R1 vs. not so R1
I'm still torn about this question. And no, I've never deleted one of your comments.
I do think the facilities issue is an important one. Many of my frustrations in my postdoc have stemmed from, despite being at a "top" university (not top 5, but top 10 or 20), not having control over access to things I needed.
I think there are a lot of fallacies about "top" places, although I can't say for sure whether being in the top 5 wouldn't actually be 100% better.
But here are some of the misconceptions that I think have made things harder than they should have been at the postdoc level. In other words, the assumptions that don't match reality:
1. Your PI will make sure you have what you need to do your project.
2. Your PI is famous, and therefore has plenty of money.
3. Your PI has plenty of money, manages it wisely, and fairly distributes it among the projects.
4. Top-notch universities have top-notch staff, who are paid well to do a good job helping you with your projects.
5. Your PI is famous, and therefore has plenty of clout and will always been a help to your career, and never steer you wrong.
6. The other PIs in the department respect your PI and you for joining that lab.
7. Broken equipment gets fixed quickly at top-notch universities.
8. Your PI really wants you to succeed, because your success makes your PI look that much better.
So how much of that would apply if I were a junior faculty member where I'm a postdoc now? Try replacing "department chair" for the word "PI" in most of those and you'll see why I'm worried. Obviously #4 and #7 matter more than I'd like, especially at places that depend on shared facilities because no individual PI can afford to have one of everything just for their own lab.
What I know is that I've seen friends who took jobs at various levels of places, who got what they needed to do their work and who is making do with less than I'd want to settle for.
The ones at top schools have basically had no chance to fail, at least in terms of facilities. They got everything they asked for in their startup packages, plus a few other things that the departments didn't have before.
The ones at almost-top schools are already having problems. Not having enough grad students in the incoming classes; postdocs don't want to move there because of the location; university won't give them matching funds when they try to apply for equipment money; not to mention staff being laid off because of funding problems; being shunted in and out of various lab spaces in decrepit old buildings; things being extremely slow already and even slower at schools with no money.
My feeling is that it's a steep curve, and the differences between the various types of schools are huge. I was looking at NIH organizational reports the other day, it's quite amazing to see how much money some places are getting compared to others.
One of my fears is that nobody at the places with one digit less funding is doing the kinds of things I do. So even if I thought I had to way to do it for cheaper, the search committees look at me and say, "There's no way she could do that kind of thing here." And I know this is a legitimate fear, because I've actually had them say that to me.
And it's true. I can barely do it where I am now, and that's with a lot of begging and stealing and nagging my advisors and collaborators to help.... whether my PI just doesn't want to allocate the money, or actually doesn't have any money to spare.
I'm not sure if I'd want to do this as a PI, or that I'd want my future (imaginary) grad students/postdocs to do what I've been doing the last few years.
I think it's a bit inhumane and probably hurts the science more than anyone wants to admit. It hurts me... and it hurts me physically to think how much more I could have done if I had help instead of resistance every step of the way.
I would want to provide better for my students/postdocs than I've had.
It's so ironic, because it was never my intention to do Big Expensive Science.
Here's to being overqualified and underemployed.