Valuing people

For the past 6 months or so, I’ve been searching for PhD opportunities and funding. This search can be disheartening and frustrating at the best of times, but sometimes, you read or experience things that make you really angry or frustrated. The worst of these infuriating occurances make me reconsider even sticking around long enough in academia for a PhD, let alone any further plans. Most of these events make me question my worth and how much others value me and my time; they range from neglecting to send out any notification of the application or interview outcome, to the most recent PhD advert I read (which has ultimately lead to this ranting blog post).

The basics of the advert were this: Cool, interesting PhD topic with the chance to develop my own project along the direction of the lab; competitive scholarship to cover full fees of any student of any nationality. But, that’s just it, the ad explicitly stated that the student must fund their living costs separately. There is no mention of other scholarships that may help, and an explicit statement that even part-time employment is not advised during a PhD. What I take from this, is that candidates are expected to be able to find 3+ years of living costs to support themselves without any assistance or indication where they may find help to find these funds from the PI/head of the lab.

To me, this advert sends two signals:

1) To get into science (remember, a PhD is just the start of a scientific career) one must have an incredible amount of money so that you can spend three unemployable years not earning anything but still somehow put food on the table and a roof over your (and maybe even your family’s) head.


2) PhD students are not valuable. They are not seen or treated as any other person is. Even without a university degree and really great grades, you can get a paying job, that (in most Western countries) will easily cover food, housing, medical expenses, and probably even a leasure activity or two. The fact that you are refusing this to a PhD student is essentially slavery.

I will not sugar-coat this: I AM a valuable person, I DO deserve a livable wage. No, I do not neccisarily expect this wage to come from the same funds as those that cover my fees, but at least take an interest in presenting me with some options. Had this advert had suggestions for where I might find a separate living-fees scholarship, I would have understood that you do value me and my time, but clearly, in this case, I am either expected to be rich or to starve.

I hope this does not come accross as entitled or concieted, but it is really frustrating and infuriating to constantly come up against a system that does not seem to value people. Without people, there is no science, and we need to start treating scientists better if we expect more enthusiastic minds to keep wanting to come through the ranks.

Note: I have not, and will not post any part of the advert that I saw. I am not interested in targetting anyone in particular. I just wish to bring to light an attitude that I keep coming up against in academia that I feel needs to be changed.

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