Technicians are not grad students in training

May 20 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Over at Psychosimian, in the discussion about the PD/40 hr/OT discussion, someone commented:

Beyond post docs, this will have a huge effect on lab techs! All of my techs work more than 40 hours a week…

with the justification:

The techs are mini grad students. First or second year out of college, with their own projects, working for a while before applying to grad school.

drugmonkey says in response: So what?

To which I add: are you kidding me? Techs are not mini-anything. They are techs. They may have more or less responsibility. They may have their own projects or not. They may want to go to grad school or med school or just pay back educational debt. And, while it is always best to work on the basis that other people are honest and forthright, it is not always so. A tech, who wants a job with you, may say what they think you want to hear. I know lots of basic science types who are not enthusiastic about pre-meds, and most pre-meds know this. You are not going to be privy to what they may truly think and want. They may not know what they think and want.

While working for you, your technicians are not getting course credit for what they do in your lab. They may be learning skills, but the ones you want and need and chose for them. You are paying fringe benefits not for a student, but for an employee, and these benefits are different at most places. These techs have a job to do. Most PI's I know would not tolerate in a tech what they do in a student. Most PI's have very different expectations of a tech than a student. You may say "this is not me, of course I treat everyone in my lab equally", and I will laugh.  The people who are the most unequal in treatment, in my experience, are the ones who claim equality.

But the bottom-most line of the bottom lines is that they are human beings, working a job. One could argue that lower-level managers at fast food places want to move up. They are training to become something more than a low level manager. The whole point of the law is that it doesn't matter what you are or are not training for. Someone who is working a job that pays less than $47.4K gets overtime.

Personally, I dislike the exemptions. But a line needs to be drawn somewhere. There is a distinction between students and techs (leaving aside the postdoc issues, for now).  If you have one tech who is "mini-training" and another who is not, does the one who is not training get overtime pay, and the one who is training does not?  Your perception of their future is not where the line is drawn between exempt and non-exempt. The line drawn is between students who are registered and technicians who are not.

Ultimately, this tech may apply, and even go, to grad school. Maybe they won't.  Maybe their experience with you will change their mind about future goals. But at this moment, their plans, whatever they are and whether you know them or not, do not change the contractual nature of the relationship between you and them. And that contract is governed by certain very specific laws in the United States.



6 responses so far

  • Chall says:

    We have a couple of techs in the lab. Some are "just out of their bsc and wanting into msc/PhD" but we also have a couple of techs who have been techs for years since they want to be techs. Why? One of them clearly stated "I like science but I like the combination of regular hours and a real job". That would be a tech. Not a mini-grad student. Too bad ppl mix them up. (Trying to have open mind but so far most ppl I've met who have the attitude described in the thread sort of look down of techs and think everyone should aspire to phd/md)

    • potnia theron says:

      I agree that some are (self-selected) phd track and are not. One (we) cannot decide on the basis of *our* perception of what they want as to whether they get OT or not.

      • chall says:

        no we can't. Then there is that (imho very annoying) mistake that "just because someone wants to work for free, doesn't mean it's right for them to do it". It's also creates a weird environment in the lab when people who have the same title and position are being treated very differently. At least I get bothered by that, but maybe that's just me?

        • potnia theron says:

          no, not just you... most right thinking people would agree. But that's because I agree with you, and we are, of course, right thinking.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Preach. Absolutely spot on target.

  • odyssey says:

    Agreed 100%.

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