Socio- versus Economic Privilege in Academic Careers

September 21, 2010

As might suspect, Dear Reader, I am one who is entirely unable to hold back from drenching trainees in career-relevant advice whenever there is the slightest opportunity. As you also know, I am not in a job category that require regular instruction of general populations of undergraduate students so most of my interactions with them come under the general heading of “lab experience”. One of the things that I tend to blurt out very early in my discussions with a student who wants to work in my group is “You know being a graduate student is a job that pays, right?”.
It turns out that many of them are unaware of this fact.


This surprises me, particularly when the person is from a research University. It shouldn’t, I’ve been down this road with undergraduates from my days of being a graduate student TA onward but it still does. My radar is just so focused on the life of research science that surrounds a University that it is hard to remember what it looks like to the undergrad who thinks, arguably mistakenly, that her education is the primary mission of the place.
It is also very likely the case that I am so blind because I have been around the academic job sector for most of my life. That’s right, I simply reek of the sociological privilege of academic careers from very young childhood until the present day.
What I didn’t have growing up was a great deal of economic privilege. The family was demonstrably making less money that a whole host of other folks in our smallish town who worked in what you might think of as stereotypically blue collar jobs. And not sinecure Union-label jobs either…just jobs.
Despite this, I had the social privilege. The privilege of a family that valued education, had books in the home and was willing to extend ivy-tower-type experiences* to the extent we could obtain or afford them.
There is, however, a subtle interaction when it comes to graduate school. Spending four or five years taking out loans to pay for an undergraduate education is one thing. Hard enough for non-academic families to swallow that Junior is going to start racking up debt for a few years instead of going to work. Now the kid is proposing another 6 years of “school”? Are you kidding?
Well, academic families are more likely to understand that this is a longterm investment and a good thing. The offspring knows, from the earliest thinking about eventual career, that academia has some benefits. Moreover, the kid of academics knows that Mom and Dad are going to get it. They might even be willing to kick down some support now and again. Especially if you get in a jam with an exploded car or unexpected medical problem or something. It is the confidence of expectation, even if unused. It allows the undergraduate to risk the academic career path.
We can’t do much to change undergraduate students’ background social conditioning. But one thing we can do is to make sure they realize that, in the biosciences at least, the expectation is that you get paid to go to graduate school.
Not all of them realize that, not even after working in your lab next to graduate students and postdocs for a semester.
Mention it.
__
*theater, symphony, music lessons…that kind of nonsense.

118 Responses to “Socio- versus Economic Privilege in Academic Careers”

  1. D. C. Sessions Says:

    Getting paid to go to grad school was a very well-kept secret 40 years ago when I was an undergrad. Apparently even to my faculty advisor, because when discussing plans for my senior year I frequently mused on the possibility of going on to graduate work but couldn’t see how to fund it on the minimum-wage jobs which allowed the schedule flexibility for academics, which said advisor agreed was pretty much a show-stopper.
    Today, I know quite a few engineers in the same boat: paid out of pocket for grad school while working and racking up loads. Perhaps as you mention it varies from field to field.

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  2. D. C. Sessions Says:

    s/loads/loans/

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  3. Being the only person in my family to attend university I endured the ignorant “when are you going to get a real job?” and “when you gonna stop living of the state and running up debt?”. I honestly do not think they “got” grad school and how come the university gave me money. As a postdoc it was assumed I must be uber-rich because I have a PhD!
    I discovered as an undergrad I could get paid to work in a lab, and that that was much more fun than kitchens and barwork. I have since made it my mission to inform the undergraduates, middle, and high school kids that I interact with about how in the biosciences education pays (literally).

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  4. Namnezia Says:

    I remember when my oldest brother went to graduate school that he just could not convince my parents that grad school was not only free (from my brother’s end) but that he was actually getting paid too (a pittance compared to current stipends). Fortunately it wasn’t as difficult to convince them by the time I got around to doing my PhD.
    I think most undergrads I advise know that they don’t have to pay for grad school, but there is intense pressure from their families for most of them to go to medical school. My guess is that parents are either doctors and want their kids to be like them, or figure that if they have to go into so much debt to send their kid to an expensive college, they better get a good paying career afterwards.

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  5. @DCSessions — since you mention engineers, I have to ask: are you talking about a PhD or an MA? I’ve never heard of a master’s degree you didn’t have to pay for, and (depending on your area of engineering) many engineers have master’s degrees, rather than PhDs.
    Also, it depends heavily on tier. I don’t think it’s common for low-tier PhD programs to provide stipends, which is unfortunate since graduates from such programs are particularly unlikely to land a PhD-relevant job.

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  6. becca Says:

    I agree that it’s important to tell students about this. On the other hand, the details are also important. Details like:
    1) Masters programs are usually not covered, PhD programs usually are. There are exceptions.
    2) The number of bioscience jobs at the Bachelor’s and Master’s level is MUCH greater than at the PhD level. In that sense, a PhD sends you down a narrower path.
    3)When factoring the costs of grad school, opportunity-costs have to be considered. In particular, don’t forget that NOT going to grad school may provide you a better opportunity to try many jobs when there is relatively little pressure (e.g. when you are younger and do not have a family).
    4) You do not need a PhD to do biomedical research. An MD or DVM is just fine for most things- and, of course, you have a built in additional way to make a living.
    5) Despite the shocking price of med school tuition, it can be a financially sound decision to go. Grad school takes longer and is a more risky path in some respects.

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  7. leigh Says:

    i’m pretty fucking fortunate to have stumbled upon someone with your attitude toward undergrads, while i was still an undergrad myself. being told that i could *get paid* to go to some school i had never fathomed attending, and earn a fancy-sounding degree in the process, completely opposed everything i had ever thought about universities. nobody in my day-to-day life would have known that- and i would have gone my merry way with all that undergrad research experience, unaware of where i could have gone.

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  8. Lyle Says:

    Yes it is possible to get paid to move to a research oriented career. Interestingly with some exceptions a clinically oriented career requires loans (MD, DVM, psychologist, allied health worker etc). Now going down a research path generally narrows and changes career options so the downside of getting grad school paid for need to be mentioned. (I had an assistantship 30 years ago for 4 years and so got paid thru grad school).

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  9. DK Says:

    Our grad students get 27K annually, a formal hourly rate that is just a little over what our dishwasher gets ($11/hour). And they always work more than 40 hours a week. So as a “real job” grad school totally sucks. And then it typically ends with PhD which – unless one is very lucky – puts people on the road to eventual unemployment.
    That is why I tell every rotating student that it is not too late to quit and get a real job. (They never listen but years later come back to say I was right).

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  10. Anonymous Says:

    American students are spoiled rotten and lazy. During undergraduate studies they rack loads of loans, never thinking that maybe they could work in a job, while going to school, or better yet, work a few years to save enough to pay for school before attending it. I did both. I worked for full two years before entering the university, saving enough to pay my tuition and living expenses for my undergraduate degree (three years instead the lazy four in America), I worked full time as a high school teacher, while in graduate school for my Master’s degree (also supported a family), and during my doctoral research I was paid by the university as a TA, which was not enough to support myself, let alone my family, so I continued my high school job full time. Yes, it took me six years to complete my Ph.D., but when I entered my first postdoc position in this country, I had three children and no debt. My wife could not work here with a J2 visa, which meant that I had to find other odd jobs (on weekends) to support the income of $12,000 annual salary that my postdoc position paid (in 1977). If I’m not wrong, it is mainly an American thing for students to rely on parents and loans to go through school, which could very well be the reason for so many of them whining about how hard it is and how little it pays.

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  11. D. C. Sessions Says:

    @DCSessions — since you mention engineers, I have to ask: are you talking about a PhD or an MA? I’ve never heard of a master’s degree you didn’t have to pay for, and (depending on your area of engineering) many engineers have master’s degrees, rather than PhDs.

    Most of the post-baccalaureate engineers I know didn’t have to choose between terminal MSE and PhD on admission to graduate programs. The decision to quit with a masters was almost always made after they got a look at the career options:
    * Hang in, at considerable expense and while losing seniority, for a chance at an academic appointment which might someday pay as much as an industry job. Or not. Alternately, leave the academic track and head over to industry with partial credit for lack of experience.
    * Head over to an entry-level job in industry. With an MSE starting pay runs in the $80K ballpark, fairly rapid promotion opportunities for the first ten years or so. Frequent chances to get into development programs with budgets most university departments can only dream of. Or unemployment.
    That sounds slanted, but it seems to be pretty much representative of the way our people make their decisions based on a fair number of conversations with those took one track or the other.
    The reason I say “sounds slanted” is that there are other benefits to the academic track that appeal to some. If they don’t, it’s a lousy choice. If they do, it can be the only way to go. Speaking for myself as someone coming up on retirement: I’m headed back to somewhere with a decent university to do some science.

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  12. In the land far, far away, you only get paid if you get an individual scholarship and they’re rather competitive so not everyone gets one. I didn’t get one my first year and had to work my ass off to pay the rent and eat. Still accomplished more than my peers who were on scholarship that year.

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  13. DrugMonkey Says:

    Re: dishwashers, minimum wage…
    You know, I’ve had a post or poll idea nagging at me for a while- might as well ask it here. How many people whining about grad student salaries have ever worked a real, low paying job? One with hard work, long hours and a view of the 40-50 something workers telling you that there might not be any significant change on the horizon.
    What was your worst job, how old were you and how long did you stick it out? (no, parenthood not included!)

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  14. juniorprof Says:

    I had two terrible jobs: 1) Warehouse stocker at Circuit City. If I wasn’t putting large appliances together (not as easy as it sounds) I was trying to get them off a forklift riser onto a three story tall shelf structure. I think I almost killed myself at least twice. I made $5/hour and was exhausted as hell every day working in that hot-ass warehouse with heavy as hell machines. 2) Working security on a contract basis for a variety of places in Dallas. If I wasn’t bored to death I was trying not to get my ass-kicked by a drunken idiot who had stopped feeling pain hours ago. I did learn how to defend myself pretty well though. I made less than $5/hour at this job. It sucked, horrendously. And these two jobs don’t include all the farm work I have done in my life. The farm work was always somewhat enjoyable because I was around my family but I could never do that all the time either. It is back-breaking work and I will never understand how most of the rest of my family does it day in and day out.
    I thank FSM everyday that I don’t have to work for a living… In fact, from the first day I started my PhD I stopped working for a living.

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  15. It’s also worth including the fact that PhD students often (always?) get health insurance as well, when having these sorts of conversations with undergrads and others.

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  16. DK Says:

    I don’t whine about grad school, I whine about academic science 🙂 I had it easy myself. Was a dishwasher during all of the undergrad studies. Every single grad student I came across had a job before. Roofing, farm work, fishing guide, dishwasher, cashier in grocery store – that kind of things. Don’t know anyone who was in “hard work, long hours and a view of the 40-50 something workers telling you that there might not be any significant change on the horizon” situation. Such jobs would be very atypical for people with potential to score good enough on GRE.

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  17. Dr Becca Says:

    One summer in college I worked as a Subway Sandwich Artist ™, for $5.25/hr. It was not “hard work,” but it was disgusting.

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  18. DrugMonkey Says:

    Our grad students get 27K annually, a formal hourly rate that is just a little over what our dishwasher gets ($11/hour). And they always work more than 40 hours a week. So as a “real job” grad school totally sucks.
    I should point out for the nonscientists that “dishwasher” in this context refers to someone hired to wash laboratory glassware so the grad students and scientific technicians don’t have to do it. Not some poor chump sweating his/her way through a shift in a cramped kitchen loading the dishwasher for a restaurant*.
    also, US Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. At 2080 hours per year (52 wks X 40 hrs) that works out to be $15K per year.
    *been there.

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  19. What was your worst job, how old were you and how long did you stick it out?

    Where to even start?
    Playground attendant during vacations in the worst part of the city. Age: 22yo. Duties included supervising kids all day, making sure they didn’t kill each other and then cleaning the toilets at the end of the day. Lasted about 18 months. Finally quit when a kid threatened me and defaced my car in an effort to stop me testifying against him in court. It worked.
    That was just one job. Plenty of others along similarly horrid lines.

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  20. I didn’t know that most people got their PhDs for free or got paid until after I started mine. I thought it was a bonus that my current employer will pay for mine, but it turns out not to be attractive bcs they’d often prefer having a TA or GA.
    Worst job by far was being a Naval officer on a ship. Parts of that sucked worse than any waiting tables or temping or working in retail I did. Imagine missing 2 meals being assigned as safety officer in aft steering (which is drenched in hydraulic fluid and lubricants), missing the view going into some of the coolest ports in the world…but that’s just one example. That’s how *I* got paid to get my undergrad.

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  21. becca Says:

    @anon- well, in Germany at least people get a state allowance and subsidized housing if they are students (undergrad). At the grad school level, I know of very few students internationally that are self funded. In the UK and Australian systems funding is not based in training grants to the student or institution, but specific projects. So when you apply for the PhD you are applying to do it on a particular thing. In other words, many places use different funding models, but the US is definitely NOT unique in funding grad students.
    I didn’t know about other countries, so I googled it. Here’s what I learned in my lazy-wikipedia fact checking way:
    *In Brazil, there is no tuition or entrance fees in public universities (a right established in the Brazilian Federal Constitution)
    *In Egypt, tuition fees of a number of the public universities are fully subsidized by the government
    *Denmark and Finland both have free public universities. In Sweden, higher ed is free (to the point where the 20-40 euro/year fee was considered worth mentioning)
    *In France “Since higher education is funded by the state, the fees are very low; the tuition varies from 150€ to 700€ depending on the university and the different levels of education. (licence, master, doctorate). One can therefore get a Master’s degree (in 5 years) for about 750-3,500€. Additionally, students from low-income families can apply for scholarships, paying nominal sums for tuition or textbooks, and can receive a monthly stipend of up to 450€/month.”
    (@anyone- as always with wiki, feel free to correct)
    So it’s definitely not JUST an American thing. Indeed, I might go so far as to argue that the entire notion that a ‘self made man’ is even a meaningful term is likely one of those delightfully quaint American notions (which, of course, ignores the fact that society can and DOES subsidize education and research pursuits- a lot of taxpayer dollars went into your education even if you payed full price at the most expensive private institutions all the way through).
    Incidentally, it also occurs to me that your plan to work before undergrad only makes sense if one is of legal working age (or can get a work permit) before starting undergrad. Since I started undergrad at age 14, it would not have been legal for me to work beforehand. Now, legal or not, I *did* have jobs before I started undergrad, but they were pretty small time.

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  22. KHorn Says:

    These stories about worst jobs, I think, are masking an important distinction. Working for a summer, or even a year or two, in a warehouse or kitchen does suck, but if you know there is an end in sight, a way out, you don’t have a true feeling of what it is like to truly be working poor.

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  23. Barn Owl Says:

    Worst job for me was nurse aide at a hospital in a huge medical center complex, which I worked during the summers and holidays during my undergrad years (age 18-21). Minimum wage, waiting for the shuttle bus in a dodgy area at 6:00 AM, occasional double shifts, often physically grueling work (especially lifting/supporting/transporting obese patients after bypass surgery or cardiovascular procedures), cleaned up every imaginable excretion from all human orifices (natural and surgically created), 10-20 minute “lunch break” during which I could stuff down a PB sandwich if not interrupted by a patient call buzzer. I liked most of the patients, though, felt truly useful and appreciated, and the best benefit was that I realized I didn’t want to go to medical school after all.
    Graduate school, even with the measly $8000/year (I’m old) NSF predoctoral stipend, seemed like a really cushy deal after that.

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  24. D. C. Sessions Says:

    Landscaping. Started at 16 and kept at it through my sophomore year, pay at $1.45/hr to start and ended up getting a princely $2.25/hr four years later. Shoveling gravel in Arizona, mostly during the summer.
    Later I went on to assistant survey crew in mountain country.

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  25. Anonymous Says:

    Becca, any way you cut it, the average American student is a spoiled whiner! By the way, Rush Limbaugh also uses Wikipedia for his research. 😉

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  26. Eric Lund Says:

    The anonymous poster above seems to be entirely clueless about what it costs to go to university in the United States, as are many Americans over 30 who don’t have kids in high school or college and are not themselves employed at a university.
    Undergraduate tuition at my state’s flagship university is $10,730 per year if you are a resident of this state, higher if you are from out of state, and with additional charges for certain majors. There are additional mandatory fees of $2,942 per year. Many American universities are private institutions with tuition charges in the $40-50k range. Unless you had the good luck to be born to super-rich parents or you managed to get an athletic scholarship (which comes with restrictions on your outside income sources), somebody will be taking out a loan to pay for that.
    In grad school, yes, you can generally get your tuition paid for in my field (physics), plus a stipend which is adequate to cover a single person living a frugal (by American standards) lifestyle. Most grad students are covered by a combination of teaching assistantships and research assistantships (these generally come with restrictions or prohibitions on outside employment), and most of the exceptions are getting a masters degree on their employer’s dime. The rules on student loans generally allow you to defer repayment as long as you remain enrolled full-time and in good academic standing; however, the interest still accumulates.

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  27. D. C. Sessions Says:

    Undergraduate tuition at my state’s flagship university is $10,730 per year if you are a resident of this state, higher if you are from out of state, and with additional charges for certain majors. There are additional mandatory fees of $2,942 per year.

    And yet you still hear the stories about “I worked my way through college.” In your example, that’s about $14000/yr plus survival. Assuming that you’re up to carrying a full load while working full time, we’re already talking $7/hr after tax before food, rent, etc.
    I propose to anyone trying to sell the “worked my way through” plan that the great majority of high-school grads who can make upwards of $15/hr at a full-time job which allows them to attend classes have family connections which make other funds available and allow them to spend more time on learning.
    (BTW: the same calculations applied 40 years ago in my case: total costs per semester at Arizona were a bit over $1600, which seems cheap until you realize that it’s 1000 hours of minimum wage — very close to the same proportion today.)

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  28. Not some poor chump sweating his/her way through a shift in a cramped kitchen loading the dishwasher for a restaurant*.
    Been there, done that too in high school. When I came off a shift, my family would literally gag I smelled so bad. There are few things worse than the smell of heat-steam-treated food/garbage/grease. The smell permeated every pore of my body by the time my shift would end.
    Though, to be honest … my next job as a camp counselor was ten times more hellish than the restaurant dishwasher.

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  29. lylebot Says:

    I went and talked to some students at a historically black college about grad school once. I just stood in front of a math class and rambled on a bit about what it’s like to be a grad student in CS (I suppose they asked me because I was fresh out of grad school at the time). When I mentioned the bit about being paid to go, the students were literally stunned—they wanted me to repeat it to be sure they heard right. I wonder if making this better known might help improve diversity.

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  30. mcshanahan Says:

    I’ve had a laundry list of now humorously difficult temporary jobs: fruit picker, fruit packer (12 hours shifts weighing strawberries for Tesco), drink stand attendant at a motocross track, ice cream scooper, book mover. They make for excellent chatter and did teach me a lot about putting in long hours and finding ways to make tedious jobs interesting.
    But the point made above that temporary difficult jobs are a lot different that a permanent life is a really important one. Before deciding to go back to graduate school, I was an elementary school teacher. This was my full time job that I presumably was going to do for the rest of my life. It was inspiring and very important but it was also extremely challenging – emotionally, physically and intellectually. Not to mention exhausting. I put in very long hours and was rewarded sometimes by amazing students and other times berated and belittled by angry parents or lashed out at by students trying to deal with difficult issues in their lives. I was often perplexed about what to do to help my students and I felt like a failure lots of the time. I got paid only slightly more than I did as a graduate student.
    I chose to go to grad school for all of the usual reasons but also because I really didn’t think I could do that job for the rest of my life. I am grateful for the chance to do what I do now and feel privileged to have had the opportunity to be a graduate student and land a tenure track job. Sometimes I look back and think that if I’d really had the guts for difficult work I would still be in my sixth grade classroom.

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  31. Interesting post. I had economic privilege for sure (my folks were pretty solidly upper middle class), but had no clue about American universities, since my Dad is an immigrant educated in his native country, and my Mom didn’t go to college. I learned that students get paid to go to grad school in my senior year right before I applied, and this was after I spent 2 summer working in labs at my U! It was a random casual offhand remark by a grad student that let me in on this secret.
    So I definitely make it a point to tell my undergrads that they will get paid to go to grad school in our field. A few of my National Lab summer students were absolutely SHOCKED, and at least one changed her plans after hearing this.
    FWIW, current undergrad stipends are within shouting distance of what a typical fresh BS would make in my field, although the benefits for students are usually worse than in a “real” job if you ignore tuition remission. That, and the possibility for raises and advancement is a lot lower.

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  32. becca Says:

    @anon- Is it more lazy to use wiki to research easily accessed facts to get a very general overview of a topic (something wiki is generally good for) or to refuse to even google but just assume you know something? By the way, Rush Limbaugh also spews random crap about how America Is Special and *insert group of people* are Whiners. Totally classy.
    DM- I love ya and everything, but must you frame this as “this is SUCH a comparatively cushy deal!”?
    Is it really so intellectually or emotionally challenging to simultaneously recognize:
    1)We are incredibly lucky to get to do what we want to do in academic research, generally. We’d be lucky to have the time to do it even if we didn’t get paid a dime.
    2) The financial situation for grad students sucks.
    If the goal is purely about scientific progress, it makes sense to pay students enough so that they don’t have to worry about money if they live modestly. Worrying about money takes away from student’s ability to focus on the research- there’s a reason the number one factor correlated with success in grad school is having sufficient financial support.
    If we’re also allowed to have any goals concerning basic humanity/workers rights, not being able to afford to eat without state assistance should kinda make our employers blush.

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  33. bsci Says:

    Regarding getting paid for grad school, in addition to making sure people know they can get paid, I’ve found it relevant to make sure people know they SHOULD get paid and what’s required. Even in science PhD programs, what’s required to get the salary varies a lot. I’ve seen people entering grad school thinking things will work out only to realize some programs and labs are more abusive than others. No programs are luxurious, but I suspect students from less privileged backgrounds, are more likely to end up in programs or labs that will abuse them.
    On a related note, my wife’s grad school adviser, who grew up on a farm, lamented how most of the students in their program has a parent with a PhD.

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  34. Anonymous Says:

    becca, have you missed the 😉 I used in my response?

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  35. ex-hedgehog freak Says:

    I want to ask another question RE: taxes. I only came here as a postdoc, in the UK my grad student scholarship was tax-free? Is it the same here? If so, then students are getting more proportionately than the 25-30K stipend on paper they currently get if there are tax breaks involved.

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  36. Anon4This Says:

    I financially supported myself + significant medical expenses for over a year before I even finished high school. My income when this situation started was about $7/hour, I eventually landed a salary position making $18.5k/year. Pathetically, the $18.5k was enough to tempt me to stay after high school. I thought that was a lot of money, but the work was soul-crushing. The public took out a *lot* of misdirected anger on me.
    I busted through college in 3 years because I didn’t have any financial support, and my interesting family situation ended up disqualifying me from subsidized loans and grants. I took serious semester overloads for the free credits, and worked 3-4 overlapping shitty $5.50-7/hour jobs, and paid for almost all the tuition out of pocket. (For reference, my total tuition costs at Unknown State U were in the $15k range.)
    Comparatively, the $24500 stipend I received my first year of grad school was mind-blowing. It’s not great living, especially if anything untoward (illness, etc) happens. That’s when you get grad students taking out student loans to pay basic expenses, which blows, but it’s also a privilege to have those available to get through a tight spot. $24.5k was definitely better than anything I had seen up until that point.
    I complained about the grad school stipend as a grad student when extended, untoward circumstances hit me. I complained about a postdoc salary too. It took a lot of working up the ladder before I decided it was time to shut the fuck up with the complaining.

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  37. DrugMonkey Says:

    I always had to pay income tax on my stipends, graduate school through postdoc. I recall at one point there was a tax-revolt type of effort to use some obscure part of the tax code to not pay taxes on fellowships making the rounds- i never heard of anyone being audited so I don’t know if that was ever tested.

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  38. Anonymous Says:

    Anon4This,
    That’s what I was talking about; busting your ass off to get where you want to be, without whining and extending your arm begging for money or signing your life away by borrowing loads of money you cannot afford to pay back.

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  39. another young FSP Says:

    I know I’m too late for the discussion, but –
    I was the first in my family to go into a science field. Finding out that not only was my tuition covered, but that they would also pay me a living wage was mind-blowing after my older siblings had taken on a mortgage worth of debt for a degree in a much less lucrative field. I still remember the feeling of unreality that washed over me when I got back my offer letters from graduate programs with stipends around $20k to $25k.
    That “low” stipend gave me more disposable income than my parents or siblings. I was able to go to the grocery store and buy any food I wanted without worrying about running out of cash at the register, even when the food item wasn’t on sale. I could buy books in hardcover instead of waiting for paperback and not think that I was spending my food budget. And my class privilege shows through in that I considered books to be important. I could go out to eat once a week at a reasonably nice restaurant. And after all of that, I still had money to put in a savings account at the end of the month. And I had all this money because they were paying me to go to school!
    It’s all about expectations.

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  40. BP Says:

    I’m with “another young FSP” here. I was amazed at how “much” my stipend was. I recall thinking that two grad students made more than my parents did with three kids. My standard of living went up in grad school.

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  41. Anonymous Says:

    After reading another young FSP’s and BP’s responses I left wondering why there is still so much whining among grad students and postdocs.

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  42. Anonymous Says:

    answering #41: because our social peers, who graduated with us but took “real jobs”, saw their earnings and standards of living increase far more than we did over the next 6ish years. $1200 a month sure sounded like a lot when I was 22 and fresh, but by the time I was 28 I was really tired of roomates and scraping by, in, of course, one of the most-expensive cities in the US (where many good grad schools tend to be).

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  43. Eric Lund Says:

    RE: taxes. I only came here as a postdoc, in the UK my grad student scholarship was tax-free?
    As DM said in his reply @37, grad student stipends are subject to income tax. There was some controversy on the subject in the early 90s, and I gather that stipends were not always taxable. However, at the time I was a Ph.D. student, my stipend was not subject to payroll taxes, and the Social Security Administration reminds me of this annually when they send me a statement that includes my earnings history–it shows zero income during my grad school years. I don’t know whether stipends are still exempt from FICA.
    The stipend amounts I have seen quoted in this thread are significantly higher than what I remember, though my Ph.D. institution was in a lower cost area (still not cheap) than some. In my case, the tuition waiver (which was not taxable) represented more money than the stipend, as my Ph.D. institution is a private school (but even at a state university they would have been comparable for someone like me coming from out of state).

    Like

  44. becca Says:

    “After reading another young FSP’s and BP’s responses I left wondering why there is still so much whining among grad students and postdocs.”
    Math is Fun!
    Monthly stipend (after tax and health insurance are taken out): $1600
    Monthly cost of daycare: $1100
    Monthly cost of rent in one bedroom with lazyass landlord who doesn’t take care of anything: $500
    Monthly cost of food, formula, toilet paper, soap, diapers, second hand clothes for the little one, medical expenses not covered by insurance, phone bill, electric bill, gas for the car, local taxes, car insurance, car maintenance…: >$0
    And this is in a pretty affordable area of the country.
    And yeah, I saw the ;), I’m just grumpy.

    Like

  45. Anonymous Says:

    becca, my point was that American students are spoiled and lazy and you’re, in essence, confirming it. If your stipend money is not enough to live on, find a job that does provide enough, while you’re studying. I did it having three dependent kids at the time and knowing very well that my studies will last longer because of it. During the six years that it took me to complete my doctoral thesis, I slept, on average, 4 hour/night, frequently in the lab. I did not whine, since I wanted to be a research scientist and the hard work was the price I was required to pay to get there.

    Like

  46. A Says:

    Very interesting point. I am from the Middle East and I am female. I don’t come from an academic family but an educated family. I wanted to be a scientist from age 6 and I knew I had to be an “international citizen” to do so from a very young age. This was all thanks to my parents and the attitude they had, which I internalized. I realise in retrospect I would not be where I am today without this subtle but clear reinforcement of my intellectual growth and confidence that I could do so (as a woman, being from where I am). I am sure people back home wondered what the hell I was doing in school in America that was taking so long… Why didn’t I become a schoolteacher? Distance helped.
    On the other hand, of course I had no money. My family was not well-off in US standards. I never had to work in a warehouse or washing dishes because I was always on student visas and I could not work on anythng other than research or TA jobs. I would be deported immediately if I flunked out of grad school, or left. I could not take breaks. I was very ill (housebound for 9 months) during my PhD and could not take a leave of absence because they would not extend my student visa. Blah blah blah… the point is, on the one hand, I was the terrorist suspect in the eyes of the US government (Post 9/11 the treatment I received about any visa/immigration issues became at times abusive even though where I am from has nothing to do with anything), could never apply to any funding, and couldn’t even take a side job to support myself or to take a break from research. On the other, I went through grad school without any of this dishwashing so I had some strange kind of privilege. Yes, I worked in multiple labs as RA, took on way too much but it was all research work and it advanced my career… The disadvantage I had was most damaging in terms of the stress. The lack of options… If I didn’t get a faculty position, I had to go back home… And noone is guaranteed a faculty position! I was always sleeping with one eye open, waiting for the shoe to drop, for the whole thing to end with an immigration officer yelling at me telling me I am no longer welcome in the United States.
    It all worked out for me but I still have nightmares about being deported!
    It’s very interesting to ponder the privileges even the less privileged can have… I dedicated my PhD to my parents and despite their faults, thank them every day of my life.

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  47. Anonymous Says:

    A,
    Thank you for posting your comment here. I’m happy for you for having the strength and the will to withstand the hardships that most American students cannot even fathom, and for achieving your goals. Being a naturalized American citizen myself, I know and understand exactly what you described regarding your difficulties with immigration issues and officers.
    I wish you the best in your scientific endeavors and career.

    Like

  48. JustinCase Says:

    @ Anonymous,
    When I signed to receive my stipend, I also had to sign a statement that I could/would not obtain secondary employment. Unfortunately, I have to take the ski lift instead of walking uphill both ways in the snow.
    That said, I’m a current graduate student and I have never heard a complaint about the stipend because we all acknowledge that it is enough to live comfortably (not luxuriously).

    Like

  49. JustinCase Says:

    Oh, and I forgot to say that I was from a lower middle class family (first one in my family tree to get a 4 year degree), and I didn’t really know that a PhD was possible (for me), let alone that I would get paid for it until the end of junior year. I think it would do wonders for diversity in science if people could go to high schools and colleges and let people know that they CAN get a PhD.

    Like

  50. Anonymous Says:

    JustinCase,
    See @44. My response was to her.

    Like

  51. Anonymous Says:

    Oh, and one more thing, if the stipend does not cut it, one can always find a job that provides for one’s needs and go to school later.

    Like

  52. Anonymous Says:

    I’d say what mom & dad say is irrelevant, at graduate level people should be able to judge by themselves and shape their own future.
    In my case the academic family background played a *negative* role. Both my parents are professors in good schools, both MIT graduates. All I remember them doing is being stressed for things of no real importance, have little money and live a very conservative lifestyle along with their academic friends.
    You may call that background a social asset but it was exactly the type of social circle I always wanted to avoid and the lifestyle & income I wanted to avoid.
    As I kid I was always very strong in Maths & positive sciences and I liked them, I went as far as getting a PhD from Cambridge but from day 1, I knew this was it for me, I never wanted to live like an academic. Nor did I do the PhD for its supposed “value”, I did it because I was interested in the topic I studied and to extend my student days for a little longer, in terms of economic value, a PhD is usually a loss.
    Now I work at a hedge fund, making 10 times what my father & mother used to make *put together* and I’m living a quite happy life.
    My personal experience was quite the opposite, parents living in academia’s matrix, parents having the usual academic mentality, that the whole planet rotates around academia and instead of seeing pressure not to go into grad school, there was pressure to take silly postdoctoral jobs which payed the usual next-to-nothing salaries. Of course I didn’t bother with my parents opinions and went on to live my life. However my point is that both non-academic and academic backgrounds are biased as far as grad school is concerned, they’re just biased in different ways and in an equally manner.
    Did my math background help get a hedge fund job? yes
    Could I have gotten the same job without a PhD? absolutely, many colleagues of mine did so with their undergrad degree.
    Is a prestigious degree needed to get a very well paying job? not at all, many excellent traders never had a prestigious degree, but are pretty awesome at what they do.
    Was a PhD then worth it? Since I enjoyed it yes, but only because of that, not because it supposedly has social value (it doesn’t) or market value (again it doesn’t).
    Is grad school really payed? c’mon it’s just a stipend to keep people from starving.
    People may think whatever they want for grad school, truth is that it is payed. However, it must also be pointed out that it’s payed for people willing to live a frugal life. No house mortgage, no nice car, no holiday house, no fancy vacations etc. it’s pretty much a hermit life so I can understand why, even though it’s kind of payed, grad school is not considered a proper job. It simply isn’t a proper job.

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  53. Anonymous Says:

    Anonymous @52,
    Although you haven’t detailed how your hedge fund life is better than academic life, enough in-between-the-lines hints tell us that you consider having house mortgage, a nice car, holiday house and fancy vacations the things that makes it better. Good for you. Nevertheless, criticizing your parents for not considering those items good reasons to leave academia and enter the hedge fund industry instead, indicates more than anything else that you haven’t reached yet the maturity level required to understand that there is more to life than houses, cars and vacations, even if academicians are paid less than what hedge fund people are “payed.”

    Like

  54. Anonymous52 Says:

    @53
    Ad hominem is a quite cheap way to go and saying it’s mature to choose academia over anything else is unfounded. It may well be your personal opinion but there is nothing inherently mature in academia, it’s just a profession option just like anything else.
    It is correct, I consider the ability to afford an improvement in life quality. If you don’t find that obvious, the utility curve (utility of money vs money) scales almost linearly at low incomes so the effect more money has at salary level incomes is officially considered to be important.
    Even more, avoiding the conservative lifestyle most academics follow is equally important.
    However what I consider the most important of all is not spending my youth relocating every two years in isolated/boring places, living on soft money and being under constant stress if I get tenure.
    You only get to live once and be young only once, as someone sharply remarked, “saving sex for after 60 is not a smart idea”. Academia requires every year during your youth to tick away in a lab. You may as well call that maturity if you like, but most people are likely to consider it a boring way to live your life.

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  55. Isabel Says:

    “Oh, and one more thing, if the stipend does not cut it, one can always find a job that provides for one’s needs and go to school later.
    Posted by: Anonymous ”
    Why don’t you criticize all the lazy ass whiners who come from countries with free (to students) undergrad education?
    I worked my way through art school, and eventually worked worked with a number of people who went on and on about how spoiled Americans were, how successful THEY (in other words unlike me) would have been already had they been born here blah blah (this is also fucking rude to say right to Americans faces, duh) and it came out eventually that they had had free educations and often free or subsidized housing.

    Like

  56. BikeMonkey Says:

    Straight up, Isabel, straight up. Plus those socialist foreigners never had to bear the social stigma and institutionalized discrimination of being an Appylachian-American, either.

    Like

  57. Anonymous Says:

    Isabel,
    I have worked in the American Academia for over 30 years. I have taught American and foreign undergrad and grad students, I have mentored American and foreign postdocs. As a rule, in every group, the foreign individuals worked harder and achieved higher than the Americans. While American undergrad students were playing around, getting drunk and skipping classes, the foreign ones have no inclination to waste their time on BS like that. In grad school, the foreign students usually have less (money and materials) than the American ones yet, they achieve more and in a shorter period of time. I remember my very first foreign postdoc, a married man with one child. He left his family in his homeland, worked in the lab everyday (7 days/week) from 8 am until 10 pm, brought his meals with him to the lab, which he prepared the night before, published his first paper, 4 months after arriving to the country (in 2 years of his postdoc period he published 6 high quality papers in high IF journals and managed to save about 1/3 of his postdoc salary every month to send back to his family.
    Now, you may consider it rude to tell Americans in their faces that they are lazy, I consider telling American the truth essential, if this country is to get back to its leadership position in the world. The anti-intellectual movement in the US today makes the American student even lazier; drives him/her to believe that one can dance with the stars or play football or work at a hedge fund or run to the US Senate on the idea that Evolution is a myth, to become successful. Wake up and smell the bitter truth.
    Bikemonkey,
    Sorry if you have suffered from an Appylachian-American stigma, but do not blame the foreigners for that, it is pure American bigotry that still works its “magic” on other minority groups in this country. Nevertheless, if you are not aware of it, many minorities of foreign origins use such stigma to work harder and succeed, which could be another difference between the spoiled and lazy American student and his foreign counterpart.

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  58. Anonymous52 Says:

    at 57,
    Truth be told to get a good job it’s more important to built a strong social network than spend all day in the lab. You may say that your american students are drunk, which hardly matches my experience, but essentially going out with people is more beneficial to them than publishing a paper.
    I think a simpler explanation is that americans know the deal with academic salaries and academic soft money which you depend on before you even get a salary. Foreigners may know it as well, but considering the current state of their home countries, doing that is a good deal for them, also many of them do it just to “escape” their home land. For americans it’s not a good deal, in fact it’s a very bad deal and they (rightly) don’t see putting effort in a lab as something that’s worth it.
    So instead of being sorry for the americans who don’t want to work hard on peanuts, maybe pay them some more if you wish to have strong american students. Else you’ll get what you have now, nearly nobody interested in putting the effort to work in a lab, except people on visas.
    On the other hand if all you want is *cheap labor* staying in the lab 7 days/week 8am-10pm, don’t expect anybody to take you seriously, people who are willing to put this kind of effort and work hard, usually expect compensation for it.
    When you don’t offer a good deal, you get rejected by those who have better alternatives, simple job market mechanics.

    Like

  59. Anonymous Says:

    Anonymous52,
    Eventually you don’t know what you’re talking about, since you haven’t spent even one day of your life in a lab. For you, everything is measured by $$$. Get a life, there is more to it than greed, though, Americans are very good at it and now our economy is in shambles, at least in part thanks to hedge funds!

    Like

  60. Anonymous52 Says:

    @59
    So you don’t have anything to add except ad hominem. Pretty much acknowledging you don’t have a point.
    Things are simple if you want americans in your lab you need to offer competitive salaries, if you don’t you can keep saying how more dedicated visa postdocs are, how everything’s Wall St.’s fault but nothing will change.

    Like

  61. Isabel Says:

    Most of the graduate students you are referring to probably ARE spoiled to some degree – or privileged at least, relative to the average American.
    And it is not true that other nationalities work harder than American workers in general. You are basing this generalization on your own narrow, and apparently biased, experience. You are also comparing foreign grad students to locals, they are not in the same situation.
    It sounds like YOU are the lazy one, going for the easy stereotype. And don’t worry about Bikemonkey he’s just a bitter troll who’s only happy when he’s picking the same old scab. Time to move on BM!

    Like

  62. Anonymous52 Says:

    @61
    The thing is that he has an interest in having that low-paid labor force. I’m not saying this is necessarily at a conscious level but who wouldn’t want a low-paid workforce 7 days per week 8am-10pm (I’m assuming little vacations as well).
    Of course talk is cheap and he can also say that not doing that for these salary levels is because americans are lazy. Anyone who says otherwise needs to “get a life”.
    Wonderful isn’t it? essentially he says people should either work in a sweatshop as if they are immigrants or people are rubbish. win-win!
    (S)He’s exactly the type of academic stereotype I was referring to when I mentioned I never wanted a social circle of academics. It’s amazing what people can advice others to do to promote self-interest. Sure tell more people to join labs and be happy with their salaries, it’s only their loss, not yours.
    Thank God the job market is correcting itself and fewer people go into labs as that these days.

    Like

  63. Anonymous Says:

    Anonymous52,
    You really don’t know what you’re talking about. Stipends and salaries paid by universities and grants are determined by university and NIH administrations, respectively, not by the PI or the mentor in charge of the students or the postdocs. These salaries are equal or better than most beginning high school teachers’ salary. As to the 8am-10pm working hours, hard working grad students and postdocs are not required to work all these hours, they choose to; in general, the harder they work the more and faster they advance. Funny how you sound so much like other Americans who complain against immigrants who are “taking” jobs away from Americans, when Americans don’t really interested in these jobs, since they pay too little, thus prefer to stay unemployed rather than take any of these jobs. Even in these times, spoiled Americans would choose to stay unemployed rather than take a minimum wage job.
    Isabel,
    My experience is not very narrow. Over 30 years in academia, in several institutions in several states, having colleagues who have employed both American and foreign grad students and postdocs and who have voiced the very same experience, attending numerous national and international scientific conferences and conventions in America, where the proportion of foreign grad students and postdocs, compared to Americans grad students and postdocs, is larger. And it is not because the Americans and the foreigners are equally industrious or privileged or spoiled, but because the latter work harder, are more strongly driven and are less spoiled.

    Like

  64. Anonymous52 Says:

    @63 The thing is that people these days offer postdoctoral jobs instead of TT jobs (as it happened in the past). TT jobs opening rate has declined overall during the last 20 years. When instead of offering a proper job, they offer a 2 year contract & soft money, it is of little relevance if the PI is directly involved, PIs were never interested in higher postdoctoral salaries anyhow, the current system suits them fine.
    Comparing postdocs to school teacher salaries is unfortunate, people with a PhD from a competent university don’t consider teaching at school, postdoctoral salaries compete with consulting & banking salaries. Having a better CV means a better salary, comparing postdoc salaries with a job that requires half the effort and just an undergrad degree pretty much shows how incompetent is pay at postdoctoral jobs.
    Also, 8am-10pm 7 days a week better pay good *now* else it’s just “saving sex after 60”. Unless advance in their career means go to the next postdoc, so after just one more they can get TT in their late 30s. This is a totally broken career path and that’s why americans avoid it, in other professions if you work as much you may as well consider retiring at the same age.

    Like

  65. Anonymous52 Says:

    Anyhow, during weekdays I’m pretty busy so I don’t plan to continue posting on this.
    In case some youngster is reading this and is wondering if postdoc-ing is a viable profession. The advice I have to give is to have in mind
    * Never believe empty promises from people that may have interest in hiring you. If the best they can sell you is ethics tutorials & “personal enlightenment” run as fast as you can.
    * Money is enough only for a frugal life.
    * You will be needing to move to different (and mostly boring) places every two years. This is a problem especially if you plan to have a family
    * It’s impossible to start things like your mortgage.
    * It’s impossible to do savings.
    * The real world is more fun.
    * The age at which you will begin having a proper income is extreme
    * You can get more money outside academia
    * If you do a postdoc it becomes hard to get real job. If you do two postdocs it’s next to impossible. Consider this and don’t take up a postdoc unless you are planning to fully commit on that path.
    * Your career will be depending on the reference letter your PI will provide you. Not so in all fields, e.g. in finance jobs no reference is required (or expected) to get hired and it’s always better to feel your future is not tied to somebody else’s opinion.
    If you are well aware of these things, the impact they’ll have on your life and consider it a rational choice, by all means go ahead. If not and are not well informed/have only heard about tinkerbell & how wonderful it is to publish, think twice.
    To the 30-years-in-academia pastor, thanks for demonstrating the attitude of some PIs and that by wasting 2 years of their life in labs like yours, essentially they leave with empty hands. For immigrants it may well be a good deal, for people that aren’t there on visa, hardly so.
    bb all, this week has allot of (very well paying) work to be done!

    Like

  66. Dr. Feelgood Says:

    Oy,
    I am with the curmuedgeons on this. I went to grad school from 88-93. I made $1,100 to $1,500 per month depending upon the year. I lived in L.A. and had my own apartment. I had enough money to cover my expenses and still go out occasionally. No support from parents. I drove a beater Datsun B210 ($900 graduation present, total babe magnet) and a 1975 Honda 400 Supersport motorcycle I rebuilt (Cost $100). I did just fine.
    Do I agree that a someone trying to support a family would find it woefully inadequate? Yes. However, that is a personal decision of the student. It is our job to socially engineer stipends to cover the cost of an entire family? no. Should health care be better? Absolutely.
    Grad students in our program buy homes (stupidly, I might add), drive newer cars and whine about a putting in a good 40 hour week. That is why I rarely take a grad student anymore. Stipend, plus their tuition costs (we have to pay it for them from our grants). Might as well take a post-doc or technician.
    Sacrifice for what you want seems to have fallen by the wayside. Give up your data cell phone plan, your cable bill, your new car, your match.com subscription and get your damned doctorate and move on.

    Like

  67. whimple Says:

    Give up your data cell phone plan, your cable bill, your new car, your match.com subscription and get your damned doctorate and move on.
    Move on to what? Postdoc in your lab? I mean, while we’re advocating sacrifice and all that…

    Like

  68. Isabel Says:

    Don’t MD’s have to go to medical school and then be low-paid interns who work 36-hour shifts for a few years? Or is that just on TV?
    Dr. FG, you were given a car by your parents. You are talking about rent over 20 years ago. Are you aware that they have quadrupled? I am making not much more than your high end, but in 2010. Etc. So put a sock in it.
    On the other hand, if someone has a choice over their research topic, is getting free classes, seminars, mentoring and healthcare, to help them achieve what after all is their very own self-imposed goal,I agree complaining too bitterly about anything over 20-25K is spoiled. But post docs should be treated better, and paid some compensation for the awkwardness of having to pick up and move every 1-2 years.
    But demands for excessive hours on the PI’s research or TAing (or in my case at the moment the professor I am TAing for, whose answers to constant complaints about over work from grad students Taing his class over the years is we “need to learn to manage our time better” or some shit)are of course exploitative.
    Saying people who think they are being exploited shouldn’t complain is a dangerous road to go down.
    Another tip, back to the SES topic, recruit outside the privileged groups who generally populate grad schools. I am grateful for my situation and a super-hard worker thanks to my background, but yes, BECAUSE of my experiences in the real world, I am sensitive to exploitation. It’s a delicate balance all parties need to stay on top of.

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  69. becca Says:

    @anon 45/50/51- your choices have consequences. You see yourself as a motivated and dedicated individual. I see you as a selfish, exploitive and borderline abusive flake. Why the heck would you have three kids and then do that to them? Who was taking care of them when you were spending your 4hours/night sleeping in the lab?
    Your FAMILY sacrificed so you could be a researcher. In the case of your kids, they did without your presence, and they could not have rendered informed consent.
    And yet you somehow feel morally superior to others. You take all the credit for the sacrifices OTHERS made on your behalf and you look down at other people who don’t have those resources (or people who have too many scruples to do that to their loved ones).
    You should be deeply, deeply ashamed.
    Also, your glib suggestion to ‘find a job’ is
    A) likely ignorant of the economic context in which your comment appears (“one” can ALWAYS find a job that provides for one’s needs? ALWAYS? REALLY? Maybe you always could, but what evidence do you have that applies to everyone?)
    and
    B) completely ignorant of my personal circumstances, including a graduate program that will kick me out if I get another job. I did not have dependents when I entered graduate school- so I didn’t *need* an outside job then.

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  70. Ruchira Says:

    Y’all might find this article from the National Bureau of Economic Research thought-provoking: “How and Why Government, Universities, and Industry Create Domestic Labor Shortages of Scientists and High-Tech Workers” http://www.nber.org/%7Epeat/PapersFolder/Papers/SG/NSF.html

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  71. Anonymous Says:

    becca,
    I loved your analysis of my family life, my poor neglected children, etc, etc. You are in the wrong profession, dear!

    Like

  72. becca Says:

    @Anonymous- your family life might be great. Your kids might be happier without you around- I know I would have been if I’d been your kid.
    I don’t believe that the shameful part is making choices that require sacrifices of people close to you (although all those people kevetching about entitled students expecting financial assistance from their parents might very well stop and think about whether it’s any more ethical to effectively take financial assistance from your
    CHILDREN- every year in grad school is likely one less to add to college funds).
    The shameful part is simply your attitude. You are enormously entitled, just about different things than those you criticize.

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  73. Anonymous Says:

    becca,
    The main reason for the 6+ years it took to finish my doctoral thesis was the fact that I had a family and children who needed my time and presence. You sounds as if you believe that you are the only one who knows how to raise children the right way, while everyone else who dares having children before they are completely established in their career choices are child abusers. You are full of shit and you know it.

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  74. becca Says:

    It would be pretty ludicrous for me to say you can’t have children before you’re completely established in your career. Particularly since I have children and am not completely established in my career.
    Which is why I said nothing of the sort.
    I said that your choices have consequences- there are downsides to everything, and all that.
    I said that presenting yourself as nobly sacrificing for your career while ignoring the sacrifices of your family is a very incomplete picture.
    And I believe that presenting this incomplete picture whilst simultaneously looking down on those who supposedly aren’t sacrificing enough (or who aren’t sacrificing in the way you approve of), or who dare to voice complaints about the sacrifices they make, is in incredibly poor taste.
    Dripping disdain while you criticize other people’s work ethic and their child-rearing practices are both SWELL ways of raising your victim’s blood pressure. Is it full of shit? Of course. But you started it 😉

    Like

  75. Anonymous Says:

    becca,
    You seem to quote things I never said. Here are a few points for you:
    1. I never said that American students should make similar sacrifices to mine. I actually never said I made any sacrifices. This word, “sacrifices,” is yours. I said the American students are spoiled and they whine.
    2. I never said that my family did not make sacrifices.
    3. You are the one who have reached outlandish conclusions about me and my family from an incomplete picture that you yourself painted in your mind.
    4. You seem to hold that saying that one is “being spoiled and a whiner” = “criticism of work ethic.” This is ridiculous. There are many whose work ethic is beyond reproach, yet they are both whiners and spoiled. There are as many whose work ethic is non-existent yet, they are not spoiled and they never whine.
    5. If you always read into other people’s comments “things” that raise your BP, even when these “things” are not there, you should take some precautionary measures before you read the comments.

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  76. Dveduu Says:

    Let me just comment that for a lot of people grad school is as much fun as it is work. As a grad student at Caltech, I’m able to do crazy stuff that no one else can do. No way would I rather be sitting at a desk making money that I wouldn’t know what to do with.

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  77. whimple Says:

    Dveduu, we call those people “chumps”. If you like your grad student experience at Caltech, that’s nothing compared to how much fun it is to whitewash this fence over here.

    Like

  78. doc Says:

    Having been in academics all my career, I can relate to and echo many of the sentiments expressed in this post. It appears to me that we might be losing our edge in the world because of continued reductions in the field of education.

    Like

  79. Anonymous Says:

    Scientific research is in great need of people like Dveduu. I can strongly relate to his experience and excitement. My experience was similar and my excitement was as high when I was a grad student and later a postdoc. Money was a necessity, but it was never more important than the scientific research experience and the exhilaration that comes with it. For me, Scientific research has been fun throughout my career and my wish for Dveduu is that s/he will continue to have fun with it beyond grad school.

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  80. Stephanie Z Says:

    “Anonymous,” you’re falling into old, bad patterns. There’s no reason to try to divide the commentariat, as there’s plenty of room for nuanced disagreement, and nuanced agreement, here. Spoiled doesn’t necessarily mean whiny doesn’t necessarily mean lazy, and grading graduate student stipends on where they fall on a global scale for all work doesn’t really tell us much about whether they are fair for the work that graduate students do. That kind of benchmarking is, however, a method used in industry to keep wages from keeping up with inflation.
    And really, you can treat becca better than that. That kind of requirement for precision in language is rarely more than an obstruction to two-sided conversation.

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  81. Anonymous Says:

    Stephanie Z,
    Point taken yet, how come you have completely ignored becca’s personal attack on me (comment #69)? I find it much worse than nuance of disagreement. She has accused me of being an unfit parent who, she said, “should be deeply, deeply ashamed.” Could it be that you simply have joined the pack by attacking me for my position, while pretending to promote tolerance-in-conversation?

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  82. becca Says:

    Anon- just to clarify, the behavior of yours I think is shameful was your judgmental, and hypocritical*, attitude toward others. I can’t comment on your fitness as a parent. Only on your demonstrated (lack of) decency toward other people.
    *You are spoiled in what your family was able to do for you.
    “You seem to hold that saying that one is “being spoiled and a whiner” = “criticism of work ethic.” This is ridiculous. “
    Actually, it’s ridiculous that you appear to think a reasonable person cannot construe the former as implying the later.
    Don’t you fret about my BP, I’m quite fine. Just keep in mind that stereotyping about any group as “spoiled and whiny” is a wearing meatpants to the pound type of move.

    Like

  83. Anonymous Says:

    bacca,
    You did comment about my fitness as a parent. In general, American students, as a group, are spoiled and whiny. This is a generalization, of course, but it is more or less accurate. And I don’t really fret about your BP.

    Like

  84. Isabel Says:

    @83, as I pointed out before, your tendency to generalize from your personal experience and refusal to acknowledge your own prejudices reveals your own extreme laziness; and furthermore, you are the biggest whiner on this thread by a long shot. Project much?

    Like

  85. Stephanie Z Says:

    Anonymous, there you go again, trying to divide the commentariat into factions. Silly. I’m in the corporate world, not the academic, and have never been a grad student, so I don’t have anything vested in you being wrong or right. I do, however, object to someone trying to manipulate a conversation to their own ends, particularly when the conversation has the potential to inform the people involved.
    becca’s addressed most of your objections to her comment, but you might also want to note that when you use yourself as an example of the paragon to which all others should aspire, you should expect your claims to be examined strictly. Calling that examination a “personal attack” is disingenuous at best.

    Like

  86. Anonymous Says:

    “Most of the graduate students you are referring to probably ARE spoiled to some degree – or privileged at least, relative to the average American.” Isabel @61 generalizing!

    Like

  87. Anon4this Says:

    all trolls are equal, but some are more equal than others

    Like

  88. Isabel Says:

    Nice try, but I used appropriate qualifiers, and reduced American graduate students down to a more specific group which they generally do belong to, a group that is defined by relative affluence. Are you denying that this is true?? In fact it was the opposite of your habit of generalizing to all Americans. I also did not generalize about anyone’s “lazy” attitude or work ethic – the most offensive part of your posts.

    Like

  89. Anonymous Says:

    Isabel,
    I did not bring-up work ethic, only spoiled and lazy. It’s becca’s equation.

    Like

  90. Different Anonymous Says:

    I have to stay, I preferred having foreign students in my lab even though they cost me more. In my experience and observations in large departments in 3 universities over 3 decades, I and my colleagues have found foreign students to be more productive and dedicated year after year… it could be because people don’t tend to move penniless to the other side of the world, leaving their family friends, language and culture behind just because they were smart, didn’t know what else to do, and wanted to prolong the college experience, which many american grad students do.
    I think it’s interesting how angry people are getting above at the evil foreigners. I believe it has been a strength of America to bring in talented immigrants, especially in science. If you are an American and not lazy, you need not be offended. You do and will have more opportunities than the foreigners.
    For the record, I am middle class midwest born and bred American myself. So shoot me!

    Like

  91. whimple Says:

    Of course the foreign students are more dedicated and productive: the lab is their whole life and if it doesn’t work out, they’re put back on the boat. 80 hours a week, 100 hours a week, it’s all good. This semi-slave labor “insourcing” is just as egregious as corporate outsourcing. I don’t understand why congress doesn’t shut it down.

    Like

  92. Isabel Says:

    I think this thread about socio and economic privilege has been derailed by the (racist) anti-racists, though I don’t hear DM complaining, surprise surprise.
    “evil foreigners???” geez. Yeah right DA, everybody’s getting SO angry about them. right.
    Exactly how poor was your family anyway DM? Did you have to work your way through college, buy your own clothes in high school? Did your family ever travel, etc? Not to be nosy, but was there some unusual circumstance, or are you implying academics have so much less income than blue collar workers as a rule?

    Like

  93. Isabel Says:

    DM, I didn’t mean to be nosy in my previous comment. I like that your OP highlights the difference between economic advantage and cultural capital, a distinction that is often overlooked.
    I just think there are a few stereotypical assumptions about the differences between academic and non-academic (or blue-collar, whatever) families there as well, eg that blue collar types do not “value education” or “have books in the home”. And that even occasional attendance at cultural events is unknown in most blue-collar households.
    In actuality, the main difference is in what you correctly identify as knowing about how things work in the academic world, knowing that grad students are paid as just one example. The many people and far-off places known and interwoven into an academic life are important also. All these experiences are completely unattainable to most blue collar folks, so when you say
    “We can’t do much to change undergraduate students’ background social conditioning. But one thing we can do is to make sure they realize that, in the biosciences at least, the expectation is that you get paid to go to graduate school.”
    I would respond that the “one” thing you can do is the MAIN thing. Of course, I know from experience that having a sense of entitlement does not come naturally to us less-privileged types, if THAT’s what you mean about background social conditioning.
    But 95% of the battle would be won just as you say, knowing the score, how the world works, who is who, what the expectations are, as well as financial support from understanding parents now and then. This along with better connected mentors making a special effort to share “connections” with lower-class students, knowing they and their families have few.
    Blaming it on social conditioning – “Not valuing education” etc is a red herring of sorts here, in a way blaming the victim (after all they had as much or more money! If they just took their kids to the opera more often, or had more books in the home…)

    Like

  94. Anonymous Says:

    Wimpy,
    You are full of it! So, according to you, if a foreign grad student does not work as a slave s/he is back on the boat going home, but an American grad student can get away with working as half a slave because s/he is not a foreigner. Wow!
    You know, Wimpy, I was a foreign postdoc in this country. As an unpaid grad student in my homeland I worked much harder than any other grad student there because I love science and wanted a career as a scientist. As a postdoc, selected by my American PI from a slew of candidates, not because of me being a foreigner, but based on my scientific performance as a grad student and letters of recommendation from my mentors and teachers, I worked harder than any other postdoc in the lab because I loved my research and still wanted to have a career as a scientist, either here in the US or back in my homeland.
    Sound to me like your mantra is “let us, American grad students and postdocs, stay lazy and whiny by demanding that the American government protect us from the foreign slaves flooding our shores and invading our research labs.”

    Like

  95. El Picador Says:

    Sound to me like your mantra is “let us, American grad students and postdocs, stay lazy and whiny by demanding that the American government protect us from the foreign slaves flooding our shores and invading our research labs.”
    Actually, it IS against the law for American employers to import foreign slaves to do their work…

    Like

  96. whimple Says:

    Sound to me like your mantra is “let us, American grad students and postdocs, stay lazy and whiny by demanding that the American government protect us from the foreign slaves flooding our shores and invading our research labs.”
    You might have missed the whole immigration debate this election cycle, but there are good reasons why we don’t just throw open the borders to all and sundry. We don’t let those hyper-industrious child-laborers in either, even though it means our children stay lazy and whiny, as you put it.

    Like

  97. Anonymous Says:

    Whimpy,
    If not for the US importing scientists from other countries since WWII and especially since the Sputnik saga, science and technology in the US would never be where it is today. If you stop this process now, the lazy and whiny Americans would never be able to carry the load on their own. You can’t just develop and build the necessary progress, the economical supremacy and the security of the US without the hard working, better-educated, highly-motivated immigrants. One of the major reasons this country is in such a decline over the past two decades or so is the hate of intellect and the love of dumbness that took hold and where security precautions have slowed down significantly the flow of hard working young intellectuals into the country. When the US becomes another third-world country, even hyper-industrious immigrant laborers would not be able to lift it up again.

    Like

  98. becca Says:

    Is this the best the best way we can run our big labs? Is this the best way we can publish our good papers? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2eO65BqxBE)
    Not to feed the paranoia, but if one was a policy maker, and if one wanted to keep as many creative and brilliant people *away* from jobs that would give them time to be active in politics, that one efficient means of doing so would be to allow importing foreign workers in a fashion that creates an entire class of professional, highly educated, insecure migrant workers? Not as efficient as tax writeoffs for mortgages, of course (The Yuppie Nuremberg defense strikes again http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0427944/quotes), but nothing to sneeze at either.

    Like

  99. Isabel Says:

    “As an unpaid grad student in my homeland I worked much harder than any other grad student there”
    Ahh, so they were spoiled and lazy too I take it.

    Like

  100. Isabel Says:

    “You can’t just develop and build the necessary progress, the economical supremacy and the security of the US without the hard working, better-educated, highly-motivated immigrants.”
    What a ridiculous claim. Of course it can be done, for example by better training Americans and investing more in research.
    You mean it can’t be done with the current funding realities without the immigrants who are willing to work for low wages. That may be true, who knows.

    Like

  101. Anonymous Says:

    Isabel,
    USA is a country of immigrants. There’s nothing wrong with attracting the best and the brightest from abroad to come and join this great country. Immigrants will always work harder and for less than the lazy, whiny >2nd generation Americans. That is part of the history of this country and its strength. Other countries have discovered this secret, too. Thus, the two new Nobel laureates for 2010 in Physics are two Russians who emigrated to England and Holland. Here we have many Nobel laureates who emigrated to the US from other countries.Without them, the American science would not be where it is today. It is ridiculous to blame deficiencies in funding for the better performance of foreign grad students and postdocs than their American counterparts. The very system that imports the best and the brightest into American science is outsourcing the best manufacturing jobs overseas. Maybe the spoiled and lazy American expecting to be paid too much money for a job that foreigners can do faster, better and for less pay. These are the rules of free market that we all are so fond of. The American science is not different from any other job market and more funding will simply increase even more the flow of foreign young scientists here, since funding cannot convert a lazy American into an industrious one.

    Like

  102. Isabel Says:

    They are not better and brighter, they are simply more desperate, as you yourself keep explaining. Your use of language is incredibly sloppy.

    Like

  103. Anonymous52 Says:

    @101
    America used to “produce” quite few pretty solid american scientists. With today’s expectation to go through a postdoc wage for quite a few years nobody in his right mind would choose it. For foreigners it may well be a better deal than what they have at home and they take the job.
    Americans prefer to become layers, investment bankers, consultants and doctors, fields where hard work is actually paid and there is a clear career structure, not “keep postdocin’ till something appears at the end of the tunnel”. Things are simple, as long as academia offers a bad deal it won’t attract national talent, only foreigners who may find this deal a good one.
    When you don’t offer anything useful to people’s careers, at least in the near future, they take some time off, enjoy their last years as students and prepare for the next career step, that is quite normal.
    The only solution to this is to have *allot* better salaries for those americans who wish to continue in research. Only then these sort of jobs will be attractive.

    Like

  104. Anonymous Says:

    “they are simply more desperate”
    Just because you want something and willing to work hard to get it, doesn’t mean that you are desperate. I think it an absurdity for you to believe that people who emigrate to this country all do so out of desperation. Maybe you were desperate before you emigrated to the US, and maybe there are others like you, but I and hundreds of thousands like me came here not out of desperation, but rather to improve my chances at becoming an independent research scientist. I’ve succeeded in that as so many other hard-working, bright foreign immigrants have. If there is anything sloppy about the choice of words, it is your choice of “desperate.”

    Like

  105. whimple Says:

    Just because you want something and willing to work hard to get it, doesn’t mean that you are desperate.
    In addition to “working hard”, you gave up your family, your friends, your culture and your country for a highly speculative “improve my chances at becoming an independent research scientist”. Didn’t you like any of those things you gave up? Why do you think Americans aren’t willing to make those kind of sacrifices? It’s because Americans, unlike you, have other viable career options and exercise those options. You on the other hand, don’t have these options in your own country. That makes you desperate.

    Like

  106. Anonymous Says:

    “It’s because Americans, unlike you, have other viable career options and exercise those options. You on the other hand, don’t have these options in your own country. That makes you desperate.”
    Really? And you know my country of origin and all the options that are not being offered there. And, of course, there are so many options for Americans today that over 10% of them are unemployed. And because America has so many options, we are now outsourcing overseas many of those that Americans don’t like. Soon we will outsource grad student and postdoc positions, too. The truth is that these days much larger proportion of foreigners who complete their grad studies and postdoc research here are going back to their homelands than in the past, though still large enough number still taking away from Americans the option of becoming an independent scientist, which is the reason Americans whine so much. Yes, Americans like their options. Heck, they even complain about the illegal aliens taking their optional farm work, landscaping jobs, restaurant dish washing jobs, etc.
    Wimpy, you are absolutely correct, Americans have all these options, which would explain why they are spoiled and lazy.

    Like

  107. whimple Says:

    Soon we will outsource grad student and postdoc positions, too.
    No we won’t, because the NIH doesn’t allow grant dollars to leave the country this way. The NIH should shut you down in the exact same manner by insisting grants only be allowed to support citizens.

    Like

  108. Anonymous Says:

    Wimpy,
    Outsourcing occurs due to market conditions. When an industry losing jobs to overseas companies, the jobs do not go away with the American funds, they simply go away because the overseas industry doing a better job at whatever it produces for a lower cost than the American industry.

    Like

  109. whimple Says:

    What’s your point? Americans don’t pay for highway construction in India or China just because it’s cheaper to build highways in India or China. Government has an interest in promoting the well-being of its citizens. By bringing in cheap, disposable, educated labor from other countries, the US has dis-incentivized the production of an educated American workforce, with disastrous results.

    Like

  110. Anonymous Says:

    My point? My point is that American science is not isolated from the global market. You cannot isolate the scientific market from the rest of the global economy just because the American government is funding it. This market still works on the principles of free market, open to the best and the cheapest workforce. That means, of course, that the market of production of independent scientists is shrinking as an option for Americans because they are spoiled and lazy. Maybe if Americans would become desperate soon, they will realize that by disciplining their children to study harder throughout schooling (K-12, college, grad school and postdoc) they will be able to compete better with the rest of the world and not to count on fictitious options they don’t really have.

    Like

  111. Anonymous52 Says:

    @110
    The market is global but it’s not a free market, it’s subsidized by taxpayer money. Also it works like that *right now*, things weren’t always like this and won’t be forever, all it takes is a law for two separate pay scales.
    Either the US scientists get significantly higher salaries or if they stay at these levels, foreigners will keep taking those jobs. Postdoc pay is so low and the US is losing in the long run by turning science into a job viable only for immigrants.
    Americans don’t leave science because they are spoiled and lazy, they leave it because it doesn’t offer a pay & career nearly as good as other options. While the “non-spoiled & non-lazy” do their postdocs, others make money in law, medicine, banking and consulting.
    Getting so many foreigners was so far done on the basis that they can provide cheap labor for US companies, and naturally americans don’t want to be pigeonholed into that labor category. When it becomes evident that this has began to shrink american science, appropriate laws will be made and americans will get back to it.

    Like

  112. Anonymous Says:

    Anonymous52,
    What about those immigrants who are willing to do their postdoc research jobs for this ridiculous pay, when they stay in this country, become permanent residents and later citizens and then are filling many of the desirable jobs in academia? After all, they are taking these jobs away from spoiled, lazy Americans who are not willing to compromise on low paying postdoctoral positions for a few years in order to secure their jobs in academia? Are these jobs also not viable for Americans because they do not pay enough? After all, a postdoc position is just an apprenticeship, preparing one for the big, desired PI position. Beside, either you are for the free market system, when you claim that the postdoc’s pay is too low for Americans, or you are for protection through government-imposed laws that will pay immigrants less than Americans for an equal job, but yet believe that somehow the market will choose the American over the immigrant under such laws.

    Like

  113. Anonymous52 Says:

    @ 112
    It can be solved by a % of acceptance, take a few of the immigrants to the extent that is useful for the state.
    You keep calling the americans spoiled & lazy, go to a law firm, an investment bank or a consulting company and you’ll see how hard people work there. They’re just not willing to put the same effort *given* a postdoc’s current salary and career structure.
    On the other hand if “spoiled and lazy”, is not abandoning their wives and kids to jump in the middle of nowhere on a postdoc stipend, I’d say you have pretty unreasonable expectations.
    Also, getting postdoc salary for “a few years” time is a big deal, especially considering its the period most people make families, buy their houses, their cars etc. As long as postdoc jobs can’t provide these things almost no graduate from a top school will prefer it.
    What you have to realize is that the american government acts on the best interest of the US state & it’s citizens, not on the basis “how science will progress faster”. If american science gets hurt by importing low-paid immigrants to an extent the damage as a whole & its impact on the US exceeds the financial benefits, things will change. “Hurt” doesn’t necessarily mean something big time, a few senators sending their kids in Boston to study and seeing that most instructors do not speak english clearly will probably be enough to stir discussions. At this moment, this is not evident as there are still many american professors from older generations.
    Why does this thing happen with graduates/postdocs and not with doctors? They don’t even dare to turn medicine into a cheap labor market flooded with imported labor. That’s natural because health is too serious an issue to mess up but once things get worse and american science (or lack of thereof) becomes a serious issue as well, the model which imports cheap labor in universities will die.
    Regarding the market, this market is not a free one as it is anyhow (this is another discussion), nor are all service based-markets best served by a free market model (e.g. health services). With a higher salary for US citizens and a % imposed on unis & natl labs so that they don’t tempt themselves to look only at the budget side of things, americans will pick up science again, in the mean time so long as it remains a market who imports cheap labor, they’ll do other things.

    Like

  114. Anonymous Says:

    Anonymous52,
    What about those immigrants, who are willing to do their postdoc research jobs for this ridiculous pay, when they become permanent residents and later citizens and fill many of the desirable jobs in academia? After all, aren’t they taking these jobs away from spoiled, lazy Americans who are not willing to compromise on low paying postdoctoral positions for a few years in order to secure their jobs in academia? Are these academic jobs also not viable for Americans because they do not pay enough? After all, a postdoc position is just an apprenticeship, preparing one for the big, desired PI position. Beside, either you are for the free market system, when you claim that the postdoc’s pay is too low for Americans, or you are for protection through government-imposed laws that will pay immigrants less than Americans for an equal job.

    Like

  115. whimple Says:

    Free labor markets just don’t work well on a national level. That was the whole push for unionization post-industrial revolution. Unfortunately, the post-doc population is far to fragmented and transient to get their act together on this, although there have been periodic attempts from time to time.
    After all, a postdoc position is just an apprenticeship, preparing one for the big, desired PI position.
    In about 90% of cases, postdocs do not go on to PI positions, desired or otherwise.
    Anonymous, you’ve done an excellent job in your career as a troll. I hope you enjoyed these discussions and best wishes in your fabulous impending position as landed-immigrant status bigshot PI in America. 🙂

    Like

  116. DrugMonkey Says:

    Actually, folks, we need neither the immigrant, nor the whiny.
    Zuska has the solution

    Like

  117. Anonymous Says:

    Wimpy,
    Don’t you worry about my PI career, buddy. Throughout all the talk about low pay for postdocs that somehow gives an advantage to desperate, poor and miserable immigrants, you and others prefer to ignore the possibility that maybe those immigrants who come here to fill in the “too low a pay jobs for Americans” are also more talented and disciplined future scientists who fit better for the rigors of scientific research in America and elsewhere.

    Like

  118. Anonymous Says:

    A new book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” by sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia, sheds light on the farce of college education for American students. It explains why American education is in deep trouble and why foreign students are doing so much better in our academic institutions. As I have said before, American students are spoiled, lazy, ignorant and are unprepared for college.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/18/45-of-students-dont-learn_n_810224.html

    Like


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