Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I kind of love this comment

I figured H1B out during a post-doc many years ago when I worked for this douchebag [redacted]. I was the only American, which was fine, I really enjoyed the internationals. However, after a few months of 6x12h days, plus an appearance on Sunday, I had enough. My salary was 23k per year. 
The last straw was him berating me for not taking his suggestion of switching the solvent to DMF in making a dianion with NaH and nBuLi. Then he yelled at me for enlisting the help of a graduate student who had nothing to work on. I took the keys to the lab off my keychain and marched into his office and gave him the immortal words of Johnny Paycheck "Take this job and shove it."  
I took a few weeks off and went fishing and worked various manual labor jobs and got back in amazing physical shape. I really enjoyed that summer. This was followed by an adjunct stint. I eventually found my way back to a science career, but in a non-traditional path. The thing that struck me the most was the despondency and lack of options of the post-docs who remained. Apparently I was treated well compared to the internationals, or so the American grad students told me. Of course they had to take it, it was not like they could tell him to F off. 
There really is a shortage of people who are highly intelligent and well educated in a notoriously difficult discipline who are ready to be treated like excrement on a daily basis for the wages of migrant tomato pickers.
 A Real American Hero. 

57 comments:

  1. Any self respecting PhD taking a $23k post doc job needs to have a hard look at his/her career path rather than blaming everyone else for his/her problems. I am glad it worked out for the person, though it just shows that there are too many people who hang on to a "research" job despite a mediocre career instead of cutting the losses and moving onto other lucrative fields like becoming managers at McDonalds or tire plus.

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  2. You know the PI's name is in the original comment, right? :)

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    1. Too bad it's redacted by CJ. These kind of PIs should be named and shamed. The more exposure of their practices, the better.

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    2. I am not a big fan of the internet shaming phenomenon because it has been used to stifle humor and free expression as well as lead to anonymous threats, etc.
      On the other hand, it might be useful for a potential graduate student to know the details so they can avoid the same problems.

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    3. Hear hear. Besides, the original blog is referenced - I should think it was relatively simple to look it up, if you've got a concern.

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    4. I will say this, I was at IU when professor PAE was there. He was a serious a-hole and it was no secret.

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    5. @Anon 9:03: Examples?

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    6. To talk to him as a non-member of his group, he seemed fine. His group was seriously beaten down for the most part. He got himself into some trouble there. I don't want to get into it here, but if you are considering working for him, do your homework.

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  3. NIH minimum is now ~43k, and many schools have adopted that as institutional policy. Just something to consider before beginning your indenture/training, or even applying.

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    1. yep! I mean at my alma mater I know profs paying $30-35k for postdocs, and while I think thats too low, I would say that's still more acceptable/typical than the salary quoted by the above post. Heck, as a graduate student I made close to $20k and that was bunch of years ago. I am willing to bet that most people currently in grad school make around $24k too.

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    2. Too low? It depends on location. If you're at Tony U. in CA, your living expenses are going to be through the roof. Same deal if you're in the People's Republic of Massachusetts. If, however, you're at Corn State, or Razorback U., your living expenses can be met pretty easily.

      As for the NIH minimum, this will have a chilling effect on numbers of postdocs offered. Whether this is good or bad, I leave it to you to determine.

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    3. Very important to note that the NIH minimum is a SUGGESTED minimum, which means institutes are free to follow the guidelines as they please. I was very fortunate to have worked at an institute that did pay the minimum. But the university right up the road paid significantly less, citing low cost of living as a reason. I haven't heard of postdocs in CA or Boston getting higher offers to compensate for the huge cost of living either, but maybe it happens.

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    4. Anon at 3:34pm here: I went to a R1 school in southeast where cost of living is considered pretty low. Even after that, I can honestly say that everyone I worked with would consider a post doc salary same or lower to grad school stipend outrageous.

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    5. Like I said (anon1148), it varies from school to school. To pick two examples I know off the top of my head, Stanford (http://postdocs.stanford.edu/handbook/salary.html) and Tufts (http://announcements.tufts.edu/item/?id=1242) both have institutional policies requiring at least the NIH minimum, and, in the former's case, rather more.

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    6. Most people who like research enjoy the post-doc experience and do quite well afterwards. I think the only real complaint worth entertaining is that the PI gets way too much credit for work/leadership roles that post-docs take on.

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    7. Whether 42K is enough depends on the COL of the city, but that is neither here nor there. It's a good idea to look into what the institutional policy is regarding postdoc pay. My husband took a postdoc at Berkeley over Harvard because Berkeley matched the NIH minimum whereas Harvard did not and was only offering him 33K, which was exactly 1K more than his NSF predoctoral fellowship. Although overall the bay area is higher COL than the boston/cambridge area, when we looked at the rents for 1 bedroom apartments, the east bay and boston/cambridge were not really all that different. So that was the factor that tipped him over the edge in choosing the Berkeley lab (with those two institutions, though, he couldn't go wrong).

      All the UC schools, Stanford, and MIT scale to NIH. Harvard depends on the school/department, but the chemistry department does NOT scale to the NIH. Something to keep in mind, because not everyone manages to secure an F32...

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  4. A Real American Hero? Boy, that term sure doesn't mean anything anymore.

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    1. http://content7.flixster.com/question/38/64/66/3864665_std.jpg

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    2. Cute responses. Wish I had had those options, too.
      "http://bit.ly/1Nss3zC" ? Unfortunately doesn't GI Joe have a stereotypically US-American attitude, i.e. pull out a gun and shoot? Or maybe I should have become an artist for comic books, instead.
      "http://content7.flixster.com/question/38/64/66/3864665_std.jpg" ? Or maybe pull out a remote controller and change the channel.

      In any case, I am persisting on calling Donna Nelson's office to insist on an explanation for her now-apparent lack of interest in employment issues for US chemists.

      And no, CJ, I don't believe in conspiracy theories.

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    3. Yep, a disgruntled post-doc and GI Joe. Excellent comparison, well done.

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    4. I think that the explanation for Nelson's sudden lack of interest in US chemist employment is that she got elected. The pessimist in me suspects that the only reason she was interested in the office was increased visibility for herself.

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    5. http://mindlessones.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/greatest-american-hero.jpg

      Note: logograph on chest denotes nation of manufacture.

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    6. That office is probably pretty amused that anyone thinks the "President" wields any power or influence.

      "Should we tell him it's just a figurehead position?" "Nah"

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    7. Well, sure the ACS presidents have a track record of being complacent lap dogs (with one exception, I think). But on the other hand, this is also typical behavior for an ACS member: don't rock the boat (especially you happen to be in an overcrowded boat on the way from Libya to Italy).

      However we all have the choice to make what we want of this organization, correct? For example, just last week I had a relatively positive and long conversation with ACS people about increasing specific benefits for the unemployed. Yes, they did take me seriously. I hope that you will agree that doing so beats sitting in front of one's computer and ranting?

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    8. Not always. "Don't just do something, stand there!" is sometimes very good advice.

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    9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    10. Be my guest :-) One Big Mac, small coke and small fries, please.

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    11. http://i.imgur.com/BjsPsKD.gif

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    12. LL briefly opines that "Real American Hero" doesn't mean anything anymore. I disagree. If you've worn the uniform of this great nation, you are the embodiment of a "Real American Hero."

      Been there, done that, bought the E-Ticket for that ride. Hoo-ya.

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    13. I agree with you Harry. Saying a disgruntled post-doc is a "Real American Hero" is a huge over-reach here, hence my statement suggesting if this is what passes for a GAH, then it means nothing anymore.

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    14. Well, no, obviously a "Real American Hero" is someone who calls offices and berates underlings.

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  5. The real message from the post? Stand up to BuLi-ing...

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    1. Not really. The real message in the post is to voluntarily accept indentured servitude and than turn back and complain about it saying the market is saturated with poor paying jobs in science. Duh! people dare to pay that low because they know that there are stupid people out there who'll take it.

      No one can honestly convince me that there isnt better paying job out there in any field which pays higher than $23k (~$11/hr)

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    2. Sense of humor, baby, sense of humor.

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    3. lol fair enough.

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  6. Ha! Professor *redacted* made a brief return to us in the UK. The reason he went back to North America is given variously as either (a) the British work ethic wasn't to his liking or (b) students/postdocs over here wouldn't stand for his bullshit.

    Kinda makes me proud to be British.

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    1. Ah, a Real British Hero!

      http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/files/2013/04/Black-Books.jpg

      http://cdn-static.denofgeek.com/sites/denofgeek/files/styles/insert_main_wide_image/public/2/39//bottom_1.jpg?itok=Jbt-3P2r

      http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2013/09/26/article-2433036-160AA49B000005DC-938_634x453.jpg

      http://www.frieze.com/uploads/images/middle/180.bmp

      http://www.sundaypost.com/polopoly_fs/1.145917.1382720332!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/box_620/image.jpg

      (some of these probably showcase my age... anyway, it's all in good fun).

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    2. *rapturous applause*

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    3. Not just students, but his colleague and the administrative side of things at Liverpool didnt stand for it. There were situations were the university administration and other professors backed and helped his students in their disputes with him.

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    4. Four institutions for him already? Maybe it'll work out for him this time .

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    5. Well, if you can go through four institutions I would say it's working out well, considering most people won't even get an interview for one institution. He obviously knows what he's doing if he can maneuver from institution to institution.

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    6. One would think. I personally know of a faculty member who was an embarrassment to his department - language inability, undergraduate class mistreatment scandal cover-up and all - and now he's tenured.

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    7. Exactly. I think it helps if you are a male. I don't think a female would get away with this as easily. I know one who has difficulty getting the chemistry department to recognize her maternity leave, which the university granted her. Meanwhile, others can retract multiple papers, keep highly qualified individuals from getting interviews (so their mediocrity looks better than it is) and other stupid things while maintaining their position.

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    8. "I think it helps if you are a male. I don't think a female would get away with this as easily." I doubt it. In the department in question I also know of two female professors who violated university regulations, evidence for the violations was obvious, and they were not penalized in any way.

      Anyway, the takeaway for me was that you can't assume any relation between competence and station. Meritocracy is a nice word, but that's about all it is.

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  7. Oh c'mon, somebody just say his name already.

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  8. Ok, I see it's not redacted on the original In the Pipeline post.

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    1. Out of curiosity, do you have the exact URL for In the Pipeline?

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    2. http://cdn.meme.am/instances/500x/23560110.jpg

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    3. CJ included a link to the Pipeline story at the beginning of the post.

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  9. He-who-must-not-be-named. I mean, Voldemort.

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  10. Well, if he recommended using DMF, then why didn't the person who submitted this use DMF? Also, saying "Take this job and shove it" to your boss is childish and unprofessional, even if he is a jerk.

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    1. It sounds like the PI was trying to get him to redo ("switching to DMF" - switching is the key verb here) something he'd already started or maybe even completed. This may have been adequate reason not to follow through.

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    2. Because DMF is a massively inappropriate solvent for organolithium chemistry?

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    3. 1) Unless you're trying to formylate?

      2) Standards of professionalism are inapplicable to grad school - else lots of things that go on there would be in the trash bin already. Expecting adult behavior out of people in grad school is also expecting a lot. It's like arguments for about civility that come up in debates on anger-generating topics. Being civil in argument generally involves not being explicit about the failures of someone's position, hoping instead that they can figure out the flaws in their position on their own. When their position depends on active avoidance or ignorance of their flaws, being nonexplicit is no longer an option if you wish to communicate. Maybe they will understand blunt words, but more likely being blunt or rude at that point might at least make others aware of the situation, and maybe change their understanding of it.

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  11. "When their position depends on active avoidance or ignorance of their flaws, being nonexplicit is no longer an option if you wish to communicate."
    Very true! But I ask if it's not frequently a paradox. That is because on one hand, in order to deal with idiots as you describe, you must already outrank them within the department. But on the other hand, if you are already on top of the game, then why would you have let them into the department in the first place?

    The two exceptions to that situation which come to mind are (a) you are not associated with that department or (b) are quitting in the first place, so you don't care.

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  12. The original narrator of this story wrote the the graduate students were screwed, and could not move somewhere else.

    Actually, I worked for a 200% asshole at the University of Alberta for 18 months. During that time, at least two graduate students did, indeed quit and join different research groups. The A-hole in question only got his job at the UofA because he was married to a Canadian superstar chemist (she is really good). They were only married, because he knocked her up. As it turned out, there was a divorce, the A-hole went to a university in the US, and to my knowledge has forgotten that he had two children up north. A certain Nobel laureate has accused him of copying his own research....

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