[Beowulf] a postdoc in Canada

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Fri Mar 28 05:45:41 PDT 2008

On Thu, 27 Mar 2008, Joe Landman wrote:

> When I started looking at postdoc (eek ... that long ago?) positions, it was 
> not uncommon to see theoretical physics PhDs earning ~16-19k/year US.  No 
> FICA exemptions.  For a family of 4, this put you under the poverty line.

Um, but that was (I'm guessing) a fairly long time ago.  Our grad
students make that now.  I think a minimum postdoc is more like $30K,
and I don't think that is just at high end institutions like Duke.
State institutions often have even deeper pockets.

It is off topic so I manfully resisted, but I'm glad Jim or whoever
asked this question as I don't think one could live in the US on a
salary of $1500/month unless it were completely tax free.  Post tax this
is likely no more than $1100.  Driving a car is likely to cost $200-300
a month, assuming that you already own one and don't have to make either
payments or pay excessive taxes on it.  An apartment is perhaps
$600-1000/month unless you share it (far more in certain locales), and
postdocs shouldn't "have" to share to survive.  And then food, even for
a single person, is almost certainly going to cost $10/day or more.  Add
it up and you're already spending your salary on room and board and
transportation, leaving one nothing for clothes, fees and taxes,
incidental expenses, car payments or repairs, entertainment (yes, even
postdocs need vacations and entertainment).  I made almost this as a
miserably paid postdoc back in maybe 1983, and 25 years haven't been
kind to the cost of living.

> Somehow, I am not quite convinced that the science departments offering these 
> grasped how the invisible hand of the market would decimate their supply of 
> new PhD's for these positions.  You can fight the market, or accept that 
> there is a market and deal with it.  The former is not a wise course of 
> action (though it had been standard practice when I was looking at postdocs). 
> The old Young Scientists Network had formed then to discuss some of the 
> abuses of the market and attempts to manipulate the demand/supply curves to 
> oversupply the market with talent, thus keeping the price of talent low. 
> There is a cost to every decision, and flooding the market (then) has had 
> longer term effects that are being observed today.

Honestly, I think it more likely that this posted salary is a typo of
some sort.  As I said, graduate students make that in the US, and they
ARE paid "just enough" to cover room and board with the assumption that
they are working 80 hours a week and don't need entertainment, that
they'll supplement a bit with tutoring or TA or grading work, and that
they still DO have parents or other resources they can tap to cover
things like car repairs or emergency incidentals.  I'm pretty sure
postdocs make close to twice this much almost anywhere in the US.

I'd predict negative responses to this offer.  In fact, this discussion
IS a negative response to the offer.  It's all the more crazy given that
anybody capable of running the cluster could work as a sysadmin for an
absolute MINIMUM of $35-40K/year, and that as a glorified gofer working
in University IT somewhere -- real sysadmins with even a year or two of
experience and anything like skill certification would add $5-15K to
that.  Pretty much at LEAST twice as much, that is.

The only possible exceptions I can think of would be a position at a
tiny place out in the middle of the wilds in a community that is so
small and depressed that the cost of living is half that in the US.  But
either way, the market being what it is, you get what you pay for.  In
this case, you pay for nothing, and nothing is what they're likely to

> Back to your regularly scheduled cluster ...

I'm not sure this is truly irrelevant.  Non-technical, sure, but the
economics of clusters is a wholistic endeavor; one of the most often
omitted factors in the discussion of cluster cost-benefit is the human
cost of running it.  At $18K canadian (which is currently within a
percent or so exchange value with the USD) this is a low-water mark for
the estimated cost of a human to run a cluster, actually CHEAPER than a
graduate student who would have to make this plus (somewhere, even as a
bookkeeping entry ) the cost of tuition.  This is order of magnitude of
$100/node/year for cluster sizes of 50-200 nodes for management, down
there with the cost of power and a maintenance contract, an even better
deal of the postdoc ever did any real "research" on the side. I'd be
very interested in whether or not they fill the position at this price.

> Joe (a free-market capitalist)

   rgb (ditto, but remember Adam Smith's invisible hand WILL just "work")

Robert G. Brown                            Phone(cell): 1-919-280-8443
Duke University Physics Dept, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Web: http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb
Book of Lilith Website: http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/Lilith/Lilith.php
Lulu Bookstore: http://stores.lulu.com/store.php?fAcctID=877977

More information about the Beowulf mailing list