1. Tom Webb said:

    Interesting post Rachel. A couple of thoughts. Yes, post-docs should be prepared to work longer hours than the typical contracted working week (often with the perk of more flexibility), but in my opinion some people (post-docs & employers) put too much emphasis on simply counting the number of hours worked. Often you can be much more productive by increasing your efficiency (and by taking days off when you need a rest) rather than increasing your hours.

    Second, beware of the ratchet effect. Your work will never end, there is always more to do. Working harder and harder can mean simply that people expect more and more of you, or that you get more and more responsibilities heaped upon you. Get rid of any notion that you will soon (or indeed, ever!) reach a point where all the hard work pays off and you can rest on your laurels. Believe me, things don’t get easier when you move out of post-docdom and into a tenured / tenure-track academic career, especially when you start to get more management responsibilities.

    My advice then? Establish a level of work that you are prepared to sustain for the rest of your working life – in other words, unless you live solely for your work, work as few hours as you can get away with. Chances are this will still be well over 40h a week, but it does at least allow the possibility of ‘leisure’ time…!

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  2. Venkat Chintapalli said:

    I never understand why postdocs or in fact any other researcher should work hard while being paid peanuts for their highest qualification on earth. This is quite shambles. Fundamentally, the research hierarchy need a radical reform in such a way that it encourages every part of the society to be a part of; every researcher should be given social life; every researcher should be compensated for their hard work.

    This radical idea needs basically a forum that fights for postdocs and equally researcher rights in terms proper compensation for their work, adding social touch to researcher life, put a strong case in front of the public authorities how important is that to improve the conditions of researhcers, preparing young scientists not to milk their predecessors.

    Top plyers (countries) in the research especially in biomedical areas are paying their researchers the lowest salaries that they could – is that because they don’t know what they are doing?

    Need a complete and radical reform of research hierarchies – this is my take!

    Good luck researhers.


  3. Ranya Bechara said:

    Interesting article. I would love to comment but do not have the time.

  4. Jennifer Clancy said:

    Great article. I’ve often wondered why our little niche requires so much work for so little material benefit. My husband works my hours but takes home twice as much as me and he failed highschool!

    But seriously, the hours take their toll on the young postdocs and then you have a family and it begins to really hurt. I can summon up my passion for science to get me through the grant writing season, but it is the picture of my son that motivates me to be efficient and get home as fast as I can.

    I think the families, partners and friends of post docs deserve better, and so do we.

  5. ed beck said:

    The United States, argueably the best known country for upholding the spirit of signed contracts of all sorts, looks the other way when it comes to employment contracts.  Postdoc jobs are perhaps the epitome of this contract abuse.

    When a new employee signs the forms they generally spell out the number of hours, typically 40, required for the offered compensation.  I honestly can’t remember if my postdoc contracts specified number of hours.  If the number is not there in the US it is implied that 40 hours a week are required.

    After 40 hours a postdoc simply becomes a volunteer.  Indeed, s/he is volunteering to get ahead in a career but nevertheless in a volunteer capacity.  What other ways can you be volunteering your time after 40 hours?  Family, sports, exercise, dating, local music group rehearsal, politics, religion, on and on….  If you currently work for private industry on salary it is implied that you will work over 40 hours "when a due date needs to be met".  But tell me do you get to go home before you reached 40 hours if all your due dates are well on the way to being met? NO!  Salary pay is the biggest rip-off scam in the US.  You’re better off asking to be paid an hourly wage; that way you get paid for the number of hous you work and not by the project.  You may still be asked to work over 40 hours but at least you will be fairly compensated for those extra hours.

    If you are a salaried worker do you want to look back on your life and conclude, "I volunteered my free time to make my employer rich while not receiving extra pay for it." 

    Postdocs are their own worst enemy when it comes to decent salaries and working hours.  Each believes that getting a paper to publication faster will result in better job prospects.  This way of thinking is certainly rooted in truth assuming there are jobs to be had.  Add to that motivation the determination of foreign nationals who ultimately want to stay in the US and work tirelessly (that is to a point of physical/emotional/social dysfunction) as if getting a green card depends on working tirelessly.  All other postdocs follow suit to keep in the competition.

    As a previous blogger pointed out no matter how much work you get done there is plenty more to do.  You have to learn to draw the line.  Until some sort of nation-wide postdoctoral union is formed each postdoc will have to watch his/her own back.  Given our scientific focus we are not likely to watch our own backs.  Yes its sad but true.

    The strength of a union is the threat of a research stoppage where in all postdocs put down their pipettors and walk out of the lab until a suitable contract is agreed upon by the spokepersons of the postdoc union and the employers.  Given the desparation of many postdocs to stay in this country it is unlikely that they would ever put their temporary visa status in jeopardy (by walking out of the lab) for the sake of a better worker’s contract for ALL postdocs.  By opening up US postdoc jobs to foreign nationals the Federal Government has pretty much quashes any chances that a cohesive (i.e. all will walk out) postdoc union will ever by formed nation-wide.  As such salaries and benefits will remain deplorable.  That’s great for tax payers but devestating to careers in biomedical research.

    I have the time to write this response because I am unemployed.



  6. Revathi Bacsa said:

    I agree with you Ed, it is indeed not ethical to expect post docs to volunteer time. However, as long as there is high unemployment, there will always be people who will be willing to work to a point of physical/emotional/social dysfunction. It is ofcourse up to the employer to realise that it is in the interest of the better functioning of the group prevent this sort of exploitation.  Part time workers are also particularly vulnerable to be overworked in addition to being underpaid.