Volunteer Postdoc Wanted, 2-3 years of experience required

October 15, 2013

This had better be either a joke or some sort of sociology / economics study on the business of science.

Unpaid Volunteer in a Basic Science Research Laboratory

Currently looking for a part-time (15-30 hours a week) Biological Sciences un-paid volunteer researcher for an Academic Immunology, Inflammation, and Microbiology lab in La Jolla. Particularly interested in individuals who are highly motivated, function independently and efficiently, are already trained in microbiology and immunology, who have an excellent academic record, and who already have a graduate degree (PhD).

Skills Required:
• Isolate DNA, run PCR reactions (singleplex and multiplex), and analyze via agarose gels.
• Microbiologic techniques: bacterial culture, minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) assays, agar microdilution, broth microdilution, colony counting
• Identification of bacterial virulence factors
• Experience works with methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in the lab setting.
• Protein extraction and purification, quantification, SDS page gel electrophoresis, staining
• Carefully record all experimental details and results.
• Analysis of data utilizing GraphPad Prism and Microsoft Excel
• Writing manuscripts about data produced, and submission to journals
• Present data at conferences

• PhD
• 2-3 years of experience in a research lab beyond PhD degree (postdoc or otherwise)
• Able to rapidly learn new techniques and multi-task. Good organizational skills.
• Hard working, highly motivated and reliable.
• Personable, plays well with others.

About the Research:
The research goals of the laboratory are to elucidate the effects of cigarette smoke on bacterial virulence and myeloid cell function. The focus is on in vitro cellular human and mouse assays and bacterial function assays.

Please submit a cover letter (brief statement about yourself and your goals), and attach a current resume or CV.

Location: La Jolla
Compensation: none
This is a non-profit organization>

Because if this is for real……

45 Responses to “Volunteer Postdoc Wanted, 2-3 years of experience required”

  1. It reminds me about the news that Dutch pilots (many of whom are unemployed) pay money to airlines to be able to fly airplanes in order to increase their chance of getting a job again.
    http://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2013/07/26/honderden-piloten-betalen-tienduizenden-euros-om-te-vliegen/ (use google translate to read)
    It’s very sad, but I assume there will be people out there who think that filling a gap in their CV is more important than getting paid for what they do…


  2. dsks Says:

    Alright, you win interweb. The Bora thing, and now this…? I’ll get back to work. See you tomorrow.


  3. zb Says:

    We need labor laws that prevent this. I am surprised that it would be at any institution but I can see that it’s a continuation of the extreme on the “internship” idea.

    I’m not against all unpaid internships. In general, I think both HS students & undergrads are contributing little value to the lab, on average, and that their internships are about their education, and that setting up rules for those levels of internships that emphasize education — and obligate education as the payment for the internship is OK.

    I wonder who they would find for a position like this one — potentially they already have a person in mind? Which institution do we speculate this is? And, do we think the individual posting the advert actually went through their institutional protocols, or are they going rogue? I can imagine a junior employee imagining that this could be a fine thing without realizing that it would go against institutional rules.


  4. AmasianV Says:

    I’ve been hearing more and more about unpaid postdocs. Here and abroad. Not digging the precedent.


  5. Bill Says:

    This? This is a fucking abomination.


  6. eeke Says:

    Reply to it. Submit your resume and see what happens. zb- there are labor laws that prevent this. “volunteer” work is prohibited at my institution, unless it is for academic credit at the undergraduate level.


  7. Mike Says:

    I don’t see this working in the San Diego area where people can still find actual jobs. But in an isolated town with one institution, plenty of trainees recently made redundant would sign up.


  8. Where Is The Love? Says:

    Is this is one of those “invaluable contributions” Collins and Rockey were referring to?

    There have been concerns expressed that NIH is not doing anything to limit the number of Ph.D.s being produced. It’s important to remember that NIH does not control graduate enrollments. We are, however, firmly committed to the premise that bioscience Ph.D.s provide invaluable contributions to a whole variety of fields. Furthermore, there is no definitive evidence that Ph.D. production exceeds current employment opportunities. – See more at: http://nexus.od.nih.gov/all/2013/09/24/one-nation-in-support-of-biomedical-research/#comments


  9. sciencedude Says:

    This is the NIH dream come true. They have finally managed to so over-saturate the system with PhDs that now you have to apply to even volunteer, and previous postdoctoral experience is required! I guess it is a part time position, so that the person has time to support themselves through some other menial labor job. Of course, the ad says part time, but I am sure full time work is expected. You know, there are plenty of other volunteers out there.


  10. drugmonkey Says:

    It’s important to remember that NIH does not control graduate enrollments.

    This is nonsense. They may not do so directly, but most current biomedical graduate training programs depend in large part on the NIH for support. Training grants, NRSAs and above all else, RAships paid from research grants. The R-mechs also are a huge demand side load b/c we’re in this situation in which PIs rely on cut rate trainee labor to service the grant work.

    The NIH chooses to ignore their role in the graduate student population, true. And they use this “it isn’t our fault” excuse to avoid doing anything about graduate populations such that the PhD production lines keep on rolling.


  11. Dave Says:

    Beat me to it DM.

    And that’s no post-doc either – that’s a tech position – although it is true that most PIs no longer make a distinction between the two.


  12. Dave Says:

    At least they will get free healthcare now through ACA.


  13. ecologist Says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t there a recent court decision that made this kind of thing illegal, unless there was some serious educational benefit to the “volunteer intern”? I’m sure these people could make something like that up, but this looks like a pretty good example of what’s supposed to be illegal.


  14. I am not a Boomer Says:

    Sad, but I don’t see anything changing any time soon. This is a slow-moving train-wreck that will last several years, if not decades.

    It will only end when leaders in academia/NIH decide to step in. Hard to see that happening, since they are the ones that benefit the most from such an arrangement.

    This is 21st Century slavery. Thank you, Baby Boomers!


  15. blatnoi Says:

    I see that it was posted on October 1st. As such, it must be some sort of anti April fool’s. Maybe that means that you say something nobody would believe, but it turns out to be the truth.


  16. LM Says:

    On the desperate hope that this was a joke, I flagged it “best of.” A little searching on this research topic didn’t turn up anyone who had published recently in the La Jolla area.


  17. LM Says:

    OK, so DM has better search skills than I do. (I think I was too focused on the bacterial side of things.)


  18. drugmonkey Says:

    I don’t know if either of these fits, just found some possibilities on a search.


  19. Former technician Says:

    Our institution has stated that volunteers cannot do the work that a paid employee should be doing. They have also stated that unpaid internships can only be for the benefit of credit. This hasn’t changed anything at the lab level. I still get constant emails from individuals asking if we have volunteer positions and lab members asking if I can find them a volunteer. Because of my personal beliefs and desire to keep my job, I say no to both questions.

    PIs and Team leads take advantage of volunteers and trainees being paid by other institutions to do the things they don’t want to do. Scut work. Without any money coming from our grants. The promise is for middle authorship on papers or CV boosts.

    As someone in a hiring capacity, I am not sure how I would view this on a resume. I need to think on that a bit.


  20. I_suspect Says:

    Matching keywords, this might be the lab. Not sure.


  21. Neuro-conservative Says:

    The second one could match this lab: http://rosslab.ucsd.edu/

    These people should be ashamed of themselves. I am usually pretty cynical about human nature, but this is shocking.


  22. gingerest Says:

    FWIW, on that site Ed found, the San Diego VA is also looking for a volunteer PT or FT board-eligible neurologist. (http://www.postjobfree.com/job/aabzsa/woc-volunteer-affiliate-neurology-san-diego-ca) Surely there isn’t a glut of neurologists in SoCal?


  23. DJMH Says:

    It would be hard to cry if a person with all those qualifications joined the lab, “volunteered” for a month or so, and then FUCKED SHIT UP some quiet Sunday morning.

    Not that I am suggesting anything.


  24. Ola Says:

    It would appear the TwittStorm has caused the original poster to remove their ad from Craigslist. Too late now of course, and only a matter of time before the crowd figures out who it is 🙂 The last line suggests this could be at Scripps or another institute, maybe not UCSD. Either way, what an entitled wanker!


  25. Dave Says:

    The VA thing might be a little different since it is fairly typical for scientists to have cross appts at the VA and a primary (and paid) appt at an affiliated university. But the add is slightly weird……


  26. Busy Says:

    In general, I think both HS students & undergrads are contributing little value to the lab, on average, and that their internships are about their education, and that setting up rules for those levels of internships that emphasize education — and obligate education as the payment for the internship is OK.

    Sorry, but I don’t believe this for a second. While it is true that interns are not about to win Nobel prizes, they do grunt work which has commercial value. If not, you should be giving them academic credit, at the very least.


  27. commentariette Says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this originated as a targeted position for a visitor with non-salary support or for an accompanying spouse or something similar. Then some bean-counter said they had to do open recruiting….

    I guess someone could be desperate enough to take a long shot on getting a competent post-doc willing and able to work full-time for free, but it seems unlikely.


  28. Tim Says:

    commentariette, I’m going to go with your interpretation. Otherwise this is completely insane, and I’m not quite ready to believe that it is possible.


  29. Joe Says:

    @Tim “I’m not quite ready to believe that it is possible.” If people take unpaid internships in movie-making, radio, and journalism, why not scientific research? Suppose you were graduating with your PhD and you had a short list of labs you wanted to go to. If those labs didn’t have enough money for an additional post-doc salary but had an ongoing project with funds for supplies, you could work there while writing fellowship applications. If one got funded you could have an actual job, or if you impressed the PI, maybe he/she could find some money for you.
    Mind you, I don’t know anyone who could afford to do this, nor any PIs that don’t want to pay their post-docs, but I certainly don’t see it as impossible.


  30. commentariette Says:

    Most of the comments seem to be about whether this is “fair” to the potential post doc.

    But I think the real question is whether this makes sense from the PI’s point of view and I don’t see how it does. Either this is a project that’s central to what the lab in question has going on (relative to funding, research direction, etc), or it’s not.

    If the work really is key and requires the skills of a post-doc (rather than e.g. a semi-supervised MSc student), it’s presumably a high priority. Why jeopardize it by relying on the small chance of finding a competent post doc who’s willing and able to work for free for an extended period?

    OTOH, if it’s just a side/’nice to have’ project and the funding is so dire that it depends on finding a volunteer, it doesn’t make sense to commit any resources to it, compared to focusing on core activities.

    Either way, it doesn’t make much sense from the PI’s point of view.

    @Joe, the difference is that interns for things like movies and fashion and such are low-skill workers. Nobody’s movie release or fall collection depends on the interns’ competency. That’s why lots of these positions are held by very well-connected rich kids…


  31. Eli Rabett Says:

    Well, there are two places IEHO for unpaid postdoc like objects in the research system. The first is folk, like Eli, that are retired/semiretired/about to be retired who are looking for a place to contribute and support younger colleagues. The second is for professionals (physicians/engineers, etc.) who have been in practice for a number of years and want to get (back) into research.

    Note, that in the last case, it might not be full time. Eli has a program manager friend who regularly comes by the lab on weekends to continue research. A number of years ago, he had conversations with a practicing physician who wanted to do some research, and the Bunny suggested hooking up with a stage 2 or 3 study that needed outreach into the community the physician practiced in.

    For those just getting started. NO WAY


  32. zb Says:

    “If not, you should be giving them academic credit, at the very least.”

    I wrote that undergrads didn’t have a lot of value, but I did say that the “education” should be seen as the compensation. In my mind that meant not just academic credit but some form of educational plan telling them what they would learn and how they would be taught (which would then be executed). Washing labware 20/week doesn’t cut it, though some labware washing, along with instruction on techniques (in addition to labware washing) would be ok. But, the key is that I”m saying it’s OK if they don’t get paid, because they’re getting paid in education. I’d be OK with the requirement for credit, which guarantees other rights (like, the “volunteer” has to be a student).

    I’m pretty sure UCSD would not allow a post-doctoral volunteer in their labs. The Volunteer Neurologist job isn’t available for viewing anymore, but there must be some special case about that, right? like pro bono work for lawyers? Not-for-profits do advertise for pro-bono work from lawyers, and that’s supposed to be part of their contribution towards their license.


  33. zb Says:

    Maybe you get CME credit for volunteer neurologizing at the VA.


  34. DrugMonkey Says:

    The sense from the PI’s point of view is this if they don’t have money to hire someone then this is the only alternative, long shot though it may be.


  35. gingerest Says:

    You know, the more I think about this the less I understand: positions with VA are all advertised primarily through USAjobs.gov (which doesn’t have a WOC category but lets you search for jobs at $1/year, like internships), and the volunteer positions go the VA Voluntary Service.
    I wonder if it was a shutdown thing? Like, they were frozen from hiring but needed to keep the process moving? A hoax, maybe?


  36. martini Says:

    This is totally normal in La Jolla. In fact, I could make a pretty good guess as to which labs at a well regarded research institute might have posted this.

    In La Jolla, it is a very common practice for the well known labs to have at least one or more unpaid volunteer post-docs from foreign countries. Usually the deal it to get part of a major paper and you get to come on payroll.

    Not that it is acceptable (it isn’t), but very common in La Jolla.


  37. […] there are offering volunteer post-docs: that’s right–you get to be a post-doc for free. Recently, an ad was posted for a volunteer post-doc “in the La Jolla area.” It’s […]


  38. Did you ever confirm who placed that ad? This toxic culture of free labor is holding back our economy and thousands of workers’ lives along with, and eroding basic democratic principles. If anyone here would like to explore ways to organize around this issue please let us know. We’re in touch with activists on both coasts, in Canada and abroad.


  39. neuromusic Says:

    For those still curious, here are some more details on the ad…


  40. mewboy23799 Says:

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if this originated as a targeted position for a visitor with non-salary support or for an accompanying spouse or something similar.” -commentariette

    I agree. There is an enormous backstory behind this that a lot of people are overlooking. Especially for publicly-funded institutions, the PI has an obligation to at least make the position available to citizens (as a formality), before taking a foreigner who volunteer three months ahead already. The person who wrote this posting shouldn’t bear the brunt of this frustration. It’s really the system of funding science in this country that’s all in contradiction.


  41. DrugMonkey Says:

    The scientist in question is willing to exploit free labor. She is not blame free.


  42. […] patrician ‘Unpaid Volunteer in a Basic Science Research Laboratory,’” Ruparelia said, reading from a pursuit inventory in question. “Having a Ph. D. […]


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