St Kern’s way is the American Way

October 13, 2010

Some cancer researcher named Scott E. Kern, M.D. published one of those grouchfestos about how scientific trainees these days are lazy and don’t work enough at the bench. Of course normally these types just content themselves with a letter to their lab which occasionally, hilariously hits the Intertoobs for everyone’s enjoyment. Of course, these screeds are almost always dripping with the privilege of having been a trainee at a time far removed from the present. A time when a single scientist’s salary supported a family life and the American Dream, when female spouses were much more likely to pick up the slack on the homefront, when it was acceptable to be an out-of-touch Dad because PraiseTheLord this science stuff was….important!
There is another angle to this story and it has to do with worker protections. I’ll direct you to this excellent reminder of why we have labor laws that protect all of us from the completely obvious logic that we should work 80 hrs a week at our jobs, whatever they may be.

Let us return to the days before May of 1918. Young children can be trained to run gels and staff the centrifuges of our nation’s cancer research centers. Piecework and child labor made this nation strong once before. Let them be wielded once more as mighty weapons in the War on Cancer. A beneficial side effect is that many children, like the slate pickers, will likely be exposed to carcinogenic and mutagenic substances, since the little dickens just aren’t always so careful and clever as they think they are. So they can work for us while simultaneously serving as de facto research subjects, and think of the cost savings with that kind of vertical integration!

This brings me back to the fact that a couple of commenters have been going at it in the comments here this week over whether Americans are lazy and deserve to be outpaced by eager beaver immigrants.
Well, turns out the idea of being overworked is as American as apple pie.

American-paid-vacations2.jpg

According to the ILO, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.”
Using data by the U.S. BLS, the average productivity per American worker has increased 400% since 1950. One way to look at that is that it should only take one-quarter the work hours, or 11 hours per week, to afford the same standard of living as a worker in 1950 (or our standard of living should be 4 times higher). Is that the case? Obviously not. Someone is profiting, it’s just not the average American worker.

This analysis couldn’t possible apply to St. Kern’s screed, could it?
Someone is profiting, it just isn’t the average postdoctoral trainee in American labs.
Is it the cancer victim that is profiting? or is it the PI who heads a large lab group that is profiting from the overworked scientific trainee?

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77 Responses to “St Kern’s way is the American Way”

  1. David Says:

    love the graph. it should be no surprise to anybody who’s ever tried to coordinate a multinational study. the europeans are always out on “bank holiday”, and many functions shut down over the summer.

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  2. becca Says:

    Annoying as St. Kern is, the profiting of a PI, even in a large successful lab, is generally small potatoes in the grand scheme of profiting off of other’s labor.
    When the solidly middle class (“solidly” as in “not going to change in their lifetime nor their children’s, social mobility myths be damned”, not as in “comfortably” or “not financially precarious”) spend their time attacking the rich (and yeah, a lot of PIs in cancer research I know are flat out rich- at least in the category of having to worry about their over 250k/year income taxes going up), they are BOTH acting to preserve the status quo. As long as we’re arguing with each other, we’re using up valuable energy- not that could be spent on the fools errand of trying to cure pancreatic cancer, but that is really and truly capable of coming up with more just and reasonable ways to run society.

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  3. DrugMonkey Says:

    What? $250K / year is not “flat out rich”. it is “middle class”. don’t you follow the political media?

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  4. Is it the cancer victim that is profiting? or is it the PI who heads a large lab group that is profiting from the overworked scientific trainee?
    Or is it the research university that gobbles up the extraneous overhead?

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  5. I don’t think many PIs gripe about the work ethic of lab members with families. What makes us sad is those lab members who don’t have other responsibilities but would rather not be in the lab if they don’t have to be.
    When I was a grad student, I and my mostly single peers spent long hours in the lab not because we had to but because we found science more rewarding and more fun than the other things we could have been doing. Most of the responses to Scott Kern’s article seem to be from people who see research as a job. That’s their right, of course, but I find it depressing.

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  6. becca Says:

    Proposed: People who have not lived in a family that has made the median income or lower should not be allowed to have an opinion on what constitutes ‘rich’.

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  7. DrugMonkey Says:

    I and my mostly single peers spent long hours in the lab not because we had to but because we found science more rewarding and more fun than the other things we could have been doing. Most of the responses to Scott Kern’s article seem to be from people who see research as a job. That’s their right, of course, but I find it depressing.
    It isn’t just “their right”, it is objectively true. Jobs are jobs. If someone wants to be obsessed about it, fine. Good for you. That’s your choice. Personally, I find those kind of people not just depressing but downright pathetic. I feel sorry for them that they have absolutely nothing else of interest in their lives.
    The trouble comes in when these pathetic losers insist that it is their way or the highway. Now, notice, they are happy to keep hiring these trainees who “lack passion” and cause you so much depression, RR. Otherwise, they’d just adopt some strict criteria and rapidly boot out the ones that do not meet up to their standard. And of course their overall number of trainees would be about 10% or less of what they currently have. Naturally this is not what they are willing to accept because..um, why is that again?
    What would be the cost to a Kern type of only having trainees that are as passionate and driven as he is/was? Of relying on the natural distribution instead of insisting that *every*one in the field needs to act like the ObsessionalVocationalScienceMan?
    oh, riiiiiiight. The cost would be his own glory in terms of the lab productivity that is attained by exploiting other people.

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  8. El Picador Says:

    Proposed: People who have not lived in a household that has made ~$150-250K / yr should not be allowed to have an opinion on what constitutes ‘rich’.

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  9. My biggest gripe with the postdoc experience was not the salary or the long hours expected, but the fact that I was not receiving the training I felt I needed to become a successful PI.
    Benchwork was a necessary evil, but I was prepared to but in the necessary hours because there is more to science than the tedious technical stuff. I was trained as a grad student to do bench work, and how to learn new techniques from my peers. What I wanted to learn about was how to run a lab and a successful research group. If I had been receiving this it may have made up for the fact that I was 37 with less than a grand in the bank, no mortgage, and no pension! In contrast, most college graduates my age can afford mortgages, vacations, and cars.
    Most postdocs are glorified technicians who spend all day doing PCRs, and trouble-shooting research projects someone else has proposed. As a result many assistant professors are clueless as to what the job entails and how to go about it, and an awful lot seem to resent being taken away from the bench!
    In response to # 5 – I think it is unfair to expect a single person to work harder than someone with family commitments and not get paid more!

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  10. “Proposed: People who have not lived in a household that has made ~$150-250K / yr should not be allowed to have an opinion on what constitutes ‘rich’.”
    Seriously I would be happy if our joint incomes exceeded $60 K a year.
    How is it possible for academics to pay off their college debts, raise a family, AND send their own kids to college? Surely this is only possible if they had a significant family income supporting them during their college days and/or some sort of inheritance?

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  11. hat_eater Says:

    Say what you want about Mr. Kern, I for one commend him for the amount of first grade humour he unwittingly inspired.

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  12. Mike_F Says:

    Not sure which is more depressing, Kern’s screed or DM’s knee-jerk response. Science is a calling and a way of life, and preferably not an obsession as per Kern, nor a 9-5 job as per DM…

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  13. Anonymous52 Says:


    Proposed: People who have not lived in a household that has made ~$150-250K / yr should not be allowed to have an opinion on what constitutes ‘rich’.”
    Seriously I would be happy if our joint incomes exceeded $60 K a year.
    How is it possible for academics to pay off their college debts, raise a family, AND send their own kids to college? Surely this is only possible if they had a significant family income supporting them during their college days and/or some sort of inheritance?

    joint <60k can cause problems that’s a fact. Still however, 250k a year is not rich, yes it is upper middle class, yes it helps live a comfortable life but rich? no.

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  14. Anonymous52 Says:


    Proposed: People who have not lived in a household that has made ~$150-250K / yr should not be allowed to have an opinion on what constitutes ‘rich’.”
    Seriously I would be happy if our joint incomes exceeded $60 K a year.
    How is it possible for academics to pay off their college debts, raise a family, AND send their own kids to college? Surely this is only possible if they had a significant family income supporting them during their college days and/or some sort of inheritance?

    joint under 60k can cause problems you’re right on that. However, 250k p.a. is not rich. Upper middle class? yes. Does it help live a comfortable life? yes. Rich? no.

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  15. I don’t think many PIs gripe about the work ethic of lab members with families. What makes us sad is those lab members who don’t have other responsibilities but would rather not be in the lab if they don’t have to be.
    Deep breath. (That’s mostly a note to myself before I continue with this comment.)
    Just because a lab member doesn’t have a family (i.e. children) doesn’t mean s/he has no other responsbilities or circumstances outside the lab that influence hir work ethic.
    The people who say this are also typically the ones who think a trainee is ruining hir career if s/he chooses to get married or have kids.
    It is unfair to expect someone to work more just because s/he has more “free time”-especially when you have no intention of paying hir more. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re not paid by the hour. Besides, the correlation between hours spent in the lab and productive research is not linear. This goes for just about any job! Quantity=/=quality!! I have a max that I can physically handle. Once I work beyond that threshold, every aspect of my work suffers. Some people might not physically crash, but they have a breaking point where the quality of the work rapidly diminishes.
    No doubt, trainees have to spend time in the lab to get shiznit done… but often those who share Kern’s attitude are more interested in their own legacy than they are in their trainees’ careers. I walked away from a situation like that because the PI had crushed every bit of passion that I had coming in because of unreasonable expectations, which made me (and by extension, my spouse) miserable. I walked away because the PI didn’t give a damn about my career and because I knew that if I stayed for even another year, there was a good chance that I would be ready to walk away from a career in research altogether. This is not effective training, mentoring, or research.
    And as far as PIs profiting, yeah, it might not sound like much when you think in contexts of grants or salary from the university. But what about patents and companies they have their hands in?

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  16. In my previously frustration-induced state, I forgot to say:
    Thanks for adding this perspective, DM.

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  17. becca Says:

    If you are in the top 2% of IQ scores, you are “smart”. Perhaps not “brilliant” or “a total genius”. But definitely “smart”. If you are in the top 2% of income (yes, you making >250k/year family income), you are “rich”. Perhaps not “wealthy” or “totally loaded”. But definitely “rich”.
    Shrug off your “oh but I’m really an Average American living the American Dream” delusions, you are privileged.
    When someone asks you at a cocktail party something about income and you say “oh we’re comfortable” this is a polite answer to avoid getting into a pissing contest over status. Saying “oh we’re rich” would *not* be polite, but you should not allow these social conventions to replace objective statistical truth.

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  18. biochem belle: I’m sorry you had a bad supervisor, but many PIs aren’t driven by patents and companies (I have neither). Some of us really do love what we’re doing, even though DrugMonkey thinks we must be pathetic losers if science is the most important thing in our lives. And although we’d like at least some of our lab members to share our love of research, we try very hard to be equally supportive of the ones that don’t.
    p.s. I chose my words carefully; “lab members who don’t have other responsibilities” isn’t the same as “lab members who don’t have families”.

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  19. becca Says:

    @Anonymous52 incidentally, my attitude on this particular topic is an oblec type belief- it won’t change no matter how hard you argue. This is for two reasons:
    1) this is a perennial favorite on the list of reoccurring arguments between my SO and I; it’s familiar and well worn contours soothe my wizened old heart
    2) check out this: http://scienceblogs.com/mikethemadbiologist/2010/09/pity_the_poor_couple_who_make.php
    for the recent meme context this issue gets framed in terms of

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  20. p.s. I chose my words carefully; “lab members who don’t have other responsibilities” isn’t the same as “lab members who don’t have families”.
    Rosie, my comment wasn’t necessarily directed at you. The thing is your first line in comment 5 highlights the assumption made by many people (even if you aren’t one of them): If you don’t have kids, you don’t have outside responsibilities. But let’s take a hypothetical, carefree postdoc. S/he shouldn’t be expected to spend more time in the lab simply because s/he has more ‘spare’ time. It should be a matter of choice. IMO, trainees should be judged on the quality of their work, not facetime in the lab.
    Science is not a 9 to 5 job, and I think very few expect that. But we also don’t expect to be berated for ‘only’ working 50 or 60 or whatever number of hours. The truth is, hours spent in the lab does not always (of maybe even, often) have a thing to do with passion, interest and/or productivity. When the expectation of X hours is set, there are a number of people who will go on autopilot.
    I happen to be very passionate about my work, but I also know my limits, when things start to slide. And for the record, there are some PIs who love what they’re doing… and who also expect their trainees to have a life outside the lab.

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  21. Anonymous52 Says:

    becca,
    With 250k p.a. you can pay your debts, start a mortgage to own a decent to nice (but not luxurious) house, begin some savings for your retirement and your kids education, buy a car for you and for your partner plus afford some nice vacations.
    I’m not saying this is little, it’s a quite good life quality standard but this is not rich, it’s upper middle class.

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  22. becca Says:

    “A 2003 Gallup poll found that although only 2% of Americans describe themselves as rich, 31% said they thought it was very or somewhat likely they would be rich one day. That number jumped to 51% for 18 to 29-year-olds — and plunged to a sobering 8% for Americans 65 and older.
    According to Gallup, the public’s median definition of “rich” was an income of $120,000 — or assets of $1 million.”

    public opinion is conspiring against your claims, anon.
    “* Those who earned less than $30,000 thought that a household income of $74,000 would qualify as rich.
    * Those who made $30,000 to $50,000 said an income of $100,000 would be rich.
    * And people in the top half of earners were more likely to say that an income of $200,000 earns you the right to the R word.”

    So I can guess how much you make, anon (or how much your family had when you were in your formative years).
    “When it comes to rich, the candidates disagree by a wide margin: McCain pegs rich at $5 million, while Obama answered the question by saying $250,000 in annual income means “you are doing well.””
    So does that mean I can also guess your political affiliation?
    And of course, by global standards the issue wouldn’t even be a question. 250k/year puts you in the top 0.001% of income in the world (http://www.globalrichlist.com/)

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  23. Anonymous52 Says:

    “public opinion is conspiring against your claims, anon.”
    I thought we were discussing about the salaries of the highly educated, these tend to be higher, so 250k is not really that much as you make it sound. Sampling for this question was not done on a focused group, it was done on a generic one. Besides, using an ad populum argument doesn’t help.
    “So I can guess how much you make, anon (or how much your family had when you were in your formative years).”
    Not that this is really any of your business but here it goes, my family made little, I make a decent income.
    “So does that mean I can also guess your political affiliation?”
    For one, I now live in London, so I’m not too concerned about republicans vs democrats, if I ever go back to NY, I’ll pick the candidate I like most. For two, what sort of question is this?
    The % is not really that relevant, especially the world one, I didn’t look the website you linked but my guess is the the world medium is quite low for many reasons, e.g. some countries are very poor and others have very weak currencies, savings/salaries in that currency don’t amount to much in usd, however it may be an ok salary considering the price levels that country has.
    Rich is what you can afford, with 250k p.a. you can afford a quite comfortable life, yes, but that’s upper middle class.

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  24. leigh Says:

    I think there is a lot of confusion between “having the wants” and “meeting the needs” going on in some of these comments. And that confusion is a privilege that the rich get to have and the non-rich probably can’t really afford.
    Rather telling that the top-10% earners in the US make roughly $115k and above.

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  25. Anonymous52 Says:

    leigh,
    What I mentioned was a mortgage for a decent place, a car, savings for retirement sorted out, an amount to educate your kids and be able to afford some nice vacations. Having a place to stay, planning your retirement and being able to help your kids are all needs, they’re not superficial “wants”.
    Were I to mention, a yacht, a swimming pool in the garden and a personal trainer, I’d agree this is rich. However, this is not 250k p.a., this is a different salary level, where people can also spend on some of their wants.

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  26. Anonymous52 Says:

    Back to the topic anyhow, the one’s who’s profiting is the one who’s paying be it NIH, NSF or the university. In the bigger picture it’s those who provide the money to funding bodies, tax payers and companies which fund research.
    Note that I’m not saying who’s to blame, I’m saying who’s profiting. The two are not necessarily the same.
    A PI does have a small profit from this, albeit an indirect one.
    I also think PIs have some responsibility for the current situation but they are not the only ones to blame. The whole problem is systemic and it would be unfair to point fingers solely to the PIs.

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  27. Neuro-conservative Says:

    Leaving aside the semantic argument about who is “rich,” I find a weird form of doublespeak in this conversation:
    People who are dedicated are “pathetic.”
    Those willing to put in long hours are “privileged.”
    If that’s true, what words are left over for people who can’t handle long hours, have trouble concentrating in demanding situations, and seek extended time off?

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  28. Zuska Says:

    @ #12, “science is a calling and a way of life” , that is complete and utter bullcrap. Spare me that sacred priesthood of science bla-di-bla hoo-ha, I have heard it a thousand times over, and it isn’t any more impressive or convincing this 1001th time than it was the first 1000 times I heard it.
    All this bla bla whining about how people “without other responsibilities” ought to be happily slaving away at the bench all their waking hours because of the PASSION! and the LOVE! of science is pure poisonous shit.
    Feeding that evil culture of the expectation that “real scientists” with “real passion” would be at the bench all the time if only they could, if only they didn’t have those other nagging things keeping them away, you know, those other annoying dragging weights on their lives, like kids and elder care and sickly spouses and hobbies and the need to eat and sleep and go to the bathroom – feeding that slavering beast that says I will eat all of you that you are willing to give and more, and make you feel guilty that that’s all you had to offer – that’s sick and wrong. That’s perpetuating a culture of science that makes it near impossible for real people with real lives to be scientists, and contribute their real talents to the scientific enterprise. And THAT’S a worse problem for seeking a cure for cancer, or any other disease or issue you want to identify, not the empty labs on Saturday night that St. Kern spends so goddamn much time gnashing his teeth in despair about.
    St. Kern and all you wannabes, spare me your sanctimony about sacred priesthoods and science as a calling and “people without other responsibilities” – do such people even exist? – and go off in some corner and natter amongst yourselves, where you can’t poison the rest of us, and where you won’t do any harm to impressionable young children.

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  29. Dveduu Says:

    Maybe “real” people shouldn’t be scientists?
    I work 70-80 hours a week. If that makes me pathetic, so be it.

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  30. Mike_F Says:

    Zuska – Why the rage? ‘Tis not a matter of choice, and nothing to do with some cult or priesthod. Science (on the basic research side) is a creative intellectual activity. I don’t know how to switch off my brain and stop thinking about my projects outside ‘regular’ working hours. We don’t expect artists or writers to work ‘regular hours’, why on earth should basic research scientists be different? If one is doing product development in industry (there is a difference between the R and the D in R&D) that is a different matter, and might be more similar to a regular job.

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  31. Mike, Kern wasn’t complaining about people switching their brains off–he was specifically bemoaning that people weren’t physically present in the big, fancy cancer center late nights and weekends. He’s calling out, among other things/people, the PIs who “work from home”. I have trouble switching my brain off too. And honestly, I come up with some of my best ideas or figure out ways to rewrite a section of a manuscript or work around a problem when I’m away from the lab, be it on my commute or a run or a conversation with my spouse. The creative, intellectual side of science can-and often does-continue outside the lab.
    Dveduu, obviously I cannot speak to your specific definition of work. However, I’m dubious of those who claim to work more than 50 or 60 hours a week consistently. They might indeed spend 70 or 80 hours in the lab every week, but that hardly means they’re actually working 70 or 80 hours. IME, beyond a point, more hours in lab = more bullshit in lab–long lunches, checking email, chatting with mates about a game… It’s fine if that’s how people want to operate. But they shouldn’t be so arrogant to think that just because they’re in the lab more hours than a labmate that they’re actually getting more work done. And PIs shouldn’t be so naive to think this either. The truth is, some people working fewer hours are highly efficient in the lab because they’re focused and careful. There are rare instances when people are actually working the entire time, and in instances I’ve seen, they would love to take a break, maybe have a weekend off.

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  32. becca Says:

    @anon- I operate on the working hypothesis that the meaning of words is dynamic and based on how they are used. You are not using ‘rich’ the way most other people do. In a purely semantic sense, you are wrong.
    “Rich is what you can afford, with 250k p.a. you can afford a quite comfortable life, yes, but that’s upper middle class.”
    Ah, part of the crux of the matter. When you are talking to someone who lives in Hershey, Pa., living in London per se can be seen as a luxury akin to champagne and caviar every day. With 250k HERE you could probably eat that, actually. You could certainly have ‘a yacht, a swimming pool in the garden and a personal trainer’.
    As far as the ‘passion’ type arguments go… I think I got into science feeling it was my vocation, or calling. I read a lot of Marie Curie biographies. I expected to spend a few heroic years in cold attics, or whatever it took. However, even when I had that attitude, I felt it to be very, VERY poor form for anyone to care at ALL about other people’s motivations, let alone DEMAND their PASSION. Now that I’ve got a little more insight into how difficult it must be to meet the demands of keeping up a research program, I’ve got a bit of sympathy for PIs who yearn for more exertions from their students- but only a bit, since 9 times out of 10 the PIs that complain the most bitterly about this are acting in a completely counterproductive fashion (assuming their goal is to actually see optimal production, and not just have company in their misery).
    It is also worth noting why I do not have that attitude any longer- it did not benefit my science. I did not produce more, I just got more suicidally depressed when I failed. For me, taking my job *less* seriously than is my natural inclination is necessary to keep sane. I suspect I’m not alone, and it may be why some of us have such eye-rolling approaches to St. Kern & his ilk.
    In my estimation, the ‘pathetic’ ones are those who just haven’t realized how counterproductive their gnashing of teeth is- which, in my opinion (not speaking for DM), is a subset, albeit a significant one, of those who work to the exclusion of most other things in their lives.

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  33. grumpy Says:

    In my lab, most of the non-labwork is unavoidable such as:
    -long annoying meetings with the boss about the grant proposals he wants you to write for him
    -silly projects he insists you do
    -meetings/long lunches with visitors, company reps, PMs, etc.
    -training students and visitors to do stuff
    -attending talks, classes, and seminars, etc.
    if you only show up for 8 “focused” hours then either:
    1) you don’t get much actual lab work done.
    2) you escape much of this extra BS and someone else has to take the burden on.
    If you can manage to just do 2) then you might be happier but you wont be considered much of a team player and those who are stuck with the BS will make things harder (even if subconsciously) for you to get work done (no you can’t borrow that piece of equipment because it is only here due to the g.p. I had to write cuz you weren’t around).

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  34. Zuska Says:

    “Zuska – why the rage?” ahahahahahahahaha!!!!!

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  35. DSKS Says:

    Isn’t it possibly to accept that Kern is a miserable old duffer who’s plain wrong without necessarily taking wing to crazyville and suggesting that someone who gets into academic science (PhD>faculty) for nothing but the remuneration and benefits is fully informed, sane and lucid?

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  36. Chris Rowan Says:

    Some of us really do love what we’re doing, even though DrugMonkey thinks we must be pathetic losers if science is the most important thing in our lives. And although we’d like at least some of our lab members to share our love of research, we try very hard to be equally supportive of the ones that don’t.
    Contrary to fashionable academic belief, a love of research, and the desire for a rewarding life (and, hence, a few non-sleeping hours) outside of the lab, are not mutually exclusive.

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  37. Kierra Says:

    With 250k p.a. you can pay your debts, start a mortgage to own a decent to nice (but not luxurious) house, begin some savings for your retirement and your kids education, buy a car for you and for your partner plus afford some nice vacations.
    I’m not saying this is little, it’s a quite good life quality standard but this is not rich, it’s upper middle class.

    But this is ignoring the fact that you can do all of that with significantly less than 250k per year in almost every part of the country. Which means that someone with 250k per year that can’t do anything more than that has made quite a few choices (how luxurious is that house again?) that were more expensive than they had to be.

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  38. Anonymous Says:

    Wow, and I thought that being a scientist is a choice one makes knowing exactly what one gets into, including working hours, pay level, rewards, commitments, etc. Here we have a Londoner (Anonumous52) whose all ambition in life is to have a fancy house, fancy cars, many vacations, fat retirement, sending his kids to privet schools, whose parents are academicians with not much money to show for it, and thus, he chose to be in the financial realm (hedge fund). This rich boy try to tell us scientists how badly we are being used and abused by the system that pays peanuts for the high education we received. Others, as I have indicated elsewhere, are just whining how difficult thing are in science, as if they never had a choice, but becoming a scientist. Clearly, if you want to be rich, science is not for you; if you want to work 9 to 5, science is not for you; if you want to play around, science is not for you. There are other choices for “jobs” (given that the Republicans will not continue to outsource them) out there. Science is a 24/7 job. That does not mean you do not do anything else or enjoy and spend time on hobbies and fun things yet, as a scientist your brain works on your science all the time and you prefer it this way!

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  39. Zuska Says:

    Science is a 24/7 job, sacred priesthood, passion, bla bla bla, know what yer gettin’ in to, bla bla, dedicated, always on my mind (oh Science! Maybe I didn’t tell u…quite as often as I should have…but u were always on my mind!), bla bla, make yer choices willingly.
    Science, he’s so dreamy! He can do whatever he wants to me.

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  40. Zuska Says:

    Science is a 24/7 job, sacred priesthood, passion, bla bla bla, know what yer gettin’ in to, bla bla, dedicated, always on my mind (oh Science! Maybe I didn’t tell u…quite as often as I should have…but u were always on my mind!), bla bla, make yer choices willingly.
    Science, he’s so dreamy! He can do whatever he wants to me.

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  41. Dveduu Says:

    ^
    I think of science as more of a high maintenance girlfriend.

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  42. Someone Says:

    $150-250K / yr – is it “rich”?
    Not in science. In science the reward (if it comes at all) is delayed. So, if someone reaches the 150-250k level, it is usually at the age of 40 (at best), after spending two decades working long hours and earning well below the average.
    My personal experience: I am around 40, no retirement savings worth mentioning at all, still in debt. My earnings recently reached about $100k, and it is quite possible that they will come close to these magic $250k in near future. What will happen then?
    Your fucking commie president is not going to understand that these “riches” should be considered in the context of the whole professional life, which BY ITS DESIGN involves being penniless until the middle age. Now I have to catch up with my retirement savings. I have to pay for my kids’ education. I have to pay off my debt, and finally buy something more reliable than an 11 years old Subaru. And this commie fucker now considers me “rich” and slaps with progressive taxation… (btw. a Republican fucker would do exactly the same – a $1,000 “tax cut” would not solve the systemic problem with scientists’ salaries).

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  43. becca Says:

    @Zuska lmao
    @Someone *golfclap for the troll*

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  44. Anonymous Says:

    “Your fucking commie president is not going to understand that these “riches” should be considered in the context of the whole professional life, which BY ITS DESIGN involves being penniless until the middle age. Now I have to catch up with my retirement savings. I have to pay for my kids’ education. I have to pay off my debt, and finally buy something more reliable than an 11 years old Subaru. And this commie fucker now considers me “rich” and slaps with progressive taxation… (btw. a Republican fucker would do exactly the same – a $1,000 “tax cut” would not solve the systemic problem with scientists’ salaries).”
    I just love it when a 40 year old scientist a–hole whining about collecting $100,000, driving and 11 years old car and blaming the President for his poverty. As I’ve said all along, Americans are spoiled and lazy. Where I came from, we would call you a “Kooter,” that’s a male cat who cries while fucking!
    And then, of course, there’s Zuska, who must really lives a miserable life. And becca, who sees a troll everywhere.

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  45. Zuska Says:

    Anonymous, why ever would you think I live a miserable life? Moronic douchenozzles are both bothersome and useless; it is worthwhile AND fun to mock them, deflate their high-minded blatherings, and expose the underlying poisonous premises for all to ponder. Engaging in that activity has precious little to do with the remaining 99.9999% of one’s life.

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  46. Neuro-conservative Says:

    Zuska, I can’t even begin to imagine how Anon@44 could have come to that conclusion about you.

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  47. Anonymous Says:

    @becca,
    I don’t think it comes by voting, 250k salary isn’t rich, you own a nice house, you have retirement sorted, your kids can study, you can afford a good doctor should you need to but it’s not a “lux” life style, that’s upper middle class.
    Also, you have to factor location as well, 250k in central london doesn’t correspond to the lifestyle you’re describing, I’d say that’s more like a 400-500k salary range (all in sterling, not usd).
    @ Kierra,
    I’m not saying you need 250k to survive, nor am I saying you can’t have the package I’m describing e.g. in the 150k+ range, however 250k doesn’t really provide much more than 150k, it’s still in the upper middle class bracket.
    @ Someone
    Compound interest losses were one of my main reasons for not jumping into a postdoc after grad school. I agree 250k is not rich, it’s comfortable, it’s upper middle class, not rich.
    People may mock you but I agree that considering a good income in academe ma come at 40+, getting this salary at that age is not as good as it sounds mainly because no savings were made in the past years. Gl getting to the 250k bracket 🙂
    @38, your post it too ridiculous to respond to, I smell bitterness.

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  48. Anonymous Says:

    So, Zuska, who desperately attempts to reconcile her geekyness with her femininity, who made her own cause some kind of a priesthood, a 24/7 cause, is calling other people who have their causes, “moronic douchenozzles” with “poisonous premises.” I have a Tea Party for you, Zuska!

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  49. Anon Says:

    As someone who worked in 2 different European universities and 2 US universities, I can tell you it’s not about the hours one puts in. In fact, my European colleagues who take easily 6-8 weeks fully off every year are if anything more productive… I personally became more productive after learning to take more vacation time. Also, I know a lot of workers in the US who put in a lot of hours are just not working hard the whole time, if at all!
    I believe in results and it doesn’t matter that much whether those results come from being in the lab on sunday night or not.

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  50. becca Says:

    Where was Zuska demanding that people stop wasting their time trying to cure cancer and instead spend it all working for feminist causes?
    I missed that part.
    @anonymous-, yes I did note the location aspect. Still, one other thing you have to remember is that the presence of supremely rich people in cities can simply skew your thinking. I think some people come to very logically erroneous conclusions about what ‘rich’ is that way. If you compare yourself to Queen Elizabeth, you are going to feel like a pauper pretty much no matter what six figure income you make.
    Keep in mind, I will grant you that there are huge practical differences in the 100-900k range- not just in luxury items, but basic necessities and security. But when thousands of people have to worry about getting enough to eat, saying you are in the same class as them because you might not be able to pay for your kids entire college bill seems… a tad crass, to my way of thinking.

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  51. Onkel Bob Says:

    Many occupations come with a lifestyle that leaves one wanting… I was in the military – 60 hour weeks were not uncommon. People wanted to kill me because I wore a uniform, not because what I did (I saved more lives than I ended in my career). I worked in high tech, again 60-80 hour weeks were not uncommon when we were close to product release. We were in it for the money to some extent, but being the first to put out a particular product, or making the best of breed also added to the equation. I was a teacher for a short period. 60 hour weeks were the norm, grading and lesson plans don’t appear out of nowhere. Now I’m in research and well, 60 hour weeks are what’s expected again. (But I’m paid for 35) Eh… I dislike NYC so not being out there in the crush of humanity is a good thing for me. Hopefully the frau will get her tenure, and take it back to CA where I’ll go back to teaching or high tech. Life is what it is, some enjoy what they do, others endure it. Me? eh it is what it is… I’ll admit, I only live when I’m in the mountains, climbing some dusty trail away from the maddening crowd. Otherwise, I’m in the office because I got little better to do.

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  52. LadyDay Says:

    Now, while all yous guys have been debating Kern and the definition of “upper middle class,” I’ve been curing cancer. Not to rub it in or anything, but I’m the only person at work right now.
    Oh, don’t be jealous.

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  53. Isabel Says:

    “saying you are in the same class as them because you might not be able to pay for your kids entire college bill seems… a tad crass, to my way of thinking. ”
    Its the American way of denying class differences exist. Everyone except the super-rich and the desperately poor homeless person is “middle class.”
    Becca is correct in questioning why those earning in the top 2% are considered middle-class, and in pointing out the crassness of those making 250K considering themselves in the same socio-economic class as those making 25K. I don’t think there is a technical definition that all would agree on, and I know that traditionally, in Britain for example, “middle-class” does refer to “comfortably off”. But if we are going to use that definition the person making 25K is definitely “working class”. If we are going to say that the worker making 25K and living in one of the outer boroughs and the Manhattan mover-and-shaker making 250K are the same socio-economic class, then surely our definitions have lost all meaning.
    btw the way, for those crying poor because they live in New York, the mean annual income in the NYC metropolitan area is just under 55K. (Bureau of Labor stats for 2009). With 250K your kids can go to private schools and yes you can indeed live a ‘lux’ life-style. You can deny it, but you are “upper-class”, even in New York. You don’t HAVE to live in a “good” neighborhood in Manhattan, go out to eat at trendy restaurants, send your kids to private schools and jet around with your family taking nice vacations: you can live in the boroughs, send your kids to public schools, forgo having a car and so on, like most workers.
    Saying “my lifestyle is expensive so this income isn’t actually very high, considering my expenses, and I only want what any human being would reasonably expect, and I’m struggling like everyone else so how can I be rich blah blah” makes you sound like a fucking narcissist.

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  54. Dr. Feelgood Says:

    Yo DM,
    Lotta pent up anger out there about income…Wouldn’t ya say?
    :0

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  55. Anonymous52 Says:

    @ becca, Isabel, I said it’s enough to live comfortably & it’s “upper middle class” not “middle class”.
    Isabel, 250k p.a. is not “rich” by any standards, keep in mid this is about ~125k p.a. after tax here. Factor the expenses of living in central London and you’ll see that while it’s good money, it’s not as much as it sounds. It’s not working class, it’s not middle class but it’s not rich either, it’s simply a more comfortable middle class life, “upper middle class”.
    Retirement savings+good school for kids+owning a house+going for vacations is not rich, you’re not a landlord nor do you gather a small fortune at the end of your career, which keep in mind comes sooner than other jobs due to burnout. 40 years ago, this would pretty much be the definition of middle class, not “upper middle”.

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  56. Isabel Says:

    Oh jeezus christ people who cares what the definition of the word rich is? We’ve already seen that it’s a moving target, like, “what is old”, that depends on where a person is at the moment. So to me you are rich, Anon52. And in the US people making 250K don’t pay 50% taxes, and they have plenty of assets besides retirement savings.
    You live a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT life than the people making 25K. Your kids go to different schools. You live in different neighborhoods. You eat in nicer restaurants, and eat out with more frequency. You take real vacations, they go camping. You socialize with different people. Bottom line: you are not members of the same socio-economic stratum.
    In Britain the 25K person would not be considered middle class anyway-unlike in the US the difference would be more likely to be acknowledged. But the whole point is that people are denying the strata exist. Claiming that an order of magnitude difference in income (and undoubtedly in assets-probably more there) puts people in the same general category, one just on the lower end and the other on the upper end— the one making 10x more is just living a more comfortable version of the one making 10x less’s lifestyle? If it’s possible to live on 25K, and someone gets 10X more, they are just going to be a ‘bit more comfortable’?
    People are so fixated on the definitions and labels- it’s hilarious!

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  57. becca Says:

    Retirement savings+good school for kids+owning a house+going for vacations is not rich
    I’ve never had any of those things. I still feel rich because I can go out for martinis and creme brule whenever I want. Or at least way more than would be good for me 😉
    If you adjust your perspective you won’t risk coming across as ‘a fucking narcissist’- or just hopelessly cluelessly privileged. Also, you might find it useful in the pursuit of happiness. Just sayin’.
    “40 years ago, this would pretty much be the definition of middle class, not “upper middle”.”
    Have you ever asked WHY those things are no longer available to the bulk of the middle class? Let’s go through the list, I have some thoughts:
    *Retirement. It lasts longer, so it costs more.
    In the United States, during the period of 1965-1970, the median retirement age for men was 64.2. During the period of 1990-1995, the median retirement age for men was 62.1. The general trend was the same for Germany, Japan and Sweden, and for women (source: http://www.bls.gov/mlr/1998/08/art2full.pdf). According to the US census bureau, the average age of retirement is 62, and the duration is 18 years. The trend is for the former number to get smaller and the later number to get larger. People are also living longer, which is a lovely thing but does drive up the retirement length.
    In addition, what are two of the top areas to increase in expense much higher than the rate of inflation? Higher education costs (and time to degree) and healthcare costs. This mean 1) people are able to save for retirement only later in life 2) retirement costs more.
    And as a final factor which may be increasing retirement costs, I have heard it is much rarer than even 40 years ago for workers to stay at one company long enough to accumulate retirement benefits.
    *‘good’ schools for the kids. I have no evidence for this one, but I have a hunch that the distance between ‘good’ schools and ‘poor’ schools has only gotten more dramatic in recent years.
    It is certainly true that the cost of higher education has skyrocketed, what about k-12? Well, let’s take an example school- the University of Chicago Laboratory school. I’m confident in calling this a ‘good school’. These were the schools I wanted to attend when we decided to homeschool instead (they are also probably the type of schools that got the doctor who complained about making 450k/year in trouble- see the Mike the Mad Biologist link).
    In 1970, the tuition was $1800 (http://www.ucls.uchicago.edu/data/files/gallery/HistoryBookDownloadsGallery/chapter8_1.pdf), or 5.0% of the median household income In 2010, the tuition for the high school was $23,928, or ~48% of the median family income. Now it is true we tend to have fewer children now, but it’s probably safe to say that the cost of sending your kids to a ‘good school’ has increased considerably. “but becca, those are *private* schools… what about public schools?” you might very well say. And I wish I had good numbers there. But it seems to me that the level of emphasis placed on ‘good school district’ has, if anything, increased over this 40 year period. Is it possible that the correlation coefficient between “housing cost” and “school quality” has increased over this period of time? In any event, it does seem to me that the correlation is significant enough that if you want to consider public school costs, you can’t figure them as totally free, but must instead consider real estate costs. Which brings me to my next point…
    *owning a house
    According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average home size in the United States was 2,330 square feet in 2004, up from 1,400 square feet in 1970. So, statistically, you are probably playing for more house than you would have 40 years ago (granted, this does not take into account most current numbers… it’s very likely that 2004 had more mcmansions than 2010. Or at least more with families living in them and not foreclosed upon). So you may be getting more for your money in this category.
    You are almost certainly paying more than before. This was the easiest figure to googleresearch- this link came up right away http://mercyman53.wordpress.com/2008/01/11/the-cost-of-housing-1050-higher-than-1970-and-climbing/.
    If you have made it this far into my comment but won’t click through to the link, here is the money quote (irony intended):
    “A new house cost 1050% more in 2006 than in 1970. That means a new house in 2006 was 10 ½ times more expensive than one in 1970. By comparison, the median household income increased 452% between 1970 and 2006.”
    Again, we’ll have to see what happens after the market fallout, but it’s unlikely to make up for the entire 40 year trend.
    *going for vacations Well, if you are in the enviable category of people who can afford a vacation home, or a timeshare in one, I’d imagine the costs of Real Estate would be pretty relevant.
    Even for the rest of us, do people want to stay in their lovely new homes? Of course not! People want to go to Tahiti. Well, I want to go to Tahiti at least, “I was in Tahiti” has such a nice ring, don’t you think?. I don’t think that’s a solid example for a typical middle class vacation though… what about Disney World as our test case? My family went to Disney World (once) when I was growing up. Well, Disney World only opened in 1971, so I will take the admission figure from then- $3.5, or 0.0098% of median family income. Today, it’s $87.33, or 0.17% of median family income. I am gonna go out on a limb here and say vacations are a lot more expensive than they used to be.
    If we wish to complain about the raw deal the middle class gets (yes, even if we are so crass as to include the 25k and the 250k in that category), we MUST understand HOW it’s happening. I’ve gotta get a copy of Nickel and Dimed, myself. But the numbers as they apply to the ‘upper middle’ are quite obvious.

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  58. Anonymous52 Says:

    Isabel, I never compared 25k vs 250k, you did and you jumped on your own conclusions. I wouldn’t say 25k p.a. is middle class in Britain.

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  59. Anonymous Says:

    Isabel,
    The funny thing is, Anonymous52 begun his drivel belittling the pay postdocs and academicians get and proudly waved his high income as a hedge fund worker. S/he clearly declared that academia is not for him/her since in academia one cannot have all the goodies that a hedge fund worker can have. Now s/he tries to tell us that s/he is not rich because s/he has chosen to live in central London, pay 50% income tax and his/her job has a high rate of burnout. Clearly, just another spoiled, whining American, whether s/he is a postdoc or a rich hedge fund worker.

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  60. Zuska Says:

    Perhaps some more useful categories for discussing money, income, class, etc.:
    Inheriting class: Money passed on from relatives. So wealthy they don’t need to work for a living.
    Investing/Owning class: Has enough resources to invest money to make money, and to own property of various sorts. May also work to earn income.
    Working class: works to pay bills, rent, and necessities of life. Possibly can afford some small luxuries. May have chance to move into either adjacent class.
    Poverty class: self-explanatory.

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  61. DrugMonkey Says:

    I would distinguish the salaried from the hourly wage employee, too, Zuska. There are some significant differences, even if salaried is ~~working month to month.

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  62. Anonymous52 Says:

    @58, life mustn’t be treating you well poor child.
    @Zuska, that’s exactly my POV as well and that was my point when I said 250k pre-tax is not rich, you cannot make money by investing money at that level. In the next salary level, e.g. 600k+ you can after a couple of years and yes, that’s rich but 250k isn’t.

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  63. Neuro-conservative Says:

    Zuska, who seems to be living in late 19th century England, ignores the large proportion of Americans who “own” property (i.e., have a large mortgage) and “invest” (i.e., have a tiny 401k) but still need to work very hard to feed their family’s mouths and these “assets” each month.
    Some of these individuals also happen to be scientists.
    But I have long since lost track of what any of this has to do with DM’s original post about hours worked. Let me see if I have this straight — PI’s who work 70 hours/week are leisure class, and trainees who work 35 hours and take extended leave are working class, amirite?

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  64. becca Says:

    @DrugMonkey- why do you say that?
    @neuroconservative- “trainees who work 35 hours and take extended leave are working class, amirite?” exactly. Santa Claus, his elves, and the Easter bunny are all working class too.

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  65. Anonymous Says:

    It was bound to get to that, whining about poor scientists, when the country’s unemployment rate is over 10% and where the unemployment of scientists has been delays until now due to the stimulus. The truth is, going back to my original point, most 1970s and younger Americans are spoiled and lazy, since they never really had to work hard for anything. I landed my first academic position (assistant professor) at the age of 40 when I also started putting aside monthly deductions from my salary toward my retirement (the university doubled my savings). That was in 1981. My salary was then $32,000 p.a. We did not inherit money, we had no money for investments. We bought my first house when Carter was President and mortgage interest rates were 12.5%. We have three children who went to public school, earned college degrees and are now all successful professionals. I retired in 2007 as a full professor with a salary of $110,000 p.a. Our net worth (retirement fund, real estates , antique car collection) is over 1.5 million dollars. We draw enough from the retirement fund to keep our standard of living equal to that we enjoyed during my working days. There should be enough money in that fund to last us for 25 years, if we’ll ever live that long. The only loans we ever took where loans for real estate. We never bought a brand new car with borrowed money, never took home equity loan to go on vacation yet, we travel around the world; we took vacations in Hawaii, Cancun, the Dominican Republic, Italy, Holland, England, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Greece, France, Austria, Japan and Hungary. We manged all that on salary alone. The ability to live by your means, not beyond them, is what most Americans don’t know how to do. Immigrants do and that helps them in succeeding here more than their American counterparts.

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  66. DrugMonkey Says:

    My salary was then $32,000 p.a.
    Which in inflation adjusted dollars is equivalent to $76,898 in 2010 and $60,620 in 2000 according to
    http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl This is entirely consistent with assistant professor salaries as I know about them at those timepoints and in fact comes in on the high end. $60K in 2000 was most definitely in the upper ranks- not totally uncommon, just on the higher side. I’d estimate 75% or above. I had done a survey of assistant prof salaries in my subfield right about that time, fyi.
    median home prices in constant 2000 dollar amounts vary tremendously from place to place. Let’s take some of the big biomedical research markets differential from 1980 to 2000- CA $55K; NY $58K; MA $90K
    Moving to podunk-ville on that chart, differentials of $10K seem to be the low water mark in many of the smaller states from which my readers check in. So from where I sit, housing is relatively more expensive compared with assistant professor salaries- which are certainly no greater at present (in adjusted dollars) than the one you list as your 1981 salary.
    So let us be careful that we are comparing apples with apples when we bandy about salary numbers from decades past, eh?

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  67. Anonymous Says:

    DM,
    Not for a moment I thought that my salary in 1981 was on the low range. The housing market than was more expensive than today in all markets and mortgage rates in 1981 were outrageous. My point has been all along that Americans are spoiled and thus live beyond their means, such that any salary level would appear too low to them (i.e., Anonymous52) and consequently are carelessly taking a bunch of loans they have to pay back for the rest of their lives. Live by your means and your salary in science would allow you to live comfortably, while doing the one thing you like the most (I never had even one morning in my career when I did feel like not going to work) and also retire comfortably.

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  68. Anonymous52 Says:

    DrugMonkey is correct.
    the “living beyond their means” theory is actually not true, it’s housing prices that have skyrocketed and credit policies that have changed.
    Elizabeth Warren has written several articles on this, a book and many youtube videos.
    Your assets, as you say yourself are real estate assets, which you bought cheaply and went sky high and have nothing to do with academic & postdoc salaries being sufficient *today*, especially considering that *today* this makes it even harder to get a house.

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  69. DrugMonkey Says:

    The housing market than was more expensive than today in all markets and mortgage rates in 1981 were outrageous.
    The first point is absolutely false. Housing prices are higher now, even in inflation-adjusted terms. The second is true, mortgages were astronomically higher. How that affected affordability would be down to a close consideration of the specifics of the house cost then versus now and the mortgage interest rate that a given person is likely to be able to land.
    And while I do not know if Anonymous spent a red cent supporting his/her children through college, if s/he did then it is worth mentioning that college costs have *also* far outstripped inflation.
    In addition, if Anonymous landed his/her assistant professor job in 1980 at the age of 40..this was unusual. Nevertheless, this age of first appointment is critical to assessing group effects. That 4 year increase in the age of the first asst prof appointment (1981-2001) is a huge amount of lost earnings (don’t forget to compound raises across the career to retirement).
    Anonymous, the point is not to assess whether Americans are or are not “whiny”. It is to make sure we are all nice and clear where the relative standing is for current hires and those of generations past. I’m sure when my parent’s generation of scientists were hired, the current assistant professor salary seemed astronomical. yet when you adjust for inflation…
    And I suspect that when greybearded types think about current salaries for the noobs, they conveniently fail to do the inflation adjustment and cost-of-housing, college tuition, etc considerations appropriately. The numbers show quite clearly that current scientists seeking an assistant professor slot have a comparatively worse deal. In terms of age in the career, chances of landing a slot, chances of landing a tenure track slot, chances of a hard money slot, the salary offered and the comparative expense of housing*.
    To be an honest participant in a discussion of “whinyness” you have to stipulate these clearly supported facts.
    *here’s an exercise that many people on the assistant professor job market perform when invited to interview. “Where do you live?”. Simple eh? And yet you can draw concentric circles around the University in question, in your average situation. Close, beautiful old-house neighborhoods in walking distance of the campus- Full Professor who bought in the 65-73 era only. Next circle- those who were hired in the 80s. Then you have a world of suburban commute hell or crapbox suffering for the passion for those who bought in the 90s. The 1-4 year assistant professors will just laugh. I’ve seen this from major-city BigUni to the smallest of ivybearded SLACs and local state university/colleges. It is a visceral, visible generational truth in the professorial career path that overwhelms any nonsense about how the oldsters had it hard too…

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  70. Anonymous Says:

    Anonymous52,
    You are full of it. My real estate assets worth today about the same as I paid for them when I bought them or less. The same inflation rate DM applies to salaries must also apply to real estate values. The only boom in real estate market occurred during the sub prime mortgages in the late 1990s and until 2006. The balloon has burst and left many up-side down. Not many scientists gambled in the real estate market as you did. They don’t have time to play in the market, since they work on their science!!!

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  71. Anonymous52 Says:

    DrugMonkey, you are correct on education costs as well, I remember Warren touches this as well.
    In any case the TLDR version of her studies is that previous generations had it much better off financially, she actually points out that what we call middle class today is significantly less comfortable than the middle class of yesteryear (the end point is that if the current situation is preserved, the middle class will totally collapse and extinguish)

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  72. Anonymous52 Says:

    Anonymous, quite honestly it seems you have no idea what you’re talking about, if prices were the same with inflation adjustment there wouldn’t be a “housing bubble” (hint: read the news sometimes). Even today, prices are not the prices of yesteryear with inflation adjustment.

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  73. Physician Scientist Says:

    Taxes paid (2009):
    Salary: $191,000
    Work City Tax: 2% – $3,800
    Live City Tax: 1.25% – 2,387
    State Tax: 5% – $9550
    Federal Tax Paid – $38,000
    SS/Medicare: $9967.5
    Property Tax: $16,500
    Sales Tax (7.75%): Roughly $3875
    Total Taxes Paid: $84079.5
    Percentage of Income: 44%
    This is not counting my wife – we are subject to the AMT and therefore have a very high tax rate. The repeal of Bush’s tax cuts would not affect us as the AMT would still be in place.
    I make a good living. I have what I need. I am able to afford a nice home in a nice community and have no debts (outside of mortgage). I believe that I should pay more in taxes, but its good for people to see the breakdown for a true comparison. I pay 7X the average tax (of taxpayers – only 47% of the US population). Should I have a fire, the fire dept does not come 7X faster to my house. I don’t get to vote 7 times. I don’t get 7X the grant funding of my colleagues. I simply ask that those making less (and paying less) don’t try to make judgements without understanding the true amount that I pay. One year in taxes is enough to send my two kids to college for a year.

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  74. DrugMonkey Says:

    Should I have a fire, the fire dept does not come 7X faster to my house. I don’t get to vote 7 times. I don’t get 7X the grant funding of my colleagues.
    Nor, my friend, do you work 7X “harder” than some poor schmo extracting coal from a seam or some other poor schmo schlepping short-order breakfast to your table or some other poor schmo picking strawberries for you to eat.
    The question is why you think that you “deserve” so much money for your work-year and why you think that others, even those who demonstrably work a much more physically demanding job, deserve so much less.
    Perhaps what you should line out is how much rent, a pair of jeans, a jug of milk, loaf of bread, heck even a bottle of two-buck Chuck, costs you in fractions of your income versus fractions of those “average taxpayer” incomes that you seem to like as comparison. and then maybe we can ask those who are paying less for the actual *necessities* of life to hold off their judgments until they consider the true amount that the average person pays.

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  75. Physician Scientist Says:

    Drug Monkey – I think you might be projecting onto my statement. I never wrote anything about “deserving” money. There are certainly more physical, dangerous and demanding jobs than I have. A job as a roofer or a coal miner come to mind. I am paid well for my work and am thankful that I live in a country that allows me to rise from humble roots to make a very good living at a job I love. I am happy to pay my taxes and understand that this is the only way the system can work. Let’s not kid ourselves though and think that roughly $80,000 is a trivial amount of money. That’s my only point, and I think we harm ourselves with these class warfare type of arguments. I try very hard to put my post-docs and grad students into a position in which they can be successful (both scientifically and financially).
    Oh…and a bottle of 2-buck Chuck actually costs me $3.99 where I live.
    This is the quote I was trying to remember (from the West Wing):
    From Sam:
    “Henry, last fall, every time your boss got on the stump and said, “It’s time for the rich to pay their fair share,” I hid under a couch and changed my name. I left Gage Whitney making $400,000 a year, which means I paid 27 times the national average in income tax. I paid my fair share, and the fair share of 26 other people. And I’m happy to, ‘cause that’s the only way it’s gonna work. And it’s in my best interest that everybody be able to go to schools and drive on roads. But I don’t get 27 votes on Election Day. The fire department doesn’t come to my house 27 times faster and the water doesn’t come out of my faucet 27 times hotter. The top one percent of wage earners in this country pay for 22 percent of this country. Let’s not call them names while they’re doing it, is all I’m saying.”

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  76. becca Says:

    DM, I had an epic comment about how much things cost that was either
    1) lost to the ether
    2) caught in the spam filter (it had links)
    or
    3) omitted by you for it’s obscene length, and you had been meaning to tell me to GYOMFBA
    if 2), could you rescue it, and if 3) please accept my apology
    @Physician Scientist- first of all, at least in this thread no one has said that the rich (or ‘upper middle class’ if you prefer) pay a trivial amount of taxes. So your comment seems curiously preemptively defensive.
    Second, it is misleading in the extreme to add up the costs of all those different taxes for you, and then say that only 47% of Americans pay tax -that 47% only applies to federal income tax. Virtually all Americans pay taxes (we’ve all got sales tax, if nothing else).

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  77. Kaleberg Says:

    Americans like to pretend that there are no class distinctions, but there is one glaring one that few talk about, the exempt class, the old business class, and the non-exempt class, the old working class. No one uses those terms anymore, but when you know a few people across the exempt/non-exempt line, you get some real perspective. Since non-exempt employees are paid by the hour – that’s what the “exempt” thing is all about – their challenge is getting enough hours. In fact, their working hours have been falling for decades. Exempt employees are paid an annual salary, so they get pushed to work longer and longer hours, and their working hours have been increasing.
    Did you ever notice an article on the time crunch asking what to do with all the new found spare time one has due to reduced hours? I sure haven’t. Journalists are exempt, so they write articles about the time crunch due to longer hours. The non-exempt class includes the vast majority of Americans, but they are effectively invisible.
    I won’t address the who is rich issue because I’ve read too many articles in which people with $2 million in the bank argue that they’d be rich with $10 million, and those with $10 million arguing that they aren’t rich, but they would be with $25 million. At this point they stop talking to journalists.
    Where has the growth in our economy gone? Well, the ratio of the value of an hour’s worth of work against one’s per capita share of the GDP has been falling since 1980. The money has been effectively removed from the economy of goods and services and moved into the financial world where it is used to build bubbles. Since most of us live in the economy of goods and services it has simply vanished.
    Also, house prices did go up in the 1980s. Before then it cost 600 hours of work at the median wage to buy a median priced house at the prevailing mortgage rate. This went up to 800 hours in the late 80s and stayed there until the recent housing bubble. It is probably drifting down to 800 again.

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