Thursday, December 20, 2012

Research associates of the world, comment!

From the ACS grad report, this comment:
A second helpful change would be for funding agencies to be more receptive to requests for support of more senior research associates who are regular employees of research institutions. Such positions would help to provide a professional path forward for postdoctoral associates.
I suspect that these positions are paid somewhat better, are somewhat more stable than a postdoc and indeed carry some health insurance and other benefits. I would guess that there are a fair number of these positions, too. On Twitter, there were a couple of interesting comments from knowledgeable folks:
So they're stressful (but are they more stressful than a regular industry job? I could argue it both ways.) So does anyone have anything to add about academic staff scientist positions? 


  1. I'd be interested to know if they go anywhere. European schools are much more amenable to the idea of recruiting internally from the ranks of associate/permadocs who have become part of the furniture. Look at germany with their habilitation programmes. US schools seem to be in love with the idea of the "next big thing", some super clean fresh face straight outta caltech/mit/UCB, loaded with confidence albeit with a totally unproven independent research record.

    1. Within the department? No way.

    2. Funny how different the US system is. Tenure, for example, doesnt exist over the pond.

      In the UK I can think of several examples of research associates who have stepped into the shoes of their former mentors (eg. Britovsek at Imperial college london), and Im of the understanding that this happens much more regularly in southern europe (for better or for worse). It helps that they can take on lecturing responsibilities at the university.

  2. I've been in labs with Research Associates. Seems like a perpetual postdoc, but pays a little bit better. Still the same lousy 60-hour work weeks, lousy benefits, and limited job security. Don't get that funding? Hey, no more paycheck! Soft money hell.

  3. I'm a research associate, but in the biology field. I don't do twitter, so I am not sure what conversations you are having there, but for me, this is a pretty low stress job. The pay can vary depending on your department. In my first job is was awful, but I am in engineering now, so its better. ;) The hours are flexible. I have own research projects, some of them "large scale" and hopefully publishable, and some of them more lab oriented. I think someone like me adds a lot to a research lab, giving a more permanent person in the lab then just post docs or grad students who float in and out. The downfall is that there is really no where to go. I will be doing the same things in 5 years and I am doing now so sometimes it is hard to stay motivated. It works for me now because I have two small children, but long term...not sure. Hope that helps!

  4. I worked with three different research associates in my lab over here in my postdoc country. They have a tenure system for them here where if they manage to publish enough in the first five years, they get tenure and can stay on until retirement. Of course, they have another two levels where if after review they get to the next level, their salary increases a lot (and that's based on research and publications). Usually to get to the really high salary level, you're probably 50 by the time that happens and that's similar to a professor, but I guess you wouldn't get any consulting gigs or make money on the side in some other way.
    One of the research associates did get fired, but it wasn't for bad work or work-ethic. Since they had tenure, they were just sent to another department as a free worker. There was a research associate in my group that worked until retirement as well. They seem to like the job a lot under those conditions. I think the place is trying to do away with those jobs, but it doesn't seem like a good idea in a time when grad school applications are falling. Everyone is starting to depend a lot more on postdocs and students from abroad than before. A good research associate will be good for one publication a year for sure. Usually a jackass, and if not then a chemical misscommunication.

  5. I'm an associate at an academic think tank. It took hundreds of job applications and about a year of applying everywhere I possibly could to get this job. Right now even post docs are super competitive. And the elusive research associate position is very difficult to find. I noticed all the positions advertising were in purple squirrel territory.

    Honestly the market sucks for everyone right now. There is no job that is OMG better than any other. I love my current job, even though it's away from the bench. But having spent nearly 20 years at the bench in a variety of different jobs I don't see this as a loss in any way.

    As far as pay, during my probationary period I'm paid the same as a post doc. After that my salary has the option to go up quite a bit. I have full faculty/staff benefits, but so do post docs in all departments at this university. I cannot petition for tenure. I can't tell you where my salary comes from but can tell you it's no more or less stable than working for big pharma.

    As far as stress levels go, I'd say I'm far less stressed outside of the lab. There's nothing to optimize and no protocol that will suddenly stop working. I'm working 8-5 most days, even though I'm always on call. And I have to travel a lot. But that's all fine with me. 5 years ago I'd never imagine working anywhere but in a lab.