Monday, February 16, 2009

More jobs... for men.

Watched the podcast of Meet the Press this morning over breakfast, trying to get up the energy to leave the house.

It did not inspire much optimism to hear, at the end of his interview, the little anecdote from Obama's spokesman, David Axelrod, about a woman whose husband lost his job and how heartbreaking that was.

Uh.... what about HER job? What is she doing, besides writing to the President to complain???

So my question is simple. For the job creation statistics, are they based on assuming that EVERYONE above a certain age needs a full-time job, or are they based on assuming that only the MEN need the jobs?

Because my guess is that there are whole swaths of the country where it's assumed that, as long as the husband has a decent-paying job, everything is hunky-dory.

Then I was looking at, and particularly at this little graphic linked from the washington post, which illustrates quite nicely by the size of the bubbles, exactly how much money is being spent on what. Except, it's not exactly the part I care about.

I would really like to see something equivalent for the NIH budget, and particularly for the part of the NIH budget that is going to be helped by the stimulus.

And then I'd like to see how it's going to be distributed. My guess is that it's all going to go to senior people who are over 60 and have already had a career.

oh and ps.

FYI, to the people who were offended by my comment about the 80-year-old PI who just got 2 R01s renewed, here's a couple of tidbits for you, just to clarify:

1. It's a SHE. Those of you who complained ASSUMED it was a man. That says more about you than it does about me.

2. I'm not bothered that she got the grants, so much as that this was on her 3rd revision, she still has a faculty position despite being more than 15 years beyond the eligible age for receiving social security, and she just effectively bought herself 5 more years of full-time employment.

My point is, there is something culturally fucked up about a career where

1. If you just wait in line long enough, your grants will get funded even if you didn't revise them at all

2. Everyone refuses to retire because they're, what, terrified of being bored? Too poor?

3. Everyone else refuses to make it desirable (or god forbid, required) to retire...

... and yet we have this massive job shortage because the people in control of everything are sitting pretty in jobs they've had for over 50 years.

Just think about that for a minute. 50 years is a long fucking time. These 80-year-olds have had their jobs since they were younger than we are now. Their generation was hired as faculty when they were less than 30 years old.

But hey, more power to her. If she left now, there would be 50% fewer female faculty in my department. And we have a hiring freeze. hahahahahaha

Happy President's Day, everybody.

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At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Pain Man said...

I believe those stats are based on all people who currently desire a job, a la the weekly "jobless claims" numbers. Note they do not count people who have given up looking for a job. Might also be tinted towards the old standard of needing only one earner (of any sex) in a household, which is outdated.


Part of the rationale behind the new one resub limit is to generate newer better ideas more quickly in the place of letting stale grants get funded on the third try (out of pity).

At 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree there's something messed up about the national lamenting about husbands losing their jobs.

I was laid off recently. My husband makes a lot less money than me to begin with, and he is a very bad money manager so my lay off really impacted out household finances. We are steadily sinking in debt. But hey, according to these "spokepeople", women don't need jobs that badly right?

Another case in point. At a previous job I and a male co-worker were hired about the same time on a temporary contract basis. (we both were similar number of years past the PhD so we were starting from a similar level). I got better performance evaluations all around because I worked harder than him and was more competent. He was complacent and just did the bare minimum. Yet, HE got hired full time with full benefits and stock options and all and I was left as a contractor without benefits. I heard through the grapevine that it's because the bosses (all older men) felt sorry for this guy "because he has a wife and two kids so he really needs this job." Um, what about me?? I don't need a job, I don't need to support MY family??? And furthermore did my better performance evaluations mean nothing?? It's really hard to not feel bitter and resentful when you see this guy now in his cushy office (did I mention he also got promoted?) and being all chummy with the ol' boys. Eventually I got laid off from that company when they downsized.

At 3:56 PM, Anonymous lost academic said...

Put yourself in her shoes - do you want to be forced out when you're 80 and still contributing to your career, still enjoying it, still engaged? Or at 70? At what age is it appropriate to, regardless of merit, insist or insinuate that it's more important to move on just to let someone younger have a chance? This is either a meritocracy (at least in theory) or it isn't, and we don't get anywhere by suggesting on one hand that there aren't enough jobs for (insert demographic here, social or academic progress related) but then complaining about deserving people who are continuing to earn their place actually continuing. I know much of that wasn't the main thrust of your initial or following point, but I felt it important to point out the somewhat dangerous territory that accompanied it.

Also - I don't know that in this day and age there's a way to create jobs 'for men'. They're just jobs.

At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing that seems to be true is that the construction industry is an industry hardest hit by the recession. More men than women work in construction. Furthermore, women tend to work in industries that are a bit more "recession-proof" like health care and education. My guess is that she probably still has her job but she made significantly less money than her husband.

At 6:27 AM, Blogger daisy mae said...

first, i want to thank you for pointing out that the 80 year old PI was a she. i think i was one of the people assuming it was a he.

second, i can think of several researchers who were/are active into their 90's, and still churning out excellent research (rita levi montalcini, for example)....

BUT i DO think that there needs to be a change in the "system" where newer PI's are given more of a safety net to get their careers going. a little investment of sorts.

as for older PIs not retiring, i love it. i really, really do. because what i see in (some) of the older PIs is an innate love for what they do. it's not that they don't know how to do anything else, it's that research is what gets them up and moving every day (not out of habit, either) - and i admire that level of dedication and enthusiasm. there's something to be learned from that.

At 11:27 AM, Anonymous bsci said...

If you want to understand what the various unemployment statistics are, you can see the current percentages and their meanings at:
U3 is the usually reported rate and a lot of people are talking about the importance of U6.
More background is at:

In general, percent unemployment is defined as the # of people who don't have jobs and want them over the total number of people who have or want jobs. Thus, a housewife who has no desire to have a paying job is not considered unemployed. A woman who does want to work and can't find a job is considered unemployed in the statistics.

One real issues in the stimulus package is that many of the infrastructure spending areas are in male dominated fields so they may not have as direct an impact on women's umeployment rates. That said, the theory is that putting more money into the system will help other industries even if they don't directly receive stimulus money.

At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You complain about discrimintation, and here you are discriminating against an 80 year old PI because she is 80yrs old- that's called agism, my dear.

By the way, the 80-year old PI is a PNAS academy member, non? She has earned her place. Have you?

At 5:15 PM, Blogger JAC said...

One thing that is complicated to handle (and happens even in industry) is that people tend to count number of success (e.g. papers, grants) and not the rate of such productivity. This bias seems to automatically make senior people look a lot better in comparison to junior investigators.

I'm not against funding 80 year old investigators, per se, but there is an argument for opening up opportunity for new investigators as well. As a struggling post-doctoral fellow, I am well aware of the status gaps that exist but a little less sure of how to tackle them.

At 9:11 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Pain Man,

Yeah, I seem to recall hearing some urban legend that once you've run out of unemployment benefits, you're no longer counted as unemployed just because you're not collecting anymore. That can't be true, can it?

and re: rationale, yeah, I know. Does it actually help anyone? Remains to be seen. And wasn't in effect for this last round, apparently!

Anon 2:07,

That's exactly my point. Twice in the last year I had to watch these asian men with the "wife and kid at home" card get strings pulled to help them get their papers into top journals (even if they didn't do any of the writing!) and faculty positions ASAP before their visas ran out. It's fucking bullshit.

Lost academic,

um, YES. I want to retire at a reasonable age. I think everyone should understand that life is short, and jobs should be FINITE. I think it's the very rare person indeed who is productive until the moment they drop dead at their bench.

It's NOT a meritocracy, btw, and if you still believe it is, you haven't been reading this blog.

You have no way of knowing how much of her funding is based on the accumulated reputation or what they call "Track record" over several decades, rather than the actual content of her grant. But young people can't have any track record, so does that seem fair to you?

And no, I didn't mean to imply (however literally you took it) that they're creating jobs for men.

The point is that the jobs will go first to men. See comment above as a perfect example of a case in point.


I think that's bullshit. Did you read that in the AWIS Washington Wire or something? Do you know how much MONEY people in the construction industry make?? It should make you cry. In fact, I think I've blogged about it before.

If women are currently "recession-proof", first of all, that won't last.


We are NOT recession-proof as women in science. I'm furious with AWIS for printing that.

daisy mae,

active? really? how active?

I've written before (at length, actually) about how I think it's good to keep these people around in some kind of special status where they can and should continue to participate, but not at the level of "running" a lab.


thanks for the links!

do you believe the theory? I don't think anyone has any idea what's actually going to happen. I have been laughing my ass off at these CNN interviews where they talk about how "the public" can't really understand what's going on... I know bullshit when I smell it. These economists have no fucking clue.

Anon 12:52,

What makes you think she's an NAS member? Because she's old? Huh? What makes you think NAS members have, as you put it, "earned their place"??? What do you think they do to earn it???

Good lord, get a clue.


Yes. A thoughtful response, and well-said.

At 9:56 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Check it out- not hard to be transparent when you HAVE NO ACTUAL CONTENT!

At 12:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If a professional athlete ages and can no longer keep up with the younger ones do they get to stay on the team just because in the past they had contributed? If a surgeon can no longer see clearly or have steady hands do they get to keep practicing?

If they can stay competitive, then by all means. But if you can't, then you're out. That's what a meritocracy is.

Just because science is largely an intellectual activity (as opposed to a physical one) and just because the role of PIs can be even less physical (since they are not the ones doing hands-on work), there is a tendency to think that no matter how old you get nothing will change. Not true. How many 80 year olds can still sustain the stress of PI-ship? Traveling constantly to meetings, staying up all night to finish a grant proposal by the deadlinen and then waking up early to catch a flight to yet another between teaching classes, writing textbooks, attending faculty meetings, serving on committees, advising graduate students.... being a PI is a tough job even for the young and energetic, I think that in most cases people of advanced age cannot compete at this level. At that point they fully deserve to sit back and rest on their laurels and receive a pension and all the honorary awards and recognition that can be bestowed upon them, but that is not the same thing as continuing to occupy the same position as before, when that position has a very specific and rigorous job requirements.

Along these lines, isn't a significant portion of a grant proposal the capability of the PI. Sure the 80 yr old has more recognition and track record than anyone else. But are they still able to perform their duties as the PI if the new grant is awarded (given previous paragraph) and thus will that grant money be used effectively if awarded to this person not just based on their track record but also on their PRESENT capabilities? Or will the 80 yr old get too worn out from teaching, attending meetings and traveling and writing, to be able to manage the project as well as a younger PI?

At 7:56 AM, Blogger daisy mae said...

YFSP - i just have a question for you.

first and foremost, i enjoy reading your blog. i think that you bring an interesting perspective to life in research.

that being said, i'm a little confused by your responses to comments. you raise interesting points that can open up a lot of great dialogue - but it seems that if someone doesn't flat out with your point of view, you go on the defensive. if this is the case (ie you just want agreement, rather than discussion), let me know and i'll stop commenting...

case in point - i brought up PIs that are happy, productive, and frankly, old. i work with several of them, but due to privacy issues i'm not comfortable giving their names. they've earned the respect of their colleagues and students, are still lucid and productive, and positions in their lab are highly coveted because of what can be learned. to "make it" in science, the majority of people have to excel at what they do.

compare grad school to med school. the medical doctoral student generally only has to get the minimum grade to pass - usually in a setting of multiple choice questions. the worst student in the class will still get to be a doctor.

but in grad school, and research in general, you have to be good, nay, phenomenal, to get a job. there's a serious weeding-out process that goes on. research brings the best of the best to the table, although sometimes people squeak through on a name or reputation. but i stand with anon 12:52 - prominent researchers have EARNED their place in science.

At 6:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I need a quick answer!

A girl interviewing for a postdoc in the lab I'm in wants to hear about my "experience in the lab." I am NOT enjoying my postdoc and I hate this lab. I can't possibly endorse this lab, but it's every woman for herself. Should I give her my honest opinion or just tell her what she wants to hear?

At 12:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey stupid people: do you realize that the reason our country is messed up is because women are not staying home and taking care of the kids, where they belong. you see, the soviets have women doing all kinds of men's jobs because they realized it was inefficent to have one half of the population sitting idle; like a factory with perfectly good machines that are not being used. The USA then realized what they were doing, and that they are getting ahead of us, so we sent our women to work without any regard of what it would do to our society. Now, we could not just tell the women this, or the men for that matter. So they came up with the women's liberation nonsense, and made the women believe that they were "fighting for their rights." Who is "they?" The masters of the universe types, and their little mind control soldiers known as the media.
So, there it is. That's why women are not taking care of their children and we have this screwed up country. Notice how they are now pushing for pre-kindergarden "education." What it is, is gov't subsidised babysitting so the women can go to work earlier after they give birth. But notice how it's sold to you as a way to educate children. Whenever they are up to no good and there is no logical way to defend it you can be sure that they tell you it's being done "for the children." (like the war on drugs)
I just think it's sad that otherwise intelligent people are so easily brainwashed into becoming "feminists" and that you are being manipulated by the same people you claim to be against. actually it's kinda funny in an ironic sort of way.

and, i'm not a sociologist or anything like that. i'm a physical scientist with common sense. what i say would never be accepted by a sociologist because I don't have research to prove it. they think nothing exists without research to prove it cause that is what they are taught.

you are welcome for the knowledge. sorry to burst your bubble, but it's true.

At 10:00 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

No, daisy mae, and I like how your name sounds just as naive and innocent as your comments.

If you've ACTUALLY READ this blog, then you will surely understand that I DO NOT BELIEVE that just because someone is OLD means that they EARNED the job they have. And you shouldn't, either.

If you've ACTUALLY READ this blog, then you'll know that people get and keep jobs for all kinds of ridiculous reasons, most of which have to do with "likeability" and knowing the right people. See for example the Chronicle blog post about that (sorry, I'm too busy to hunt down the link for you right now).

Your idea that the ones who are still around are necessarily the "best" is totally missing the point. Did you miss the whole story about the guy who ACTUALLY discovered GFP and then begged other people to work on it because he lost his funding?

I'm not being defensive, I'm concerned that you seem to have completely missed the whole point of my blog!

to the person who asked about what to say or not say- I will write a separate post about this shortly-

At 2:41 PM, Blogger butterflywings said...

Anon 2:07 - that sucks. I'm sorry.

Daisy Mae, yes, I suggest you read YSF's blog, like she said.

Meritocracy. Ha ha ha!

At 8:00 PM, Blogger daisy mae said...

sorry - just found the blog about a week or so ago.

i'll make sure to read the archives thoroughly before ever commenting again.

At 1:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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