One of my pet peeves with academia is the treatment of PhD students and postdocs which I feel borders(?) on exploitation. I talked with Maria Pinto, who is from Portugal and is currently PhD student in Austria in marine microbiology for my podcast “Science for Societal Progress”. Looking forward to her final year as a PhD student she is beginning to think more and more seriously about what a career in academia would mean to her.

Science for Societal Progress Podcast Episode 19

In what disgruntles me in particular is the devaluation of training and experience. In the world outside the Ivory Tower university graduates transition into junior positions with full contracts. Three years of experience is considered significant, and people with such experience are considered eligible for better positions, or raises.

It is also fully understood that employees that enter a new job need to grow into that new position.

Not so in academia. Here, being inexperienced is taken to excuse putting university graduates and PhDs on contracts that are often very much like internships in terms of job and life security and planning certainty, and only little better in terms of salaries. This takes slightly different shapes in different countries and institutes, but the overall situation for these highly educated, and trained scientists with experience is quite lacking.

Everything is being done to have as much of the lab run by interns, students, and postdocs. Because they are cheap. And they are made to believe that it’s okay, because “training and experience”. In come countries government is trying to regulate academic (public) contracts in an attempt to fix this, which mostly leads to evasion tactics on the side of the institutions “hiring”.

Every now and then this comes up on twitter:

What do I think should happen? I think there should be fewer graduate students, and fewer postdocs. Instead more long-term positions should exist, like staff researchers and technicians. Interns need to be paid. And there should be more, albeit smaller, workgroups and labs.