I am exhausted and shaking and just want to lie down on my back, close my eyes and let soothing music roll over me like a warm soft wave. Completely ignoring my telepathic transfer of the word Shavasana (resting pose), my teacher tells us to stand on our heads. I fight the urge to just collapse and sneak a preview to Shavasana, and seek refuge in my teachers calming voice. He starts explaining how standing on my head stimulates my thyroid gland, which is crucial to strengthening my immune system. My fatigue quickly dissipates as my head takes on new and darker shade of red, matching the irritation rising inside me. A quick internal scan of my anatomy knowledge tells me that the thyroid gland controls our metabolism and is not really that involved in the immune system. What is he talking about? A few uncomfortable moments later, I realize that he probably meant to say thymus; a specialized organ of the immune system. Harmless mistake, you might argue, but if he doesn’t know the difference between a thyroid gland and a thymus organ, what does that say about his claim regarding strengthening my immune system? On top of that, I am not really convinced that I want my immune system to be stronger than it already is, but that’s a different blog post. I come out of my headstand and lie down on my back, ready for Shavasana. I close my eyes but can no longer find peace and the music is more irritating than soothing. What happened to the zen I was feeling a minute ago?
The Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars (CAPS) recently released the results of their 2013 survey (the full report can be found here and an executive summary here). The survey received responses from 1,830 postdocs across Canada, which amounts to about 20% of all Canadian postdocs.
The premises for the survey were to
- Present demographic data about the Canadian postdoctoral population
- Identify the primary concerns for postdocs and compare their concerns to the ones identified in a similar survey from 2009
Salary and benefits
Coming to Canada for a postdoctoral ‘training’ is a financial disaster in every way.
I don’t think that it is fair to expect someone to go through an extended period of education, and then 3-5+ years of temporary, low paid employment as a ‘trainee’ with no benefits, probably in several different locations before they can even start to apply for permanent employment. The uncertainty is incredibly difficult, especially at a time when people are trying to maintain long term relationships and start families.
The classification grey-zone
Career prospects and qualifications
I am constantly stressed that I won’t be able to get a job as a university professor, but I really don’t have a satisfactory ‘plan B’ if this doesn’t work out.
“First, many postdocs are unhappy with their administrative or employment status and with the corresponding salary and benefits. Postdocs would like to be treated as employees, and to receive benefits and compensation commensurate with their work and experience.Second, respondents are very concerned that, after investing years as postdocs, their career opportunities remain uncertain. Successful transitions from postdoctoral scholarship to independent careers are in Canada’s interests as well as those of Canadian postdocs. Canadian postdoctoral appointments should be supported with appropriate and relevant career development opportunities.”
However, in light of Tri-Council not changing their awards at all, it is probably more likely to reflects a change in the survey set-up from 2009 to 2013: the significant number of postdocs receiving exactly $45,000 would have been included in the 79% earning $45,000 or less in 2009, but not in the 63% earning less than $45,000 in 2013. I suspect this accounts for most of the difference, if not all. Adding inflation rates to the picture, postdocs overall might have even taken pay-cuts since 2009.
The conclusions to the 2009 report are very similar to the ones from 2013, and there seems to be a lot of work ahead for the Canadian research communities, if they want to continue attracting the high-quality researchers they currently enjoy.