

Some numbers that caught my eye as potentially useful

Number of postdocs in the US...............>50,000 people

Percent federally funded..........69% (not divided into R01 vs. fellowship)

Percent in life or health sciences.........74%

Percent of all postdocs who are women.........42% (most are married and American)

Percent of life and health sciences postdocs who are women........46%

Percent of respondents who report being 'satisfied overall with their current experience'............70%

Number of postdocs surveyed.........~22,000

Number of respondents............~7,600

Reason cited by authors for quick response.........Disgruntlement

Reason cited by authors for non response..........Postdocs too busy being happy

Main conclusion.................Postdocs need more Formal Training.

My suggestion................. GIVE US ACTUAL TRAINING IN GRAD SCHOOL.


Detailed discussion of these and other fun facts to follow, hopefully tomorrow. Please stay tuned. Or, send rants via comments section.

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At 11:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Formal training for PostDocs? And what next? Paying tuition? In my opinion, formal training is for undergrad studies, a little of it for grad studies, but a postdoc is a scientist, not a student.

At 1:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great writing. I stumbled on your blog while searching for something completely different....and stayed here. Have been following the comments for some time
I feel the concept of a Post Doc, while great in theory, has been extrapolated to an extent that they form the basis for the science (specifically life sciences) related business model. I mean, look at other fields....progress is certainly being made at a rapid pace, and they don't necessarily treat their employees badly. I am engineer working on a bleeding edge communications technology. What I do could be called research. They are being patented, and in some cases published, and in almost all cases turned into useful products. They take care of me pretty well. Even comparing apples to apples....Computer Science / Electrical / Mechanical engineering faculty do not typically have a post doc experience. My prof at grad school finished his PhD in 5 years and became a faculty and obtained tenure in 6 years. Whereas another brilliant friend of mine, intelligent by any standards, spent 7 years on a PhD and is in the 4th year of her post doc and hopeless.
One reason for this whole mess, I feel, is the barrier to entry in sciences (relatively speaking) is low. When I went to grad school for Engineering, I was in the 99th percentile on GRE (general). Let's not go into the subject test...but assuming that is an indicator of somthing (like IQ, if you believe in such a thing), I think Life sciences institutes have a lower standard for recruitment. This in turn 'allows' people with goody-goody ideas like curing cancer but incapable of get in....and with a glut of people with moderate to low calibre in the field. This pool of primarily substandard candidates publish nonsense or research of questionable value. Hey! what the hell...the moron XYZ university published two more journal papers than you. This muddles the grounds for merit and meritorious/ truly dedicated people like Ms. Phd (could) get stuck.... because from what I hear, it is not just what you do scientifically, but also what you do socially..networking, politics, grants etc. So a moronic slogger could end up as a faculty... I seriously doubt if some of these idiots who end up as faculty are capable of doing anything at all.
Combine this with a corporate/government conspiracy to keep wages low....demand/supply ration low. But then again, 'low' pay is different for different people. Some statistics say that at leat 50% of grad students/ Postdocs are not U.S citizens. Where do they come from...Russia/Eastern bloc, China, India.....where people would give an arm and a leg to get $30K per anum. So they are happy! This further fuels the pyramid scheme. Ridiculous.....I think the 70% who responded to the survey saying they are enjoying their life doing what they want are kidding themselves....Nothing short of a great revolution would help things change....Have more to say..probably things you already know....

But in the short term good luck to Ms. PhD.

I will back to post more rants....but would like to apologize for any offence in the above comments...ignorance could be the reason....

At 6:10 AM, Blogger Dr. Brazen Hussy said...

The salary is what really gets me - less than the median salary for people with bachelor's degrees. Apparently we make about the same wage as janitors at Harvard.

At 9:06 AM, Anonymous jf.scientist said...

Too busy being... HAPPY????

Ha ha ha ha ha.

And I don't know where they got their figures on women, but when I looked in NSF report, it was more like 38%. I also calculated- from those numbers- that women are, proportionally to rates of receiving PhDs, only 80% as abundant as male postdocs.

As far as I'm concerned, the whole thing is indentured servitude.

At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a bit surprised that 70% are happy overall with their experience. Also surprised that there are less women than men, as I was outnumbered hugely in grad school, not only in my program but also in every recruiting visit I made to other schools. I imagine this survey includes all types of postdocs, not just biomedical science types. All those physical sciences postdocs making 90,000 a year must be skewing the results!

At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous Engineering 99th percentile dude:

A lot of what you wrote is accurate. Aside from the foreign postdocs who are willing to make peanuts for salary, the rest of us may reason that we are receiving invaluable "training" and that this offsets the low salary. I think in a sense this is the case. The problem is that there are so few tenured faculty positions, compared to so many postdocs, that people are stuck in this "training" period for way too long. Another problem is that being a postdoc does not train you to be a PI. It trains you to be a good experimental scientist, but not how to manage a lab (budget, supplies, people), or write grants etc. The problem with the current "business model" of science is that most of the hands on work is done by students and postdocs, who are laboring under the assumption that they will be an academic PI someday, while this in fact is not the case. A better business model would be less students admitted to grad school, less postdocs, and more technicians. This would make academic science more real-world like and eliminate the glut of disillusioned people like Ms. PhD. It'll never happen, of course, but to me it makes more sense.

At 8:19 PM, Anonymous Mags said...

Just want to add my grain of salt.

I`ve noticed a trend in American universities and in canadian ones now to gear students directly into PhD programs rather than M.Sc.

Personally I am a big believer in M.Sc programs since I believe it helps do several things

1. Increases networking possibilities <
2. Leads to researchers having a greater breadth of knowledge since they can much easily switch from 1 field to another

3. Last but in a certain way very increasingly important, allow students to understand what a career in scientific research really entails. Thus possibly leading to more satisfied PhD and hopefully future PDFs.

Any thoughts?


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