Tuesday, November 6, 2012

And what about research assistant professors?

"How many Brukers were there at Hereford?"
Credit: poodfoison.wordpress.com
An astute reader writes in to ask:
Within my little research niche, I've noticed a lot of "research assistant professor" positions popping up.  The duties seem to be summarized as "chief post-doc with a more respectable title and no teaching responsibilities." 
This might be good news: Slowing the Ph.D. production rate somewhat and providing jobs for those already out there.  I was wondering if you or any of your readers has noticed these positions...and had any idea why they might be becoming more common.
I haven't seen this very often in the ads, but there have been so many run-of-the-mill assistant professor ads recently, I can't really remember.

If they're becoming more common, it's probably because certain institutions have enough soft money to support the position for the short/medium-term, but not for the long term. (Also, could these be "holding pattern" positions for favored postdocs?) It's my guess that the problem with these positions is that they're "soft money"-related, so as soon as the funding runs out, you're in the wind.

Readers, you know so much more about this than I do. Please, feel free to tell me what's up.

4 comments:

  1. I have one of these at a top tier research institution. Was advised against taking it by some due to the soft money issue, but also a big step up from my previous position. I also made sure that the environment I was in was successfully raising money, which it is. Creates a nice niche for me where even if things don't work out here, I should be able to transition easily.

    Having said this, the majority of others in the same niche are not new external hires, but indeed senior post-docs transitioning to independence. In this sense there is almost a 2 tier system, where I have more independence and startup funds, and they are a litte more protected/comfortable. Pros and cons both ways...

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  2. I have seen two kinds. One is a senior postdoc, really a researcher, writing his own grants, responsible for his own subgroup, and ultimately reporting to the big boss. Hours are lousy and the pay is not stellar. The motivation differs, I know people who are holding out for a better position, people who don't want to move, people who have a spouse in a much better employment situation, or waiting for a spouse to finish their degree/residence/etc. The other kind is an XO, for example, I know a group run but I well-known scientist. He has a complement of 30-40 grad students and postdocs, but he is also a member of this and that committee, he is constantly invited to give lectures, sometimes he is away for months. So he has a Ph.D. working for him, who does the budget, polishes and submits grants, does scheduling, group meeting, works on papers. I have no idea what the pay is, but it is certainly 6 day, 50-60 h/w job.

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  3. That is my current goal, actually. I work in a largish group in a biomedical department being their in-house chemist, and RAPs seem pretty common at my school/department. In fact there are already 2-3 in my group! It is about as described--nicer title, above the postdoc pay guidelines, and access to faculty benefits. It has no security beyond year-to-year contracts, but is probably soaking up the postdocs who can't strike out on their own. I can use the time to continue my research, write proposals, etc even if i don't expect to be here forever. And honestly that's probably as much security as anyone has nowadays.

    My school set a 5-year deadline for postdocs, so 'research associates' sprang up as the next grey zone for people to hang about in holding patterns. But, that's not very tenable either, and there's already some noise about being neither fish nor fowl (not student, so staff; faculty; or postdoc; and not postdoc!) so that may get limited next. So RAP does seem to be available to soak up the overstock of researchers. Maybe CJ could find some data that shows a population bulge that started in grad school, then continued to postdocs, and now is headed to RAP?

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  4. CJ, an interesting question that bears examination.

    I have to give Kudos for bringing in a Ronin movie reference.

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