Topic: Improving Career Paths
by Andrea Repetto
1) Change the culture of the way we talk about technicians, and other skilled, non-PhD employees. Stop assuming techs are just there to get the skills before they move on to something else–start thinking of techs as long-term investments. Give merit-based raises freely, give authorship on papers if appropriate (it usually is), allow time for training, and cross-training between similar labs. (Cross-training across labs can benefit everyone.) 2) yep; money. Pay techs what they’re worth. I moved to a different position within the same organization and was able to increase my pay by about 20%, AND decrease my stress level by a significant amount; but I’m no longer in the lab. 3) Carrying someone else’s experiment on your shoulders is a heavy burden: if it succeeds, at best, the lab as a whole gets the recognition, and at worst, only the project lead gets the recognition. If the experiment fails, techs are the first to get the blame. This creates a toxic atmosphere, and combined with the low pay, and not being seen as a permanent fixture, leads to high turnover, and science as a whole slows down (and the science itself is not as high quality).
Optional Comments on the Problem
I don’t have a PhD and I don’t want one. I have a Master’s degree. I was a research technician for years, but not only is this undervalued from a day-to-day experience (“oh, just a tech”) to salary. Even with my Master’s degree, I was making barely more than I made with just my Bachelor’s. I have a family to support, and also want to contribute to science in a meaningful way; there is no existing career path to both have a successful career in a lab, and financially support a family, without having a PhD. So I left.
From the employee perspective: psychologically and financially driven out of the field.
From the science perspective: high turnover rate in talented techs, especially just as the tech is getting very skilled at the task (1-3 years). Often, tragically, the tech is still happy at the position, but leaves anyway because the position is seen as a “jumping off point” and not a long-term career.