Tuesday, October 9, 2012

So you want to be an indentured servant?

Question: How do I become an indentured servant in this day and age?

Answer: Become a postdoctoral researcher! (post-doc, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postdoctoral_research)
See also: National Postdoctoral Association (http://www.nationalpostdoc.org/policy/what-is-a-postdoc)

Why do postdocs exist?

 Graduate schools started graduating more PhDs than there were professor positions available. (Note: this is true for the sciences, but not necessarily for other disciplines.)

Rational Solution: 1) accept fewer grad students or 2) encourage PhDs to explore alternate career plans.

What actually happened: The postdoc system was created.
 PhDs are forced to take “temporary” research positions with professors after they complete grad school. These positions last anywhere from 1 to a million years.

Stated reasons for taking a postdoc:
- Gain more experience in a lab
 Learn a new experimental technique
- Acquire more publications before applying to professorships

Real reason(s):
- You can’t get a professor job right away.

Here's a handy flowchart to learn how to get tenure

See this post from my friend Jess for more on why PhDs take post-docs:

Cons of being a postdoc:
 Your job can be canceled at any time if your professor runs out of money.
You’re rarely protected by a union so you can be denied benefits. (California is a rare exception and this union only formed in 2010! http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2010/08/california-postdocs-embrace-union.html)
 You need your professor as a reference (especially if they’re prominent in your field) so you’re basically powerless. Example: A friend’s professor forced all his lab members to work full-time for 70% of their salaries because he ran out of money.
- You might need more than one postdoc.
-  Even if you stay in a postdoc forever, you might never get a professor job.
  Even getting a good postdoc is competitive nowadays!

So if you routinely hang out with postdocs or your grad student friends are becoming them, please be compassionate towards them and buy them a drink.

Additional blog posts about postdocs:

*Caveat: I've never actually been a postdoc, but I think grad schools should do a better job preparing PhDs for alternative careers.

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