So Science Career mag has a nice article up on a AAAS working group’s rebuttal to NIH’s suggestions to fixing the biomedical workforce “situation”*. Their suggestions were very similar to ones brought up on Drugmonkey’s blog (and others), limit the number of trainees. The AAAS workgroup’s proposed mechanism of action? Increase trainee and postdoc salaries.
This is something that has been argued extensively before on Sally Rockley’s blog (I can’t find the Rock Talk post that CPP posted on, can someone point me to it?) from the workforce side of the equation. However, hiking up graduate and postdoc salaries by simple arithmetic eats up grant award $$$ that would have gone to research. Add on top of that RO1 payouts not keeping up with inflation, on top of budget cuts upon award, investigator labs will have to contract, painfully, with likely decrease in productivity. It’s a nasty discussion, how much is science worth compared to “trainee” quality of life, who’s probably been “training” for over a decade? But that’s not the point your favorite D-List monktress is interested in. No, I’m interested in what the grad student/postdoc Hunger Games would look like in this post-payhike apocalyptic wasteland.
Academia already has a problem with “pedigree”it is. The number of times a person is introduced by their attendance of Yes We Rock and You Can Suck It Uber U, rather than their research, is mind boggling. MacArthur “Genius” grant profiles make sure to list all the Glamormag pubs their awardees have published in, so, you know, you can believe they’re legit. K99 awards heavily weight your “environment”, which is a politically correct way of asking how big your BSD advisor’s dick really is. A perfectly logical consequence (in my famewhorey mind), of making labs operate on ½ or ¼ of its normal workforce is that this shit will push downhill. Will a postdoc with a mediocre PhD, through no fault of their own, still have a chance to get picked up by BSD lab and “make up” for their prior underperformance? Will PIs, who watch their R01s get eaten alive by salary and benefits, pick up that 2.80 GPA undergrad who discovered they love research their junior year? I think not, and why should they, when every hire burns a nontrivial percentage of their grant money?
Figure 1: I got pedigree upon pedigree yo
Ironically, said article went up near back to back with another focusing on a different working group (was this working group palooza month?) addressing the leaky pipeline for women and ethnic minorities. I’m sure it was unintentional, but comparing the two groups' suggestions feels exactly like a case of the right hand not knowing what the left one is doing. The fall out from the AAS’s group’s suggestions are most likely to screw precisely those underserved populations , who often lack the shiny accolades that PI’s will start leaning on even more heavily. An investigator with limited funds will hedge their bets and go for the students who’ve been able to run full throttle their entire career. The poor woman who had to work at WalMart every summer instead of attending prestigious, underpaid, REUs, or the minority who fell off the research bleeding edge to have a baby, will have little to no place in such a system (as if there were a lot of space for us to begin with).
I’m not saying that increasing wages is the Worst Thing Ever and shouldn’t happen, but I think this is an important side of the coin that people are not considering in these discussions.
I dusted off the retirement boots to blog diarrhea on this topic, I expect uber e-whore pay (points at comments box)!!!!*It’s a nerd bomb that will tick to zero, leading to a swarm of deranged postdocs running down the streets, screaming about “20 years of my life!” and “10% paylines!!!”