Wednesday, 15 July 2015

An apology, and understanding

I was an ass on twitter last night. PIs and postdocs were shouting about the overtime threshold change, and I jumped in, riled up and angry and not paying enough attention to what was being said, so sure I was of what I was saying. I apologize.
I was made to realize (by someone with great patience) that much of the PI ambivalence to this announcement boils down to it adding yet another financial burden on labs whose margin of operation is already so thin as to be invisible. And so, once again, all our great science problems come back to the question of funding.
PI are, everywhere, trying to square an impossible circle, that keeps getting more complicated. And as much as we may think we understand, we postdocs are not squaring that circle. That burden is the PIs.
I still think this rule change is a rare victory for American workers' rights, after decades of seeing them eroded. I still think that the segue through the discussion of a postdoc's worth this weekend was unecessary, beside the point, and vicious. I still think that in the aggregate, this reform will be for the best. The key word there is aggregate.
But I am also reminded that any new law put forward without adequate funding may quickly become little more than window dressing. And that when it comes to its impact on workers paid by the public dollar, that may be what this law becomes.
In the immediate term, if the reform goes through as intended, I suspect HR memos will be sent, and PIs will watch their postdocs comings and goings a little closer. Maybe fewer marathon experiments will be scheduled back to back. Maybe fewer hours will be worked. Maybe this will actually be good for the long hours culture in academia (though I hear the overtime exempt PIs laugh darkly at this).
But what this ugky episode reminds us most, is that no matter how you cut, no matter what you reform, there isn't enough money for all the people in science right now. And until that's addressed, all reforms like these will have similar responses I fear.

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