Training Reforms Could Boost Productivity

Tilghman, however, thinks the changes proposed in the article—they also proposed utilizing more staff scientists in academic labs—might even have the opposite effect. “I don’t think you can conclude from this … that labs are going to be less productive,” she says in an interview with(GEN). “It is a myth that graduate students are amazingly productive. No convincing study has been conducted, but it is my experience that it takes several years before a new graduate student is really producing results. With fewer inexperienced workers in the lab, it is very possible that the average productivity per person will actually increase.”

Productivity is important, but it isn’t everything. Equity matters, too. Postdocs, for example, should receive wages closer to their real value. Just how underpaid are they? “I have estimated that their hourly rate is just short of $16 an hour,” says labor force expert Paula Stephan of Georgia State University in Atlanta, quoted in the GEN article. That makes them cheaper than graduate students, for whom tuition must be paid from research grants. Stephan estimates that staff scientists doing the same work would cost at least twice as much as postdocs do.

Forgive Me, Scientists, for I Have Sinned

A Science Career Story