Exploitation of foreign Postdocs

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Exploitation of foreign Postdocs

Postby Yandorio » Sat May 16, 2015 9:04 am

Interesting story. At a time when "diversity" is all the rage
looks what's really going on behind the scenes:

Union accuses UC Davis of exploiting foreign researchers
Administration made reparations to two misclassified workers, evaluates 200 more

International researchers at UC Davis are being underpaid and deprived of medical benefits, says the union representing the campus’ more than 6,000 postdoctoral researchers.

UAW Local 5810 has identified at least three “postdocs” who were improperly placed in lesser job categories like “visiting scholar,” and is pressing the university to turn over personnel information to determine if more have been misclassified, deliberately or not.

“Sometimes there’s a villain and sometimes it’s just unfortunate incompetence,” said Local 5810 organizer Jeff Otter.

The inquest started in late 2013, when Otter met Cherre Bezerra Da Silva, a Brazilian entomologist who thought he was working for the university as a postdoctoral scholar. In fact, a UC Davis press release with photos from August 2012 identifies Da Silva by that very title.

The title refers to individuals who have recently completed a doctoral program and work under the supervision of a faculty mentor in preparation for an advanced research career, whereas a visiting scholar can still be seeking a degree and is ineligible for salary or wages. (“No person may be appointed as a Visitor if an appointment as Postdoctoral Scholar is more appropriate,” the University of California’s criteria for appointment states.)

It wasn’t until that chance encounter with Otter that Da Silva learned he had been employed for more than a year under a title that paid him at least $13,000 less annually—and didn’t provide health insurance.

After the union filed a grievance on his behalf in November 2013, Da Silva says he was retaliated against. As a result, he said in an email interview with SN&R, a “dream position” he lined up with Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture was rescinded.

“They … ended [up] ruining my career, which was just taking off,” the former postdoc wrote.

UC Davis agreed to pay Da Silva $16,000 in back pay and damages, while a complaint before the California Public Employment Relations Board is pending a decision. The university also promptly reclassified one other international postdoc, from Ecuador, after being alerted by Local 5810, Otter said.

Another mislabeled postdoc has been reluctant to enter into the process, Otter said, because he saw what happened to Da Silva. Da Silva said he knows of other Brazilian postdocs like himself who work under downgraded job classifications, but are too afraid to speak up.
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Re: Exploitation of foreign Postdocs

Postby PG » Mon May 18, 2015 5:42 am

I have seen similar things happen in other places and also for PhD student positions (in Europe). Importantly in all the cases that I have seen the follow up from the University have been to strenghten and clarify the rules for financing of PhD students or postdocs. The main changes have been to financing of PhDs and one of the outcomes is a decrease in the number of PhD students and an increase in the number of postdocs which is probably a good thing.

If you find yourself in one of these situations or see someone else who is the tricky part is as Yandorio says to correct the situation without causing any harm to yourself in the process. At least around here several of the universities have contactpersons such as a PhD student ombudsman that you can contact for support with this type of positions. That also keeps this as an internal question within the University which at least decreases the political risks.
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Old and Recurring Theme

Postby P.C. » Tue May 19, 2015 7:59 am

In my observations and opinion, these institutions have been and will continue to practice routine and institutionalized exploitation of foreign and domestic "trainees". At times I despair that there is little hope that there will be reform. The cost of being a whistleblower is devastating as the poster relate here.
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Re: Exploitation of foreign Postdocs

Postby PG » Tue May 19, 2015 12:54 pm

I am more optimistic due to the fact that in the cases when I have seen it becoming known within the University action have been taken. Having an internal university contact for this type of questions or other issues that comes up during training makes it possible to handle it with a lot less noise than otherwise thereby hopefully minimizing the risk. It can even be possible to have the university do an "audit" of a department for which there is information about misusing trainees without pointing at a specific whistleblower.
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Reform talks, in Sci Career Magazine

Postby P.C. » Wed May 20, 2015 12:40 pm ... t.a1500129

Reform talks blah, blah blah..... It is a recurring "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education" - Mark Twain
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Re: Exploitation of foreign Postdocs

Postby Yandorio » Thu May 21, 2015 11:19 pm

Well, talking is at least a good start.
Everyone is finally admitting the Biomed career pipeline is broken...
the question is what are people going to do about it?
If it got this bad for MD's, who are more political about their
careers, think about the pandemonium. There would be lawyers,
protests, politicians etc. So how did we become such slaves?
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Re: Exploitation of foreign Postdocs

Postby Katherine Lee » Fri May 22, 2015 7:28 am

Yandorio wrote: So how did we become such slaves?

Because most of us didn't pursue science careers for the money.
We pursue it out of our interest in always asking questions, our innate curiosity, and a desire to contribute to making society better.

Relative to other careers we have the intellectual capability to train and do, our path never has been, nor probably ever will be, the most profitable.
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Re: Exploitation of foreign Postdocs

Postby Dave Walker » Fri May 22, 2015 10:06 am

Katherine, I'm not so sure you can be accurate when you say "because of most of us [did x or y]." Lumping all of us together is not statistically sound, and it lets our emotions take over.

Or as a colleague from the Southern USA would say, "Never trust a man waiving a gun who says he speaks for everyone."

The bottom line, which is echoed through almost every Tooling Up column you'll find in Science Careers, is that for careers it is up to you to change your fate.

The answer to Yandorio's "How did we become such slaves?" is that we joined a community thinking we would get one kind of life, and found another. It's up to us--each of us--to take our career in our own hands and ask for what we NEED, not what we want. And to be willing to quit (change careers) if necessary.

On a side note, I have a theory about the way scientists think about careers, especially as I've stepped away from the bench: that they believe in fairness to a fault. Only in academics do such smart people depend on writing a grant and having it turn into their livelihood, with almost nothing else keeping them afloat.

But the system, which basically dates back to the postwar DoD era, has eroded over time (or the rest of the world has changed). Now that we see the cracks and the resulting damage they are doing, there is still such resistance to change. This to me is how it feels like slavery.

Where else can you find someone with a PhD and multiple years of post-doctoral research doing work for less than minimum wage? And how has that person not quit and moved on to ANYTHING else?
"The single factor that differentiates Nobel laureates from other scientists is training with another Nobel laureate." -- Sol Snyder
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Re: Exploitation of foreign Postdocs

Postby Dick Woodward » Fri May 22, 2015 11:53 am

I have to agree completely with Dave. Many of us went into science expecting one thing, and found that our idealized picture was significantly different from the reality of the situation. When faced with a situation like that, you only have three options - love it (or at least tolerate it), leave it, or change it. You have about as much chance of changing this entrenched system as Don Quixote had against the windmill, so you only have two options - and the choice of those options is up to you.

To quote Jack Welch of GE: "Control your own destiny or someone else will." If you don't like where you are, you either go somewhere else or stay and be miserable. It is your choice.

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Re: Exploitation of foreign Postdocs

Postby BMK » Fri May 22, 2015 1:24 pm

I'm reminded of the W. C. Fields quote: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a d***n fool about it."

People tend to forget the second part...

This situation isn't unique to science though, there are many corollaries in history and literature. For example, once people realize it, they often find academia is no different than DC (America's capital) in many ways. Scientists (politicians) go in with claims that "they'll change things", and come out the changed ones. Not to be bleak, but this is something philosophers have understood about human nature for millennia. Remember Plato's cave? Anyone trying to bring light (i.e., reformists) to dispel the shadows is promptly killed. Nothing new. That's how entrenched the system is in many ways, as broken as it may be.

Though if you'll forgive me for waxing philosophical for a moment, I think that the root-cause isn't so much that scientists believe in fairness to a fault. That's just the basis of any meritocracy (science, the American/European Republics, Silicon Valley, what have you). I think the issue is that this fundamental belief isn't ALSO TIED to a belief in pluralism. What do I mean? Basically, that there are other ways to think/do/write besides your own. That's what leads to lamenting that grant-review/faculty-search/hiring committees are being unfair, "why should we network, that's like cheating". People don't get what they want, but instead of going either "Can we work with what we are given?" or changing their approach, they let the bitterness sit in: "bitterness leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to darkness"

To use another historical example, this is why so many South American republics failed in the 18- and early 1900s even though they basically copied the U.S. system which had already survived a long while. They tried the voting thing, but when everyone didn't vote for the same leaders, the minority parties revolted and whole states fell apart quickly (for several even older historical reasons).

So, to sum up that wall of text for everyone:
The definition of insanity is to repeat the same actions each time expecting a different outcome. Don't like what's happening in your life? Change something! As scary a feeling as change is, its the only solution.
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