Postdocs of the World, Unite!

By way of the Mad Biologist’s far-flung global network of correspondents, we come across this depressing postdoc-related story about the University of Maryland (boldface mine):

Beginning postdoctoral students at this university could see a title change due to a University Senate proposal, which would allow departments to decrease benefits such students receive and classify them as non-faculty members.

A group of life sciences professors and administrative chairs appeared before the Faculty Affairs Committee yesterday to discuss adding a second title for postdoctoral students and professionals in temporary positions. The only employee title currently available for postdoctoral students at this university is “postdoctorate research assistant,” which classifies all postdoctoral students as non-tenure-track faculty…

“What I’m concerned about is, if we create a category with no benefits, it’s a race to the bottom,” Marc Pound, a committee member and astronomy senior research scientist, said at the meeting.

This initiative for a new title stemmed directly from a letter on this issue that 131 professors signed on behalf of the university’s life sciences programs. The letter states that considering postdoctoral students faculty gives their departments a disadvantage, as the high level of benefits would lead to a “research funding erosion” resulting from less money going toward research.

I find it odd that people in their late twenties or early thirties are being called “students.” Nice semiotic slight-of-hand there.

Anyway, it’s one more example how discussions of scientific monetary woes that refer to “science” or “scientists” as one large monolithic–and happy!–entity are ridiculous (boldface added):

One problem is, identified in the excerpt from the original post, is that there are never any Marxists around when you need them: the ‘leadership’ class of most scientific societies does not face the same problems the hoi polloi do. The problems the rank-and-file face, often existential ones, do not threaten the big shots, so there is not the required level of urgency–or desperation. In many industries, most workers would be somewhat skeptical of the notion that middle-management would have their best interests at heart.

Someone needs to tell the UMD signatories that you’re not suppose to be that blunt about your own vested interests. Freedom rhetoric sometimes works pretty well.

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2 Responses to Postdocs of the World, Unite!

  1. coloncancercommunity says:

    Yikes…I kind of saw this coming years ago, but its not something I like being right about. Perhaps next we will have post-docs working for free? Why not? Working in research is such privilege. What the heck, maybe they should even pay their PI for the opportunity to get published? That would be an additional revenue stream for starved investigators.

  2. TheBrummell says:

    The “postdoctoral students” label is very odd. I’ve just started my first post-doc, having defended my PhD in January. I moved to a new university last week. I am most certainly NOT a student, as evidenced by the fact I cannot use campus resources (computer labs, printers, etc.) reserved for students; my ID card causes an error message when I swipe it at the terminal. I’m faculty, rather than staff, and while I haven’t asked I strongly suspect “non-tenure-track” is somewhere in my official job title. My position is also officially considered that of a trainee, with my PI (a tenured professor) acting as my trainer in various esoteric skills. So far, so good, and I haven’t seen any indication that this university is planning on degrading my quality of life (at least, not deliberately).

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