Friday, May 20, 2016

OT and post docing - a small comment

It's been a few comments and discussions about this post-docing and OT. Good posts and interesting comments. I thought I'd write my two cents about it since I've been a post-doc and I've been working as a salaried person getting moved to hourly and getting OT and back again (see below).

My time with OT and time cards. Working as a salaried person, exempt and doing my thing as a half-supervisor after my post doc, HR took an interest since our job descriptions were abysmal. There were no distinction between people who were on time cards (and expected to get their work planned out for them) and the ones who weren't (we who were planning and performing experiments, and troubleshooting). And no, we didn't make that much more money either. In short, what the experiment showed was that if I was moved to a time card, they would've have to pay me waaaay more than I got at the time. Why? Because of all the "outside work" that I did so that had to be done at work, while being clocked in. I got told after first three weeks that I had to go home at the end of 40 hours, although when that happen things started not getting done so..... back to getting paid OT it was. (A few more weeks and we were back at exempt and not. No more OT for me.)

Second example is between an efficient tech and a "not so efficient tech". I'd say that the key difference are two examples: do you have to plan out the day for the tech and "you start a gel. what do you do in the mean time?". Option A is "take a coffee break, tweet, go do something else and then come back to gel". Option B is "take up experiment number two, go to the mouse house, weight some mice, check for gel to be done and then move on".

If you are enforcing the OT I'd recommend you to sort out the expectations right off in the start. That would probably be that Option A isn't a choice anymore. Why? Since you can't stay later in the evening to get all the other stuff done. Nope. It's not a "free time" concept anymore. It isn't a free time for most technicians I know of today either (a lot of timed tasks). When reading a lot of comments I get a feeling that a lot of people in this debate has forgotten that. You don't decide when you need OT, your boss tells you when OT is allowed. (it costs money)

Also, the "idea of measurable" makes it hard to claim non-exempt status for a post-doc (PD) if you ask me. There's a lot of "thinking, creative, fluffy, training" things PDs are supposed to do. It's not "someone plans their day and tells them tasks" (or at least I don't see PD position like that). That would be more of an hourly technician job. Where you can easily (OK, a little bit easier) see what can be accomplished in a day's/week's work and judge time based on that.

Or maybe it's because what I value the most with my work at the moment is my autonomy (perceived or not). I technically have a 40 hour work week. I technically work more than that, not because I am lazy or slow, but because I have a little too much on my plate at the moment. (However, I could rant about that it is my responsibility to tell my boss that - "this is not feasible in a 40h work week, which is priority and then do the priority and go home". They want that from me. Again, my boss is a good boss.)

However, when you are on a time clock TIME IS NOT YOUR OWN. It's not OK to "go to the gym and work out and then make up the time afterward". It's not OK to ponder off about that interesting hypothesis and follow a lead down the rabbit hole (note: I know it COULD be OK, however at the end of the day as a biomed focused scientist I'm going to say that if you have spent a whole week solely pondering a hypothesis while not running experiments  I don't think your PI will be overly impressed).

You have to clock in and out for that. Have to check mice on the weekend? Have to plan for that and make time available. I don't know about you, but I can say that for me the 'best' thing about being a post doc was that I could do a lot of things on my own time and in the way I preferred it. Of course, I know that most PD today aren't single and childless, these people probably plan way more than I did as a PD. But I bet you that there are still a lot of people out there who don't understand how much more controlled the lab environment just became.

Why? Because if OT happens you have to justify it. Because someone will PAY you more for it. And it's not going to be "well I need to check my mice on the weekend so I'll add 4 hours OT". It is "what did you do during the week that made you not save 4 hours for the weekend work?". Trust me. THat's what I ended up having to do just "doing my job" as a non-exempt person.

Also, as a fun fact I've noticed coming back from industry where I had to log hours in each project, every day and tally them up in a weekly/biweekly report. A lot of my academic coworkers now incredulously look at me and ask "you tell your boss what you do every day? You keep up with what you've done every day?". Yep. That's the name of the game if you get paid by hour, or get paid by someone else for a specific project. Have to account for your time. THAT's  a game changer if you ask me. A lot of accountability from people who are now going to have to be diligent on writing down what they do, plan their days much better and most of all, get approval for OT where they before were "free" to do what they wanted. OT isn't something you decide you want, it's something the boss decided if you get.

I know that there are PDs getting shafted in the current system and I know that the OT requirement might help with this. However, I'm not sure that this new thing will solve much. Why? Because you can still have abusive PIs/bosses who systematically exclude work hours or fail other people and the PDs will still get shafted. It will just require more control or failing to plan on their part. And most of all, I don't agree with PD being a non-exempt employee with fixed hours in a week if doing science.

Not being negative about it, it's just not a simple fix for what's wrong in the PD world - if it was, this would've happened a long time ago. However, I guess it's worth a try to see what the fall out will be since if nothing else, I'm sure it's shifting the problems to something else that we then can try and solve.

Here's to trying!