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Jun 22

Something Deeply Wrong With Chemistry

by mitch | Categories: opinion | (401228 Views)

An example of what is currently wrong with chemistry culture, even though it is dated.

Future chemistry faculty will have to be twice as smart, work with twice the efficiency, and reach the correct positions of influence if they want this type of unhealthy cultural attitudes to finally be put to rest. This is my goal at least.

Update 1: Guido Koch now.

Update 2: The underlying macroeconomic cause for why professors can get away with this behavior.

Update 3: This story has really struck a cord, thank you for sharing this link and supplying our first 20,000 visitor day!

Update 4: A transcribed letter from Robert Tjian

From now on, I or someone designated by me will take attendance at group meetings starting at 9:10 am. If you are not there, I will not sign your salary sheets. Also, if you haven’t noticed the number of people working on weekends and nights in the lab is the worst I’ve seen in my 17 years. The frequency of vacation, time taken off and other non-lab activities is bordering on the ridiculous. In case you forgot, the standard amount of time you are supposed to take is 2 weeks a year total, including Christmas. If there isn’t a substantial improvement in the next few months, I’ll have to think of some draconian measures to “motivate” you. I also want to say that the average lab citizenship and community spirit of keeping the lab in functioning order is at an all-time low. Few people seem to care about fixing broken equipment and making sure things in the lab run smoothly. If the lab were extremely productive and everyone was totally focused on their work, I might understand the slovenliness but productivity is abysmal and if we continue along this path we will surely reach mediocrity in no time.

Finally, those of you who are “lame ducks” because you have a job and are thinking of your own nibs, so long as you are here you are still full-fledged members of this lab, which means participating in all aspects of the lab (i.e. group meetings, Asilomar, postdoc seminars, etc.)

I realize that this memo won’t solve all the problems. so I am going to schedule a meeting with each one of you starting this Saturday and Sunday and continuing on weekends until I’ve had a chance to speak with everyone and to give you a formal evaluation. Sign up for an appointment time on the sheet outside my door.

This is the first time I’ve had to actually write a memo of this type and I hope
it’s the last time.

Robert Tjian

Update 5: Erick Carreira responds in an interview with Christopher Shea from The Boston Globe, vaguely claims the letter may have been a joke (link: Chemist who ordered night and weekend work replies to critics). Selected quote below:

I wonder whether you would think it fair to be judged on the basis of a letter 14 years old, especially when the comments and rash judgments are made without knowledge of the context or the circumstances surrounding the individuals involved. Indeed how does anyone out who is so quick to pass judgement and who is coming to conclusions know that it is not part of a 14-year old joke (or satire as you state) that backfired? …

Update 6: Comparatively tame letters from Paul Gassman and Albert Meyers, but they have some good information in them about standard expectations.

If you have similar letters you would like to share send them in. Any identifying information can be removed upon request.

Mitch

180 comments

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  1. JD

    I don’t think this is surprising to anyone that has been in academics. I got this same message from my advisor in grad school. Although it wasn’t quite so formal as this.

    1. edgar

      Yep, is the same in many countries around the world. I don’t think this is a bad thing, taking into account that we make more money than the average citizen, we work long hours doing things we enjoy, we travel a lot and take time off as often as we need. Get publishable stuff soon and set a pipeline of papers and your advisor will be happy, even if you are at the beach.

      1. David

        Is this sarcasm? Because the things you’re saying just aren’t true. Grad students make considerably less money than the average (working) citizen, and postdocs usually make average at best. And the whole point of this letter is that it’s _not_ always acceptable to “take time off as often as we need.” And despite those things, the workload is way above average. While someone may enjoy their field as a whole, “doing things we enjoy” is often incompatible with “sitting in the lab 14 hours a day”…

        1. Andrei

          No kidding. A few years back, when I was a grad student at Scripps, James Watson (as in Watson and Crick) gave a talk there. Anyway, gotta love the guy, he flat out said that science PhD students are serfs. People just smiled uncomfortably. But hey, it’s true!

          Calculate the hourly pay rate of a grad student working 70-80 hours a week. Teenagers get better pay for flipping burgers. What’s more, they can tell the asshole manager to fuck off if they feel like it. They don’t have careers and degrees they’ve invested many years into riding on that “relationship”.

          1. DSM

            For those who have no idea what salary levels are – the current Chemistry graduate student salary at a NY State university is around $24K per year. (and if you have to TA because your boss is low on money, your income doesn’t change but you lose out on 20 hours a week which should be spent in the lab). When I started in 2000, the salary was $18,000. It has improved, but given that the expectations are 60-80 hours a week minimum – you do the math. Of course, consideration has to be given to the cost of living in the area. 24K a year on Long Island or around SF gets you next to nothing. However – the idea that you get paid to get your degree is nice – we do not end up with the massive school loans that MDs do.

            Postdoc salaries are highly variable – the worst I heard was an offer for $28K a year at a major university in Texas (2006). NIH has adopted a minimal salary level of about $37K for anyone on an NIH fellowship, and some professors do follow that standard of their free will. At the upper extreme are a few competitive postdoc fellowships that pay close to $100K (many national labs offer these). Postdoc pay in industry – I have no idea.

            As a postdoc, you also have to consider benefits, if there are any. No such thing as vacation time, sick leave, etc – it is all up to your boss. And health insurance? At most universities, if you are paid through your adviser’s grant, you are considered an employee and get coverage. The second you get your own funding via a fellowship (which all advisers want you to do of course, and it is good for your career), you kiss that health insurance goodbye, as well as any other benefits you had through the university. Some fellowship are now offering basic coverage – I was lucky in that regard – but not all.

            You have to be passionate about what you are doing or you are not going to put up with this.

          2. Haystack

            I went to Cornell for Sociology. It was about 15k/year, and my advisor expected 100 hours of work per week. The faculty didn’t seem to care about the subject nearly as much as their personal prestige and the number of publications on their CVs, which made it difficult to muster the enthusiasm necessary to spend every waking moment studying.

          3. Chemjobber

            Postdoc pay and benefits in industry, IME, range from the paltry (with companies that are in the game for cheap labor) to quite generous. Basically, the larger the company, the better the pay and benefits, just like for any other staff position.

      2. Luis

        What you’re saying is total horseshit.

    2. Max

      Well, slavery was not surprising and very common before, but it doesn’t mean that slavery is justified because it was common. We can’t accept exploitation like this just because it is the “norm”.

      We need to fight against this evil norm , evil Caltech and this evil Erick Carreira.

    3. proteus

      this will always be the case when a thousand people are waiting to step into your position, be it academic or professional (try working for lucasfilm!)

      1. William

        I have friends who work for Lucasfilm, and except for movie crunch times, they lead pretty reasonable lives. I haven’t asked much, but from what little I know, I gather Lucasfilm is savvy enough to not want to burn out their people. To maximize productivity, people have to love their jobs, and letters like this are not the kind of thing that creates love.

  2. Verpa

    Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? “I own you, and you’re easily replaceable.”

    My own advisor wasn’t like that, but I knew others who were. When I worked at a start-up I did get a similar lecture once from my boss though. I gave notice the next day. Later found out I was the third person he had driven from that job in a year.

  3. Jeremy

    Early in grad school, I was told that the experience (including any potential “postdocing”) isn’t just educational, it’s a lifestyle.

    Though it’s pretty harsh, I’m really not surprised by this letter. I heard that Corey has his lab assistant move your personal belongings into the hall then has the school change the locks to your office…no letter necessary.

    1. Kevin

      Yep, E.J. Does this…

  4. Kevin

    It is interesting how Universities are allowed to violate the laws governing work hours. Literally, professors are increasingly holding slaves. I find this trend disturbing and violations of 40 hour working week laws should be punished. Many states only allow salaried employees to work 50 hours, but post docs are expected to work more in clear and blatant violation of the laws of the United States and state law. Post-docs are forced to violate laws or not receive a reference letter….basically a “black ball” in science. I hope to see universities called out on this matter….law suites filled…slavery is slavery. Violations of law are violations of law. Universities need to be held accountable for these violations…professors fired!

    1. Andrei

      Basically, they just call it “education” and circumvent all the labor laws. Brilliant, really. What a great way to run a sweatshop.

      Also, the “beauty” of the tenure system is that institutions are able to shun responsibility for any abuse that goes on behind lab doors, while still sharing in the profits. There are no official rules for work hours, professors have free rein. It’s like “Oh, so your PI is a slave driver, calling you on Saturday mornings to ask why you’re still not in the lab? Hmm… We’re sorry, but he’s got tenure and we can’t do anything about it“. And of course, they really aren’t all that sorry. After all, this is how the system works.

      Bottom line, a department/school with a bunch of Dr. Nice Guys for PIs and 40-hour working weeks is going to be less productive. It’s going to get its ass kicked in the competition for prestige, funding and, ironically, students and postdocs as well.

      I’d like this medieval mess to be fixed within the next 100 years. I’m not filing any lawsuits (at least not yet), but I am calling it out:

      http://rezaghadiri.net/

  5. Kevin

    Another trend in graduate schools that I find disturbing is that 80 percent of graduate students in United States schools are not citizens of the US. Payed graduate position funded by government dollars supporting the education of students that are leaving the United States and going back to their home country….to compete against citizens of the United States. Why are American schools educating foreign students with US tax dollars? This process is not sustainable….all the educated graduate students are leaving the US….this has been happening for 10 years now and the problem is getting worse! We need to educate our citizens in our schools….that is what they are for!

    1. Juilio

      At the same time, trough this practice, the USA is taking the best and brightest of other countries for its own benefit. Many are internationals, true, and many of them will end up staying in the USA contributing to USA science and economy.

      1. all PhD up

        More like they’ll work for less and be more compliant, saving the company money which removes it from the economy. More free market lies as excuses for destroying the middle class.

    2. Carlos

      I believe your question can be easily answered by the answer to the question, “why most US citizens don’t want to pursue graduate programs in science?”. I’m a foreigner that found disturbing the amount of other foreigners studying graduate programs here in the US in comparison to US citizens, so I agree with your first point of view. However, at least half of those foreigners pay way more than the US citizens. This is really a complex problem that deals with laws and even the US life style.

    3. Jose

      “Why are American schools educating foreign students with US tax dollars?”

      Because American people is too lazy to do the same amount of work foreign students do. That’s why.

      Look at the people that has made great things for America, from Tesla and Einstein to Linus, Wozniak and Sergey Brin, and you will a significant part of them are immigrants.

      Some people think attracting the best people from around the world and create wealth inside is good for a country, better than having them directly compete with them.

      1. Jose

        Wozniak is from an immigrant family, born in USA.

      2. David

        Remember America – The whole continent – is largely made up of immigrants, whether they came last year or last century.

      3. Kevin

        Grouping “American people” into the “too lazy” category is tantamount to any form of discriminatory practice that associates a behavior to a whole set of people.

        Foreign people in the USA don’t not like being discriminated against for their origins any more we folks from the United states.

        I, and all of my colleagues work 50+ hours a week in the lab with enthusiasm. Why? because we are furthering scientific research – not just our careers. We are Americans as much as we are scientists, we all come from immigrant families as close as our grandparents and as far back as our grandparent great grandparents.

        1. Marvin

          The pay in graduate school is so low and the expected years as a postdoc made me abandon my PhD. as not an economic proposition. Americans are not too lazy, Americans have other options that in the long term make more money than education.
          I got my master’s degree 25 years ago and when my job ended due to end of contracts I tried to go back too school. The job prospects for any PhD have significantly declined, further more PhD’s are being minted than ever before. For most Americans the pay when one finally does finish the long hours and the many years of postdocing does not make reasonable compensation for the effort. In fact I would NEVER recover the money lost to schools during my PhD compared to the money I could make as a call center representative.
          With too many PhD.s for the market to bear the truly economic thing to do is END ALL GOVERNMENT GRANTS FOR RESEARCH. at least until the supply and demand comes into line.

      4. all PhD up

        No its because the corporations that own the laws want cheap labor so they demand more visas from their bought and paid for government. There is NO shortage of science students, there’s a shortage of JOBS.

      5. Josh

        It’s not just a matter of laziness. It’s a matter of differing cultures. In China, you work like a slave to get ahead. In America, that’s not really how it works.

      6. Heinrich D. Bag

        Nice Engrish Hosay.

    4. Richard

      I think Kevin is badly mistaken. A very high proportion of non-US graduate students in the US attempt to stay on in the US after they graduate. This is possibly the best way for the US to gain highly skilled immigrants which help the US maintain its lead in science and engineering. All the educated students are indeed not leaving the US. They are going to Google, for example. The US gets many of the very best students who graduated from excellent universities in Europe, India, China, Australia at no cost to the US tax payer, then spend the rest of their well-paid, highly productive careers in the US.

      1. Bruce

        So despite the Dept. of Homeland Security’s attitude toward foreigners, students still try to come here to study? I bet they don’t stay afterward, though. All the stories I read about H1B and student visas from countries like India and China is that the migrants are returning to their home countries for work.

        Talk about a brain drain.

        1. Akash

          I did my MS in the US and headed back to India after I found the H1B process too difficult and asinine to navigate. Running around for a job with an artifiicial deadline to find one by, the whole thing was demeaning and incredibly frustrating. In contrast, at the time, I found several firms in India willing to give me a chance.

    5. sony

      as a matter of fact academic research wouldn’t be possible without foreign students or post-docs. Look into a regular lab and you will probably find more foreigners (mainly Asians and Europeans) doing the job that Americans don’t want to do because tuitions are are high and the post-doc salary is not worth mentioning. Many of those foreigners earned their PhD degree in their home country and work in the US for cheap labor and the US government hasn’t spent a penny on them. So if you want Americans doing the job, you should write NIH a letter suggesting to increase our salary to 100K, so it becomes more attractive for american students.

    6. Mike

      US universities are using foreign grad students because there are so few domestic students going for PhDs in these fields. This wasn’t a problem when we would keep the grads here, but after 911, that has gotten harder.

      This is a major problem that is undermining our competative advantage in research

    7. Ethan

      We are not educating foreigners with US dollars. The money has to come from another source, not federal funds.

    8. andras

      The answer is easy: no sane American would endure this crap. And grad students are needed to do the work in the lab, and to teach the undergrads in the teaching labs.
      When I went to FAU in 2003, I got 16 grants a year as a teaching assistant, and I had to pay my own insurance mandated by the school (which did not cover anything -hence the increasing debt on my credit cards), and tuition fees. How many Americans do you think we had in the program? I only went, because I didn’t know better; I was told it was plenty of money, and I believed it. (Moron, I know.) Maybe some people from India and China knew, but didn’t mind (five of my Indian friends lived in a 2 bedroom apartment, and mostly ate rice… and they complained, too.) But one thing’s certain: 16 grants for years is not enough to live on. I still have my credit cards to pay back -because, you know, as a non-American, I was not able to get a student loan.
      Not to mention the fact that American science was always depending on foreigners – starting from the nuclear power to the space race and beyond.
      So don’t be daft saying nationalistic crap like that. If all foreign-born scientist left the country, it would be a sorry place indeed.

    9. sally

      Where in the world do you get these figures? What schools? Certainly none I know of. And nowhere do I know of tax dollars being “given” to anyone- US citizen or otherwise. Any US funding used to support students is earned, via hard work and grant-writing skills.

      1. Marvin

        If being a beggar a skill for a high salary then no none will produce anything and the whole system collapses.

  6. bla

    still talking about that 14 year old piece of paper? I thought everything had been said already, discussed in all its length. the famous carreira letter, well who does not know it.

    1. Andrew

      This is the first I’ve seen of it. If you’ve already experienced life to the full then maybe you should just die and let the rest of us carry on?

  7. Dr. smalls

    I have seen this on the webs now and again, since 1996 (_wink_), and it never ceases to make me smile. The current academic culture needs to change (much like many corporate cultures!) but their size, tradition and momentum dictate that change will come slowly and incrementally.

    A PhD these days is not a ticket to a good career, young people must know that before entering into a long period of abuse followed by a much longer period of anxiety (poor job market for science these days, you know).

  8. Jack

    @bla Even though it has been 14 years since this letter was written, as a current graduate student in Chemistry I know firsthand that this attitude is still held by some advisors. Perhaps the discussion is ongoing because not enough has changed?

  9. Andy

    I’m not familiar with the prospects for someone with a doctorate in chemistry, but as a software developer and former research assistant, it’s hard for me not to see that request as a bluff that’s specifically designed to take advantage of the naivety of someone who hasn’t worked outside the academic world.

    As a software developer, I’m familiar with an environment that is results-oriented, and where plenty of hours in a week get spent to achieve results when important deadlines loom. But I do this for good pay and/or a stake in the success of the project, and by “a stake in the success of the project” I don’t mean just the possibility of some largely-imaginary kudos that only other people in my field will recognize (if that’s an end in itself for you, then that’s great, but don’t convince yourself that it means something that it doesn’t).

  10. John MacIntyre

    “An example of what is currently wrong with chemistry culture.”

    Not to be a downer, but do you really think, the word ‘currently’ should be used in that sentence when the letter is from 1996?

    Otherwise a compelling blog post.

    1. mitch

      Yes, it still remains a current problem.

      1. J-bone

        I agree, still relevant.

        Bla, this is the first time I’ve seen that letter. Serious wakeup call for me, I’m VERY lucky my postdoc advisor isn’t like that.

        Couple questions I do have (and maybe someone has already answered these in a previous discussion):
        1) What exactly constitutes “evenings and weekends”? If you work ’til 8 is that alright, or do you go home for dinner and then come back and work ’til midnight? Do you do full days on the weekends or are you allowed half days? This letter being from Caltech, I have a feeling I know the answer.

        2) Shouldn’t some of the blame fall on the postdoc? If you apply to an institution of that caliber shouldn’t you come in with the expectation of at least working that much? If you don’t want to then go somewhere else, right? I can’t imagine Carriera didn’t let him know at the interview what was expected. I’m willing to bet that passive/aggressive (or just plain aggressive) remarks were made to this postdoc as well from other members of the group or Carriera himself prior to the drafting of this letter.

        1. Marvin

          What is meant by evenings and weekends is you (being a recent grad student) only need to be in 8 instead of 14 hours!

  11. ahole

    My reply: FUCK YOU ASSHOLE.

    1. Chemjobber

      The punchline to one of my favorite jokes.

  12. anomalous

    Globalizierung Macht Frei.

    (sigh)

  13. Chemjobber

    From Carreira’s ETH page:

    “After carrying out postdoctoral work with Peter Dervan at the California Institute of Technology through late 1992, he joined the faculty at the same institution as an assistant professor of chemistry and subsequently was promoted to the rank of associate professor of chemistry in the Spring of 1996, and full professor in Spring 1997.”

    From the date of this letter, you cannot put this on Prof. Carreira being under tenure stress. On the contrary, one imagines that he would have been even less stressed than average.

    1. stkq

      Is post-doc to full professor in 5 years normal? Anywhere?

      1. Chemjobber

        No, it is evidence of both a remarkable work ethic and being able to do really impressive science.

        1. TCCG

          like Phil Baran~

  14. Benjamin

    The most interesting point: _every_ scientific investment of effective work loads proofs the author of the letter totally wrong.

    Pioneered by the debatable old Mr. Ford, every repetition of his surveys, across _all_ fields come to the same conclusion: work more than 40hours (35hours in case of “brainworks”), make bad decision and get inferior results.

    But maybe at a certain position one can spread whatever shit is in one head.
    Luckily some people write it down as a warning to others :D

  15. Michael

    The way universities circumvent the labor laws is that doctoral and post-doctoral positions are classified as “education” rather than “employment”. Even at prestigious universities such as Harvard, the school uses this loophole to avoid payment of benefits and employment taxes, leaving graduate students to pay the full burden themselves (or face the consequences). Health care is of course required even for students, at least in some places, but minimal “student grade” plans are provided at the students’ expense. Great care is taken never to treat the grad/postdoctoral staff as a legal employee, because that would require compliance with tax and work-environment implications they wish to avoid.

    Sadly, this kind of hazing remains a cultural “badge of honor” among many older faculty, and it will I think be very difficult to uproot.

  16. IdahoEv

    While I was in grad school at ‘tech I had a friend who worked for Carreira. He showed up to grad school with two lifelong loves: chemistry, and music.

    In six months music was dead to him; the four hours per week plus two per month he needed to rehearse and perform with an ensemble were entirely incompatible with his required work schedule. During his five-year incarceration he lost the only other thing he really cared about, and I suspect he never got back to it.

    I’m frankly never impressed by this sort of thing. It certainly doesn’t improve the quality of the science, and proves nothing other than the personality quirks of the PI.

    1. jon

      I was also at Tech at this time. Carreira was cool when he was a post doc with Dervan and then became a total ass when he became faculty. He seemed to compete with Andy Myers as to who could drive their students harder.

      It should be pointed out that Careira was organic synthesis. This sub-field is notorious for this hard-driving attitude. EJ Corey was the godfather of this type of Sh*t.

      At the time of this letter (summer). The Bercaw group (Inorganic Synthesis) and Grubbs group (Polymer synthesis) were probably on their joint camping trip having a ball. Not all professors have this crazy (short-sighted) attitude toward work. Oh, and Grubbs won the Nobel Prize. So having abit of down time seems to have a precedence.

      1. HCN

        I’m from a completely different Division at Caltech, and when I saw this letter I said, “Must be an organic synthesis group.” And from what I have heard, Andy Myers doesn’t need competition. He once chewed out a student for taking a few hours on a Saturday to get new glasses. So he could see.

      2. MS chemist

        I had a friend who worked for Dervan. He would give the same project to at least 3 incoming grad students. The one who completed it first, got a Ph.D. The other two left with nothing. My friend left for a different school.

  17. Della Stevens

    Kevin said:
    “It is interesting how Universities are allowed to violate the laws governing work hours… Universities need to be held accountable for these violations…professors fired!”

    From the ad 800′s onward, Universities have never been held accountable. Ergo religious inquisitions of the past and the totalitarian thought with potentially career crushing mandates of today. Only small businesses, individual citizens and competing thought are held to skeptic account. This is by design – we never hold our institutions accountable, we still regard them as holy. This is why I am debating taking my $300,000 college dollars for my kid and investing it for her rather than spend it on college, so that she can be a millionaire by age 35 – whereas college will only take the money and hand it unaccountably to the pseudo-intellectual ‘elite’and enslave her to people of this poor ethic.

    I do productivity management. This is not productivity, it is greed and lack of accountability.

  18. Verpa

    Just because it seems to be driving a bit of traffic:

    Reddit comment thread:
    http://www.reddit.com/r/chemistry/comments/chzp2/something_deeply_wrong_with_chemistry_culture/

    and HackerNews thread (loads of comments, ill informed they may be):
    http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1455037

  19. William Penrose

    For years before I retired, I believed that anyone who’d go into academic chemistry as a career had to have rocks in their head. Work 80 hour weeks for seven years simply for a long shot at a scarce academic appointment? Once there, chase the funding bunny for three years in the hope of tenure? No goal is worth that, and it’s no surprise if some survivors are warped by it. The rewards in industry are greater, and (as I found) the challenges are just as intriguing.

    Screw academia.

    Dangerous Bill

  20. Chemjobber

    A quantitative look at Dr. Koch’s career:

    According to a SciFinder search, Dr. Koch has published in the literature (patent and journal) 36 times. 4 papers were published during his time with Andreas Pfaltz (1994-1997), 1 paper was published with Carreira (2000) and the remaining 31 papers and patents were published during his time at Novartis (2001-present). That’s basically a paper a year with Pfaltz, less than 1 paper/year with Carreira and then more than 3 publications/year afterward.

    These numbers suggest to me that there was something about Dr. Koch’s time in Pasadena that was unusual. Clearly, Carreira picked up on it as well.

    1. mitch

      Sometimes a person’s success is also a function of their mentor in addition to whatever life issues are occurring synchronously.

      1. Chemjobber

        I couldn’t agree more.

    2. jon

      Maybe the stress and overwork of his time in Pasadena led to his lower output. You take his high output as evidence of more work in other periods. I take his high output in those times as smarter work, which might have been enabled by his time away from the lab. Just because you are not IN lab doesn’t mean you are not thinking about your project.

      1. Chemjobber

        jon, you impute much more than I said. I said that there was something “unusual”, which could have involved any number of issues.

        If you’re speculating (with much more knowledge, I suspect), I’ll speculate too: I note that his work with Pfaltz and Novartis were both in Switzerland, while his time with Carreira was in southern California. Doubtless, there are any number of related external issues that could explain a relative drop in output.

        1. mitch

          Too sunny.

      2. Priya

        @Jon – I totally agree!!

        I am a grad student myself, and when I work 14hour days, I know my brain stops working! I did 10-12 hour days for a month, and my productivity and capacity to think dropped down drastically!!!

        An unhappy post-doc = zero productivity!!!

        This is a job where you have to keep your brain sharp. Research isnt a place where you do the same thing everyday. if your brain doesnt function, you wont be able to get any work done. And if you work 12hours everyday, then your brain is certainly not going to function right!!!

    3. AnotherPhD

      Or, perhaps, Carreira was the cause of it…

  21. David Gracejoy

    All Americans are immigrants.

    1. Bruce

      Sure, if you’re going back to the times of the Bering land bridge. By that criterion, all East Asians are immigrants too.

      Otherwise, I think there are a few million Native Americans who will vigorously dispute your statement.

      1. void

        “Sure, if you’re going back to the times of the Bering land bridge. By that criterion, all East Asians are immigrants too.”

        why shouldn’t he?

  22. azmanam

    The case for the postdoc union?

    http://www.chemistry-blog.com/2009/07/23/postdoc-unions-good-idea-or-not/

  23. Earl Butz

    I don’t think it’s too hard for incoming grad students, even as clueless as some are, to figure out which PIs are “slave drivers.”

    The solution is simple yet un-workable (because we have to work together). (1) Don’t join groups of professors who refuse to let you have an outside life. (2) Shun those who do join.

  24. LK

    As an incoming 1st year graduate student – should I just quit now? Or are there exceptions to this?

    1. J-bone

      That would be a rash decision to make based on one PI’s nasty letter to a postdoc. I can tell you that not all PI’s are like this, in fact none of the PI’s at my school were (although I didn’t go to as high tier a school as CalTech either).

      Stick with it, and if it seems like things are going badly you can leave with a Master’s, those guys seem to be having better luck getting jobs than Ph.Ds anyways.

    2. Chemjobber

      This sort of letter is basically the exception, not the rule. Of course, Carreira and Caltech are near the top of the food chain, so if you’re heading into a high-end place like that, this attitude will be more common, but by no means the rule.

      1. E.D.

        I would say that this is the rule if you are in science or engineering at a top 25 school.

        My adviser had a big list of expectations and eventually put together a 30-slide PP presentation she gave every fall. Expected hours were about 8-7 on weekdays, eight hours on Saturday, and at least showing up on Sunday. Preferably, you were there eight hours on Sunday. Plus reading 2-3 papers per day on your own time. Oh, grading was to be done at home and office hours were not to be held in the group student office. The list went on and on.

        As I tell prospective grad students, grad school isn’t about the course work or even the research. It’s about tenacity, long hours, and your ability to take a truckload of crap from someone who will have total control over your life.

        1. Shoshie

          Not where I’m at. It’s highly dependent on field and advisor. Just pick your group carefully. Find an advisor who performs well, but ask the students (not the advisor) when people come in and leave. In my lab, people put in ~10 hour days. Some come in on weekends, some don’t. Everyone shows up on weekends occasionally, but most don’t do it regularly. I’m in a high-ranking (though not Caltech caliber) inorganic program. Now the organic folks down the hall work CONSTANTLY.

  25. Ted Thed

    Reminds me of a professor at UCLA’s Molecular Biology Institute who said, “I don’t know why students think I’m a hard-ass. I don’t tell them when to work, they can work ANY 80 hours a week they want to.”

  26. Andrei

    Yeah, that’s a classic. I’ve started a blog to expose, analyze and discuss these types of issues, check it out:

    http://rezaghadiri.net/

    This post is particularly relevant: Is your PI a dick or a loser?

    Prof. M. Reza Ghadiri (bioorganic chem, Scripps, California) is my former PI. I quit grad school in my 6th year of PhD, taking a pass on further career in science. I’m naming names and spilling all the beans.

    1. Craig

      Andrei. Chill. You chose to join his lab, and you probably did so partly because of his reputation. I don’t think anyone leaves grad school without a trace of bitterness, but you are swimming in it. Despite all the brilliant students that were my peers I was always surprised how many didn’t figure out the two most important problems to solve in grad school: Pick the right PI. Pick a realistic project.

      1. Andrei

        Craig. Relax. It’s OK. :) Your internet telepathy senses have deceived you this time, I’m not bitter at all. Zero percent, if you can buy that. I knew what I was getting into, I was never sure I was going to stay till the end or get a science job afterwards, I never worked 80 hours a week, and I left when I wanted. Like Einstein said, science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it. I’m happy I had my time to play around with chemicals and microbes, and I’m happy I can play around with other things now.

        But if anyone here wants to know how I feel, I do get a little annoyed by people getting stuck on the emotional aspect, pigeonholing me, trying to read between the lines, jumping to conclusions, projecting their feelings onto me, or whatever the deal is. It’s totally OK to assume whatever you want about me, my agenda or my emotions. As long as you can abstract from all that and move on to address the premises and the logic of the argument itself. Because these are the only things that have any bearing on its validity and the truth/falsity of its conclusions. I could be angry, happy, good, evil, insane or from another planet. So what, who cares? It would be nice to stay on topic and have a sensible discussion. We can always talk all about our feelings later. Just kidding, I’ll probably pass. ))

        I might try switching my argumentative style to a less aggressive and “ranty” one to see if that works better. Or not, because it could get really boring, even to myself. I’m not joking though, and I am always interested in any real counter-arguments anyone might have. But it’s fine either way. No worries. Peace!

      2. Shoshie

        THIS. Especially pick the right PI. The right PI will know when to kill a project that’s not working. The right PI will listen to you when your instinct tells you that it’s going nowhere, fast.

  27. Rob Knop

    I was a graduate student at Caltech from 1990-1996. I was in Physics, not Chemistry, and I worked in astrophysics with Tom Soifer.

    Grad school was at times very depressing, and I did work a lot, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as this. I still played in an orchestra the entire time was there (except for the semester when I had a broken wrist). About every year and a half I was in a play. (I did stage direction for a musical revue, and I played Brutus in “Julius Caesar”.) My advisor wasn’t completely thrilled about everything else I did, I suspect, but he never criticized me for it. (I didn’t do plays constantly; they did take too much time and energy.)

    Most of the time I was probably working more than 40 hours a week, and certainly in my last year I easily topped 50 almost every week, but I didn’t really keep track of it. (What’s more, when you spend a couple of hours one afternoon sitting around kibbitzing with other grad students about random things, you shouldn’t count that as “work” — so counting up the hours is tough.) And, yes, I went through a couple of periods of questioning the meaning of my life, given that the grad student lifestyle (even though I *did* have a life) is a very tough one. But I was not at all a slave or an indentured servant.

    Likewise, when I was a post-doc at LBNL in Berkeley, there were some weeks where I worked 80 hours. (I was with the Supernova Cosmology project, and if it was the week of a supernova search, I lived and breathed my job.) But most regular weeks were far closer to 40-50 hours a week. I remained active in a local community theater, and had time to meet and marry my wife.

    Chemistry may be more killer cutthroat than astrophysics. Professors like this, though, who make demands like this, are a stain upon humanity. It doesn’t have to be like that, and it isn’t always.

  28. Michael

    “as a matter of fact academic research wouldn’t be possible without foreign students or post-docs.”

    Sony, the term you are looking for is not “possible”, it is “dirt cheap”. Perhaps they are the same thing these days, how I weary of cheap crap that does not last with our race to the bottom.

    Graduate students are often little more than indentured servants.

  29. Andrei

    Where’d my comment go? Anyway, this:

    http://rezaghadiri.net/is-your-pi-dick-or-loser/

  30. Andrei

    See RezaGhadiri.Net — and the Is your PI a dick or a loser? post in particular.

  31. Chris Knight

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNFMPhKIZXg

  32. Kevin

    Mitch:

    What is currently wrong with the chemistry culture is the misuse of NIH, NSF, EPSCoR, etc. grant money to fund a PI’s personal pursuits of fame and fortune – a lottery ticket if you will.

    Q: Why not write about those who have squandered tax-payer money on personal business pursuits?

    A: You will be hard pressed to find such documentation. The University system is rife with corruption to the extent that an audit would not yield prosecutable proof or misconduct.

    Some PI’s in the USA, possible in any country, enslave Post-Docs and graduate students and then embroil them in their culture of corruption.

    1. mitch

      I have heard of some cases of misuse of funds, but I can never get anyone on the record or anyone to supply any documents to make a story from it. Some are very subtle, like buying Gold for research and then misplacing it. Others are just blatant misappropriation of funds. The gray-area abuse is using grant money to stay at fancy hotels for conferences and other luxury services. Is a professor who spends 10 grand on a new work computer with 5 monitors misappropriating funds if he also will do some minor computer modelling work on it too? Tricky stuff, and hard to find evidence in any case.

      1. Kevin

        Good call. I see this with PI’s who have NIH UO1 and R21 grants that sequester the indirect cost when returned by the University and then pool them and buy equipment for their personal start-up business. Also, the use of their post-docs at both the start-up and at the University though they employee is only funded by the University grant. Subtle indeed…

        1. Shamu

          I am a 2nd year grad student in molecular biology at a tier one school in the US. As 1st years, we were required to do 4 rotations with prospective mentors before we could join a lab. As a married grad student, one of the first things I said to a possible mentor was some variant of “I have no intention of sacrificing my marriage on the altar of science for a PhD. If you require evenings/weekends/50+ hour work weeks, we should stop our discussion now.” I interviewed ~10 mentors, rotated with 4 and chose 1. Of those 10 interviewed, 4 made it clear that “we work hard and play hard in this lab,” and a couple even thanked me for being honest. I have no regrets about the lab I joined, but I worry about the naive student who doesn’t know how to set boundaries and when to push back.

          The notion of grad student/postdoc = slave is a topic for another time. One I happen to agree with and am disgusted by, but another time nonetheless.

  33. Andrei

    That letter is a classic. I started a blog to expose, analyze and discuss these types of issues. Check it out:

    http://rezaghadiri.net

    The Is your PI a dick or a loser? post is particularly relevant.

    Prof. M. Reza Ghadiri (bioorganic chemistry, Scripps, California) is my former PI, I quit grad school in my 6th year of PhD, opting out of a further career in science. I’m spilling all the beans.

  34. Scott

    It was posted in my lab:

    “If you’re not here on Saturday,
    Don’t even bother coming in on Sunday.”

    1. Steve

      Replace Saturday with Friday and Sunday with Monday and you have a great line from ‘The Simpsons’

      Mr Burns ‘If you don’t come in Friday, don’t bother coming in Monday’
      Homer: ‘Woohoo, four-day weekend!’

  35. Verpa

    While we’re on the subject, the stories of grad students driven to suicide always disturbed me a bit more than just knowing a professor could be a ass. Because frankly some people with power will always be an ass with in, no matter how much you reform the system.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/21/us/after-suicide-harvard-alters-policies-on-graduate-students.html

    The odd thing about these stories, ‘Andrei’ ‘s rants, and all the other things people are sharing in the comments, is that if you took them to a current science prof, by and large, they’d dismiss them as anecdotes. “We’re scientists and anecdotes are worthless!”

    Sergey Brin turned the quote on its head in Wired this month saying “The plural of ‘anecdote’ is ‘data’ “.

    1. mitch

      I was under the impression that Harvard had removed all reforms that resulted from the suicide.

      1. Verpa

        No doubt. The joys of being a easily replaceable widget to some people. Once the furor from the NYT article dies down, a quick cost / benefit analysis to the university shows it’s cheaper not to worry about it.

    2. Andrei

      People being asses is not even the problem though. People having way too much control over other people’s lives is. Among other things. Humans are wired to be drawn to stories, but one can safely forget all the anecdotes, and just look at the academic system in principle. And as for people to take this to, economists are a great choice. As long as you take the time to explain what a lab is. )

      1. Verpa

        Your boss having too much power over your life is pretty much an issue in any semi-important job. I think it’s pretty much part of the human condition and not something that can be solved at the Chemistry community level.

        How do you think profs have too much control: recommendation letters, if you get published, etc…

        And I’m not quite sure I buy the ‘I’m not bitter’ comment above … you put a lot of work into your site.

        1. Andrei

          Yeah, you know, a delayed payoff — in 5-7 years (the degree), instead of adequate as-you-go compensation ($$$), the relative difficulty/impossibility of changing labs/schools without being set back or having to start over. Stuff like that.

          Are you calling me a liar? Is me being bitter the only explanation for http://rezaghadiri.net/ you can wrap your head around? How much work did you think it was, anyway? What makes you think your website building/writing skills are comparable to mine, or that it was I who built the website? (By the way, don’t hate me because my blog is more popular than yours, lol.) But OK, suit yourself, think what you like. And, I suppose, ::Banned for language. All future comments will be sent to the spam filter:: for expressing doubt about things I myself say about my own self. Have a nice life.

          1. Verpa

            lol. Why so serious? We’re all friends here.

  36. Simon

    Some of my friend who is doing undergrad. research go to lab everyday including Sat & Sun.

  37. Paul

    Wrong with the US, or academia surely? The chemists at my work do the same hours as the rest of us (37.5 per week with bank holidays and 26 paid holidays per year).

  38. Dana

    Has anyone tried to work themselves through college? Because this is the reality of what life is like for those who have to go through school and support yourself. When you aren’t studying you are working- there is no such thing as free time.

  39. Joe

    Come and do a PhD in Britain – fees may be high but you won’t get thrashed like you lot do in America!

    1. OrganicOverdose

      Or you could do your PhD in Australia and complain on how you have to work 9-5 and sometimes stay back once a month. :D can’t believe this is such a massive problem. I always thought that if the Chemists (particularly organic) went on strike then noone would really notice for a couple of years and by that time all the positions would be filled by willing students low economic countries. So how would you fix the problem?

      Is there really any fix for the blatantly low pay chemists get for doing what is really quite a dangerous job. If you got a plumber to work with azides or organo-mercury compounds that could kill you by touching your skin you would expect to be paying a fairly hefty bill. I think that is more of the issue here anyway, lab safety combined with overworked, overstressed and undersupervised young chemists working with highly dangerous chemicals and sacrificing a family life and healthy kids for the sake of a piece of paper and the furtherment of someone elses career on which ultimately you are really a footnote.

      1. TCCG

        Being a grad student in Australia is generally fun and laid back, but still challenging. I have two big fumehoods to myself and nobody cares what sort of odd chemistry practice I’ll do.

        I know one Postdoc here, in fact he works next door from my lab, who gets paid really well without much work to do. He arrives at 11am, finishes at 5pm, scratch his balls while writing reviews and visit France for a month every year and get another month of sick leave.

        1. OrganicOverdose

          hahahahaha I want that job.

          The only problem with Chemistry in Australia is there isn’t enough work for PhDs especially in QLD. We need solid employment opportunities with a pay rate that reflects the level of danger in chemistry. If you are exposed to acetone fumes every day of your life I am sure you are going to get cancer it’s just a matter of whether you get cancer before you get lead or tin poisoning from someone who is a little bit careless in the lab.

          In summary, the lack of public knowledge on the level of danger in a science lab is keeping our wages low. I wonder how many more poor young scientists will have to be sacrificed before we are looked after financially? Furthermore, if we are to have a family how can we afford to look after them (especially if our children are mutated by the DCM or pyridine or benzene or whatever else we have been exposed to) should something related to our job affect our lives?

          1. TCCG

            I don’t think that would make any big difference. My lecturer back in New Zealand, who is a total synthesis group supervisor, gets maternity leave every year, in fact for five years in a row. Her babies all seem really fine and healthy!

            She is a super workaholic, really smart and very very nice lady :)

          2. TCCG

            I heard chemistry groups in Melbourne doing many hardcore interesting projects. Rizzacassa is one of them ;) I came across some of his method in natural product synthesis during group meeting and I am impressed.

  40. david

    just know that its so bad that not only can they get away with this but if someone offered me a lab job under even worse conditions I would take it so fast. its really depressing seeing so many scientists not working in there fields (me included of course).

  41. Fred X. Quimby

    “Christ, what an asshole!”

  42. GoldenBear

    Bob Tjian at Berkeley wrote a similar letter to a lab member around the same time period. Shot around the biology world (by fax, primarily) and got a good laugh out of a lot of people. Tij is head of HHMI now, I have no idea where the guy he wrote the letter about is these days.

  43. Shimrod

    As a bio grad I fall into this same category – sadly getting into whale and dolphin research/ training after many years interning, slaving, volunteering and spending hard earned cash on qualifications only to be told “I can stroll out there and get anyone to do your job”
    By not just one asshole boss but three! I worked 12 hour days, cleaning,feeding and prepping among other things with one day off a week.
    I left two of these jobs of my own volition and eventually left the field. The pay sucked royally also.
    I no longer volunteer as you just get abused – free slave labour and I feel for those poor suckers who spend thousands at Uni studies and will end up scrubbing feces from enclosures for 12$ hr
    I’m now in tech – I work 5 hours a day and make in a day what it took me a week to do.
    I would still rather be helping the planet though.

  44. engineer

    Truly brilliant people need variety in their day to day life to come up with revolutionary ideas – just running with the pack of wolves is unlikely to truly distinguish you, no matter how hard you run.

    The philosophy here is that break throughs are due to luck, and more hours increases your chances. If you are thinking like this you have already “lost” any real chance of making a true contribution.

  45. Mike

    Academic research seeks out and encourages obsessives. When you meet the people who are on academic career arcs one thing you will notice is that their research is their life. It’s what they are and what they do. For a grad student or a pre-tenure faculty member the research is expected to trump all other considerations, including family. If you do not have the personality to make that committment, then you are going to hate academic research and you will probably fail at it. There is no force of law or contract that says you must work 80 hour weeks, but no one will think you are serious about the job if you don’t and you won’t keep the job as a result.

    Your faculty advisor doesn’t feel they are being unreasonable asking the hours they do because they can’t imagine doing anything else.

  46. Matthew Vosti

    Best thing I ever did was leave grad school after the first year (wasted year). That extra year of job experience is part of the reason I make 85 grand a year, doing a job I love, AND working for myself on my own schedule…30 hours a week.

    So glad I woke up and smelled reality.

  47. Matt

    I am a chemistry professor at a not-so-illustrious institution. People at my level of play don’t make big bucks, don’t (generally) take ourselves that seriously, and don’t believe in burning people out. I think this 80+ hr/week work schedule is very counter-productive.

    I ask my students to work 40-50 hrs/week, and they are more productive than any two individuals who work grueling hours – largely because they are well-rested and relatively happy. I will ask my students to save some energy for a sprint before a grant deadline or conference. That generally means an 80 hr week, but I watch my students for signs of fatigue. If they are fatigued, they represent a safety liability and are likely to just screw things up.

    I get about 5 papers per year from two grad students and some undergrads. Most 10-person groups are lucky to get that. The key thing I ask for my students to do each day is to ‘move the ball forward’. I would have to say that 9 out of 10 days in the lab result in a move forward in research for us. I think being a bit more relaxed and staying focused is a lot better than a shotgun approach to projects. Heck – it even saves money in reagents.

    Sometimes working in a smaller lab where the PI has the ability to pick good projects, place people, and publish regularly is a much better education than working in a sociopathic factory group. I think that, as graduate students seek a higher quality of life, this may become a more favorable choice.

    Think about it this way: If a graduate student represents 25-50% of the PI’s workforce, he or she has better leverage in attaining a better quality of life. The key is to pick a PI who is on the upswing and runs a small group rather than on the downswing. Graduate school doesn’t have to be as punishing as the short-sighted tyrants want to make it. I’ve never understood this behavior, but it is somewhat pervasive. If PIs can’t keep chemistry fun, then why should anyone go to grad school in chemistry? I think a few of us (actually, maybe the majority of us) are at least trying to keep it fun rather than grinding souls into dust. Let’s hope there’s something like Karma, eh?

  48. David A. Boyles

    For myself I loved the lab and was taught to love it by teachers who loved it. Organic synthesis is labor and time intensive and the time put in reflects one’s passion for the working with the physical world. I hasten to add, however, that I would be kidding myself and everyone else were I to mislead people into thinking that passion is a hallmark of serious chemistry students alone. I have known many a concert performing artist in violin, keyboard, etc who loves their instrument and was no less passionate.

  49. Dave

    Hi Folks:

    This got passed to me by a colleague, and I thought I might add my thoughts. They are, in no particular order, as follows:

    (1) I know Eric and can imagine he sets a pretty high bar. One must, however, keep in mind that although he was a tenured professor, he was still quite young at the time he penned this letter. Young professors are driven–whether out of ambition, youthful enthusiasm, or tendencies to miss the shades of grey–they are all pretty jacked up. I personally worked for an assistant professor as an undergrad and as a grad student and found the experiences remarkable in the most positive way. Working for young professors has its highs and lows, but I highly support it (and have publicly stated this to every entering class of our students since the dawn of time.)

    (2) Cal Tech is a truly wonderful environment to learn chemistry. There was (and still is) plenty of choice. If I had a do-over, it would be in my top three choices.

    (3) When picking an advisor, you have to ask the key questions and listen to the answers. As an advisor, I have essentially no insight into the personality of a prospective graduate student. The prospective graduate student, by contrast, has ample data on me, how I run my group, and what I really expect. The choice is largely in the hands of the students.

    (4) With that said, the system does leave an awful lot up to the individual whims of the advisors. I don’t see a good alternative. There are people I would never in a million years work for. The good news is that nobody makes me work for them.

    (5) Take a look at other professions such as medicine and law. Those early years of training are a period of enormous demand. Why the medical community insists on 26 hr shifts is beyond me, but they do. Young lawyers often bust their chops. The new workers do a lot of heavy lifting. And, most importantly, it is a paid education. The comparison of graduate school to a job is way off the mark. Including tuition, the average student is arguably paid >$60K per year.

    (6) Synthesis has a reputation for being particularly demanding. I guess the argument is that finishing a synthesis must be akin to taking Omaha Beach, but it is not clear why this is unique to synthesis.

    (7) I tell my students what I expect of them but then refuse to beat it out of them. Sometimes they achieve greatness and other times they squander opportunity altogether.

    (8) I happen to have also served as some form of coach in five sports, including two at the collegiate level. Show me a championship team, and I will show you coach who demanded enormous commitment of the players. Am I letting my students down by telling them what I expect and then letting them achieve less? I suspect the answer is yes in some cases. My management style is what I want; seems selfish in that context. Would I be more prominent if I leaned in on my students? Seems likely to me. Would I be happier? Probably not. I like what I do and how I do it.

    (9) I did a detailed analysis of how our students performed in graduate school and compared it to their admissions stats. The admission stats are all well known. Analysis of performance is subjective but carried out as follows: I gave each of my colleagues a decade’s list of students (1995-2005) and asked them to rank them 1 (best) to 10 ((weakest). I asked them to imagine they were all outside their door waiting to join the group: What order would you take them into your group given what you now know about them. I ended up with kids listed according to decile. I then compared the performance in graduate school with gender, GREs, and GPA. Curiously, there as absolutely no correlation whatsoever. It was what noise across the decile. I think on a national scale there would be a correlation, but not within the slice that we take. The uplifting conclusion is that the students arrive and somehow, they spread out into a bell curve of performance irrespective of their backgrounds. I think performance in graduate school is a choice. Some chose to really make something special (possibly by choosing the correct advisor for their personal needs), and some chose to just put in their time. (The bottom deciles probably had taken the wrong fork in the road when they went to graduate school.) I believe you guys control your destinies.

    I guess I should stop there. It’s late and I have papers and proposals to write!

    Best regards
    Dave

    David B. Collum
    Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology
    Cornell University

    1. Dave

      “white noise” not “what noise”

  50. N

    As a student, Georgia Tech & MIT are pretty similar.

    I don’t want to go into too many details but this is true of most scientific institutions. There is a lot demanded of scientists these days and everyone is grasping for funding. Our funding comes from a number of sources and my impression is that to fulfill the requirements that come with the funding, it usually means deviating from your main research (at least a little). There is a lot of work making what you’re doing relevant to General Motors or Hasbro or Glaxo or whoever your funding may be coming from.

    Science also kind of breeds the type of person who logically knows that the work can be done and that you can work on nights and weekends but who fails to factor in a human element. Even if one professor understands it – it is competition fair and simple, and to stay on top, I think the profs get antsy about the amount of work they’re putting out.

  51. J-bone

    Well, this has blown up into quite the issue, hasn’t it? I think it’s good to have dialogue about it, but I don’t think sending hate mail to Carreira is the right way to handle it. Such is the consequence of the digital age I suppose, people can be as immature and stupid as they want behind the veil of anonymity the internet provides.

    I commented earlier on the Carreira letter so I won’t re-hash that, but I do agree with him that context is important to really fully assess who was at fault (probably both of them).

    Tijan’s letter might bother me if I hadn’t been involved in exactly that situation. My grad research group became inhabited by some individuals with toxic personalities and it dragged down lab morale, which then brought productivity down. My PI complained often about it, but didn’t take any action, and I wish he would have.

    Gassman’s letter is totally reasonable in my opinion. The tone is a bit pompous, with the “You better work hard if you want a good rec from me” attitude, but there’s a good amount of truth to what he wrote and at least people know it from the beginning rather than having it sprung on them after working for him for a couple years. 60 hours is really not a terribly long week, especially for an organic chemist. Those 60 hours also encompass reading journals and TA’ing, so it’s not even as demanding as it might sound.

  52. Dick Richards

    At least these professors clearly send out explicitly their expectations. I had an advisor that did not until we could not easily switch groups. Descent guy to asshole in one day after we were formally placed in his group by the chemistry department. My lab partner was working 100+ hrs a week, every week for the last three years. The once smiling student has turned into a zombie slave unable to do anything about it except wear knee pads everyday to the professors office. PhD = Permanent head Damage or Professional hole Digger.

  53. Chemjobber

    A blog at the Chronicle of Higher Education has linked here: http://chronicle.com/blogPost/Bad-Chemistry/25130/

    In the comments, a completely awesome celebration of the US work ethic :

    It is called U.S. academia. I too lived the evenings and weekends life of a graduate student, and from there moved to a tenure track appointment at a fine public university. As an assistant professor, guess what? I worked evenings and weekends to develop a research program and achieve promotion and tenure. That was followed by an offer to be a department chair where, you guessed it, I worked weekends and evenings. Following that I accepted a position as dean at an excellent public university, and you know the rest, I worked weekends and evenings (plus state and national holidays). The U.S. university system may be the only remaining sector where our country holds global primacy. Is there a high personal cost? Yes. Is it stresssful and competitive? Yes. Do some very talented people get lost in the shuffle? Yes. But that is our system, it produces the finest research in biological and physical sciences in the world and it isn’t going to change. You want to join a law firm and try for partnership…get used to weekends and evenings. You want to be a successful small business person….get used to weekends and evenings. You want to be a successful farmer…get used to weekends and evenings. It isn’t “slavery” if people know the expectations in advance and make an informed choice. Stuff the hyperbole about slavery and livestock in graduate science education. If you want a graduate program with tea and sympathy try art history, where you will be spared the prospect of a job working weekends and evenings. In fact, spared the prospect of any job at all.

    CJ here again. Say it with me, folks: USA! USA! USA!

  54. Dave

    I am as upset about the initial letter from Carreira as the next person. But the letters from Albert Meyers are nowhere near that level. In fact I think they are quite reasonable. I think it removes credibility from the criticism of Carreira’s (admittedly insane) letter to lump Albert Meyer’s letter in with it. Not every letter criticizing students or telling them that they are not meeting expectations is bad. Only those with unfair criticisms or crazy expectations are bad. For instance, Carreira expects students to work nearly every night and weekend, which is crazy. Meyers expects work on nights and weekends when “the position occasionally demands it”, which is perfectly fine.

    1. mitch

      I agree, the wording of the update has been changed.

  55. Larry

    I sent the Gassman and Meyers letter in to Mitch. I think that they both detail reasonable expectations in the lab. When I worked for Gassman as a postdoc, I knew what was expected. He was firm, but fair; when I was there he had already made his reputation, in fact I was told that he had mellowed somewhat. But, he always expected hard work from you, with minimal intervention from him, especially as a postdoc. Nothing wrong with that. As part of the deal, he backed you up when it was time to find a job. In my lab there was a grad student who I knew wouldn’t make it..came in late, had coffee, went around socializing all day…she was gone by the second year.

    Gassman really cared about doing things right, we had to write quarterly reports (by hand, this was before everyone had a computer) and he would hand correct all the spelling and grammatical mistakes we all made, including the proper way to write up experimental details. I doubt that is done by any PI today

    1. T.T.

      Expecting people to work 60 hours every week should never be considered reasonable. An occasional 60-hour week is one thing, but that’s not what Gassman’s letter talks about.

      1. Chemjobber

        A 60 hour week is 5 12 hour days. That’s awfully long, but it’s not outlandish. I guess it depends on the content of the day — 12 hours a day of standing at your hood, running columns and reactions and striving for 5? Yeah, that’s hard. But it’s doable.

        An 80 hour week – now that’s insane.

  56. Andrew

    What irks me about the response to this letter is that people’s main criticism of Carriera is forcing students to work nights and weekends, as if grad students don’t do that already. Having graduated just last year, I can tell you at least that most professors are very up front with incoming students about the time commitment required of them. It always shocked me to talk to 2nd year students who’d say, “Wow, I never realized I’d be working until midnight regularly.” That’s how it goes! Yes, it’s hellish from time to time, and yes some advisors can be jerks, but for many of us who got through it, it was a rewarding experience that we wouldn’t trade for anything. You get out of it what you put into it.

    I am annoyed at Carriera for implying that this letter was a joke. Many students who worked with him in the early years received letters like this, and the mean-spiritedness of “you are easily replaceable” is unacceptable and unprofessional. Perhaps he has changed in the last 14 years, although I hope for his students’ sake that change is more than “no longer putting incriminating comments in writing.”

    And thank you, Prof. Collum, for taking the time to comment on this page and providing a reasonable perspective from the professors’ side of the equation.

  57. Dave

    BTW-There are two Dave’s posting here. I only posted once.

    D. Collum

  58. CSP

    In Texas certain universities pay $25,000 for a post doc (in chemistry). Sometimes, I feel like being a post doc is worse than being a slave..

  59. Sophia

    Why doesn’t anyone mention that you could be sitting in a lab doing rubbish work for hours and producing nothing at all?
    Why is it that long hours is assumed to mean more productivity?

    I had a fellow Ph.D. who was leaving the lab around midnight every day, coming in on weekends. I did the same occasionally, but not routinely. Guess what? He got his Ph.D. three years after me (and more than other members of the team).
    His long hours did not correspond to increased productivity, but because he appeared to be working so hard no one ever doubted he was doing a great job- maybe not even his advisor.

    1. Earl Butz

      Amen to that.

      IMO – many academic-people dote on hours so heavily as a way of dealing with the fact that so many projects just don’t work out. (i.e. – I’m not producing anything, but at least I’m “working,” really really hard so it’s OK)

      On the other side of the debate, there was the Late Old Master of Organic Chemistry, H.C. Brown. One of his credos was “Time is Your Own” He didn’t blast you for the hours you put in the lab but for whether or not you accomplished what he wanted you to accomplish.

      The cynical way of looking at this would be that he would just expect an amount of work out of you that couldn’t possibly get done in under 80 hr/week. But personally, I still think it’s better than the current model.

  60. J.chem2010

    I’m in my second summer of undergraduate research and even though I’m an undergrad I feel extremely obligated to be there for at least 9 hours every day but most of the time more. I find myself in the lab working 4-5 hours most weekend days as well. I feel like I’m becoming a crazy person who doesn’t know how to have fun. I love research and time flies when I’m in the lab, but I can’t even take a 4 day vacation without receiving flak. My mentor asked me this friday if I was going work 30 hours over the weekend to make up for it even after I worked 12 hour days the previous week so as not to “get behind”. I said, probably not but i’ll try. I don’t know if I’m just inexperienced, but when I stretch myself so thin, my productivity suffers. I’m trying to decide whether or not I can live this life for 5 more years especially if I can’t even have any fun this summer without feeling guilty.

    1. Verpa

      Just FYI, it doesn’t have to be that way … there are plenty of good researchers out there who accept a reasonable work-life balance ( say 50 h/weeks ).

    2. Chemjobber

      Maybe I’m wrong, but this seems a little excessive to expect out of a summer student.

    3. Earl Butz

      wow, that is a *really* extreme way of treating an undergrad summer student. Out of curiosity – what field of chemistry are you working in?

  61. anon for this one

    Well, in the last two years of my PhD I worked about 30 hours a week with 60 hours presence time in my lab. It’s about the same for my postdoc actually. I feel very guilty about it all the time because there are others in the lab who work more and the prof never comes into the lab so he can’t see me.

    But the thing is, my field lets me get away with it. I work a lot at the beginning until I get results that I know I can publish. And I’m really good at it. Once I know I got something publish and I’m told to write it up, it takes me a day to write a rough draft of a paper that will be in JACS or similar level. I’m also really good at synthesis so I often don’t have to repeat stuff, never break or spill things, and don’t choose crazy routes that I know won’t work but that are hyped by the PI to the poor grad student guinea pigs. Often I just take NMRs all day while drinking coffee and when I see something that I know is good, I know that I can take the rest of the day off. I get one high profile pub a year but I am pretty lazy. Maybe if I wasn’t lazy I’d get more high profile pubs, but I feel like taking it easy and going to the beach or to a cafe to read a book (not chemistry) pretty often. Maybe I’d work more if I had a significant other, as the realization that I’m wasting my life alone seems to drag me down a lot during the workday, but I’m not sure about that. I just get a really good paper once in a while (in a timeframe where my field thinks I’m awesome but not ridiculously so), and I’m a really good speaker so my boss and people who listen to me at conferences think I’m awesome.

    I hope no one ever finds out, otherwise I’d be so screwed… Not even Dave Collum who I’ve met at a conference and who is pretty easygoing… 30 hours a week… I don’t know anyone with my publishing record who can get away with saying that, but I’m sure there must be others who are also scared to admit it in public.

    1. mitch

      I’m also a hyper efficient worker. But I take that ‘extra’ time to do literature searching or to read more chemistry books. I don’t want to miss something at the bench because I wasn’t ready.

      1. anon for this one

        I’m getting disappointed in literature. Lately I’ve found that most papers just make me angry if I read them fully and not just look at the abstract and figures, and maybe the intro and conclusion, as the extra effort was a waste of time. There is a lot of useless filler in full papers that could go into the SI. The waning and waxing on the merits of your crystal structure and how it’s 0.05 angstroms shorter than another literature example, then giving some bogus reason suggesting that this reflects greater pi-acidity of the metal (for example, which has nothing to do with the rest of the paper and is never mentioned again), just makes me curse the authors in the privacy of my office. It’s better to read reviews… really. There are some good exceptions; especially from certain groups that I admire. Searching is still useful to see if you got scooped or not.

        With books I’m going through my yearly phase where I don’t give a shit about it anymore, to be honest. There are too many demands on my time and chemical books have gone from being up there, to below fictional literature. If I miss something at the bench I don’t give a shit, because I’ve got four projects going and one of them is going to give me publishable results for sure, just got to pick the right one to focus one when the boss gets paper cravings. I’ll read some of it when I’m writing up the next paper. I need to spend more time on online dating sites actually, and take some time off research. Also get a better tan. I only go to the beach once a week…

        1. Verpa

          Have to agree with frustration, when I had lit access, to minor bond distances being turned into major ‘meanings’.

    2. all PhD up

      It really is all about perception management. PIs are like children that way, some of them. Make it easy for them to believe what they wish to be true, and you’re halfway home.

  62. Chemjobber

    This is the funniest response I’ve seen to the letter. OMG so funny.

    http://hardass-6owwz.posterous.com/listen-up-you-whiny-bitches

    1. mitch

      Copy/pasted for posterity.

      Found in the wastebasket of Prof. Hardass Slavedriver, sometime in 2004, and saved for posterity

      Attention: ALL THE WHINERS IN MY LAB

      I’m sick of your fucking complaining. Labor laws, my ass. Union? Give me a fucking break. You’re here in my lab for one reason: you wanted to play in the big leagues and you fucking *chose* to come here. I didn’t get down on bended knee for you. I didn’t ask you to come. YOU wrote me a letter about how passionate you were about organic chemistry, how much you loved my research, and how excited you’d be to join my group at Big Swinging Dick University. After that written equivalent of a sloppy hand job, you got your supervisor to write letter to me and then even call me up late one Friday evening in my office, a.k.a. Fort DeepInTheShit. I was there, of course. I’m always there. “I get 10 good postdoctoral applications a week”, I told him. What’s special about your guy? “Oh, he works 40 hours a week, plays violin in a string quartet and he has a fantastic collection of Eastern European stamps from the 1890-1930 period. But you should see how efficient he is in the lab!”
      Do you think I said, “How exciting! As a philatelist myself, maybe he can help me fill in some of the gaps in my Bismarcks. I can’t wait to spend leisurely Saturday afternoons drinking sherry and comparing our collections!”
      FUCK NO. He said, “This motherfucker is passionate about chemistry and he is 100% balls-in. He knows every named reaction forwards and backwards, he runs 3 reactions a day, and once recrystallized 3 mg of his key intermediate after his undergrad accidentally threw it into the waste solvent cannister. He is a superstar in the chemistry department here at Pudknocker U but his talent is wasted here. He deserves a chance to play with the big boys”. To which I said, “That is the kind of guy I want in my lab. I am sold.”

      I’m not fucking with you: I will put you through hell. But it is a good kind of hell. [Of course if I actually wrote that in a letter, some snot-nosed whiny fuck would probably scan it and email it to his friends and they will complain about what a bastard I am.] Why? Because at Big Swinging Dick U, we don’t give a shit about doing the same crap that other people are doing. If you want to do pudknocker chemistry, there’s plenty of places for that. What we’re doing at BSDU has to be special. It has to be amazing. It has to the the kind of chemistry that people read and then jizz in their pants, they’re so excited about it. That’s right: we only do jizz-worthy chemistry. And over the past year, not to be immodest, our chemistry has caused a fair amount of jizz to fly around the organic chemistry world. People are jizzing enough that I’ve been invited to give talks at the Hyperphallus Institute, Massive Balls of Steel University, and numerous other smaller places, including Pudknocker. That’s why you wrote me, isn’t it? Deep down, you thought, “I want to do chemistry that makes people jizz”. Well, you’re come to the right place. But it comes at a price.

      You think you can get as much done in 40 hours as a synthetic organic chemist versus someone who works 80? Bullshit. Don’t believe me? I’ll reassign my graduate student Suk Deep Lee to your molecule. He’s going to work on an alternative route. Don’t talk to me until you’ve made the molecule. Let’s see who makes the most progress, shall we?

      Exactly. You’ll fall in line like everyone else.

      I will put you through hell because jizzworthy chemistry does not come from sitting around drinking coffee and singing in the choral society. It takes FAILURE FAILURE FAILURE FAILURE, and then, maybe, if you keep failing, eventual success. Organic chemistry is all about trial and error, creating luck. That, and a lot of fucking columns. I will push you to the limits of your capabilities, and then some. You will hate it at first. But over time, you will adjust. You will be forged into a hardened lethal weapon of organic chemistry effectiveness. You will become a chemistry navy seal. There will be nothing you can’t do. You will surprise yourself with what you can accomplish. You will push through barriers you’ve been struggling with your entire life and finally achieve your full potential. That whiny voice you have in the back of your mind that says “I can’t do it!”? You are going to stomp on its face with steel-spiked boots. Plus, you’re going to be surrounded by other ninjas of chemistry. These will be your brothers in the trenches, and there will always be a bond between you, through the rest of your career. You will be doing jizzworthy chemistry: your old friends from Pudknocker will see your papers and say, “awesome work dude”. You will tell your buddies how the other day at BSDU you were in the washroom and saw [Nobel laureate] walk right out of the crapper and he didn’t even flush the toilet. Gross! Then you will get emails from random strangers asking “And by the way, does Prof. Hardass Slavedriver have any openings for a postdoc?”

      Exactly. As much as people might be afraid of me, I’m in demand. People want to work for me. Oh, they complain. But I give them something that is scarce: the opportunity to achieve greatness. Greatness is all I care about. Commitment to Excellence. Deep down, you want to be great too, don’t you? To play in the majors. To be taken seriously. To be in the brotherhood. To be on a winning team. To be the best you can be at something you are passionate about.

      Don’t want to make the sacrifices? Well, there’s always Pudknocker U.

      Behind my back, my students bitch about how I am a slavedriver. All I have to say is: Suck it up you fucking princesses. Nobody works harder than me. You think your life is fucking stressful? I’m 3 years into my position and we’re just at the point where we’re getting out key results. EVERYTHING is riding on what happens in my lab over the next two years. That includes your fucking careers, bitches. In 2 years I have to apply for tenure and an NIH grant which will decide the future of my life. I do not sleep. I do not take days off. I do not have time for my family. I do not have time for kids. I have eight people in my lab right now whose future completely depends on me, and I will be adding more in the fall. You think you are under pressure? You have no fucking clue what pressure is. Do you have any idea what the success rate on NIH and NSF grants are? You don’t want to know. But you want to take weekends off, work 9 to 5, participate in extracurriculars, while I’m working my ass off, and you’re living off MY precious startup funds? What do you think [EJ/KC/Kishi] would have said to me if I told them I was going to do that during MY Ph.D? They would have torn me a new asshole! My head would have been ripped off and the senior postdocs would circle-jerk on my exposed brain stem. Metaphorically, of course.

      Do you think I’m a slavedriver because I want to be? Are you really that cynical? I’m a slavedriver because I HAVE to be. All things being equal, I would prefer to be nice to my students. I would like to tell them to work at a time of their leisure and take weekends, and give them a big pink stuffed animal every time they run a column on 20 g of starting material that takes them six hours. All things being equal, I would love to take weekends myself. I would love to call up KC Nicolaou and say,

      ME: “Gee KC, I know you’re also working on Jackoffamycin, but I was thinking… maybe we could agree to cut back the pace a bit. You know, take it easy, let our grad students and postdocs spend more time on extracurriculars. Plus, I would like to take July off and visit the vineyards of southern France.
      KC: Oh my! You’re so right! There is too much competition in our field. Our students and postdocs do suffer so. Starting today, I’ll make 40 hour weeks mandatory, and I’ll make sure the lab is locked on weekends so they aren’t tempted to break the rule. Thank you, young man, for showing me the error of my ways!
      ME: You’re a great guy KC.
      KC: You took the words out of my mouth

      Three months later KC’s synthesis of Jackoffamycin comes out in JACS and it has eight postdocs on it.

      ME: KC! What about our deal?
      KC: HAHAHAHAHAHAH BY ZEUS’ ASS

      My friends, the fact is that people are out to eat our lunch. If we want to avoid this fate we will work our goddamn asses off to ensure that this does not happen. That means that you give me your best effort and your complete devotion. I will keep your balls in a jar in my office. At the end of your military service here, if you work your ass off and do well, we will have a synthesis. I will salute you, return your balls – which have hardened into solid brass – and give you a firm handshake. You will have become a forceful, deadly unstoppable chemistry ninja whom pharmaceutical companies salivate over, and you will have my Letter. You can take my Letter to any of the companies I consult for and get a six-figure job with them. THEN you can do your 9 to 5, no weekends thing. You’ll have a stimulating pharma job, a wife, a family, and great job security in an industry that is only going to grow once the insights from the Human Genome Project start making their mark. What a bright future the pharmaceutical industry has! You’ll go far, young man.

      Meanwhile your old friends who did their Ph.D’s at Pudknocker are finishing up their 7-year Ph.Ds in fields that maybe 20 people in the world give a shit about. Good thing you’re not like them.

      That’s the bargain. Take it or leave it.

      Yours Truly

      Prof. Hardass Slavedriver
      Assistant Profesor, Big Swinging Dick University

      1. dr.oaks

        The letter implies the phalocenticity and arrogance that is academic chemistry very very well.

        But I call the bluff, as I worked for and failed out of a hardasses lab and well … his job placement was ABYSMAL. It’s all well and good if dues get you somewhere in life, preferably BEFORE you turn 30! Hell, preferably BEFORE you die of cancer.

        Maybe … just MAYBE people get Ph.D.s because it’s a damn job and in this economy. It’s a lot more job security than most of my peers have even though it involves constant moving, long ass hours and isolation.

        That alone makes me sad.

  63. Earl Butz

    Somebody should tell “Kyle F” to get back to work

    1. Chemjobber

      Ohhhhhhhhh, no you di’int!!!

    2. Earl Butz

      It was pretty funny though – extra laffs for calling out people on their BS statements of purpose.

  64. Machoman

    Hi!
    why is nobody saying who is nice and who is a slave driver. That would help a lot of prospective PhD students of Postdocs to make a better decision. Nobody has to say his/her real name but he could instead say: I worked for Prof. XYZ as a postdoc. If you want to get my opinion, write me an email.

    @Mitch: would you be able to open a thread like this? It´s supposed to help people making their decision not defame PIs.

    1. mitch

      We should take it to the next level and make a rate my PhD advisor website.

      1. J-bone

        It would take a New York minute for this type of thing to become libelous, but there IS value to it, which makes it all the more unfortunate. If people could temper their responses that’d be the best, but good luck getting the internet peanut gallery to behave.

    2. all PhD up

      This is quite possibly the greatest idea since foil backed TLC plates. MAKE IT SO.

  65. RB Woodweird

    S. A. Scoggin’s take on all this and other graduate school shenanigans:

    http://www.amazon.com/Novel-Efficient-Synthesis-Cadaverine/dp/1448627176

  66. Steve

    There are many competitive industries that require long work days: law firms, investment banks, consulting groups, etc. Unfortunately, graduate school in the sciences is just as competitive today, especially organic chemistry, and if you’re good, like Carreira is, you have to get your students to work hard. Most people I work with know this and, at the very least, see it as a means to an end (hopefully a good one!). Moreover, a number of my colleagues really enjoy their research, and don’t mind dedicating their lives to it.

  67. Melissa

    I wish I had this when I started grad school, then maybe I wouldn’t have been put on a project that didn’t work for the last 3 grad students. It left a bad taste in my mouth and I eventually left.

  68. Grad student

    I think an anonymous rate-my-phd-supervisor would be a great move! I had an abusive supervisor and this type of site would help keep PIs in check.

  69. DS

    Alternatively, as we train more and more highly qualified scientists from China/India, more and more will go back and start increasingly competitive labs in their respective countries. Ultimately this is good for their countries, but not so great for our careers. We are funding and training their future.

  70. Gareth Price

    While I dislike intensely the tone and most of the content of the letters, the Gassman letter does make a good point about efficiency. You can get a lot more done in the time if you are focused and clear about what you are doing each day – especially with your experiments – and you don’t waste too much time eating donuts and surfing the web for pleasure.

  71. DrMick

    Too many PhD/post-doc chemists, organic chemists in particular, have tunnel vision for the careers open to them which makes them ripe for the picking by dickhead academics. Best career move I ever made was getting out of university labs. There is a big world out there. And they don’t treat you like that.

  72. aria

    The moment I will get this letter,, I will start looking for another position,, once I get that,,, I wil lgo to his office and say,,, kiss my ass,,, and I hope the next postdoc u will bring will fuk u day in and out,,

  73. Don Corleone

    For those of us who stayed (I am from China and got my Ph.D in Chemistry in the late 80′s from Columbia), we make good contribution to this great country. However, I have two kids. I would NOT want them anywhere near chemistry, or other natural sciences for that matter. Sure, student loans for medical students are heavy. But have you ever heard off any laid-off physicians? In my fields, there are lots of unemployed chemists.

  74. another1

    could not agree you more!

  75. Paul

    In fairness to Carreira and other “slavedrivers”, part of the reason why they drive postdocs so hard is so the postdocs have enough good, high-impact papers to get the job of their choice. If your postdocs do well, it reflects on you as a mentor as well. My supe was rather slack in comparison, but as a PhD student I worked regularly from 830 to 530 Mon-Fri in the chemistry lab, and often came in from 9-10 pm to run NMRs, then hopped off to the medical school to run my bioassays from midnight to 3am. I did it because I wanted to get the papers. In less than 3 years, I had five papers and submitted my PhD. And there was still enough results for 3 more papers. And I could honestly say it was all my work.

    I do agree, however, that one should not be force to work, nor forced to give up weekends, and postdocs should be entitled to 15 days paid leave.

    One quick question: How many hours is Prof. Carreira in at the lab/office? I believe (from what my friends tell me)that he practices what he preaches. I only have a bone to pick with the assholes who make their students work hard, but don’t work hard themselves.

  76. new grad student

    I am a new chemistry grad student this semester

    I’m struggling right now with the thought of 65 hour work weeks. I’ve never worked 65 hour weeks before and not sure if I will be able to handle it for years on end. 2 weeks of vacation is pretty scary, too

    I can only hope for the best

  77. kickass

    The guy is a big zero basically! He should have been fired immediately, being such an annoying asshole! Absolutely infuriating!

  78. Rahul

    I did my Ph.D. with one of the most successful scientist, and then gradually moved to ‘not known’ PI’s in 4 different places from developing to developed countries. I have always felt that I am being treated like a slave. When you move from your home country, you are an immigrant, so it will not be wrong to say you do not have any stake in the society/university/ where you moved. The so called ‘equal opportunity’ or ‘affirmative action’ letters are complete joke……you are never treated in a similar way. What I feel is that this has nothing to do with chemistry or research. Theoretically, there may be a balance between advantages and drawbacks when you work in a ‘reputed lab’. However, I have consistently published 2 papers per year irrespective of the time, place and PI, and I am sure there are many people like me. Practically, of course this depends on many factors. I think this letter publicly expose the vulnerability of many Ph.D. or Post doc’s. I am afraid, many of us will become mentor in future, and the nourishment we received during our childhood (M.S., Ph.D. or postdoc) is going to reflect in our behaviour when we begin to nourish budding scientists. This is perhaps not good, as at the end of the day we are all human being.

  79. nikstuch

    One could sense the level of frustration from this letter. It seems apparent that the PIs from the three letters are depressive and paranoiac, blaming it on their subordinates for not working long enough. At the same time they are the bigshots, which decide the future of the young researchers by either the work contract of letter of recommendation. I wonder if the so much desired faculty position attained by the few out of many researchers is worth the efforts?

  80. Dr. Jawwad Saif

    I think it depends on circumstances. Some projects really demand attention and work.

  81. NMG

    I believe that the named Professors were wrong in one (and, possibly, only one) way: they got what they deserved and then they complained about it. They failed to select (or, better, attract) people for whom the mantra ‘what is worth doing, is worth overdoing’ holds true (and then they put the outcome of their wrong choices in writing and in public). Human relationships (and “work ethic”) apart, the Professors were fundamentally right : we do science not as job, but as a hobby. Even when we are not physically at the playground called ‘lab’, our minds still linger there. There is no time- or location-dependent separation between ‘work’ and ‘play’, because ‘work’ is play. I believe that this state of mind can not be taught (or enforced) : it is something like love or creativity -closer to biochemistry than to a conscious choice. In this respect, their letters were a waste of time : even if the recipients could put-in the hours, they couldn’t put-in the love of it.

    My twocents,
    Nicholas

  82. Ben

    I was in a similarly abusive group in organic synthesis at a top tier school. My IQ didn’t break the bank, so I tried to compensate by working 80hr/week while my health and marriage suffered. I didn’t have the balls to leave, but the best thing that happened to me was getting fired in my 3rd year for lack of progress based on insane standards.

    So, after failing to get a position in virtually every other chemistry group at the university, I joined a biochemistry group and couldn’t be happier. I’m working about 60hr a week, but I take off weekends and receive plenty of positive reinforcement from my new PI. When things don’t work, he’s understanding and helps me work through the challenges.

    I’m tempted to make an “it get’s better” video for PhD students

  83. Mike Brown

    The funniest part is the fact that after all of the ridiculous hours these asinine professors demand from their serfs in the lab, people with degrees in chemistry become unemployed. Chemistry is a horrible profession with massive layoffs, completely unstable job situations most of the time, and for low pay working in mundane positions. Stay away.

  84. David

    I used to be advised by a so called, “Professor”. He had no idea what was going on in the research field. He demanded me to work 110 hours every week. I was paid $11000 every years for my TA work. It is $1.9/hour. This was in the 21st century. The best thing was that, I changed my advisor.

  85. Unemployed Organic Chemist

    Prof. Carreira lied in one sentence. He should have written “I find this very annoying and disruptive to my science”. The rest of the letter is all too real.

  86. Dan Singleton

    Oh, the memories.

    I received the Gassman and Meyer letters from Gassman in 1983. It was totally a bad idea – I was already working 80-100 hours a week despite having a family, and he passes out this letter that I felt was very insulting. I ripped it into pieces and threw it away in the trash can at the front of the lab. I hung a sign on the lab door “Arbeiten macht frei.” Gassman took it down. He and I had differing personalities, so we were not going to be close anyway, but the history did not help in later years.

    It is pointless to do this kind of thing because it is obvious to all of the good students that they are better and more productive than people who are not being fired, All of the worst students either already know they are in trouble or won’t figure it out from the letter anyway.

    Barry Trost did it right. He was just so enthusiastic for chemistry and thoughtful about everything that you wanted to come up with ideas and accomplish things for him just to make him smile.

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    [...] if I say I will not have same fate as they had, and no one should, would or could. But why? There must be something deeply wrong with the way PhD scientists are trained for doing cheap labor, and you know this shame is older [...]

  9. A typical PhD student is like the A-team so there is no plan B | Abhishek Tiwari

    [...] if I say I will not have same fate as they had, and no one should, would or could. But why? There must be something deeply wrong with the way PhD scientists are trained for doing cheap labor, and you know this shame is older [...]

  10. If you think that things have changed... think again | Giovanna Di Sauro

    [...] ChemistryBlog… or another lab near you (click here to see the full-sized letter). The original author of [...]

  11. Tardes y fines de semana « como el agua en el agua

    [...] Reflexiones sobre el penoso estado (a nivel humano) de la investigación en química, junto a otro par de cartas de similar calibre, en Chemistry Blog. [...]

  12. Gaming during Wednesday (Reinecke, 2009) « VG Researcher – Psychology

    [...] similar study, but the focus is on the time spent playing videogames during work. Companies and work-obsessive professors loathe their subordinates wasting their time doing stuff other than work, “cyber-slacking” as [...]

  13. What Vince Cable got wrong about research, what he got right, and what should be done

    [...] Not all the slavery is, of course, quite was bad as the famous chemist at Caltech who berated his slaves for not working (for his glory) seven days a week (though things not far short of this are quite [...]

  14. A typical PhD student is like the A-team so there is no plan B – Abhishek Tiwari - In the spider-web of facts, many a truth is strangled

    [...] if I say I will not have same fate as they had, and no one should, would or could. But why? There must be something deeply wrong with the way PhD scientists are trained for doing cheap labor, and you know this shame is older [...]

  15. The Merits of the PhD Degree: Is It a Waste of Time? « Books I Read

    [...] A letter from Erick Carreira, an associate professor at Caltech at the time, to a member of his research team, in which Carreira [...]

  16. Erick’s letter to Guido! « A Miscellaneous Things Blog

    [...] I thought that was a joke but evidently not! Here is a webpage discussing this letter, and here is another [...]

  17. A PhD is not worth it!

    [...] [...]

  18. Ölümüne Doktora | ozcubukcu.com

    [...] [5] http://www.chemistry-blog.com/2010/06/22/something-deeply-wrong-with-chemistry/ [...]

  19. the researcher’s life (in some labs) « blog about science

    [...] http://www.chemistry-blog.com/2010/06/22/something-deeply-wrong-with-chemistry/ Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

  20. Forensic Chemistry: Nature of The Job | Forensic Chemistry

    [...] = ''; } Forensic Science and Crime WritingTop 25 Forensics BlogsChemistry Blog25 best chemistry blogs for college studentsBASE OF ORGANIC CHEMISTRY ? KIRTI NIRALWADReactive [...]

  21. A Discussion about Graduate Student Life « chembites

    [...]  We are reminded that similar letters have been written in the chemistry community – see this post on Chemistry Blog.  Our friends over at Astrobites are conducting a survey to look at what faculty, [...]

  22. The Pope of Orgo at Harvard | ChemBark

    [...] with the infamous Guido letter, it is always interesting to hear of a professor embracing his villainy. Habemus jerkface. Share [...]

  23. A PhD in economics is the only one worth getting – Quartz

    [...] chance of a tenure-track faculty position. To find out what these PhD programs are like, read this blog post. If you are considering getting a lab science PhD, please immediately hit yourself in the face with [...]

  24. It’s Not the PhD That’s the Problem | Mike the Mad Biologist

    [...] percentage chance of a tenure-track faculty position. To find out what these PhD programs are like, read this blog post. If you are considering getting a lab science PhD, please immediately hit yourself in the face with [...]

  25. Write my letter, Feel much better

    [...] reading this article extolling the Economics PhD, which led to this horror letter from a Chemistry professor in a renowned institution to his then graduate student, which then led [...]

  26. ACRLog » Ebooks Are not Electronic Journals

    [...] As a physical science librarian I know journals are the primary form of scholarly communication in the sciences. While the particle physicists have arXiv and some of the cool-kids will tout non-traditional knowledge transfer though social media, my chemists use journals and are pretty comfortable with that. Of course, electronic journals are greatly preferred – it’s easy to print and you can grab articles off the web and file them away for the rest of your career. No photocopying or waiting – and your graduate students can practically live in the lab. [...]

  27. Why I studied Economics PhD? | mahyudin's weblog

    [...] chance of a tenure-track faculty position. To find out what these PhD programs are like, read this blog post. If you are considering getting a lab science PhD, please immediately hit yourself in the face with [...]

  28. Links | Notes on Disordered Matter

    [...] already in 2010, Mitch from the Chemistry-Blog posted the Carreira letter [...]

  29. Die schlechte Arbeitsethik deutscher Wissenschaftler › Detritus › SciLogs - Wissenschaftsblogs

    [...] sind drei Beispiele für die Einstellung einiger etablierter Wissenschaftler, und ist bei weitem keine Einzelmeinung. Bei einem der letzten Lindau Nobel Laureate-Meetings wurde dem wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchs von [...]

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