But aren't we also exploiting them?

Feb 14 2012 Published by under Grad School, Lab, Mentoring

I hear the term "exploitation" being bandied around by trainees when they talk about the training regimen of life science research.  The pejorative seems to be tossed around a bit carelessly, I understand that the system sucks and that there are not enough PI jobs for all of us, but lets face it I'm not sitting in sweltering jungles of (insert 3rd world country) stitching together Nike sneakers for $5 a week.  Don't get me wrong there are exploitative PI's, they do exist, but I feel they are a minority.  I'm willing to wager for every Kern, there are at least 3-5 good bosses to work for.

But I pose a question for trainees to sit and chew on for a bit.  Are we not exploiting our PIs?  Do we not wholeheartedly consume their financial and intellectual capital to try and get us to the next step in the game.  Are we not sponging off them for their grant dollars, ideas and projects, collaborations, and other assets in order to take our science to the next level and then take off for our own greener pastures.  Some trainees even get to leave with their projects (or a piece of them) when they move on to take over their own lab (thus negating the feudal analogies that I here graduate students and postdocs whimper about).

There are PI's that will work you like a rented mule and cast you aside when you appear to show the faintest signs of a limp, but are we not also trying to squeeze every ounce of resources and advantages out of them as well?  It is a two way street after all.

9 responses so far

  • Dr Becca says:

    Let's not go crazy here, GR. Exploitation implies an abuse of power to the detriment of others. Unless you are using the lab's resources to cook meth or are spending all day playing online poker with your stipend as a buy-in, you are not exploiting your PI. The whole point of grad school is to "take your science to the next level"--doing what you are there to do is not exploitative.

  • TheLabMix says:

    My openness to being exploited increases proportionately with a much bigger salary, prestige, my own lab, etc.

  • Stray Cat says:

    No. If you don't have a power differential to abuse, you can't "exploit" anyone.

    Of course, bosses exploit there employees in many facets of life, so this is a pretty broad issue. For example, I frankly consider any unpaid internship a rank exploitation that should be illegal.

  • BikeMonkey says:

    Google "class action internships" Stray Cat....

  • becca says:

    Don't black people discriminate against white people too? Aren't men discriminated against in parental custody hearings? Isn't Mitt Romney, and anyone else making 15 million a year for doing nothing, really just the victim of class warfare and the bitter politics of envy?

    Your entire worldview is based on the (logically incoherent) view of Capitol and Labor of the very sick society you are immersed in.

  • Dr 27 says:

    I agree with you young sir. Indeed, when I was in school I did hear that term tossed around a lot ... and some of the people who used it liberally weren't the ones that (IMO) we're truly being exploited and then tossed around (or worse, left alone by a PI who forgot about them when they went to their next green pasture). I had friends that were almost abused (mentally/intellectually) by their PIs who never said a thing, never grew a backbone to say, "the F with you, I'm walking out, try to find a replacement as competent as I am." That said, I did find a person or two who took off with important pieces of a project to start on their own and gave 0 recognition to the people who'd helped form them into mature, thinking scientists. I do feel that a lot of times the term is used liberally ... but what can we do, once we're conscious of it, to make it stop?

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