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I think we're getting into some interesting discussions about the state of postdocs, so far regarding pay and health insurance. One of the ambiguities encountered is whether postdocs are employees or not, which varies between institutions. So here's a quick poll for readers. Let me know if I missing any obvious choices or if any choice is unclear. This is a rare instance where I'll allow repeat voting, so you cast a straw for each institution you've worked at (whether as a postdoc or not).
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We're subcontractors. We have no rights and can be fired at any time. We have 6 month renewals.
At our institution, post-docs can choose between being employees of the university (postdoctoral associates) and receive limited benefits, or being independent contractors (postdocotral fellows) with no benefits.
I actually went to the handbook at my current institution to double check. It describes the postdoc as a short-term training position in residence. Being at a research hospital, the language is akin to medical residents. Thus I have added 'training position' to the poll (waiting for it to update here, though).
It seems to be taking a while for the java script to update, but all the options are viewable on the direct link.
@Alyssa, I'm wondering if we work at the same institution. The language is very similar. My boss was very upfront at saying that he preferred to get PDFs vs PDAs. He said that he's not against the union, but sometimes it made work harder, and because they get a ton of benefits (compared to PDFs) the pay was lower. IDK. I only learned about this once I was a PDF.
@Brian. Where I work we are considered independent contractors. As such, we have 0 benefits (from my international postdoc perspective). One cool thing is that even as an international, because I have a workers visa, and pay taxes I get access to provincial healthcare ... meaning I do not need to worry if for co-pays to the doctor's office, or the ER. I think Canadian PDFs can opt in to a retirement account, but I think it's more of a provincial thing than it is a school thing. The contract renewals are on a yearly basis, but if you want to leave your position you need to give 1 month's notice in advance.
This was a tough choice, so I decided to select "other" even though I could just as easily have selected "I don't know." I was a postdoc at Penn State for two years, up until a few months ago. I know for sure what we weren't and that was employees in any way, shape, or form. We were told that specifically, with heavy emphasis, right from our new postdoc orientation sessions- we were trainees and NOT employees. That said, we nonetheless had (some) limited benefits that one might find amongst faculty/staff, such as access to health insurance, reduced fares for public transport, and others.
While at Penn State, I served as an executive council member of the Penn State Postdoc Society. The entire time I was there (and even prior to my arrival), the PSPS was trying to draft a human resources policy with the administration to put a more precise definition on postdocs, their benefits, their obligations, and their limits. Up until my departure, a policy had not been finalized- we're talking 2+ years... that I know of!
Hmm, so I voted employee with limited benefits as I know we definitely get benefits, but actually reading the handbook I think we are classed as trainees, it emphatically states we are not staff. There does seem to be some ambiguity though as there are several postdoc classifications - scholar, fellow and paid direct, some of whom are classed as employees. Perhaps I should have gone with 'I don't know' instead!
We also have different classes of Postdocs that vary in their benefits. I went with Trainee, though.
I went with employees with limited benefits, since we do get benefits no matter where our funding comes from. Although subcontracted employees could apply (since we're considered "at will"), or trainees, depending on how the contract between the PI-postdoc is written, which varied quite a bit prior to the development of our postdoc office.
My classification depends on if I have an individual NRSA or if I am paid from the PI's grant. Needless to say, I have an NRSA (actually the only postdoc in this school to have one), which means I am a contractor. Contractors do not receive benefits. Incredibly, I had a really hard time getting an email account, since it's based on employee ID number. If someone searches for me in the institution's directory they will not find me. If I turn down my NRSA and receive my pay from my mentor's grant, I will receive benefits, web profile of my research, and actually get an employee ID number. I wonder how other postdocs that have successfully competed for an NIH grant fare out there? Do they feel punished for getting grants too?
Rebecca, sadly, it seems that your experience re: NRSA is not unique. A couple of PIs commented on the previous post about postdoc pay that they're in situations where it's important for their trainees to get fellowships, but if they do, then the trainees get screwed out of benefits.
We are trainees that have benefits but are only emplyed for short term contracts.
The union has done a lot to increase our status though recently. We are essentially employees now, but don't have the title.
I'm surprised at the amount of variation within institutions/departments.
A postdoc union is interesting. My spouse has commented that such a thing should exist and would probably solve some of the problems, but I have to read more about them before I'm convinced.