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Benefits and Costs of Graduate and Post-doctoral Apprenticeship Thoughts on Complications Revealed in Interviews With ASCB PIs The world is always ready.

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Presentation on theme: "Benefits and Costs of Graduate and Post-doctoral Apprenticeship Thoughts on Complications Revealed in Interviews With ASCB PIs The world is always ready."— Presentation transcript:

1 Benefits and Costs of Graduate and Post-doctoral Apprenticeship Thoughts on Complications Revealed in Interviews With ASCB PIs The world is always ready to receive talent with open arms. -My Fortune Cookie from 12/8/2000 Work with Richard Freeman of Harvard University/NBER, made possible by a pair of grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

2 The Traditional U.S. Model of Training Graduate and Post-Doctoral Training is often portrayed by universities as a kind of mutualism (e.g. pollination by bees) rather than a labor market. The trainee receives a small stipend to cover expenses while receiving the highly focused career training needed to be eligible for a career as a professional independent researcher. The PI, university, and taxpayer benefit from the labor needed for the trainee to learn by doing.

3 The Uncoupling Proposal: A New Mutualism for a New Era? To avoid problems with steady-state, convert some temporary graduate and P-D positions to permanent professional positions. [ Note: Examples already exist ]. A PhD can gain a dignified salaried profession and stability in exchange for a crapshoot at being a PI. The PI can gain experience, continuity and training relief in exchange for some inexpensive and inexperienced temps with high turnover costs.

4 Q: Is There Even a Problem? Is There an Evolution in Nectar*, That Could Get More Work Done? *Might our university laboratories (the flowers) hope to attract better workers (bees, wasps) by changing the rewards offered for research work (pollination)?

5 The Good News From the Status Quo: Many inspiring grad. student / PD success stories reported at each institution. Great strides made by women against the glass ceiling are reported by both women and men. New respectability for private sector research and alternative careers. Increasing official recognition of Post-Docs. Credible tales of a golden age of science and wealth.

6 And Now For Something Completely Different: In Other News…. There appears to be a stark schism between the public and private discourse of PIs. The private* discourse is generally at a much higher analytic level, is much less sentimental while at times being somewhat more concerned with the welfare of students and the field.

7 A Sample Unexpected Reaction To the Uncoupling Proposal PI: I hate it. I hate it because I think such people will be used. Exploited basically…. So,…so …my perception is that the people that stay in my lab the longest are the ones that I can get a lot of productivity out of, which is not to their benefit but to my benefit.

8 PI: Probably a cap on the number of graduate students has to be examined. I think the problem is that many institutions view graduate students not as individuals for training for careers but as labor….a labor force for the university. Um, so theres somewhat of a [laughing] conflict of interest. Expert Opinion and Graduate Education: Problems With Objectivity

9 Surprising Impressions of Meritocracy Under Increased Competition: PI A: I see less and less really exciting bright motivated students wanting to go into science and biology as an academic career than I did years ago and I think that [is] maybe at the heart of why this study is being done. … I think that theres a shortage of even good PhDs that were putting out. PI B: Uh, almost to a person [my best undergraduate students] have made up their minds not to go into research and it is generally the best of them that make up their minds most rapidly not to go into research.

10 On Sorting and Timely Disclosure Q: What is the earliest point in a career where you can guess with 80% accuracy that an aspiring biologist will fail or succeed in gaining an offer of an independent research position if that is their goal? PI: Graduate school. ……[laughing] well, god, some people you can tell immediately. 1 st year in graduate school. If they make it through the first year. You can tell at that point.…Actually to be truthful? I think you probably can tell before [that]. [Continues…..]

11 […Continued] Q: What we are trying to figure out is: Do PIs often really know long before the student knows that they [sic] just dont have the package that works or that they do have the package that works. PI: Yeah. The answer to that is yeah.

12 PI: [T]he neglect of proper career counseling is sort of a joint delusion. The faculty need to have trainees in order to run their labs. They need to believe that these trainees have career prospects that are good, so that they dont feel miserable about having these people spend 6 or 7 years in their labs earning sub-normal wages and so they convince themselves that the options are rosy for the people working for them. Not everyone, lots of people are quite realistic. [Continued…] On Counseling and Disclosure:

13 [Continued…..] Q: Wait, a minute. That doesnt make sense to me. Why wouldnt the realistic person be outcompeted as a recruiter by the less realistic person. PI: On average I think they are! [Laughing] But the realistic person probably learns to keep his or her mouth shut during recruiting. Q: Functional optimism? PI: Yeah. Functional optimism! Its true.

14 PI: Why [do our faculty] want graduate students? It… has been perceived of until very recently, as the way that the research laboratory is driven. Its sort of driven on the backs historically of cheap labor in the form of graduate students. ….. Its not anymore … there are not that many graduate students that I find acceptable…. there are more post-docs. … [W]e started scraping at some point because more than 50% [of students] decline. No Train, No Gain Thinking Among PIs Is Now Moving From Students to Post-docs.

15 Alternate Views of The International Exchange and Outreach Programs: PI: So, I guess what Im saying is just because you have….I hate to put it this way….. because you have a cheap labor force out there meaning that …you know… someone from China and India is willing to come here and almost take minimum wage … we pay … whatever [minimum] it is the NIH or NSF allows us to pay [to both native and foreign post-docs]

16 Temperament Rather Than Scientific Ability As the Superior Predictor of Queens Vs. Worker Bees. PI: There is another category of [top] people that … dont live and breathe biology and want to do other things in their lives. …..you know….besides putting in a 75 hour work week….picking up, the newspaper at night rather science magazine….I think those are the people that are … the worker bees of science ….. [they] are [too] valuable and we dont want to lose them.

17 Fact: Many Good Students Believe They Are Being Trained for PI Positions While Their Advisors Know Them to Be Unfit. Example: Smart Dupe Aiding a Mindless Mimic By pseudocopulation [Mirror Orchid Ophrys Speculum] Note: This strategy can be stable and unconscious. It is ultimately self-limiting: as the mimic frequency increases, it decreases its own fitness.

18 Problem I: Efficiency Gains Cannot Be Expected to Replace Pseudotraining Transfers. Pseudotraining is not a true benefit to biologists as it constitutes an unwitting intra-community transfer of labor resources from non-PI biologists to PI biologists. As such it needs to be replaced by additional funding if shrinkage or a decrease in quality is to be avoided. Calls for voluntary uncoordinated reforms seem totally irrational and sentimental. [Hurts the good guys]. To really solve this problem, biology must cross an adaptive valley separating mimicry from mutualism, requiring stronger institutions with strong leadership.

19 Problem II: Efficiency Gains Cannot Be Asked to Replace the Misuse of Visas As Payment for Services. So-called foreign student problems have very little to do with foreignness. Really an example of the economics of opportunity costs, rents, wage multipliers and non-uniform barriers to entry. The same training program simply represents a much better investment for trainees from developing countries than it does for students from industrialized nations. If you offered the same relative investment to Americans which is now offered to students from poor countries, they would be expected to come in droves.

20 Problem III: Vigorous Competition Has to Be Much Better Structured to Optimize Merit. Selecting So Strongly for Career Temperament and Skills Will Tend To Decrease Scientific Ability Unless Career Smarts Can Be Shown to Be a Perfect Proxy* for Science Smarts. (*Seems Close to Magical Thinking).

21 Supplementary Quotes

22 PI: I have seen many good students leave science altogether. I have seen many good students go into post-docs and try to look for jobs but who couldnt find any jobs out there. Although, I have seen some of the good students get academic positions. Q: Is that a majority? Minority? PI: Um. Minority. Meritocracy and the Job Market

23 Misery and Meritocracy PI: The misery level is extremely high. And is it necessary for a high misery level to go hand in with selecting for the best people? That is an argument that some people make. That we need to have this level of unhappiness in order to get the very top people … to have a big enough pool so that the top people can rise to the top and be geniuses and do wonderful things … I used to think that argument held some water. Except … when you look at it side by side with where bright undergraduates are going it doesnt make any sense at all. Weve lost the top people already. Were only dealing with the less than the top.

24 Pseudotraining and Elitism PI: The difference between a PhD and an MD is that an MD from Virginia Commonwealth University is 90% as good as an MD from Columbia university. They are both degrees that qualify you to take on a high paying and independent job for which there are not too many applicants. With PhDs, the difference … is infinite. They are not the same degree.... I think that admitting that certain institutions should not be in the business of training PhDs is the way to do it. It is an extremely elitist viewpoint, it will never fly in this country, but we all-know-that-thats-true.

25 Pseudotraining and Migration PI: And clearly a lot schools … actually undergo quite large searches to bring in … [laughing] haul in … graduate students for the department…So…you know many universities which are not in the top tier have a very high number of Chinese graduate students.... I would interpret that [laughing] not as great desire to train the Chinese for their careers but more as the fact that they dont have access to quality American graduate students and need a workforce at the laboratories in the university. So I do think that there has to be some retrospection … in why graduate students are being trained.

26 Pseudotraining and Incentives PI: The proposal has been made for example that training should only be allowed at MIT and Stanford and Harvard and 5 other places and no one else should get to train. If you fix the economics of the system such that it wasnt necessary for academic scientists to fill their lab with trainees in order to get any-work-done-what-so-ever, then you wouldnt need to go out there and attempt to close weaker departments. You know the system would sort itself out. If the incentives were correct it would simply happen. And as long the incentives are incorrect it is mean spirited and cruel to try to make it happen because there is no way those departments can survive without training.

27 A Sample of Impressions Surrounding Fertility / Work Conflicts PI: People for whom family is a priority rarely come [here]. Successful women rarely have more than 1 child. Those that have no children, dont regret [not having children].


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