Friday, October 25, 2013

That unpaid postdoc in La Jolla? Yeah, it was meant for a volunteer.

Remember that volunteer postdoc? It's a Veterans Administration/UCSD position, and it was intended for an Egyptian postdoctoral fellow who was willing to work for free. From the San Diego NPR station KPBS, written by David Wagner: 
So I had to do some digging to find out which one posted this, and I found out that the listing was posted by a researcher named Laura Crotty Alexander. She's a physician at the VA San Diego Healthcare System who doubles as a UCSD faculty member. I couldn't reach her for comment. 
If Alexander's listing looked like a terrible opportunity, that's by design, according to VA chief of staff Robert Smith. 
"Frankly, what she was trying to do was make it look unappealing," Smith said. "Because she was trying to create an advertisement that nobody would apply to." 
You see, the VA lab already had someone in mind for the position: a postdoc from Egypt who actually volunteered to work for free. But to take on a non-citizen, even as a volunteer, Alexander felt she had to advertise the job to citizens first. So she posted an off-putting ad to Craigslist and hoped no one would apply. 
Smith said, "This whole convoluted series of things gave what I think is a very misleading appearance of what she wanted, and what the VA — and for that matter, almost anybody — does." 
When online outrage turned into a roar, the VA's human resources department told Alexander to take down the listing. However, the ad did describe a position the VA intended to fill.
I would love to know what Dr. Alexander was thinking. I assume that this is some sort of cultural/scientific exchange, but surely there are immigration visas to satisfy these sorts of requirements. Why does the article say that she "felt" she had to advertise the position to citizens? How strange.

UPDATE, 10/28/13: I have been remiss in noting that on Twitter on Friday, the relevant reporter (David Wagner) and Twitter user @Lewis_Lab engaged in a spirited conversation where Lewis_Lab said that he understood that the person from Egypt was a visiting professor who would be paid out of their position in Egypt. (I'll link to the relevant tweet tonight.) Assuming this is true (and that makes a lot more sense), there is obviously some sort of disconnect/misunderstanding between what she said to Lewis_Lab and what her superior, Dr. Smith, said to the reporter.

[You know, one of the things that those who oppose U.S. H1b policy say is that the advertisements for those positions are written to not be answered, but to fulfill the requirements of the law. In other words, that people intend to hire inexpensively paid non-domestic workers and actively do not want to hire currently authorized U.S. employees. For the most part, I'm pretty skeptical that it is all that common or purposeful.* But this is pretty stout, though indirect**, ammunition for that position, considering that her intentions are actually explained by her superior.]

*Yes, yes, there's the infamous YouTube video of an immigration attorney explaining the process; such mustache-twirling villains are relatively rare, I hope. 

** I sense this is not a H1b-relevant position, but maybe I'm wrong. 


  1. So, apparently you can be turned down for a job with no pay. Go figure.

  2. I suspect this may have not been done because of a "feeling" since I do not know if based on true legal requirements, or perhaps was driven by government, institution or company policies, that mandate supposedly open searches however I have actually seen such practice of false flag ads several times. Usually the ad details are highly specific on prerequisites to tailor to a pre-identified candidate so any potential other applicants are not as good a match. I can not say for sure but impression used to be many advertised Post-Doc positions I have seen appear to fit this type (non)selection screen process

  3. While this might fulfill the letter of the law in some way, it is certainly NOT in the spirit of a truly open search. With any luck, someone will drop an EEO complaint on their doorstep.

    Shame, shame.

    1. I don't disagree that this smells however when it comes to laws or regulations the spirit and even intentions often take a back seat (or likely just left standing in the driveway) when lawyers and regulators only care about what is in the letter of the law. Welcome to the US system of justice.

  4. does the fact that someone volunteered for this position before it was listed make this any less heinous? i don't even think undergrads should be able to do unpaid research. at the very least, everyone should be making minimum wage, scaled to a 40 hour work week

  5. Work visas should be offered for various terms (from one month up to three years) and be auctioned off in batches every month. You would need to be security screening before bidding, and could append new work visas concurrently on your old one without leaving the country, assuming you won a bid. They would not be tied to any specific employer or even necessarily require you to work. Not only would the "cheap labor" problem be bid away, but USCIS would bring in a few billions in profit every year.

  6. Folks, please see the update above.