Monday, November 2, 2020

The craziest academia story you will read today

In this week's C&EN, this completely unbelievable story of a graduate student getting hurt, and the trouble it took for her to get her injury compensated (article by Sam Lemonick) (emphasis mine): 
...She remembers the next few hours as frustrating: The ambulance crew didn’t seem to know how to treat her injury. The emergency room staff initially thought her accident involved a few liters of hydrofluoric acid. After she sat for several hours in an exam room using a wet paper towel to soothe the burn, doctors sent her home with instructions to wash the area with soap and water, saying there wasn’t much else they could do.

But that frustration was minor compared with what happened over the next several months, as Dastjerdi landed in the maddeningly complex world of US workers’ compensation laws and how they do—or do not—cover medical expenses for graduate students injured while working in a research lab. Dastjerdi dealt with collection notices for overdue hospital bills and confusing and contradictory information from BU officials. Eventually she hired a lawyer who convinced the university to pay some of her medical expenses.

Dastjerdi is far from the only US graduate student or postdoctoral researcher to be injured while at work. She is also not the only one to have been surprised that collecting a paycheck does not safeguard against personally paying medical bills for work injuries. Nor is BU the only institution with unclear policies—a C&EN review found that other schools’ stances seem similarly vague, and a federal fight continues over whether graduate students are considered employees for certain purposes. It’s yet another vulnerability for graduate students in a system in which they have the least money and power.

I had an injury that needed some stitches (broke some glass into my thumb) when I was in graduate school, but I genuinely don't remember who paid my bill. This is one of those weird gray areas where schools will do what they can to pretend that graduate students aren't employees because they're students-in-name-partially-and-workers-in-name-partially. 

As I've said in the past about a worse incident: 

Another reminder for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to not become Schrödinger's employee, and determine their status in terms of worker's compensation, benefits and the like. (Short answer: whatever status benefits the university? That's your status.) 

 It's 2020, and the above is still true. Read the whole thing. 


  1. Hi CJ, I had a similar thing happen to me in grad school. An NMR tube slipped out of my hand, broke, and I got some glass into one of my fingers, which also required stitches. I remember the university did provide us with basic health insurance, and I got everything taken care of on campus, no fuss.

  2. Funny part is, BU does not even feel responsible to get us the proper lab coats (the ones that you can button up all the way for 100% protection). They make the PI responsible. Apparently paying 1-2k for every lab to keep the students safe is not a priority to them.

  3. I was working with phenol as an undergraduate and had a glove tear. By the time I had realized it, I had got some on my skin. I freaked out because the skin turned white and the area went numb. So I went to the health clinic on campus and they told me “you shouldn’t put your hand on the hot plate”. Chemical burn, not thermal burn. *smh*

  4. Quote: Short answer: whatever status benefits the university? That's your status.

    Unbelievable that this is still a thing. What's the situation in civilized countries, where they have "socialized" medicine?

  5. I had a situation like this in grad school. The hospital sent me a series of dunning letters for 0.00. I was wondering if maybe I should mail them a check for 0.00 to shut them up.

  6. I'm aware of a case where the advisor lost the workers comp paperwork on purpose.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20