Future of Research Seminar

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We were joined by Gary McDowell, Executive Director of Future of Research (and the second Tufts PDA president!) who discussed what The Future of Research is and the changing landscape of research and postdoctoral issues, including the FLSA act.

-Future of Research was formed after a desire to contribute the thoughts of junior researchers on the state of research and how to better sustain research in the future.
– Came out of the fledgling Boston Postdoctoral Association
– 1st FoR, which took place in 2014, was a collaborative discussion effort

1. Junior scientists should be better connected together between the different experience and location levels
2. More funding opportunities for scientists and better advocacy for increased conditions, salary etc.
3. Transparency: better clarity on the career outcomes and options for postdocs. Where do people go? Transparency on salaries and benefits at each individual institution.

Mission: To represent junior scientists, through grassroots advocacy, to promote systemic change to the way we do science.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and postdoc salaries:
FLSA: guarantee of a minimum wage and overtime pay within a 40 hr workweek.

July 6 2015: Minimum exemption salary (for no overtime) was $23,660 – proposal of new FLSA act was to increase this to $50,440 with updates every 3 years.

May 18 2016: Exemption salary set as $47,476 with implementation date as Dec 1, 2016.

How postdocs fit in:
– Many Higher Ed institutions (such as CUPA-HR and AAMC) pushed for postdocs to be exempt from the new standards and suggested lower salary caps.
– Postdocs pushed back via individual submissions, group letters coordinated by postdoc groups and by unions representing postdocs.

The Outcome: Postdocs were NOT exempt and were explicitly included in the act. The only exemption was where the primary role of the postdoc is teaching. All international postdocs, regardless of status, visa or funding source are included. Adjuncts are not included and are exempt.

Some higher ed institutions have lobbied to have the decision reversed, however it is unlikely this will occur.

So what does this mean?

– To raise salaries or track hours?
– Consensus view within the community is to increase salaries to $50,000 minimum which should be adjusted to inflation and regional living costs.
– NRSA levels:

– 51% of institutions set their minimum with the NIH
– 7% of institutions do not enforce their minimum
– 11% of institutions do not have a set minimum.

Over 50% of salaries will be affected … whether people will actually see their salaries increased or they will be let go… time will tell.

Why Gary thinks no-one will track hours:

1. The burden of proof in violating the overtime ruling is on the institution, thus it is easy for he employee to win.
2. The administrative burden to track the  hours will further stress administrators who have high workloads.

Other notes:
Postdocs are federally recognized as both employees and trainees.
Thus, they are not just cheap temporary staff scientists and experiments, writing papers, reading papers, career development, activities, conferences and even outreach (tweeting!) are all activities that fall under the job description of a postdoc.

What will be the effects?

– Smaller institutions more affected?
– Dip in new hires as y0/1 postdocs will be more expensive?
– Will junior faculty bear the brunt?
– Postdocs let go?
– Shift postdocs to NRSA/training fellowships then from research grants?
– More grad students? Someone has to do the work…
– Will there be fewer postdocs? This may be a good thing…

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