difficult times for postdocs

Flight to Montpellier, Dec. 06, 2011In the plane to Warwick on Monday, I was reading my latest issue of Nature and found an interesting editorial on the financial plight of many graduates and post-docs in both the US and the UK (and certainly elsewhere). Who, despite having a fellowship, cannot make ends meet. This is particularly true in expensive cities like London, Oxford or even Paris, where rents force those new researchers to face long commuting hours. The editorial suggests taking extra-jobs to make up for financial difficulties, but this does not sound to me like a particularly pertinent recommendation if it means taking time off one’s research, at the period in a researcher’s career where one’s energy should be mostly directed at the production of papers towards securing a (more) permanent job. Even teaching can prove too time consuming for finishing PhD students. An adequation between the needs of those young researchers and the institutional support they receive would sound like a natural requirement, while graduates looking for fellowship should truly assess the adequation in detail before accepting an offer.Which of course is not always easy. In countries where post-doctoral contracts are not negotiable and are set at a national level (like, e.g., France), checking with earlier fellows is a must. (As it happens or happened, I was quite lucky to spend my post-doctoral years in cheap places with decent support from the local universities, but this is not relevant in today’s environment!)

6 Responses to “difficult times for postdocs”

  1. It is amazing that never in history has there been more money going to the States and yet it seems it is still lacking.

    This situation is the price for not having a proper doctrine on what is legitimate for a state to fund and what is not.

    In France, we have had 2.4 millions extra people since 1980 working for the state. what new mission justifies it ? Those 2.4 million people are the equivalent of quite a handful many of huge companies. yet, they are mostly occupied in extremely low productivity job, many of them only dealing with the intricacies arising from a huge state itself : the system creates its own problem for which its needs hires to handle, self-sustaining its growth, only limited in that by its own incapacity to keep up with self produced regulations.

    Not only has the been inflation in number with little legitimate reasons, but more money is punctioned and redistributed in dubious places as well, with as little legitimate reason either.

    Yet, it seems the only rational response we can come up with is to wish that we had more, which although it is a perfectly reasonable individual analysis, misses the global point from which we get our individual benefits.

    This self examination was sidestepped thanks to (now stagnant) growth and indebting of future generations now reaching its -ever elusive albeit always approaching- limit.

    But we will be faced with an ever more pressing question. lacking such answer, it is undoubtful that one of the side effect will the difficulty in financing what clearly should be financed.

  2. Max Smith Says:

    The other more obvious option is to try and spread money about the country a bit more. In the UK, a large part of the referendum result can be explained by the “London focus”; everything goes to London. Instead of constantly building things in London, move it somewhere else and encourage growth.

    For example, the Alan Turing Institute was located in London; no irony there! Think of the difference the institute would make if it was located somewhere else? Just the reduction in building costs would mean it could fund many more students!

    • This is indeed a most relevant suggestion, especially in the case of the Alan Turing Institute:. It could be run on a much more virtual level given the partners being all over the UK and avoid the massive cost of creating a building that will swamp the ATI budget.

  3. Dan Simpson Says:

    I was lucky enough that most of my postdoc time was in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, all of whom paid well (I’ve actually only just beat my Norwegian postdoc salary by hitting Level 9 of the UK academic scale).

    Moving to the UK for the last year of my postdoctoral wandering was a nasty shock. This is in spite of the fact that Warwick was very very generous and paid me near the top of the postdoc scale. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do my whole postdoc here – I probably would’ve moved to industry. I know a lot of good people who have done just that.

    We all know that we pay a financial penalty for working in academia and we find a variety of reasons to do that. But the current system of renumeration isn’t particularly sustainable.

    One thing that is relevant for statistics groups/departments is that we can always supplement our income through consultancy. This isn’t the same sort of time-sink that part time or external work is. Most people gain a lot (skills, discipline, time management) and it is very well paid. One day a month would give a meaningful boost to salaries (especially if the university helps with the tax implications).

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