Thursday, March 18, 2010

poor turnout for NPA and Gender Summit

This is really weak. For the so-called National Postdoc Association, attendance at the Annual Meeting was really, really low. Last I heard, we have something like 90,000 postdocs in this country, and about half are women. So tell me WTF is up with this?

The NPA's 8th Annual Meeting, held last week, was attended by a record crowd of more than 275 persons. Important discussions took place that will affect the work of the NPA and its members and friends for months to come. The first-ever National Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate also took place and was attended by nearly 140 persons.

Also, am I the only one who thinks there might be a grammatical error in using "persons" in a clunky passive voice instead of just saying "275 people attended"?

I mean, seriously. That's like 0.3%, if we believe we know the total number of postdocs as the denominator. WEAK.

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At 8:23 PM, Blogger Dr.Girlfriend said...

I would liked to have gone, but not enough to pay out of my own pocket. My salary is not great, and our newly formed postdoctoral association does not have a sufficient budget to justify us sending one representative every year.

The institutional membership to NPA is $700, which is great for postdocs affiliated to colleges that officially recognize the term "postdoc" and that are committed to their career development and status.

However, it is not good for groups of postdocs struggling to gain respect, recognition, and financial support from an institute that had no previous provisions for postdocs. We did not re-join because we could not figure out what we got from spending a tenth of our annual budget on membership!

I think the bottom line is that postdocs cannot afford to go traveling to meetings on their salary. PIs and administration have no interest in funding postdoc attendance to such meetings, and the NPA cannot give travel awards to 90,000 postdocs.

At 9:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was told that to be grammatically correct, you use the word "persons" if you're stating the exact number. You use the world "people" if you are not stating an exact quantity. i.e. you should say "there were 275 persons", or "there were many people." But NOT "there were 275 people" or "there were many persons."

At 9:59 PM, Blogger Dr Becca, PhD said...

Do you think it was well publicized? I didn't know about it, but it's something I'd potentially have liked to attend. Does the NPA have any kind of outreach program in place?

It's indicative of the general state of post-doc-hood--which is to say, completely de-centralized, unregulated, and lacking in infrastructure.

At 6:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not surprised turn out was low. Where was the meeting held? I ask because I suspect most postdocs could not afford to attend the meeting - can't charge the cost of attendance to a grant, right?


At 1:36 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Dr. Girlfriend, you can still join as an individual, can't you?

They did have travel awards. I wonder if they gave them all out or if not as many applied as could have attended?

FWIW, I paid out of pocket to attend almost every single scientific meeting I went to as a grad student and postdoc. In theory, it was worthwhile for networking. In practice, well, I don't have a job, see? So I'm not sure I'd say it paid off in the end (LOL).

Anon 9:20,

That's interesting, and I'm sure you're correct, but I still think it sounds funny. I was wondering why, and then I realized - have you seen it written that way lately in any major news outlet? Nobody actually talks that way. Maybe they did once upon a time, or in the Mother Country (U.K.?) but not really in the U.S?

Dr. Becca,

Yes, it was well-publicized in the sense that I got about 50 emails about it, but I was already a member and at a member institution (WAS). The NPA definitely isn't as organized and doesn't publicize enough as it should be, that's for sure.

Anon 6:30,

Could charge it to a fellowship if you had one.

Also, I guess most people don't know this, but you can deduct up to 2% of your gross income if it's for job-search related expenses. I think this would probably quality as career development (?). But I'm not a tax attorney (and thank god for that).

At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Anon. 10.27)

I think that most of what has been posted here re: the ability to pay is significant. PIs don't want postdocs attending these sorts of things, as they don't directly relate to a publication. Back when postdocs were just a year or two, the NPA didn't exist. Its existence now, and I have served on the NPA at one time, does not seem to be well-supported by even institutions that do have a Postdoc Office. There is little commitment to things that don't directly relate to research. Plus, there is high turnover with being a postdoc and people want to really know what the ROI is going to be after attending this sort of meeting, especially if they don't follow a career path in science policy.

At 11:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was funded by my university to attend the NPA meeting as a representative from our postdoctoral association, and I have to say that, despite having fewer than 300 attendees, it was a fabulous meeting. The structured networking opportunities and career development workshops were *way* better than anything at the scientific conferences that I've attended. It's really a shame more postdocs can't attend.

Apparently, the NPA did give out all their travel awards. I heard that they had so many applicants that they were scrounging around for additional sponsors at the last minute so that they could give out at least a few more awards.

Also, something to keep in mind about their organization/outreach/etc -- the NPA can only afford something like 2 actual employees. So almost everything is run by volunteers.

At 9:28 AM, Anonymous Thinkerbell said...

Hey YFS,
I was just wondering (after reading your "I was"-es) whether you actually quit your job. I thought you were just laying low on the blogging...? Just curious and most interested in hearing about the ups and downs that would come with that decisions - if that turns out to be the case. Or maybe Lou Dobbs can guest-post???

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Thinkerbell, let's get Lou Dobbs to comment on that if willing.

Anon 11:30 - you didn't say anything about the Gender Summit. Was there anything useful about that? Did you go to that part of the meeting?

At 10:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Anon 11:30 again...

Yes, I did go to the Gender Summit. In general, I thought it was a good first step, and it was refreshing to see everyone in the room talking openly about these gender issues.

My initial reaction was disappointment that I didn't hear about any new, grand solutions to the problem of female attrition, but after several sessions, I realized that proposed fixes like basic maternity leave policies actually *did* represent big leaps forward at a shockingly large number of institutions. So that was depressing.

That said, it was great to see so many people collecting data on this subject. But again, the data are just depressing, especially for women who have or plan to have kids. I think they might post the slides on the NPA website at some point; if they do, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

At 1:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe a gender problem doesn't exist like you think....

At 11:47 AM, Blogger tideliar said...

I was there. 275 is a record so far. You can bitch about it being a low percentage of the total, but the number goes up every year.

It was held in Philadelphia, jointly sponsored by CHOP, Penn, Drexel, Jefferson & Temple. NPA does have travel awards (can't remember how many), and they were all awarded. They managed to get an award from Novartis (I think) to give out more.

To anyone who wants to learn more, visit their website and importantly, if you have suggestions, why not email them! I'm sure they'd love to get feedback and comments from people who didn't know about the meeting, or even the know about the NPA.

Be pro-active!


At 3:25 PM, Blogger tideliar said...

Just re-reading my comment, I totally did not mean it sound disparaging! Apologies for the pejorative 'bitch' when I just meant 'comment'!

Must proof read comments before posting...

At 6:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Anon 1:31 AM:

While it's true that there are some professions where the sexes show different degrees of interest, that is not the problem in biology and biomedical research.

Currently, around half of Life Science PhDs are awarded to women ( But many more women than men drop out of academic science between their PhD and postdoc. Even more drop out between their postdoc and an assistant professor position.

Data have shown that these women are not dropping out due to a lack of interest in the profession. The main reason women report dropping out is because of issues related to family formation. Things like parental leave, the option to work part-time, or the option to re-enter the academic track after several years off could all help this situation but are not supported by the academic culture. And in fact, all of these things would give men the chance to spend more time with their families too!

See a couple of pretty good reports, both free to read online:

At 7:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who would want to go to a postdoc convention?

At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Things like parental leave, the option to work part-time, or the option to re-enter the academic track after several years off could all help this situation but are not supported by the academic culture."

I don't feel strongly about this. None of these solutions would fix the problem. People drop out of academic science between PhDs and professor positions because they have to. There are ten times as many PhDs as professor positions, and I guess five times as many postdocs (although I don't know that statistic). Proposed solutions that don't address this will have no effect. You can't start a family if you are moving locations every two years, have no job stability, and no ability to save.

Somehow giving "the option to re-enter the academic track after several years off" would actually be counterproductive! That just draws out postdoc positions even longer.

We either need more research scientist positions, or we need a way of forcing postdocs to drop out *sooner*. If every PhD *had* to find a faculty position within two years, or else drop out of academia, then men and women would drop out at equal rates. Perpetual postdoc limbo hurts everybody.

At 10:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't know about the NPA meeting (how the heck does one find out about these things?). You don't know to google for things that you dont' know exist.

Even if I did know about it, I doubt I would have attended due to lack of funds for travel since no way would my PI or university pay for this and on my postdoc salary I just don't have enough money to make ends meet let alone travel.

Furthermore, what would my attending this meeting have accomplished? would it impact my day to day life or my future?

it seems like the people in a position to help change the postdoctoral situation/culture are those who are
(a) not currently postdocs. Because to be able to exert any influence you need to have some control or power, and postdocs do not have any power in the system that they are part of. Even grad students have more power since faculty "need" to show proof of continuing to graduate PhD students so faculty have incentive to have grad students succeed in getting degrees. But PIs have no incentive to be good to their postdocs and every incentive to exploit them. As long as you are a postdoc you are part of the system except you're at the bottom of the totem pole with no power. there is no safety in numbers because there are even greater numbers of postdocs who will be happy to replace you when you get fired for insubordination or "uncooperativeness" (and if not outwardly fired, then just passive-aggressively prevented from making any progress in your career.)

(b) not faculty. Because faculty benefit too much from the current system of postdoctoral labor so they have no incentive to change it. In fact faculty survival in some cases depends on exploiting postdocs so of course faculty will not be interested to change the postdoc system.

therefore, postdoc organizations lobbying for change should be comprised of former postdocs who are not faculty but who somehow still care about the postdoctoral situation.

Maybe MsPhD you are in an ideal situation to do this now?


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