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Unpublished or Perish,” Nov. 13].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
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
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 “Go Unpublished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.
professor of biology, RPI
of math, RPI
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