I have a marvelous colleague. She is a great scientist. She is an interesting human being. She is a Good Person. I enjoy her company and we try and get together once a week or so. Just to talk. No agenda. Let's call her Lucy so that I don't have to type out my friend too many times.
Lucy and I go to a quiet bar. A very quiet bar. It is a jazz and wine grown-up bar in our college town. The waitstaff are interesting arts students at the college. It is dark and brick-walled and decorated with old-tymey photographs of Matt Dillinger and Al Capone. The wines are good, the beers very good, and the owner a lovely and warm person. Lucy and I are both east coast refugees, and this place is close.
We were early so it was extremely quiet, as in we were the only people there. There are three things from last night worth reporting on.
Seldom is there music on a Tues night, as it is slow. But there was an acoustic guitar player. With some kind of computer-rhythm/accompaniment electronics. He was a boomer. His music was covers of 70's and 80's quasi-blues/jazz/rock. Not our cup of tea (they have good live jazz on the weekends), but this guy was OK as background music. But, after his first few songs he walked up, with his guitar, playing and singing to our table. We were clearly discussing Serious Things (grant money on post-doc vs. technician). And started chatting. Kinda coming on to Lucy. (No one comes on to me in those situations, I've just cultivated a Too Damn Scary exterior). He said that he did requests, and oh by the way, here is a laminated, computer printed (dare I say Comic Sans) list of songs he does on request. It was creepy. We said "Van Morrison" mostly to get rid of him and I almost said "leave us alone" but he started singing there, and it was getting more creepy. We kept out humor the creep smiles in place and then he left (before I could tell him to fuck off). We discussed creepy and then returned to the topic at hand.
So, the topic: post-doc vs. technician
Firstly, it is important to recognize that this decision, who to hire with grant money or start-up is incredibly discipline dependent. I can talk about what Lucy and said, but it may not apply to you. Lucy is a neurophysiologist, and the range within neurophysiology is huge, too. She just got her first R01, after 3 years as jr. faculty. She has one postdoc, but money for another position. She needs to produce before tenure. There is a great candidate for PD, but he may not take it, and in any case he wouldn't be here till mid-summer (ie 6-8 months). A tech could be here and right now, but would likely not be as committed to the research and move her work forward. She needs to generate data and papers. My advice was to start looking for a tech now. My second advice was something she already acted on - invite the potential PD to visit, and get that ball rolling. Judge by the people - if she finds an incredible tech who will be as good as a PD for a year or two, wrt generating data, hire them. If she finds a tech looking for only a year's employment, but is who great - hire them now, and figure out the 4-5 month overlap. It is important to keep in mind that when hiring a PD or new tech, there is a more than one month (often) investment in training before the data payoff begins. She shouldn't wait for the potential PD to make up his mind, in case he decides otherwise. In this case, I would tend to say hire a tech, and if the postdoc turns out, then try & scramble for more money. Postdocs often look glittery and shiney as additions to the lab. They will Change Your Science. They will be A Junior Colleague. But if there are very specific goals, particularly for the run-up to tenure production, having a good tech, with explicit instructions can work much better to achieve the endpoint.
The third item of our evening was something Lucy told me that I found disturbing. She bumped into one of The High Ranking Administrators from our uni at the gym. Her first comment was that at least he was wearing enough clothes so it wasn't uncomfortable. He asked how things were going. She ran through what's going on in her lab, positive spin (do not unload on admin in this situation, it is always best to use it to reinforce the idea that you are marvelous and indispensable to the institution). Then he said to her that she should take it easy. She works too hard. She should enjoy life. Lucy told me that she was totally flabbergasted at this point and could only nod. Does this admin who is on the tenure approval hierarchy, have, as my mother used to say to me, three brain cells to synapse together? This is the same person, who in 3 years will be telling her that while she is very good, she just isn't good enough. What a fucking, tone-deaf, smug, jackass. I am sure that he thought he was being "kind" and "in touch with young people". As long as we live with this broken tenure system (it destroys the youngers and the olders), the least that the power brokers can do is acknowledge the problems and not offer meaningless platitudes. He's forgotten what its like to be young and afraid.