More than 3 years ago, I wrote a post about hiring postdocs
. This post seems to have been linked to a site that diverts some traffic to my ancient postdoc-post and keeps the comments coming (intermittently). The most recent comments are all negative: I am an insensitive jerk etc.
OK, maybe so. The point of the original post was to give a PI's-eye-view of the topic of hiring postdocs, and any topic related to the selection of a few and the rejection of most has a high probability of making some readers angry. Nevertheless, given limited funds for hiring postdocs, PIs must make hiring decisions. How do we do that in a situation that is not as structured as the admission of graduate students or the hiring of faculty?
Different fields have different cultures regarding postdocs: for
example, regarding bread-and-butter issues such as salary and fringe
benefits, the rate of success of postdocs seeking post-postdoc
employment relevant to their training, and more cosmic issues related to
respect and independence in their work. And even in the best of circumstances, the postdoctoral years can still be ones of anxiety and uncertainty about the future.
Anyway, here are some recent comments on that semi-ancient post, with my further thoughts on the topic:
I think you are a cheap employer that is complaining about the
workforce, when the workforce is getting minimum wages to do the most
likely irrelevant work that you do. You should consider yourself lucky
for having a position, so don't whine about postdocs, you would be
nothing without them.
: A typical starting (just-out-of-PhD) postdoc funded by an NSF grant in my field and at my institution makes anywhere from about $42k to $62k per year (salary). At my institution, postdocs paid from a grant also get fringe benefits, calculated as a % of salary and paid by the PI (with indirect costs to the institution). I am not making any judgement about whether that salary is decent or abysmal; that opinion will no doubt vary considerably. I will say that this all adds up to a lot in the context of a typical (for me) grant budget.
: It is quite true that my work is irrelevant. Conveniently, the work of my postdocs is therefore also irrelevant. Nevertheless, we manage to do some interesting basic science.
: I consider myself very lucky to have a position.
: I still get to whine.
: Over the years, I have wasted a lot of money on unproductive postdocs. I would like to avoid that experience if at all possible (hence the original post).
: I have worked with (and am working with) some great postdocs. I consider our working relationships to be mutually beneficial.
(Excerpt) Yet many PI's .. think they're "sorting through the
good and hard working postdocs". This is of course false. They are
sorting through the leftovers after everyone else jumped to industry.
Thus finding bad apples is more common...and really the problem with
"lazy" postdocs is that you don't have enough funding to support
them...not necessarily that they're crap scientists.
This opinion about "leftovers" does not apply to my field. I don't understand the point about not having enough funding to support postdocs and so that explains why some postdocs are unproductive(?). If someone accept a postdoc and the salary is not as high as the postdoc thinks it should be, does this give them license to be unproductive? Isn't that self-destructive, among other things?
You come across as a completely obnoxious, self-righteous professor.
Just remember that hiring a post-doc is a two-way street. You may be
judging the post-doc, but the post-doc is also judging you based on the
quality of your research and your scientific acumen. Unless you are
perfect in those areas, how can your expect your post-doc candidate to
be perfect as well?
Of course the applicants are also judging whether they want to work with me; this is as it should be. Nevertheless, with a few exceptions (such as NSF Postdoctoral Fellows), I hire postdocs using funds that I obtained, so I do get to choose which postdoctoral aspirants I think will do well with the project, do well working in my research group, and do well developing their career.
In the time since I wrote my original post about trying to avoid unproductive postdocs, I have had similar experiences to the ones I described. For example, there was the time when an aspiring postdoc who wanted to work on an ongoing project for which I am PI assumed that one of my colleagues was the PI and explained the project to me (in person, at a conference) as if I knew little about it. Did he not even look at the project webpage? Perhaps I would have been more sympathetic if he had at least explained the research well and described an interesting way that he would contribute expertise or ideas. Alas, he did none of those things. This is not about expecting perfection; this is about expecting a certain level of knowledge, initiative, and drive.
I may be an obnoxious jerk but I do want to state here that I think it is important to be respectful, supportive (financially and otherwise), and appreciative of excellent, hard-working postdocs. I hope to be so lucky to be able to continue to do so.