[Beowulf] a postdoc in Canada

Joe Landman landman at scalableinformatics.com
Fri Mar 28 06:37:24 PDT 2008

Robert G. Brown wrote:
> 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,

When I was in grad school, stipends (pre-tax) were 8k-10k$ US for 
teaching, and maybe a little more for research.

> and I don't think that is just at high end institutions like Duke.
> State institutions often have even deeper pockets.

Heh... not where I went :(


>> 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

... then many departments made similar typos.

The departments I was in regularly lost graduate students to other 
departments (medical physics was the big draw in the late 80s early 
90s), and many quit simply due to the ridiculous economics of the 
situation.  Work your behind off for 5-10 years to finish up a Ph.D., 
then go slave away for another (several!) postdocs trying to fatten up 
your CV, so you have a fighting chance at a job which may become 
"permanent" shortly after your 35th birthday or so...  and the students 
you teach will be making more than you within months of graduating ...

When you say this out loud, and in sequence, you start to realize that 
you really must want to pursue this and sacrifice economically.  You do 
a mental CBA and start asking yourself "why am I here" ? and "is it 
really worth it?"  For some it is.  For others, well, ...

> 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.

These days, postdocs (at least in CS/EE) get reasonable compensation. 
Don't know about physics these days.

> 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

I agree.  Slave/indentured servant wages make no sense in a competitive 
market for talent, unless the group offering these wages *wants* to fail 
  to attract staff.

> 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

heh  ...

> either way, the market being what it is, you get what you pay for.  In

Yup.  One customer wants Ph.D. level people with 20+ years of experience 
for the same as they pay their help desk people.  Go figure.

> this case, you pay for nothing, and nothing is what they're likely to
> get.

See above.  Like bad RFP T&C, it is not a good idea to take a bad deal.

>> 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

... when I speak with University types, this and support are often 
completely ignored.  Often to the significant detriment of the system.

FWIW:  when I drove through Ontario yesterday (Buffalo to Detroit), the 
USD = 0.96 CDN  (that and the Tim Horton's coffee isn't that bad ... if 
you want bad, try McD's).

Joseph Landman, Ph.D
Founder and CEO
Scalable Informatics LLC,
email: landman at scalableinformatics.com
web  : http://www.scalableinformatics.com
phone: +1 734 786 8423
fax  : +1 866 888 3112
cell : +1 734 612 4615

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