Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The PhD sex worker

Stumbled onto this site via this article in the UK times. Long story short, a girl who is now a 'real scientist' used to be a sex worker. During grad school. Because she was broke and tired of working her ass off so she could eat the next day. Oh, did i mention she was/is a biomedical scientist?

And I thought, what the fuck is wrong with our profession? Ten years ago, in the early 90s, there was a small revolution in graduate student stipends in the US. First, it's a little known fact that you do actually get a stipend to work in research while doing your dissertation. This isn't really the case in the humanities, typically you have 4 years in which you are funded by being a TA. After that, you are on your own. So i imagine many English lit people never really make it. And that's probably okay, because a English Lit PhD is a dime a dozen and pretty hard to sell.

So anyway, back to grad school stipends. Well back in 97 when i started, we were getting 14500 or 15500 (depending if you were pre or post candidacy) to scrap by in. Thats not alot of dough. But a few years before that, it was 12000. Why? Well i think it goes back to the NIH funding levels and the doubling of the NIH budget during the 90s (which lead to the crash in the 2000s). We're funded by research grants from the NIH primarily, so when the research grant goes up, so does our salary. Now postdocs at the same time had the same exact problem, their salery was only 20,000 or a bit more.

Finally in the early 2000s AFAIK the postdocs revolted and said, enough is enough, pay us real salaries. So the NIH said, if you are going to use our grants, you need to pay postdocs X amount (which is depending on your years as a postdoc and is about 40k now). However, guess what, that wasn't enforced. Better (better funded) institutions did start paying postdocs that, but many didn't, including the NIH itself. So now 2009 we have a situation where grad students make about 20k and postdocs about double that, in good areas. I know the rockafeller grad students (in manhatten, so very expensive) get 30k? as a grad student? Alot more than the most of us, and cheap housing.

Anyway where was I going. So this a double edged sword. On one hand, you aren't being paid alot. On another hand, you are surviving and getting enough to eat now normally. Back 10, 20 years ago that wasn't the case. You took out loans to survive, or turned to other jobs. Now in britian they don't have the good biomedical research situation. The postdocs and grad students are still getting paid shit. SO ITS NO WONDER SHE TURNS TO PROSTITUTION. If that's not the canary in the gold mine, what is?

Looks, this is what needs to happen. Very stringent entrance requirements on foreign applicants. Stop letting 100 foreign students in to american grad schools. You are killing our science, because by and large people who came here just for school probably dont really give a shit about American science as a whole. I'm painting with a large brush, but this is my observations. You could argue I dont give a shit either, fair enough. Also, a bit better wages and some prospect of actual employment. Nearly all my colleagues dont do academic research. There is a reason. Its horrible. The people are horrible, the pay is horrible, the lifestyle is horrible, you are surrounding by aliens (people who are not green card holders or u.s. citizens). Its incredibly demoralizing to go to work and not be able to hold conversations with your colleagues because their culture is so alien to yours. American born Indians for example, no problem to me, because they have our culture.

Anyway we all know the problem, there are far too many foreign scientists in America, and by and large they dont give a crap about our nation. They choke the industry to the point where we can't compete effectively, because you have your typical American complete with the best 1% of say China. Now you can easily say, no problem, you aren't good enough to compete. And that is true to a large degree. And you can say, well i'd rather have the best 1% working on the problem instead of the 20th percentile person, regardless of nationality. Science knows no boundaries. However, at a national level, when practically none of your actual scientists are U.S. citizens, it's a problem from a national competitivness level. Soon these people will leave and produce useful and innovative products in their own countries, raising their standard of living in relation to the U.S. And I think that's the main problem, we are not helping our standard of living in relation to the rest of the world. I want America to be great, the greatest nation on earth, but our politicians and school deans and those in academia are the problem, not the solution.

No comments: