False advertisment in a postdoc position post

posted
23-Nov-17, 07:24
edited about 5 minutes later
by TomJ
Avatar for TomJ
posted about 3 years ago
Hello everyone.
Earlier this year I applied for a postdoc position in the US. In one of the position advertised online (Cognitive Neuroscience, in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) the PI claimed that his lab is currently funded by an NIH grant, an NSF grant, and by the white house brain initiative. Corresponding with the PI, more big promises about the available resources were made.
Doing some research, I discovered that this lab is actually not, and was never, funded by NIH or the white house brain initiative, and the lab PI was only a co-PI on a small NSF grant that expired before the expected starting date of the postdoc position.
Clearly, I decided not to join this lab. But I wanted to get your opinion regarding if I should report to the University ethic office or to the funding agencies about those false statements in the position advertisement. I also wanted to know how I can warn other prospective postdocs (who may be too trusting) about this.
posted
23-Nov-17, 07:46
edited about 23 seconds later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 3 years ago
You need to be really sure before you do something like that.
Exactly what research did you do which led you to this conclusion?
posted
23-Nov-17, 09:41
edited about 28 minutes later
by TomJ
Avatar for TomJ
posted about 3 years ago
I looked into the webpages of those funding agencies (who do publish the name of funded PIs and their Universities). The postdoc position (Cognitive Neuroscience at the UIUC Beckman institute, which is otherwise an excellent research center) was published more than a year ago, and to date, this lab is not funded by those funding agencies.
Looking at the lab website, it also seems as if several lab members (including four postdocs) have left the lab within the last year. It seems that something happened there and the PI was trying to recruit new people, apparently by misrepresenting the available funding in his lab (he is a young PI).
I was suspicious because I already heard several stories from friends being promised many things prior to joining a lab in the US, only to end up being underpaid (in a few occasions, illegally under payed) and then terminated after their first or second year postdoc, leaving their research undone. This included people who relocated from Europe with their families. This is why I feel that whenever bumping into such a PI, an action should take place. If you find it to be appropriate, I can post here a link for the position advertisement (which has been already removed from that lab website). This would enable anyone here to do their own research regarding the funding availability in that lab.
posted
24-Nov-17, 14:05
edited about 15 minutes later
Avatar for Walter_Opera
posted about 3 years ago
This is in fact fairly common in academia and not limited to new research groups. It happened to me twice, once during my PhD and at one of my postdoc positions, that promised funding turned out to be wildly exaggerated or non-existent.
posted
24-Nov-17, 15:07
edited about 49 seconds later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 3 years ago
Quote From TomJ:
I looked into the webpages of those funding agencies (who do publish the name of funded PIs and their Universities). The postdoc position (Cognitive Neuroscience at the UIUC Beckman institute, which is otherwise an excellent research center) was published more than a year ago, and to date, this lab is not funded by those funding agencies.
Looking at the lab website, it also seems as if several lab members (including four postdocs) have left the lab within the last year. It seems that something happened there and the PI was trying to recruit new people, apparently by misrepresenting the available funding in his lab (he is a young PI).
I was suspicious because I already heard several stories from friends being promised many things prior to joining a lab in the US, only to end up being underpaid (in a few occasions, illegally under payed) and then terminated after their first or second year postdoc, leaving their research undone. This included people who relocated from Europe with their families. This is why I feel that whenever bumping into such a PI, an action should take place. If you find it to be appropriate, I can post here a link for the position advertisement (which has been already removed from that lab website). This would enable anyone here to do their own research regarding the funding availability in that lab.


Leaving aside the discussion of whether you are correct or not about your instincts here, looking at a couple of websites does not constitute anything close to "evidence" of wrongdoing. It's very poor that someone at postdoc level would think it did. You are extrapolating from a bit of hearsay, making a conclusion and then presenting the bare minimum of effort to produce evidence to support your conclusion. Confirmation bias is something a postdoc should be well aware of.

Listen, you can do what you like with this but remember you are messing with somebody's career here. Personally, I think you are going at this completely half baked but you need to do what you feel is right. If you press the button on this and you turn out to be incorrect, you risk it backfiring on you. Take your time and do your background research properly. This PI may not respond well to a postdoc trying to ruin their career without having properly researched evidence to do so. That would be my advice.
posted
25-Nov-17, 08:14
edited about 25 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 3 years ago
Yeah I agree with pm133.
posted
25-Nov-17, 09:00
edited about 17 minutes later
by TomJ
Avatar for TomJ
posted about 3 years ago
Thanks you guys, I appreciate this.
I'm not ' trying to ruin' anyone career. I'm just trying to make sure no one would ruin mine, or those of others.
I don't think that the PI career would be ruined by someone bringing this issue to the attention of the University administration at let them further check this. If he did nothing wrong, nothing would happen to him. If he did something wrong, the University/funding-agencies would either act to make sure that he will not do such a thing again, or would do nothing (which is the worst possible scenario, for prospective postdocs).

"It's very poor that someone at postdoc level would think it did. You are extrapolating from a bit of hearsay, making a conclusion and then presenting the bare minimum of effort to produce evidence to support your conclusion. Confirmation bias is something a postdoc should be well aware of. "
I'm sorry, but you are wrong here. It is confirmed - the PI's lab was NEVER funded by NIH, and he was only a co-PI on a small NSF grant which expired prior to the position starting date. Moreover, since the position was advertised, people left that lab, while no one joined it. I truly don't understand how someone can lure people to a postdoc position, a milestone in a scientific career, for which funding have not been secured.

In any other industry such a behavior would have ended up with a lawsuit. But not in the academia where taking legal measures may be perceived as inappropriate even where there are very good reasons for it.
posted
25-Nov-17, 09:06
edited about 1 minute later
by TomJ
Avatar for TomJ
posted about 3 years ago
Quote From Walter_Opera:
This is in fact fairly common in academia and not limited to new research groups. It happened to me twice, once during my PhD and at one of my postdoc positions, that promised funding turned out to be wildly exaggerated or non-existent.


I have the same impression from personal experience and the experience of friends, hence the 'paranoia'.
I think that University's leaderships do little to prevent it, and it is our responsibility (grad students and postdoc) to make sure this become less prevalent.

We are still experiencing the aftermath of the 2008 economic recession. But this should not serve as an excuse for Universities abusing their non-tenured employees (which is exactly what we observe in the last decade).
posted
25-Nov-17, 17:43
Avatar for Walter_Opera
posted about 3 years ago
Quote From TomJ:
Quote From Walter_Opera:
This is in fact fairly common in academia and not limited to new research groups. It happened to me twice, once during my PhD and at one of my postdoc positions, that promised funding turned out to be wildly exaggerated or non-existent.


I have the same impression from personal experience and the experience of friends, hence the 'paranoia'.
I think that University's leaderships do little to prevent it, and it is our responsibility (grad students and postdoc) to make sure this become less prevalent.

We are still experiencing the aftermath of the 2008 economic recession. But this should not serve as an excuse for Universities abusing their non-tenured employees (which is exactly what we observe in the last decade).


This has nothing to do with the 2008 recession. Nothing at all. You can go back 5,10,15,20 or 25 years (at least) - it was always the same discussion. I started my PhD in 2002, and was baited back then with imaginary funding which later magically evaporated. By a famous professor at an elite university with a long established research group of 35 scientists no less.

The truth is: Until you have a "real job" in academia, you are somebody's underling, plain and simple. The one chance you have of improving your situation at least marginally is to acquire your own funding (e.g., through a fellowship or industry funding). As long as you have to rely on other peoples' money, you will generally not be taken seriously, especially as a postdoc, who is expected to become more and more independent.

I guess the main insight here is that in academia, maybe even more than in other industries, it's all about money. If you have it and can employ others, you are an "important scientist". If you don't, you are an irrelevant lab slave who may be "accidentally" omitted from authors' lists. What your actual scientific contributions are, is irrelevant either way.
posted
25-Nov-17, 18:08
by TomJ
Avatar for TomJ
posted about 3 years ago
I'm sorry to here you had such an experience, Walter_Opera.

These sort of things always happened, but they are becoming more prevalent when there is less money. Some @##holes PIs may be still able to pretend being generous when they have plenty of funding. But when there is shortage, and they are becoming desperate at keeping their workforce, their lies may become more blunt.

I was fortunate enough having also interactions with PIs who were honest and transparent about their funding availability. They were using a more pragmatic approach when communicating with their students. My impression is that those do better, in the longer run.

Anyhow, I think that whenever encountering such dishonest behavior, tolerating it is a bad thing. It contributes in turning it into the norm.

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