Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Will postdocs get overtime, if they are under $47,476? Looks like it

As people can tell, I was busy today, but I did want to comment on something that has been brewing quite a while, but was announced today. From the New York Times (article by Noam Scheiber):
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, in a far-reaching effort to improve the lot of workers that has ignited criticism from business groups, announced on Tuesday that it was making millions more employees eligible for overtime pay. 
Under the new regulation to be issued by the Labor Department on Wednesday, most salaried workers earning up to $47,476 a year must receive time-and-a-half overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours during a week. The previous cutoff for overtime pay, set in 2004, was $23,660. 
“This is a big deal to be able to help that many working people without Congress having to pass a new law,” said Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute, an early voice in urging the administration to take up the issue. “It’s really restoring rights that people had for decades and lost.” 
The change is expected to play out in a variety of ways. Once the rule goes into effect on Dec. 1, many workers will receive more pay when they work overtime, but others may end up working fewer hours if employers move to limit their time at work. In other cases, employers may decide to increase the salaries of some workers to push them over the cutoff so that the employers will not have to pay overtime or hire additional workers after limiting hours for existing employees...
Just in case you were wondering, Mr. Scheiber directly addresses the point that most of you are thinking (emphasis mine):
Certain categories of workers, like teachers, doctors and outside sales representatives, continue to be exempt from the regulation, though academics primarily engaged in research are not. 
Over at the Huffington Post, Francis Collins (director of the NIH) and Thomas Perez (the Secretary of Labor) co-wrote a piece, with the final concluding policy announcement (emphasis mine):
In response to the proposed FLSA revisions, NIH will increase the awards for postdoctoral NRSA recipients to levels above the threshold. At the same time, we recognize that research institutions that employ postdocs will need to readjust the salaries they pay to postdocs that are supported through other means, including other types of NIH research grants. While supporting the increased salaries will no doubt present financial challenges to NIH and the rest of the U.S. biomedical research enterprise, we plan to work closely with leaders in the postdoc and research communities to find creative solutions to ensure a smooth transition.
This is a pretty darn big deal, in my opinion. It sure sounds like there are many, many universities who are lobbying the White House very, very hard to make sure that this policy gets delayed (and who knows if a President Trump or a President Clinton would change President Obama's rule?). It is also unclear to me how this set of policies gets enforced. However, if it does, here's my set of predicted policy ramifications:
  • If you're a postdoc who is making less than $47,476, you will be eligible for time-and-a-half for any hours that you work over 40 hours a week. 
  • If you're a PI that is paying your postdocs less than $47,476, you will have to track your employees time and either 1) pay them overtime, or 2) bar them from working more than 40 hours a week (which, yes, includes checking work e-mail from home.) 
  • Postdocs will either get paid more, or work less. 
    • Hard to say that getting paid more is bad, but...
  • I cannot take 100% pleasure in this, because this is the problem with regulation - there will always be someone stuck with a terrible dilemma, assuming actual compliance: postdocs (who may have limited time to do their work) will be forced to work only 40 hours a week, or PIs who had budgeted for postdoc salaries of (hypothetically speaking) $39,000 a year will be forced to either cough up an extra eight thousand bucks, or cut back the hours of their direct reports. This is a non-ideal way to implement a regulation, I feel. 
It will be interesting to see how this will affect the ~4000 postdocs in chemistry (will it? I presume that most make under $47,476, but I dunno), but I suspect that it's the US biomedical research enterprise that just got a very unpleasant (for employers) shock. Readers, what do you think? 

93 comments:

  1. 47,476.51 problem solved.

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  2. "35,000 and you work 40 hours. I can't really afford any more and you either take that and work 40 hours or you're laid off. The lab is not built off of several NIH grants after all. But we all know what it takes to get ahead in this business and get publications. Look, as long as you don't say anything and I don't ask any questions, we all get our papers published and get our good evaluation letters and everyone is happy."

    Problem solved.

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    1. 40 hours? More like 60 hours.

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    2. You missed the point of uncle sam's post. 40 hours is the official story. Hence the "as long as you don't say anything and I don't ask any questions".

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    3. This will certainly improve "productivity" in the lab.

      Q:"How did you possibly do 80 hours worth of work but only report 40 hours each week?"

      A:"....focus?"

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  3. Unstable IsotopeMay 18, 2016 at 6:11 AM

    It will be interesting to see how this affects adjunct work. Academia has a big low pay addiction. Should be fun times for them!

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    1. Totally! I'm sure universities will find ways around it, unfortunately.

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  4. Unintended consequence, schools/PIs that can pay slightly above the minimum cutoff will; schools/PIs that can't, will no longer have active postdoc programs.

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    1. It may be an unintended consequence, but perhaps its for the best: why should white-collar workers be excluded from labor laws? I haven't heard much good justification for why it's appropriate to effectively rip off a whole cadre of PhD scientists with low wages (many of whom have been unfortunately pushed into academic tracks with no endgame thanks to poor training about alternative opportunities).

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    2. "why it's appropriate to effectively rip off a whole cadre of PhD scientists with low wages"

      Cuz that's the way it was in my day, sonny! Why, we used to work all day in the lab and then all night 6 days a week, and we'd still come in on Sundays to get ready for the next week. That's the way it was and we liked it! Darn millenials all caught up in their fancy notions of "fair pay for fair work" and "work/life balance".....Dagnabbit, that would never fly in my day. The younger generation is just lazy and stupid.

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  5. To me, this is reminiscent of Trumph's plan to force companies to pay H-1B workers the same salary as regular employess (like 100 K for a H-1B in a software comapny), to make companies think twice about hiring them to replace regular staff.

    At the RO1 I work at as a research associate (where I am paid what an average post-doc should make), the school continues to bring in fresh PhD's from China for post-doc's starting at 35K (Im in fly-over country), while people my age with relatively higher pay, if they lose there jobs, remain unemployed.

    So this could help stem the desire of PI's to get cheap labor from China to do the work.

    Im not optimistic that schools will be along with this, so they do need as many skilled and cheap hands as possible to publish as many papers as they can to get grants.

    I think a better way to solve the problem is to re-think how we publish work-- rather than only being able to publish results that fit with a hypothesis, being allowed to publish all the work that is done, so so that a lot of cheap hands are not required to succeed. Not sure about this, of course.

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  6. I think Uncle Sam nailed it. From talking to ex-coworkers, I heard Dow made everyone below the old Rohm and Haas level 9 (the starting point for new PhD's) hourly instead of salaried. Overtime is strongly discouraged, you're expected to finish all of your work in 40 hours a week, and not being able to do so is frowned upon and considered a sign of incompetence. Consequently, it's become widespread for people to report 8 hours a day when they're really working longer. I think this is how employers are going to get around the new overtime requirement.

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    1. And when dissatisfied people feel they have underreport their hours, there will be a large lawsuit against the PI and the university for wage theft. Employers try to pull this nonsense in retail all the time against relatively powerless employees.

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  7. Problem is that post-docs typically don't swipe in on a time clock, and schedules are generally flexible. I'm sure PI's will argue that the post-doc wasted time surfing the net, which does not constitute real work. How do you prove that more than 40 hours per week was worked? I don't think anyone would dare challenge their PI given the importance of the reference. If the 40 hour rule is taken seriously, then I imagine everyone will just work 40 hours. Less work will get done, but in the end it doesn't really matter because it's just academic work. It's not like failure to do a column will result in GM having to shut down their assembly line for a week.

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  8. Another problem with blanket legislation is that it does not take into account any standard of living. Just in the case of post docs, $48k for working at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore vs the NYU in lower Manhattan will put you in completely different socioeconomic brackets.

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  9. I'd like to see the NIH, NSF, etc do their part in improving postdoc salaries by giving out more PD fellowships or by drawing the line on indirect costs (the NIH may do this already but I don't know the details). Otherwise the universities take a huge cut of it for overhead and fringe benefits. If the NSF gives someone a $100k fellowship, $75k is for stipend, $15k for supplies and $10k to the university in lieu of indirect costs. If a PI pays a postdoc through a grant, the salary is subject to fringe (appx 40% where I work) and overhead (appx 60% here). So a postdoc making $45k with a supplies budget of $15k would cost the grant $120k or so.

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    1. It would be great if funding agencies/universities budgeted more $ to pay PDs. How much more tax do you want to pay to realize this?

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    2. I, for one, would be more than willing to annihilate TSA's budget to make this happen. Congress might disagree with me, though.

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    3. Why TSA? (My wife works for them, sorry.)

      I think this would have been better if paired with capping overhead. Capping overhead would have at least given more grants out and allowed more PIs to be around to do the research. High overhead and increasing PD pay is going to mean less research for the same money, which will not help support for research. It may push the bulge down to grad students - if PD are expensive and grad students are cheap, there will be a lot more grad students on visas because the unemployability of PhDs will be more immediately obvious domestically.

      If this applies to adjuncts, it would be nice, because all that cheap labor would be getting more expensive. If isn't applicable, then that's how universities will work it. (Rules? We're academia, we don't need no stinkin' rules.)

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    4. Outvoted already! (I supported the formation of DHS back in the day, and it's not clear to me that TSA has done its job, to the point where I am desirous of pretty much walking back most post-9/11 domestic security reforms. I think the air marshals program has outlasted its usefulness, and it's not clear to me what value is added by modern airport security. Maybe I'm wrong.)

      If indirect rates get adjusted to pay postdocs more, that seems like a reasonable response, i.e. "the Department of Labor is making us (NIH/NSF) make this change, and we'll spot more money back to the PI/university specifically for wage increases to make this happen." This assumes a raft of things that I don't think will happen, I note.

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    5. Maybe they should fund TSA through NEA or other Arts grants, as a producer of "security theater".

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    6. I don't know (it depends on a lot of things I don't know - real risks, perceived risks, how many threats they actually catch, and whether driving threats away from airplanes to something else improves security or not). Depending on the amounts of the first two, security theater could be a feature and not a bug. (Since TSA's a part of interstate commerce, it probably belongs somewhere related.)

      If you increase direct rates then you're not hosing PIs directly but likely lowering the number of grants that can be funded, so there'll be fewer of them and more competition. That doesn't help so much. Less research for the same money isn't going to help, even if you can argue that you're encouraging more good work or people to stay.

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    7. It's pretty clear from Francis Collins' post that he doesn't have a plan, or an extra pot of money, so we don't know what's going to happen.

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    8. Base on the rollback of overhead, I don't think this is going to matter for postdocs - I think universities will get a free pass and continue to go on as is. As long as the beef, err, research keeps coming, I don't think anyone but the livestock cares how it got there.

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    9. "I, for one, would be more than willing to annihilate TSA's budget to make this happen"

      Lots of wasteful spending in government, no doubt (do we really need the world's biggest [USAF] and 2nd biggest [USN] airforces?) but as you point out getting Congress to agree of this won't happen. Maybe we'll see savings in CBP after Trump builds his---and it'll be terrific(!)---Mexican wall?

      Will be interesting to see if the GOP prophecy that an increase in the minimum wage is a job killer results in a decrease in the # of PDFs. This may actually be a blessing to many who haven't any reasonable chance of employment in the field to begin with.

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    10. Hap, haven't you noticed how many passengers have been subdued and apprehended by... fellow passengers? (Hint: all) How many have been captured by TSA? I have a good ballpark for the last one--none, judging by how many I've heard on the news, which would shouted to the skies as proof that they're necessary. I'm almost surprised there haven't been false flag operations just to justify it by now, tbh.

      Thank your wife for me for the systematic groping my wife endured on our last vacation, just to avoid the relentless probing of the Rapescans--machines again bought at public expense without political rationale or valid science.

      Qui bono? TSA employees, government contractors, former DHS chiefs with big consulting fees.

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    11. OK, this thread has reached the end of its useful life.

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  10. As a PI, I can certainly see the potential downsides to the regulation. I'm a law-abiding citizen, so I'm either going to pay postdocs more or (more realistically) monitor hours to ensure that they aren't working overtime. I have a few possible workarounds, though:

    1) Instruct postdocs to spend 100% of their 40 hrs on lab work. First authorship on papers will go to the individual who actually writes the bulk of the paper, no strings attached. If the postdoc wants primary authorship, they can write the paper in a coffee shop somewhere.

    2) Place more emphasis on the teacher/scholar model of postdoc training. In this case, I would pay part of the salary and the department would pay a part. The postdoc would split time between teaching and research. As long as the salary is above $47476, the expectation could be 40+ hrs doing research and 15+ hrs teaching.

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    1. 1) Have fun with the wage-theft lawsuit. I'd bet state labor departments will frown upon blackmail. The very idea is disgusting - they would be just like the retail establishments we occasionally see in the news that are guilty of stealing from their hourly workers.

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    2. Law-abiding? Ok. Humane? Hmm....

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    3. I'm sorry but writing IS working!!! Don't you spend a big chunk of your time writing grants, why is a postdoc writing a paper different? I'm sorry but the old ways are coming to an end.

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    4. OTOH, we have plenty of faculty in my dept in an R1 school with no grants, who are tenured and making 6-figure salaries, with closed labs and bored out of there minds. The changes that the PI suggested above are, IMO, appear not only inhumane and abusive, but extremely hypocritical.

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    5. I think you've misunderstood the premise. I'm actually a strong advocate for changing the status quo of academic work to achieve a better work/life balance for faculty and students/postdocs. In some ways, this policy could help change the way we think about academic careers in the long run, and I'm supportive of it.

      @ NMH: A postdoc who did all the lab work but didn't write any papers would still get a good letter of recommendation from me. There's no blackmail involved at all. More like a social contract that aims to give out rewards proportionate to individual effort. Postdocs going the extra mile would be rewarded accordingly.

      I do have to disagree about the idea of wage theft. You assume that compensation only comes in the form of money. Have you ever met a successful person who worked only 40 hrs a week? I spent years in industry and never actually met one of these fabled people who supposedly worked 40 hrs a week and moved up the ladder. Most of my colleagues worked 50+ hrs a week at the office, then went home and wrote technical papers and researched patents on their own time. Were they required to do so? Absolutely not, but they did it to get ahead and they understood that working 40 hours a week would leave them ranked as a mediocre employee at the end of the year. No one complained about wage theft because they got paid fairly for the work they did. Promotions, bonuses, external publications, and opportunities to present at conferences came as a result of going the extra mile usually working more than 40 hrs a week.

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    6. I understand that people work > 40 hours a week, especially in industry and for people that want to get ahead. I just think at this juncture, academic postdocs are criminally underpaid and overworked - they are not currently compensated fairly.

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    7. I have to disagree with anon 12:02, despite people working over 40 hrs a week, "overtime" doesn't get close to the academic exploitation. Also, we are compensated properly, unlike postdocs. Work-life balance is actually valued here, because a happy employee will be productive for the long run, the goal is not to exploit people for short period of time for a few grants/papers, ideally, you want people to stay.

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    8. Have you ever met a successful person who worked only 40 hrs a week? I spent years in industry and never actually met one of these fabled people who supposedly worked 40 hrs a week and moved up the ladder. Most of my colleagues worked 50+ hrs a week at the office, then went home and wrote technical papers and researched patents on their own time.

      Blah blah blah. These colleagues of yours, were they making less than $47,476 ? Were they making less than $23,660, the previous cut off ?

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    9. Yeah, I guess I'm the bad guy because I occasionally hire a postdoc based on an unsolicited application, give them two weeks of vacation per year, and pay them according to university/state mandated pay scales. Shame on me for expecting someone to show up and ACTUALLY DO THE JOB THAT THEY ASKED ME TO GIVE THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE. For all you social justice warriors out there, do me the following favor at your next job interview. Tell your interviewer(s) that you want to receive full pay and benefits and work the bare minimum, then tell me how the interview ended.

      I agree that postdocs are criminally underpaid, but I don't set the wages and I couldn't pay my postdocs more than I do even if I wanted to. Apparently there's some pool of postdocs out there who are able to work in the lab, write papers, mentor lab members, give talks, and edit manuscripts working only 40 hours/week. If anyone has the link to this mythical pool of CV's please post it here because I haven't found it yet.

      Meanwhile, I'm reading this post to my spouse who is a special education teacher at a public school. She makes $36k per year and probably works more hours than my postdocs, yet she is exempt from the new rules. Shall we make the argument that postdocs are more exploited or unjustly compensated compared to public school staff?

      Most of you won't be happy with anything a PI has to say. If I say that I only hire U.S.-based PhD's, you'll call me a racist. If I tell you that I hire postdocs from India and China, you'll accuse me of exploitation. The real world is a meritocracy, and no amount of legislation is ever going to level the playing field. No matter how much we'd like to feel safe, there will always be someone willing to work harder and sacrifice more.

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    10. Don't you just love it when people post on the internet and then can't handle the truth when people post back...

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    11. People work hard when they expect to succeed or fail based on their work. When it doesn't appear they they either get appropriate credit or success for what they do or no success at all, people are less willing to take the idea or promise of success in lieu of compensation.

      People weren't saintly before, but they had fewer options and a better likelihood of working hard getting them somewhere. At this point, their hard work appears mostly likely to get someone else somewhere, so it seems unsurprising that people aren't jumping on that bandwagon. Expecting them to continue to do so for someone else's benefit is a recipe for disappointment.

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    12. Anon 2:36, just because there are people exploited in other places does not mean that exploitation of which you are a part is acceptable. The idea is not to receive "full pay and benefits" while "work[ing] the bare minimum", but to actually receive just compensation for the amount of work put in. As pointed out previously, the people you mentioned who work more than 40 or 50 hours a week receive commensurate compensation. You even seem to agree with this idea ("I agree that postdocs are criminally underpaid"). This isn't meant to be a personal attack on you as it seems to have been taken. Rather, it is an indictment of the system. Your argument seems to say that you recognize there has been exploitation, but you refuse to accept the implications of that (i.e. postdocs need to be paid more or expectations from PIs need to be lowered). If there has been exploitation in the past and you agree that it is wrong, then a salary increase commensurate with the actual amount of work put in, or acceptance of reduced productivity (simply due to the demands of time and creation of a proper work/life balance) are the only options

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    13. "You assume that compensation only comes in the form of money".

      Sorry, but LOL. There is a soupcon of truth in this but unless you know anyone who's ever approached a prestigious PI for a PDF position by asking for less money I'd call BS. To be fair, the whole idea of unpaid internships (which seems to me a horrible horrible abuse) does support this notion: maybe this is a path forward for chemists? Certainly law or medicine students would never accept it but chemists, to me, seem to lack the chutzpah or economic scarcity to do so.

      "I couldn't pay my postdocs more than I do even if I wanted to."

      Hmm, I don't know for sure, but this seems to me like BS. My understanding is universities set minima for PDF comp, not maxima.

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    14. @anon 2:36 you finish with, "there will always be someone willing to work harder and sacrifice more."

      I think that the overwhelming response thus far has been that no, there isn't. PIs, universities, and funding institutions have a successful history of titrating the minimum compensation to students and postdocs to keep the research flowing. In the past, some of this compensation was provided in the form of a guaranteed $$$ industrial position, so discounting current compensation for future returns was a reasonable choice. This is no longer the world we live in, and asking intelligent people to go full throttle for peanuts now and unemployment later is not a winning proposition.

      Aside from that, what you are describing is a 'race to the bottom,' where the logical conclusion is that postdocs become volunteers.

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    15. '@anon 2:36 you finish with, "there will always be someone willing to work harder and sacrifice more."'

      Sadly, that's probably true: living on $25K in the US is likely still miles ahead of living on whatever the average is in Bangledesh or dozens of other horrible countries. Free trade does raise the average standard of living worldwide, but that equilibration sucks for those in the top.

      "In the past, some of this compensation was provided in the form of a guaranteed $$$ industrial position, so discounting current compensation for future returns was a reasonable choice."

      This argument assumes people have sufficient information to make a rational choice. Maybe I'm unique, but I certainly didn't when I started grad school or PDF: I just assumed (in hindsight foolishly) that as long as I worked hard things would work out (they did, but it was as much luck).

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    16. "Meanwhile, I'm reading this post to my spouse who is a special education teacher at a public school. She makes $36k per year and probably works more hours than my postdocs, yet she is exempt from the new rules. Shall we make the argument that postdocs are more exploited or unjustly compensated compared to public school staff?"

      You must live in a low COL place with a poor tax base for public schools. In every state/district I have lived in, starting salaries for public school teachers have been between ~47K-60K (and this is public information).

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    17. If you hired only US born/citizen postdocs with US govt funding, I'd call you a hero or at least buy you a a few drinks. You wouldn't be a racist for this practice because the US has no national race and is not particularly racially homogeneous

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    18. 1) Whether you're writing the paper in a coffee shop, in the lab, or at home in footie pajamas, you're still legally doing work. Just because you're able to take work home, the law's clear that it's still considered work.

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    19. @ "No matter how much we'd like to feel safe, there will always be someone willing to work harder and sacrifice more."

      But that's the ultimate trap, isn't it? That's the reason why things are so... unreasonable, isn't it?

      This link's a good article about the problem:
      http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/

      In summation: ". In some competition optimizing for X, the opportunity arises to throw some other value under the bus for improved X. Those who take it prosper. Those who don’t take it die out. Eventually, everyone’s relative status is about the same as before, but everyone’s absolute status is worse than before. The process continues until all other values that can be traded off have been – in other words, until human ingenuity cannot possibly figure out a way to make things any worse."

      I think that getting out of this trap is probably the biggest problem the 21st century world faces.

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    20. @anon, 5:59 PM,
      ""Meanwhile, I'm reading this post to my spouse who is a special education teacher at a public school. She makes $36k per year and probably works more hours than my postdocs, yet she is exempt from the new rules. Shall we make the argument that postdocs are more exploited or unjustly compensated compared to public school staff?"

      You must live in a low COL place with a poor tax base for public schools. In every state/district I have lived in, starting salaries for public school teachers have been between ~47K-60K (and this is public information)."

      Here in TN (low COL, for sure) but not a poor tax base for public schools - my county is one of the wealthiest in the country - public school teachers are no where near 47K for starting salaries. Mid 30's at best.

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    21. I think the worst part of the post-doc thing is not the low salary, but that even if you work 60 hours a week, mentor students, supervise equipment, do all the required work involved in buying new equipment to make the lab better, publish papers, read PhD's students dissertations before submission and correct the grammar and offer insight you still don't end up with an academic position. You helped the person quite a lot who already had the position, but you got nothing (you can get an industry job without doing a post-doc). And often times you find someone who had done less ends up with an academic position. I would like it more if it was a meritocracy, but it doesn't seem to be that way. The best way forward isn't to pay pd's more, it is to somehow make more research positions available (positions that pay salaries reflective of what research institutes pay, ex. post-doc at Wright Patt in Dayton, OH can make $86000/year). I don't care so much about my post-doc salary, but I want to have a decent shot at being able to get a job that involves research when I finish, and particularly research that can be published and presented. I want to have my shot at the Nobel Prize. I can't do that at a secretive company. When I have done performed then tenured faculty without ever having a faculty position, there is no meritocracy.

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    22. "I would like it more if it was a meritocracy"

      I'd like it more if I were 6'2", but ain't gonna happen.....

      The world is not, and has never been, a meritocracy.

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    23. No, but that smacks of the "Life's not fair" bit people use when they are the beneficiaries of some system. People made the systems they live by, and in most cases they're not constrained by physical reality, but something else, and can be changed. Laws and behavior are not immutable and absolute but can be changed, and much of our improvement has been because people have changed them, and tried to do so.

      Human systems may not be perfect, but they can be made better, and shouldn't be treated as immutable. I may not be able to change them, but that does not mean that they can't be changed, or that they are just.

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    24. @biotech: the point is that the quote made by the professor above argues that it is a meritocracy so the low pay shouldn't be a big deal. Suffer now and be rewarded later seems to be the sentiment.
      @Hap: exactly.

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  11. "If the postdoc wants primary authorship, they can write the paper in a coffee shop somewhere."

    How is not paying the PD when writing a paper not a clear subversion of this proposed rule?

    Worse, in "First authorship on papers will go to the individual who actually writes the bulk of the paper, no strings attached" undue credit is potentially given to an individual who did not do the bulk of the work.

    Unfortunately the clear work around for this rule will be nothing preventing PIs from "encouraging"...cough....cough.....PDs to "volunteer" their time.

    Sucks, but the "well that's the way we did it in my day" mentality will prevail.

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  12. Something does not make sense to me here. “The previous cutoff for overtime pay, set in 2004, was $23,660.” Assuming inflation is 27% from 2004 to now, the $23,660 is now $30,048. The proposed cutoff is $47,476, an “inflation” of just over 100%. The new cutoff is based on a “standard salary level equal to the 40th percentile of earnings for full-time salaried workers,” estimated at $50,440 in 2016.” I can accept that $47,476 is about $50,440 for the purposes of this issue.

    To my way of thinking,
    1) the $23,660 was either woefully low back in 2004 and the feds are trying to rectify that in one fell swoop or,
    2) salaries have been rising much faster than inflation or,
    3) the feds are basing the proposed cutoff on something they have never used before which might bring me back to 1).

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    1. I think it's mainly #1. For a very long time, the cutoff has not been properly adjusted and fewer and fewer people fell under overtime protection.

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  13. If you don't like the way the system operates, be the one to break the cycle and opt out of a postdoc. Go on to start a research lab or company of your own and hire permanent research associates instead of postdocs. Keep grad students to a minimum (maybe 6-12 for a full career) to ease the glut.

    I once saw a bumper sticker that read "Spay or neuter your advisor". As a community of chemists, we should heed that advice (figuratively, of course)

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    1. A little smug and condescending but logically sound (yes, yes, system clearly stacked against this but theoretically possible).

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    2. Sorry, didn't mean for it to sound that way. I was being sincere. Much like successful third party candidates in US politics, successful academics without postdocs are rare. Most game-changing movements start small and grow over time. We can't wait for the establishment to come around to a new way of thinking. We really do have to do it ourselves, and we need some credible examples to take the lead.

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    3. That would be great, but as long as everyone else follows the old way, it'll be really difficult to compete. Prisoner's dilemma.

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    4. "We really do have to do it ourselves, and we need some credible examples to take the lead"

      I can think of three examples in biotech in which ppl have eschewed the traditional path (grad school/pdf) and started companies themselves: one example is out on bail, one is under Federal investigation, and third (AXON CEO) so far doing well.

      I can't think of any example in which an academic has skipped PDFing and gone to academe without using PDFs (plenty of examples of skipping PDF and going on to exploit, I mean hire, same) and only limited graduate servants (err, students.....). Doesn't mean it can't be done, I suppose.

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    5. Not to belabor, but none of 3 examples are chemists.

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    6. I think Professor Doyle (Princeton) was postdoc-free; Professor Virgil also was postdoc-free, but didn't get tenure at MIT. I think there are others, but the list probably won't be long.

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    7. Omg did I want to get out of "postdoc"ing. If I didn't postdoc, I might have well just walked away from my degree. To the PI anonymous before, I get your work ethic, but it has been getting to the point where the cultural work ethic that Americans have been worshiping is just becoming socially destructive. There is a difference between a few late nights and a weekend here and there to keep the gears running smoothly and beat deadlines, but to have that expectation for decades. It's extremely destruction, and I'm not exactly sure why people seem to get off on it. People worship institutes like Bell labs as bastions of creativity and scientific development. Bell labs had stable employees, now everyone is searching for a bargain, science is really only about the scientific experience, not the career. There is almost no difference between an aspiring bio-chemical-chembio-molecular-chemical-biochemist or passionate anthropologist. The difference is that industrial lobbies pretend to be interested in the former. The reality is that research will march on for the foreseeable by paying people in degrees and certifications and not wages.

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    8. "I think Professor Doyle (Princeton) was postdoc-free; Professor Virgil also was postdoc-free, but didn't get tenure at MIT."

      yup, lots of no pdf to academe, none of whom dont currently use pdfs was point.

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    9. Sorry, I was confused.

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  14. What is the usual postdoc salary in chemistry? Is it really almost always less than $47,746? In my field (astrophysics) a salary that low would be unusual.

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    Replies
    1. Short answer: no one knows. It's somewhere in the mid-30s to mid-40s range. No one tracks postdoc salaries, unless I am mistaken.

      Worth pointing out that the supply of your competitors is low. The US graduated 290 Ph.D.s in astronomy in 2014, of those, 171 were astrophysicists. The United States graduated somewhere around 2673 Ph.D. chemists in 2014.

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    2. In academia it is almost always lower. Though as you would expect, it is highly variable depending on region of the country and cost of living. I made 38K as a postdoc 15 years ago in New England. My collaborators at the local univ here in flyover country say the current rate at their institution is 33K today.

      Point in fact--there is one group of institutions where the PD rate is already over 47K--federal labs. We aren't allowed to bring in someone as a PD for less than 56K. Of course, since none of the granting agencies will give you that for a PD (including our own) there is an entire system setup through DOE (ORISE) to let us (and other agencies) offer closer to going academic rates or no PDs would ever get hired.

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  15. If this requirement tips the cost-benefit analysis toward hiring staff scientists instead of postdocs and grad students to carry out academic research, it would be a good thing.

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  16. Part of the problem with an academic researcher is the nebulous nature of 'work', especially with how varied the field of chemistry is. It is relatively easy to quantify hours when you are in the lab running columns or other experiments, but is reading papers at home work? Is preparing a talk for a conference work? What about sitting at your desk with a paper and pencil deriving equations work?

    My gut feeling is that initially not much will change unless there is a high-profile crackdown on a researcher. Postdocs will just go somewhere where nobody is watching (home, coffee shop) to do the unquantifiable work like reading/writing papers, etc.

    Finally, I agree that NSF could really step up it's game with direct funding of postdocs.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, reading papers at home and preparing conference work qualifies as work. Deriving equations is work.

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    2. What about going to a conference? I send postdocs to conferences because I found it to be a crucial form of professional development (networking, practice for job talks, etc) when I was a postdoc. If I pay for my postdoc to travel to an ACS meeting, is that travel time considered work time? And if so, does that mean I would have to pay the postdoc overtime for that conference meetings? If not, does that mean the postdoc needs to take time off to attend the conference? Should I not pay for the conference at all to make sure it's not considered work?

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    3. Generally, that is considered work, at least by the IRS. When you get an R&D credit from the IRS, you have to keep track of all your work, both R&D and non-R&D. Travel time is considered work.

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    4. That means no more conferences for postdocs if they end up hourly at my university. That sucks for them, but I guess is a major cost savings for me...

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  17. The results of this are 100% predictable. We will wind up with fewer postdoc positions and more (probably international) grad students. Which won't help the job market because you will have even more laborers and fewer jobs. As with most regulations that sound good and are intended to help it will almost certainly make things worse in the long run.

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    1. One way or another, though, somebody's getting or going to get screwed - either you can hire lots of people because you expect them to work lots of time you aren't willing to pay for (and thus to either make more money for yourself or more business with lower prices) or you can hire as many people as you can pay for and charge accordingly (likely with lower business volume, because people will have to pay more for your output). If the system is to be deemed fair, it ought to be at least transparent as to what it requires of people.

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  18. Do I get to sue for back pay under the new rules? I think I am owed about an extra $60k for my two years of postdocing at 70h/wk.

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    1. Likely not, just as we likely won't get our tuition reimbursed if someone comes along and makes college free.

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  19. A group of us were discussing this topic in the cafeteria, and some interesting comments came up. It seemed that most of the folks who were bitter about being "exploited" as grad students or postdocs had one thing in common: they felt that they were putting in more hours than their advisors. Those who seemed to have had net positive experiences as postdocs & grad students appeared to have worked similar long hours, but the boss was putting in just as many, if not more. I'm not suggesting a 1:1 correlation between hours worked by the boss and PDF/student job satisfaction, but I do believe that leading by example can be a strong motivator. My own boss was a great guy, and we had quite a few Thanksgiving/Holiday get togethers at his house and we remain close to this day. He never asked us to do anything he wasn't willing to do himself, we respected him for it. Typical hours in our lab were about 65/week, and he was there for every minute, if not more. On the other hand, one of my colleagues in my current company worked for a PI who tracked every student's hours to make sure they were putting in 70/week, yet he was only around from 9-5. To be fair, he might have been writing grants from home, but every good leader has learned to lead from the front, not from behind. Perhaps we should focus less on total hours worked and monetary compensation, and shift our focus to improving leadership and mentorship from PI's. Isn't that what grad school and PDF's are really supposed to be about?

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  20. The Netherlands have very liberal rules regarding workers rights, yet even there post-docs were worked for longer than the contract specified. No regulations came about. Academics can generally get away with giving the middle finger. Remember Sames?

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  21. The NIH is adjusting their payscale accordingly, so this will benefit postdocs on NIH fellowships, postdocs paid on NIH grants, and postdocs at institutions that scale to the NIH payscale as a minimum postdoc salary.

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  22. " I wonder why I live alone here... I wonder why we spend these nights together....is this the way I live my life forever? I wonder why in the lab, to live and die in the lab..."

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  23. Are there guidelines for what an hourly rate would be if a PI/institution decided to go the overtime route? What is stopping anyone from setting a low hourly wage and letting postdocs work as much as they want?

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    1. Heh, minimium wage + 1.5x overtime would have been a solid pay raise for me during my grad school days.

      But you are right that a PI could just say "minimum wage for you" and let them go at it. That's only $25k a year with fifty 60-hour weeks.

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  24. In... many institutions, international postdocs on certain visas who have "strict" working limits are already instructed to report false numbers of hours worked.

    Other than domestic postdocs now having to do the same thing, nothing will change.

    My two cents: I (grad student) don't want to report my hours to my boss, because when they're short he'll demand a reason, and when they're long he'll say "well why didn't you get more done in that time". Worse, if the department has to acknowledge our hours officially, they'll have to answer all sorts of awkward safety questions.

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    1. No.
      No.
      No.

      This is the problem, and you are part of it. The magical fantasyland where papers get churned out and no one looks behind the curtain needs to die.

      Safety is an even more compelling reason than compensation. When you are in the lab alone at midnight, you are inviting disaster. Because the university can pretend it doesn't know you're in the lab at midnight alone, they aren't responsible when you blow off your fingers or set yourself on fire and there is no one around to help. No, it needs to stop.

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  25. http://ap3.alchetron.com:8047/webhdfs/v1/NN1Home/Sling-Blade-images-081da949-7e0c-4b8d-a4fb-8d59aaf810b.jpg?op=OPEN&namenoderpcaddress=ap1.alchetron.com:9001&offset=0

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  26. For those of you with the time, check out http://www.nap.edu/catalog/18982/the-postdoctoral-experience-revisited
    You can download the ebook for free. This is the latest report from the Committee to Review the State of Postdoctoral Experience in Scientists and Engineers. There are many valid points about what a postdoc should be, what it actually is, and what could or should be done to make the system more sustainable. IMHO, it captures most of the points that people have been making on this blog, but tends to do so without becoming emotionally charged. Pages 67-78 have some interesting recommendations that anyone with as stake in this issue should read.

    One of many conclusions reads as follows:

    "The NIH should raise the NRSA postdoctoral starting salary to $50,000 (2014 dollars), and adjust it annually for inflation. Postdoctoral salaries should be appropriately higher where regional cost of living, disciplinary norms, and institutional or sector salary scales dictate higher salaries."

    There is also a footnote indicating that two of the committee members did not support a fixed salary requirement:

    "While they believe that institutions need flexibility to accommodate particular circumstances, they also firmly believe that a
    postdoctoral researcher's salary should be fair and fit rationally within the spectrum of salaries for
    researchers in that discipline, at that institution: for example, well above that of a graduate student
    and significantly less than that of an entry-level, career-track researcher, that is, permanent staff
    scientist, research track assistant professor, or tenure-track assistant professor."

    Remember a few years ago when all of your favorite coffeehouses began pledging to use only fair trade coffee? I'd like to see a similar pledge made by academics to abide by the recommendations of this committee.

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  27. Fair-trade research. I love it.

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  28. I have plenty to say about being overworked, underpaid, etc and it looks like many captured my thoughts above.

    As I've been reading this I hate to say that I was wondering how my research would have been impacted. I did EXAFS at a synchrotron and depending on the schedule would work 3 days straight to collect data, data I needed for publications, publications I needed to extend said post doc, etc. If I had an overtime limit imposed, how much longer would it take me to get the data, write the papers, etc. My postdoc position was renewable every year so would I have enough at 40 hr/week to renew?

    I don't have the solution for the hours, pay, etc for those of us that chose to be in an academic science field. Corporate life wasn't much better, in fact it was worse despite the good pay and benefits. Currently I am on my own which is great but comes with other problems. Haven't found the perfect career yet!!!

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    1. "If I had an overtime limit imposed, how much longer would it take me to get the data, write the papers, etc. My postdoc position was renewable every year so would I have enough at 40 hr/week to renew?" If the position requires that kind of commitment, then maybe it's work $47k annually?

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    2. I also worked on a synchotron. 12 hour shifts. I don't remember the exact pay but I believe it was low 40s. And that's to live in the Bay where life is expensive. Interesting to look at the faculty salaries at Berkeley and see what the difference is between post-doc who does the work and faculty member who gets the lion's share of the credit. I heard that Omar Yaghi had to be hired through the med school because his salary was so high.

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  29. I worked overtime, happily, during my postdoc. I am highly motivated to succeed. I cherished the opportunity, the project. I was paid $35k, but I am happy about the opportunity. I wrote my papers and my grants. I got my R01 at the end of my postdoc. And I continue with my success and soon I will have a new invention that will change people's life.

    I have seen other postdocs who do not work hard, who complained about having to work very hard, who were not happy about lower pay, and use that as excuse to slack off. And they are still complaining year after year, their life is not going any where. Now, with this new rule, their salary might be $10k higher. But, that's where they will remain in life, sadly.

    Success comes and it looks like work, with no money. If you accept it, you will find a whole new kingdom.

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