The Funding Climate and Its Effect on International Trainees

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The Funding Climate and Its Effect on International Trainees

Postby David Taylor » Wed Nov 21, 2012 10:24 am

Hello Forum,

I've been seeing a developing trend become even more common over the past year - trainees (usually postdocs) being prematurely forced out of positions due to a lack of or reduction in funding for their mentors (or their projects). International trainees in this situation face additional challenges. Of those that I've interacted with, the majority wish to remain in the U.S.

As a PDO-leader, I provide all the assistance I can to prep them for the next steps, especially when it comes to identifying jobs and conducting an effective job search. Still, the efforts aren't always fruitful. The visa issue is a major hurdle. Many PIs also don't have the money to support more staff/trainees. Other PIs are offering sub par wages that seem to be (infuriatingly) taking advantage of the funding climate and lack of available jobs. Regardless of the reasons behind it, I've seen a number of trainees forced to return to their home countries from the U.S.

My goal here isn't necessarily to start a heated discussion of the issue. What I'm really interested in would be any advice/tips on how to better support international trainees experiencing these issues. Are there resources that might help? Can anyone share an experience that ended positively?
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Re: The Funding Climate and Its Effect on International Trai

Postby PG » Wed Nov 21, 2012 12:44 pm

This have been going on for some time, at least it was happening around here before I left academia which was some time ago.

The only solution I can see is that the institution at the point of entering an agreement would agree to guarantee payment for at least a certain period of time either for all postdocs or at least for international postdocs/PhD students. This would of course result in institutions preventing PIs from bringing in these postdocs/students unless the PI can show that sufficient funding is available. The institutions may also set a minimum salary allowed.

There are a couple of major problems with this is that I can think of and the first is that it limits the possibility for newly established PIs to get postdocs and the second is that it opens the possibility for all sorts of debates if you get a postdoc that doesnt really fulfill the requirements from a performance point of view.

Overall I think that it would be difficult to do a guaranteed payed period but having a minumum salary should be possible.
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Re: The Funding Climate and Its Effect on International Trai

Postby P.C. » Wed Nov 21, 2012 5:00 pm

Guarantee? Students are one thing, but for post-docs it has always been
one year with the option to renew. Thirty yrs ago students and post-docs were considered at will temporary contingent labor. Things have not really changed? Maybe all foreign students should be required to pay up front their full tuition, 4 yrs worth, as a guarantee that they will complete their training?

Aside, Cspan had a panel of conservatives on immigration reform and a lot of them were for stapling a green card to every immigrant PhD recipient. Given the dearth of jobs, this is not in US citizen PhD holders best interests.
"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education" - Mark Twain
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Re: The Funding Climate and Its Effect on International Trai

Postby V » Thu Nov 22, 2012 2:36 pm

Last edited by V on Tue Dec 04, 2012 7:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Funding Climate and Its Effect on International Trai

Postby P. Lues » Thu Nov 22, 2012 5:01 pm

Hi all,

I'm in Canada but I have friends who moved to the US for postdocs. And like the others, I have no good advice to give to these people. But here is how I see it:

1) Like the others said, I don't think you can force a PI to keep someone indefinitely for a temporary position. Maybe they can negotiate to extend that period to 2 years instead of 1 year before they join the lab. It's a tough situation because often times it means your first year you are mostly focusing on applying to secure your own funding which takes time away from doing research and getting results. How you get funding without showing a substantial amount of data (i.e. close to publication) is beyond me. A friend of mine (Canadian) left her first US postdoc because she couldn't get her own funding after a year. The lab gave her a 6 month grace period but after that they kicked her out. I don't know how you can possibly generate enough data to secure outside funding in that amount of time and i'm always suspicious of people who get a paper in 6 months. How many times did you do each experiment? Anyways, she's still in the US at a different institution doing a second postdoc. She was rushed to find something though and she was lucky she found this. Keeping a decent back up postdoc in the back of your head is a good idea. Otherwise you might be forced to go wherever and do research that doesn't interest you or worst end up working for a micromanager PI. Doing a postdoc in the US is just too competitive.

2) I know of a small number of graduate students and postdocs at my institution (well 5 to be exact) who told me that their main motive to relocate to Canada was immigration and not education. Some of them don't even care about the research. I admit this is rare. Most people who are in science actually want to be in science. But it does happen. Once you get your PhD from here, you become a citizen. Same if you work here for 3-4 years. 2 of them admitted that they don't event want to continue in science and they will quit as soon as they get their citizenship! Essentially they are just creating competition and diluting the resources! I'm also an immigrant so I can sympathize to a certain degree. But I came to Canada with my family when I was a teenager and I did all my higher education here. I don't think it's fair to the rest of us who actually want to continue in science. The funding situation here is also pretty tough but it's not as competitive as the US because there are fewer grad students/postdocs.

There are no good answers. As new trainees, the cards are stacked against us. That's just how the system works. And the more attractive the country/lab/science, the more competition there is.
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Re: The Funding Climate and Its Effect on International Trai

Postby PG » Sat Nov 24, 2012 3:38 am

My point was that in the case of a one year contract the institution could make sure that that funding is actually available for that year. In my eperience the worst situations occurs when a 1-2 year contract is signed and then funding runs out already after a few months. With postdocs/students from some countries in the world that causes real issues since going back early might not be an option.
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Re: The Funding Climate and Its Effect on International Trai

Postby Andrew1 » Sat Nov 24, 2012 10:41 pm

We don't take a postdoc on unless we're sure we have 2 years funding. We would not be allowed to hire one if we only had a few months available. I'm surprised other institutions don't have similar rules.
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Re: The Funding Climate and Its Effect on International Trai

Postby David Taylor » Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:59 am

Thanks for the replies. I'm going to look into some specific instances at local institutions to learn more.

I'm guessing the problem stems in some cases from the institution (not verifying funding availability) and in others from the mentor (promising reappointment or allowing the trainee to assume that reappointment is imminent).

I agree, though - in an ideal world, the postdoc would negotiate for a lengthier appointment than one year, if desired.
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