9/12/2019 - Graduate Researchers are Underpaid

Hello Fellow Scientists,

When we last left our heroes they were in the midst of the Interest Based Bargaining (IBB) process with OHSU Management, a moderated bargaining format emphasizing personal experiences and building on shared interests. On August 29, the bargaining teams went through the story sharing phase of IBB, discussing stories about your scope and hours of work.

So What Happened on Sept 12?

Some Change-Ups

After the departure of their pumpkin-spice HR Director, Management made some adjustments to their team including making Wes Phillips the team lead and adding new note-takers and faculty members. In the previous session, Dr. Allison Fryer and Dr. Melissa Wong represented OHSU faculty. For this session, Dr. Fryer was replaced by Dr. Mary Heinricher. Bargaining for this session was held at the Waterfront rather than in the School of Nursing.

Some Progress

I won’t sugar coat it, the Sept 12 bargaining got off to a rough start for the first few minutes. However, once the IBB process was underway, Management and the Union worked well together moderated by butcher-paper aficionado Paul Krissel. At this session, the teams finished story-telling, identified common interests, and brainstormed potential solutions. Once again, I wish I could be more detailed but for the most part what happens in IBB stays in IBB. I will say that there was more common ground than originally anticipated, and that nearly everyone left the room feeling optimistic about landing on some solid contract language.

Action and Events

Bargaining! – Bargaining today is happening in the School of Nursing room 122 from 9:00-2:00. Come and support your team and see you contract come together in real time!

Welcome Back Barbecue – Keep your eye out for the Union at the barbecue today! Get a union T-shirt and learn more about what we’ve done and where we want to go next!

#Blue4GRU –Every Thursday, wear your GRU shirt to show your support for the Union and the bargaining team. If you still need a GRU shirt, reply to this email and we will get you one! They will also be available at today’s Welcome Back Barbecue

Contract Action Team (CAT) Meetings – Help to write the GRU constitution! At our last two meetings, we have talked about our steward structure and started discussing an executive board. As always, CAT meetings are Mondays, 5:00-6:00 in BRB 381, and dinner is provided.

Survey Spotlight: Your Qualifications

A few weeks ago, GRU sent out a State of the Contract survey to you, our bargaining unit. There were two main reasons for sending out this survey:

  1. To help the bargaining team hone in on your top priorities so they can represent your needs accurately.
  2. To gather some data on your qualifications to help bolster the arguments for our economics proposals.

We received responses from 130 graduate researchers, representing about half of our bargaining unit. All years, programs, departments, and schools were represented in the results. There was moderate skew towards first and second year researchers (who are now second and third years respectively, congratulations!), and a small amount of skew towards members of the Neuroscience Graduate Program.

Now let’s take a look at some of the results! Any data fans out there? Yeah I thought so.

We asked three questions relating to your qualifications:

  • Do you have a masters degree?
  • How many years of research experience do you have?
  • What OHSU research staff position would you have been qualified for when you started your program?

Your eyes do not deceive you; that crisp right angle means that exactly 25% of respondents started their PhD at OHSU with a Masters degree.

79% of respondents had at least one year of research experience at the beginning of their program. Notably, this doesn’t count research we did as undergrads, direct patient care experience, or the research we have done so far in our graduate programs, which is also significant relevant experience!

We asked you to take a look at the listed minimum qualifications for the five research staff positions at OHSU and choose which one best fit your qualifications at the time you started your program. All of us were qualified to be Research Assistants, and many of us have additional experiences that qualify us for higher level positions. A few of us were even qualified to be Senior Research Associates!

So what can we conclude from all of this and why is it useful?

In previous bargaining sessions, Management has attempted to portray us as blank slates who need significant guidance in learning basic research skills. The data is in, and that’s just not the case. While new employees at every level need on-the job training, it’s pretty clear that we have skills and knowledge to offer on day one. In short, graduate researchers bring something to the table too.

How does this translate to economics?

If every graduate researcher got the median salary for the OHSU research staff position they are qualified for, our average salary would be $54,000. If every graduate researcher made only the minimum salary that they qualify for, our average salary would be $36,000. Both of these numbers are a pretty far cry from our current stipend levels.

To be clear, we are also in this to get a PhD, meaning that the difference between these potential salaries and our stipend represents the opportunity cost of our degree. Good people can disagree on what a reasonable opportunity cost should be, but the survey shows that the majority of us think that our current opportunity cost (tens of thousands of dollars per year!) is much too high.

And when young scientists are asked to choose between getting a PhD or continuing as research staff, which ones can pay that opportunity cost? Who are we leaving behind?

Science and Solidarity,

-       Graduate Researchers United