Postdoc Reactions to the FLSA Fiasco – Part 1

Postdoc Reactions to the FLSA Fiasco – Part 1

  This is a guest post by Future of Research board member, Adriana Bankston. Although postdocs are highly skilled, PhD-level scientists, they have been a historically underpaid segment of the biomedical workforce. While advocating for increased postdoctoral salaries had been previously attempted, not much has changed, and there was still not much hope in terms of better pay in 2016. This was about to change on December 1st, 2016, when the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) ruling from the Department of Labor was to result in increased salaries for full-time postdocs from $23,660 to $47,476 per year. At Future of Research, we have been tracking the national compliance of institutions with the FLSA ruling at various timepoints before this date, and subsequently published the results in F1000Research on November 17th, 2016. On November 22nd, 2016, a preliminary injunction against the Department of Labor was granted nationwide, delaying the FLSA implementation. Since that time, Future of Research has been once again tracking how institutions responded to the injunction nationally. To get an idea of how postdocs felt in the current state of the research enterprise, in this first blog post, we spoke with postdocs at various universities whose salaries were raised following the injunction.   The effects of salary raises As expected, continuing to raise salaries despite the injunction was received positively, as it significantly helped some postdocs improve their own life situations. “The extra money is particularly helpful for my situation because my husband has a job in Nashville, and I’m completing my postdoctoral training at Yale University. Because of my salary, we are able to afford our apartments...
The FLSA and postdoc salaries: actions and where things currently stand

The FLSA and postdoc salaries: actions and where things currently stand

If you’ve been following along with out FLSA and postdocs resource, you’ll know that on December 1st, 2016, the threshold at which salaried workers (including all postdocs, regardless of visa or fellowship status) receive overtime payment for working more than 40 hours per week was due to increase from $23,660 to $47,476 per year, under updates to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This was delayed by an injunction granted November 22nd, 2016 (see here for more information), and the updates were declared invalid on August 31st, 2017.   ACTION: There is a new call for comments in a Department of Labor Request for Information here (guidelines for empoyer comments are here). You are able to make comments until September 25th.   We have revised our paper on the FLSA and postdocs and this will appear in the next couple of days here (you can see our data from before the injunction in this first version). We tracked how institutions responded to the injunction and removal of a federal mandate for salary raises for postdocs, particularly given that the NIH decided to keep their new NRSA postdoctoral salary levels at the levels set by the FLSA updates.   The major finding from our second round of data collection is that around 60% of postdocs are at institutions whose policies have changed to raise salaries, even after the injunction. 5 institutions who originally cancelled plans to raise salaries (University of Michigan, the University of Illinois, Brigham and Women’s (Boston, MA), Iowa State University and Massachusetts General Hospital) have since reversed their plans to varying degrees. You can find out more in the FLSA and postdocs resource under the first tab,...
ACTION for September: Send the National Academies your ideas on reforming grad STEM education, and producing independent researchers

ACTION for September: Send the National Academies your ideas on reforming grad STEM education, and producing independent researchers

      Two studies, currently underway at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, are soliciting public input as part of their process, and they need to hear from you. You can join in in person/watch live (see 1 below) and you can submit comments online this month (see 2 below).     1) Come in person, or watch live   You can give input in person, or watch the public session of a joint meeting of both studies at UCSF, San Francisco. From the NASEM Board on Higher Education and Workforce: Thursday, September 14, 2017 1:30 pm – 5:15 pm PDT University of California, San Francisco Genentech Hall Auditorium* 600 16th Street San Francisco, CA *Please note that meeting space is limited. A webcast will also be available. This public session of the fourth meeting for the Next Generation Researchers Initiative will feature distinguished scientists, physicians, industry leaders, and scholars who will discuss the barriers and opportunities facing the next generation of independent researchers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences. Particular emphasis will be on hearing postdoctoral perspectives and envisioning the future of research. This meeting will feature and be moderated by: Chair Alan Leshner, PhD, Chief Executive Officer Emeritus, American Association for the Advancement of Science; Chair Ron Daniels, President, the Johns Hopkins University   Register Here for the In-Person Meeting   Register Here for the Webcast   Draft Agenda: 1:30 p.m. – 1:35 p.m. Opening Remarks by Host Keith Yamamoto 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Panel I: Bold Visions for the Future of Science Panelists will share their vision on how changes to today’s system of graduate education and early research...
Make your voice heard in two National Academies studies on the future of the scientific enterprise

Make your voice heard in two National Academies studies on the future of the scientific enterprise

    Two studies, currently underway at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, are soliciting public input as part of their process. This is a chance to send in your thoughts on STEM graduate education (Masters and PhDs), and how to create the next generation of independent scientists (with a large focus on postdocs).     Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century This Committee is responding to the concern that the current system is inadequately educating graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to prepare them for productive careers in the 21st century. The National Academies has charged this Committee with considering the questions of how well the current graduate education system is equipping students for current and anticipated future needs and what changes should be made to increase its effectiveness.   The Committee on Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century invites public input here on its Discussion Document and Call for Community Input through September 22, 2017.     The Next Generation Researchers Initiative This committee of the National Academies is examining the policy and programmatic steps that the nation can undertake to ensure the successful launch and sustainment of careers among the next generation of researchers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences, including the full range of health sciences supported by NIH.   You can read the Dear Colleague Letter, visit the Web Portal for public input, and view the summary Response to Prior Recommendations document. The web portal is at www.nas.edu/NextGenDCL and is open for comment until October 1....
NSF’s Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering doesn’t indicate trends in postdoc numbers

NSF’s Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering doesn’t indicate trends in postdoc numbers

This is a post by Executive Director Gary McDowell.   In a preprint posted on bioRxiv, Chris Pickett (of Rescuing Biomedical Research), Adriana Bankston (a policy activist at FoR) and myself argue that the NSF’s Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, known as the GSS, is not suitable to be used as an indicator of the number of biological sciences postdocs in the U.S., despite its current role as the standard reference in discussions of postdoc numbers.   This paper began in a response to Garrison et al., 2016, “Biomedical science postdocs: an end to the era of expansion,” which argued that biomedical science postdoc numbers had declined from 2010, presumed to be due to people choosing to leave biomedicine. As I have discussed before, placing a straight line along the data in the paper’s Figure 1 from 1979 to 2008 shows a clear linear increase in the number of postdocs, and that the data deviates from 2008-2013 away from this line and, importantly, above it, before returning to the line in 2013*.   Therefore, it first appeared to us not that there had been a decline in the number of postdocs beginning in 2010, but a bubble from 2008 to 2010 that corrected from 2010 to 2013. Indeed, anecdotally, many of my peers were extremely confused by the original premise of the paper – that people have been leaving academia in their droves against the continuing growth of the number of PhDs awarded, since 2010. However, proposing that postdocs stayed on for longer while the economy recovered from 2008 to 2010 yielded far more productive...
Which institutions may be hardest hit by the proposed NIH funding cap?

Which institutions may be hardest hit by the proposed NIH funding cap?

At the recent NIH Council of Councils (viewable in this webcast), Michael Lauer presented the proposed cap on the NIH grants using the Grant Support Index (GSI) (see our previous post on the cap) and the presentation was followed by an active discussion. The talk begins at 1 hour 23, and the subsequent discussion at 1 hour 57 minutes. The discussion highlights that the cap is constantly being revised, and currently now may affect only 3% of researchers, rather than the 6% suggested earlier. As Lauer points out, 65-70% of NIH-funded investigators are on one R01 or less.   Jonathan Epstein, at the University of Pennsylvania, claimed that 70 investigators – he claims their best investigators – at University of Pennsylvania were affected by the proposed cap. Epstein also claimed that two PIs are even moving overseas, discouraged by this proposed move. Epstein also asks, “How many potential Einsteins do we have to lose in favor of this ‘equality for all’ approach that many of us will believe will favor mediocrity in science?”   Epstein points out that other things may affect this distribution of funds, such as where in the country investigators are located. So, which institutions are likely to be affected by the cap?   Chris Pickett, from Rescuing Biomedical Research, has kindly passed along data gathered from NIH RePORTer. He downloaded all active projects data, sorted by activity code (R01, R21, etc) and inserted point totals for each grant based on Table 1 from the preprint, “Marginal Returns and Levels of Research Grant Support among Scientists Supported by the National Institutes of Health“, by Michael Lauer et al. to associate...