Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Science and the Walmart Sisterhood

Reading this made me realize that science is Walmart. Well, not exactly. One could just as easily argue that Science is China or India, but I think I'll stick with Walmart.

Conduct your business in a global market where the number of workers/manufacturers far exceeds the demand. Rely on a market that creates a surplus of skilled laborers who will take what they can get just to have a piece of the pie. Lock in your employees and make them rely on public assistance instead of providing it yourself. Healthcare...what is this healthcare that you speak of? Why pay $10 per DVD player when Korea will sell them at $2?

If you want to compete, you had better stop relying on how good you are at doing A,B, and C because there are a lot of people who can do A,B, and C. And, as your 11th-grade economy teacher pointed out, that makes your value as low as the lowest bidder's. Because the lowest bidder feeds off pipe dreams, pride, and making ends meet, he is willing to undercut the competition--well, at least he's willing to do A,B, and C for chump change.

You can sit around and complain about the system--you can round up the masses and demand change. I'm willing to bet that those tactics will work as well as those being employed to stop outsourcing, offshoring, and free trade agreements.

You can cook or get out of the kitchen. You can stand by a happy face sign and be rolled back, or you can figure out a way to put yourself in a different market...maybe a Target-quality market so that you are no longer one of the A-,B-, or C-ers. It's not about learning the D. The D is a short term fix, a solution with boundaries and limits.

No you have to figure out how to make yourself something totally different than A,B,C, or D. You need to figure out how to become a full WORD.

You must not only think outside the box, you must convince them that what they need is a circle.

I need some sleep.


At 12:43 PM, Blogger sue said...

Okay, my head is spinning now. Does it count that I hate WM and shop Target? ...

At 2:48 PM, Blogger 21st Century Mom said...

Thank you for confirming my reasons for never going back to grad school after leaving 'temporarily' to get a job. I was making more as an entry level assistant than I would have made as a postdoc.

However, I am not Dr. 21CenturyMom and I am not really making a contribution to our body of knowledge so science as Walmart wins. Sort of. Also, when you finally get an industry job or a tenured teaching position you do okay financially.

As the man once said, "follow your bliss".

At 7:36 AM, Blogger James said...

It amazes me to read, and unfortunately see first hand, how poorly science grad students and postdocs, are treated. It amazes me because as a high school science teacher I regularly see publications which tell me that we're not producing enough students who are interested in the sciences, that we need to re-vamp and re-invigorate our science curriculums to encourage more student participation and career choices in that direction. Yes I see post-docs and grad students overworked, underpaid, and put in tenuous positions because of expensive health and dental care packages - what about this is something my good students should be interested in?

Now that said, I'd say that those postdocs and grad students in the "hard" sciences, i.e. physics, math, and engineering, do tend to be better treated from what I can tell, but they're nevertheless a part of a system that's every bit as much self-serving and penurious as in any of the other branches of science I'm familiar with. Moreover it sucks up as many foreigners as possible and for very many of the same reasons as I see used for out-sourcing: the foreigners work harder, longer, and essentially for less money. For less money because they're working longer for fixed salaries, and they often aren't aware of what they're entitled to and even when they are, because they're foreigners, are often afraid to take advantage of what is offered them. A case in point: At the local university here postdocs are paid for 11 vice 12 months, with the understanding the 1 month is to be taken as "vacation" time. Would you like to guess how many foreign grad students are aware of this, or how many postdocs/grad students, foreign or otherwise, ever feel that they're in a position where they can take that time off?

There's something seriously wrong with this system, and it's not just the number of kids we're pushing out of high school into the sciences that's the problem.

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Edie said...

This is an interesting metaphor. It isn't just science as an industry that wrings out workers. Higher education institutions are definitely run as businesses, with non-profit status to boot. I think there is more incentive for universities to recruit international students, at least for the reason that they pay much, much more for everything. This profit motive is hard on everyone but the "executives" of the university system--the president, the top administrators. Everyone else suffers along with the quality and the very ideal of public education.

I might point out that the possible solutions to the transnational parasitism do not end at complaining or demanding change. There are strike actions, which as we have seen can quickly threaten global markets; there are boycotts, which usually do not accomplish much but have a lot of potential when coupled with strike actions. I imagine in the academic setting a grad student and instructor strike to demand health care might really become a crisis for university administrators if students were to support the strike by not attending games, classes, etc. Beyond strikes and boycotts, there is the occupation of the factory or work facility. I imagine also in the sciences or educational system this would cause some turmoil for the executives. Just a ramble!


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