The solution: Hire scientists to do scientific research…
After being told: “The files are in the computer” the boys look at each other and say “It’s so simple… the files are in the computer…”
While sometimes we are accused of not being able to see outside the box, this clip makes us see that sometimes we can’t even realize how to access the simplest things inside the box. Hence the title of this entry…
I just finished listening to an excellent podcast where Canadian Association of Post Doctoral Scholars President Marianne Stanford spoke with CAGS president Carolyn Watters. Marianne speaks about the plight of PDFs in Canada (and internationally) and the topic du jour for the CAPS folks is the size of, and the length of average occupancy in, the academic parking lot.
This is a very specific example of the shift in human resources that I mentioned in an earlier blog entry. The PDF pool is growing because more are entering, fewer are exiting and the average length of stay is longer… is this a bad thing? In our current system I don’t think it is so bad, because there is demand for the research to get done and PDFs can do it… but, the way we handle/define/support this class of workers needs to change.
Some things that underpin the growth of the sector are:
1. More research is being conducted (and PDFs are first author of ~40% of Science papers)
2. Growth in PhD training is not being met by creation of new professor positions
3. PDF skill sets are an inconsistent and undefined quantity
4. There are very limited options outside of a PDF for those who wish to continue doing research at academic institutions
More research = need for PDFs
The biomedical field is one of the best funded and the public wants to have more treatments, cures, drugs, etc. The reason the post doc pool is growing so fast is that they are required in order to get the research produced. It really almost is as simple as the supply and demand comment made by Cora in the comments section of my Say NO to the Second Post Doc entry .
(Interestingly, in the Humanities, the pressure appears to be a lack of undergraduate teacher supply (read exploited sessional instructors) whereas in medical science it’s a lack of hands/minds to do physical lab research (read exploitation of PDFs)).
++++PhDs, ++PDFs, but only +Professors
As I mentioned in the Say NO to the Second Post Doc entry , we can’t realistically expect a major increase in professor positions – so what are people supposed to do? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that labs with 11 post docs are not sustainable if all 11 PDFs want to become professors. This certainly increases the size of the PDF pool, and the careers that Beth has been putting forward need to be explored with great vigour.
Dean Carolyn Watters queried whether new PDFs that focus on areas outside of research would be effective to help move PhDs into new fields outside of academic science. While wearing my professional development hat my mind’s eye get bubbly with excitement as it envisions policy/science PDFs, science writing/communication PDFs, etc…. but, and this is a huge BUT, how do we continue to meet the lab research needs if we pull people out of the research stream?
The PDF skill set – I don’t even know what I’m capable of…
The reason I list it as a contributing factor is twofold: First, I don’t think that most non-academic employers have a good idea of what a PDF is and what types of skills they have and second, many PDFs feel that they are not qualified for many job postings. Beth’s last entry really hit home for some people and emphasizes the need for the standard skills of a PDF – Marianne also mentioned this is the podcast above . The National Post Doc Association in America has clearly outlined these skills as the core competencies of a post doctoral fellow and have a great resource page on the mentoring of a PDF.
I’m a scientist, can I please do science experiments?
Why does the academic enterprise force the vast majority of scientists to stop doing bench work? As a PDF, you’re not likely to move on to work as a lab technician nor are you likely to do many experiments as a professor… so how exactly could you imagine continuing as a scientist in academia (this of course excludes the very real, but not for everybody and sometimes hard to find, opportunities in industry, government labs, etc)…
The answer in my mind and the point of this blog entry is to have CORE FUNDING FOR RESEARCH SCIENTISTS – we seem to have created permanent (read “job-like”) positions for grant facilitators, project managers, human resources managers, accountants, etc as essential components of the research enterprise… why not scientists?
Create respectable, well-compensated positions for PhDs who love bench work, love exploring new ideas, love academic lab environments, but are simply not going to (nor do they want to) run their own lab. A true post doctoral fellow position should be occupied by someone who is explicitly involved in a purposeful temporary training experience: re-tooling, gaining research independence with the intention to move on to start their own group. If you want hands to drive projects that fall outside of a technician’s role – hire a scientist, pay them well, keep them happy, and watch the benefits roll in.
PS: As we speak, the person behind me in the lab is a 15 yr lab veteran (originally a PDF, now called a research scientist) – she gets paid well, knows everything in the lab, is extremely independent, and continues to publish well (and as first author)… where is this position in Canada???