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The Black Hole

CAPS Getting Progress in Parliament


I just thought I would quickly bring it to people’s attention that the Canadian House of Commons has been hopping with activity regarding post doctoral fellows and the repercussions of Budget 2010. A quick scan of the comments in March can be found here and if you want to keep track on your own, check out the Hansard records.

The Canadian Association of Post Doctoral Scholars has spearheaded this charge by contacting ~20 relevant Members of Parliament, two of whom have directly brought up the taxation of post doctoral fellowships matter in the House as an area of grave concern for promoting research in Canada.

What do these early comments tell us:
1. There is massive confusion as to the status of post docs – are they students? employees? trainees?
– Responding to a question of why a particular Post Doc in Quebec should have to deal with a $4000 tax increase, the Hon. Diane Finley responded by saying that the Conservaties have done a lot for students and then listed off several benefits, none of which post docs can benefit from.
– Numerous other MPs referred to post docs as “post doctoral students”
2. There is also confusion as to how much of the scientific workforce post docs represent and how well they are compensated:
– There are ~5700 post doctoral fellows in Canada
– According to a CAPS 2009 survey, over 50% of post docs make $40,000 or less and nearly 80% make less than $45,000 before taxes
– Prior to beginning a post doctoral fellowship, the vast majority of PDFs will have just emerged from 8-12 years of university and student loans are extremely common The Hon. Mr Flaherty’s statement about “pure scholarships” is quite confusing. What exactly is a “pure scholarship” – is it the kind of thing that is merit-based, awarded by an external organization, and awarded to an individual? If so… please explain to me how a CIHR, NSERC, or SSHRC post doctoral fellowship award does not belong in this category?

Or perhaps he would argue that PhD students are training for a degree while post docs are graduated and therefore no longer training (i.e.: “part of the workforce”) – if this is the case, then that’s fine… but again I beg to ask as I did in a previous post:

What other career path recognizes more training and more experience with less pay and little to no benefits?
This lack of defined status is exactly what causes the problem because the powers-that-be will always decide to classify post docs as students when it suits them and as employees when it suits them. If all PDFs are to be classed as employees and tax paying citizens, then their wages and benefits need to reflect that.

– Make fellowships worth more (and not the $70,000 kind – something civilized like $45,000 or $50,000 would be fine and clearly distinguish them from the majority of graduate student stipends)
– Establish minimum salaries for post docs paid from a grant
– Scale the wages based on research experience

Funnily enough, it would almost certainly be less expensive for the Government to simply grant the scholarship exemption to post docs.
Until then, please consider writing Jim Flaherty and/or your MP to explain your story. You can also sign the petition if you haven’t already.

David Kent
Dr. David Kent is a principal investigator at the York Biomedical Research Institute at the University of York, York, UK. He trained at Western University and the University of British Columbia before spending 10 years at the University of Cambridge, UK where he ran his research group until 2019. His laboratory's research focuses on the fundamental biology of blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers. David has a long history of public engagement and outreach including the creation of The Black Hole in 2009.
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