American: Hey, what's up? You're looking pretty stressed."
That's what I just read an article in the recent Nature issue (Volume 446 Number 7131 p108) by Martin Lang, titled The inside track from academia and industry: Temporary display. The author description says 'Martin Lang is recruitment consultant for Kelly Scientific Resources in Cologne, Germany.'
Essentially, the article elaborates on the allegedly typical German wish for permanent positions (German: [...] But I'd still rather have the stability of a permanent position. I want to stay put until I retire.) In contrast to the allegedly typical American flexibility (American: To be honest, those days are over. It just doesn't happen any more. If the choice is between staying unemployed and trying something different, why not give temping a try? ).
Of course I feel personally offended by that, because I have heard similar arguments for academia, very naively transferred from industry. Martin Lang essentially argues that temporary positions are becoming more common because the job market has changed 'There is no point mourning a job market that has been undergoing dramatic change for several years.' and that we should get used to it 'Both employers and employees are constantly reacting to changes caused by globalization, new technology and shifting scientific and political fortunes. Temporary employment is one reaction to these changes. It is accepted in most sectors as a way to keep staffing levels responsive to fluctuating needs.' And he realizes:
'But to PhD scientists in some parts of the world, the idea of temporary employment can [...] elicit a negative response.'
Now that's really surprising. Well, I can't say very much about industry (actually I can, but would you trust me on that?), so let me stick to academia. The first important point is hidden in the sentence 'So if you're not tied down with family and financial commitments, why not make use of your freedom to exploit the temporary job market?' -- the obvious question is what happens to those who are 'tied down with family'?
Among postdocs the additional problems with this view are:
a) There are just projects you would never start on a short-term employment. And good things take time. If you want your postdocs to do good work, give them a sensible contract.
b) Jumping from one temporary employment to the next is okay for some while. The problem is the absence of long-term positions where you can land. Temping does only work temporarily. It's nothing you want to do for the rest of your life. And being the typical German, I find the spareness of future options genuinely depressing.
c) A long-term contract doesn't mean you are stuck with the people, but you trust in them. That pays off. (It means also you obviously avoid life-time positions, like Professors in Germany, who can't be fired, no matter what.)
d) For the industry, temporary contracts are in many cases just a test run for a possible long-term employment ('For companies that are cautious about bringing in high-level staff permanently, it gives them an opportunity to see the scientists in action, before they make a more long-term commitment.') Where is this option for postdocs?
SCENE: A pavement café in a bustling American capital. A forlorn American scientist stares into his coffee. A German friend arrives and sits down.
German: "Good advice: Never read the 'The-way-I-see-it' column on Starbucks cups. It will most likely spoil your day."
|And that's Nemo.|
See also the follow-up post: Temporary Display - contd.
TAGS: SCIENCE, SCIENCE AND SOCIETY, JOBS