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Political Science

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to Miriam Axel-Lute’s article [“Go Unpublished or Perish,” Nov. 13]. While Dimitrov’s story is one example of inequity and out-and-out discrimination, it is difficult to convey accurately the extent to which the academic system is failing postdoctoral researchers, especially foreign scientists.

As an American researcher, I have been extremely fortunate in my passage through the academic ranks, but have watched with horror the abuses that some of my colleagues have suffered under domineering, self-serving PIs [principal investigators] who are devoid of basic managerial skills.

While NPA’s call for formalized agreements prior to postdoctoral employment is an admirable and necessary goal, I believe it is unrealistic. Foreign scientists are correct in the assumption that their choices are limited (typically “take it or leave it”), as ever-increasing numbers of foreign researchers clamor for positions. Universities protect themselves by failing to set standards for salaries and working conditions for postdoctoral scientists, and leave these decisions instead to the PIs. It is difficult to pinpoint discrepancies without standards, but many conversations with my foreign colleagues have recurring themes: Foreign scientists are paid consistently less and work more than Americans and rarely (if ever) complain because they fear losing jobs to which their visas are linked. I commend Dimitrov for standing up for what is rightfully his intellectual property. Unfortunately, the outcome of his ordeal only serves to further discourage postdoctoral scientists from doing the same.

Colleen E. Clancy
Department of Pharmacology
Columbia University
New York City

To the Editor:

When the Capital Region’s alternative newspaper publishes an alternative to the truth, it must not go unchallenged. “Go Unpublished or Perish” falsely claims on its front page that a certain postdoc was denied credit for the work he did in our laboratories at RPI. Both of us spoke to the reporter, Miriam Axel-Lute, and explained that Roumen Dimitrov, the postdoc in question, was never denied credit for his work, nor was he fired without ample warning. The feature that appeared last week with Dr. Dimitrov sitting like Rodin’s Thinker on the front page, declared in large type: “Should this man get credit for software he wrote while doing postdoctoral work at RPI? He thought so. RPI disagreed. Now he has to go back to Bulgaria.” If you read just the front page, you are left with the impression that RPI professors take credit for their postdocs’ work and fire them if they protest.

The story within supports this bias with numerous factual errors and hearsay, but nothing could be further from the truth. Postdocs are treated as colleagues, the next generation of faculty. They are the first authors on their published works and the presenters at conferences. A professor’s job is to make their names known, not to steal their work. Our postdocs carry forward the reputation of the laboratory. We have every reason to make them happy. Roumen was fired, twice, because he did not carry out his mission as a postdoc. He did his work in secrecy and his results were not reproducible by anyone but him. His deep mistrust of authority prevented him from doing real science. It is not surprising that he swiped back at us after losing his job, even if it was his own fault, but the editors of Metroland should know better. This story was nothing more than a cheap shot.

Christopher Bystroff
Assistant professor of biology, RPI

Michael Zuker
Professor of math, RPI
Troy

Metroland welcomes typed, double-spaced letters (computer printouts OK), addressed to the editor. Or you may e-mail them to: metroland@metroland.net. Metroland reserves the right to edit letters for length; 300 words is the preferred maximum. You must include your name, address and day and evening telephone numbers. We will not publish letters that cannot be verified, nor those that are illegible, irresponsible or factually inaccurate.

Send to:
Letters, Metroland, 4 Central Ave.,
4th Floor, Albany, NY 12210
or e-mail us at metroland@metroland.net.


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