Reader story: decade of depression and slavery, part 1
Editors note: this is another heartbreaking detailed (long) story. We know 98% PhDs’ stories are like this. But nobody speaks up! Please speak up and share your story to us or elsewhere…wherever you can. You are are in a trap and most have Stockholm syndrome and don’t know it.
First and foremost, I world like to express my gratitude to you for your great blog! It was one of great news sources that convinced me to leave “the hell of academia”. Moreover, you blog, among few others, helped me to keep my sanity and not to be [completely] mentally crushed by abusive professors. Special thanks for resuming blogging in 2018 !!! Thank you for all the information and thoughts, provided in your blog. Indeed, I cannot find a better word to describe what is going on in academia as “THE SCAM”. The other word I might have for it is “the fucking scam”. I would like to write your team some of my thoughts and personal experiences. I would like to point out a few other sources worth to be mentioned. I would be grateful if you could publish my story, not disclosing my name (which is an alias anyway). Actually, I would be proud if you find my thoughts worthy of publishing in your blog.
As Dr. Ridder points out in this great video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ny1F-iaQ-Es “The Education-Industrial Complex” is a TRILLION dollar industry, on par with the military-industrial complex. There is no way to combat this monster, except to try to appeal to few sane people and convince them to walk away from this scam.
At a time, I can barely manage my anger. Sometimes I stand in an empty room or in the woods, where no one can see me and yell “FUCK THE POSTDOCS !!!”, “FUCK THE ACADEMIA !!!!” Yes, as you may understand, academia took its toll on my mental and physical health. I have been seriously depressed for a decade or so, took for a short time anti-depressants, which made it all worse. I have no respect whatsoever to people running this fraud and profiting from it.Neither I have any respect for people who are involved in this scam as a cheap labor. See, if one claims that he or she belongs to “the best and brightest”, then one should be able to understand that graduate school and postdocs are absolute scam. And please, tell how a decent and normal person can participate in this fraud as a victim for years, only hoping to become a “pimp” at some point in future? If someone helps to perpetuate the scam, the person might be . criminal on par with the bosses of this “organized crime of academia”.
Yes, as said before, higher education/academia is all an absolute scam which is being ran by absolutely cynical and evil people. If you would like to have an honest discussion of true value of university degrees, please direct your readers to another video of Bradley Ridder “Useless degrees” here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByYgkNryCS8 As you can understand from his analysis, majority of university degrees are outright fraud, a scam. Graduate school is a scam refined. There is absolutely nothing noble in academia, there is not a drachm of decency in all this scam carefully disguised as graduate school and postdoc. In essence, it is all about money. Most professors live off grants aka government dollars. The one and most important job of each and every professor is to apply for grants (government money). What happens if your professor looses money? Well, he might be denied tenure (if he is not tenured). His laboratory will gradually cease to exist as he/she will not have money to pay people. At this point it is very hard to escape the death spiral. Depending on conditions, his salary might be reduced quite drastically by the university (some universities have professors to contribute as much as 80% of their own salary). On the other hand, one has to be a mentally retarded person to work for an employer [i.e. the university] which forces you to pay your own salary. At the end, the professor will be pointed to the exit. Simple as that, funding lost, lab shrinks, less people to produce data, less data to renew funding or apply for new grants => somebody’s career spirals to death.
Hence all this Scam scheme of academia is about providing as much of a skilled labor as possible for as little cost as possible. And what place does exactly this? You guessed. It is a sweat-shop. In essence, all of academia is a giant sweatshop. It is all about money! A successful application for funding is a question of life or death (in terms of income or career) for your typical professor. It is all about money and cheap labor. Period. Hence, you have Ph.D that last 5 or 6 years. You have postdocs that last until you are exhausted and thrown away. It is all about having as much cheap labor for as little money. If one works 40 hr/week on a minimal wage, even then one makes more than a typical phd-student. I can guess that if a professor was allowed to abuse students physically to extort more result, we would see a lot more violent physical abuse on campuses. Make no mistake: a professor doesn’t care about your future, doesn’t care about your “training”, about your degree, your job prospect, about your physical and mental health. One can literally die in the lab and a professor will not suffer any consequences. Any! Correct me if I am wrong, but I have never heard of any professor actually having any repercussions. Understand, getting more data for grant funding applications is a matter of life and death for a professor. If someone has to die (or suffer irreparable damage to mental or physical health, or career), professors are totally fine with it! Absolutely! No problem. As long as it is a postdoc and not them, it is all fine. This is one reason why universities/professors like graduate students/postdocs from third-world countries. They can pay them an absolute minimum and exploit them to death, and students have no way to fight back. Any word of dissent and these graduate students or postdocs are sent back to home, to their impoverished countries. That’s why universities like professors from third world countries as well Firstly, it nicely signals “diversity”! secondly, those people have absolutely no religious or cultural “brakes” that might stop them from slaving students to death. See, if somebody comes from a country where human life is worth nothing, if everyday life is an everyday struggle. Do you really think that such a professor will have any pity to his “slaves” ?
I remember reading on one forum that this blog “PhD-Scam” has an agenda[the statement was made by some professor, you guessed. Professor, professor….]. As if having an agenda is a heavy accusation. Apparently, having an agenda of having a family and a high-paying job, of being happy – is a felony in eyes of “academia”. Everything different from sweating to death in the sweatshops of academia is an evil agenda apparently. So, understand exploiting peoples to death, wreaking them physically and mentally, ruining their health, annihilating their job prospects, destroying any chance of decent retirement – is OK. But trying to expose this ongoing FRAUD is apparently an evil AGENDA, in the eyes of your typical professor. An agenda! Merely speaking up about all horrors of academia is a punishable offence in eyes of your professors. No, guys, it is you, you are fucking criminals, you are felons, you are the fraudsters!!! FUCK ALL OF YOU, ACEDEMIC SCUM-BAGS!
Now I would like to offer to your readers two interesting pieces of information that I find worthy of their attention:
First one provides a clear explanation behind an outright fraud otherwise known as postdoc!
Technician or Postdoc?
Posted on November 17, 2010
Postdocs are the slaves of the modern ‘Science Plantations’. If you look carefully, some cases of horrible treatments of the postdocs may just qualify to be the cases of human trafficking. Strong horrifying words? You betcha!
There used to be a time when postdoc-ing was done only to finish an unfinished business of a project or to get highly desirable additional training to conduct independent research. Not anymore!
Postdocs are the workhorses of the modern labs. Given a choice, a scientist with his own lab will hire a postdoc rather than a technician. Why? Read the first line- a postdoc is a virtual slave.
1. A technician will work 8 to 5; a postdoc will practically live in the lab.
2. A technician has a life outside the lab; a postdoc has never seen life, neither here nor in his own country.
3. A technician’s rights are protected by the institution and government’s labor laws; who gives a fuck to the postdoc?
4. A technician will do research only if you have a brain to tell him what to do; a postdoc will bust his ass to find a new project even if you are a dud.
5. A technician observes weekends and holidays; a postdoc will be tormented by the guilt of holidays.
6. You tell a technician about the virtues of scientific tempo and most likely he will give you the middle finger; you can make the postdoc cry in shame by telling him that he is not up to the snuff.
7. You ask a technician to work harder and you will see the bird flipped up again; a postdoc will kowtow to you because you got the power of writing the reference letter for him.
8. You cannot threaten a technician about the pending immigration visa; you can manipulate the postdoc’s entire life by dangling the visa/immigration/green card in front.
9. You have to pay a technician a salary that is defined by the institution/labor law; you pay what you think is ‘commensurate with experience’ to the postdoc, and if you are a real asshole, you can make the postdoc even work for free in your lab as a volunteer.
10. A technician will only do what a job description is; you can make postdoc do any dirty job in the lab or, if you are a scum bag, even your dirty laundry at home.
11. You cannot easily find a good technician who can do the job right; you can find hundreds of mail-order postdocs simply by placing a 10 dollar advertisement in Science magazine.
So, what do you want? A technician or a postdoc?
Another excellent piece comes form https://escapethetower.wordpress.com/2010/09/04/the-postdoc-scam/
The Postdoc Scam
September 4, 2010
This is going to be the first of what will surely be many posts addressing the biggest scam in all of academia – the postdoc.
Now, there are lots of little ways you get taken advantage of in academia, but few are as egregious as the postdoc. Typical postdocs in the hard sciences will generally pay in the $30-40k range. That’s with a PhD. As in, “I spent ten years in college working my butt off, and my salary is less than a manager at most any retail chain store who started fresh out of high school”. It’s sobering. Typical starting salaries for those who leave academia for the private sector are quite literally double what they would be making as a postdoc. Yet, for some reason, people still suffer through those terrible salaries, because the system has built up this complete BS notion that it’s somehow more “noble” or “pure” to sacrifice yourself in this way. Let’s be perfectly clear here – there is nothing noble about letting a broken system rip you off.
“But you should go into science because you love it, not for the money” is usually the standard response here. Which would be great, if getting a college degree in this country didn’t usually involve crushing mountains of student loan debt, which must be paid for upon graduation. Lump a large loan payment on top of other living expenses, and many postdocs can barely scrape by. We aren’t talking about the desire to become rich and famous here, we are talking about working as an indentured servant and having a standard of living barely above that of someone at the poverty line.
PhD’s are supposed to be our best and brightest, the young minds who have not only the inherent skill, but the work ethic and drive to contribute original thought to the sphere of human knowledge, and this is how they are expected to live their lives. It’s a travesty. Tack on the fact that there is such a glut of students who have been lead to believe that they will move on to faculty positions sometime in their lives, and you’ve got a system that is so exploitative of incredibly skilled highly specialized, disturbingly cheap labor. It’s appalling.
And that’s not even the worst part.
In addition to being expected to provide cheap labor for their advisers, to often work 60+ weeks with no overtime pay, little vacation, and a salary that’s little more than a pittance, many postdocs are required to find their own funding. As in, “sure, I will give you a job where I work you to the bone and you may or may not actually get anything out of it, but I sure as hell ain’t gonna pay for you out of MY grant money”. So, now not only are you being taken advantage of for your cheap labor, you have to actually fight to get your own money to support your position. That process often involves massive amounts of work – grant writing takes up a huge chunk of a typical researcher’s time, and postdoc fellowship grants are no different. I defy you to name one other job on the PLANET that pays less than $40k a year and requires you to spend several weeks writing and researching before you’ll even be considered for the job. Not only that, but these fellowships are generally extremely competitive, such that your chances of actually getting the funding you need are quite low. So, you end up wasting weeks of your life, trying to desperately snag a crappy low paying job, and you still don’t have all that good of a chance of getting it.
And that’s still not the worst part
Depending on the source of the funding, there can be all kinds of strings attached – requirements that you teach for a certain amount of time after you finish, or that you must produce a certain metric to gauge your research progress, or that you must remain in the position for a certain amount of time. And if you don’t complete these milestones – some fellowships even require you to pay back the salary you’ve received if you don’t meet their criteria. As an example of this, see the following NIH fellowship requirements. Of course, no one tells you about these things while you’re applying for the fellowship, unless you do the digging through the mountains of paperwork and find it yourself, or if a friendly blogger warns you.
NIH Payback Reporting Requirements
So before you go the postdoc route, think long and hard about it. There is a massive oversupply of PhD’s fighting for those faculty positions, and it is not at all uncommon for your competition for a tenure track faculty position to have anywhere from 4-10 years of postdoctoral experience. Ask yourself if you’re willing to live on $40k a year for the next decade, putting up with long hours, little personal freedom, and potentially even more ridiculous and restrictive conditions, for a slim shot at a faculty position. And if you have no interest in a faculty position, why the hell are you even thinking about a postdoc? Unless you’ve already snared one of the rare high-paying government postdocs, run – run far and fast. And if you’re already in a postdoc, find a way out. Don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs waiting until your contract is up – break away as fast as you can. Don’t let some misguided sense of guilt tie you to your adviser – even if it’s unintentional, even if your adviser is the nicest person in the world, that adviser is a part of a system that is using you. Do not be a victim – take a stand for yourself and move on.
An again, dear PhDScam, I would be glad to see these small contribution of mine published in your great blog. If I find enough of mental power, I will write a continuation of this story.