Feeling Undervalued And Underpaid

While I’m technically a ‘student,’ I work full time in a graduate research lab. The work I do is real work rather than just ‘study’ work. We get paid poverty wages for the work. Actually, less than poverty wages since must of us grads work 60 or more hours a week. Sometimes we don’t even get even get compensated at all.

I was a teaching assistant recently for my PI (Principal Investigator/i.e., Science Boss) and the hours I put in that class would’ve been worth at least $3 thousand at my hourly rate. The only compensation I got from it was a lunch after the class was over. And asking for actual compensation would ruin the precarious relationship a mentee has with a mentor. Especially when their recommendation letters determine the mentee’s career for the next ten years.

It’s really just slavery at the end of the day. We’re supposed to embrace it because it’s ‘experience.’

Something mentors often say when giving you extra uncompensated responsibilities is how it will help you manage time better or some dumb shit like that. Ha! Manage time better? You can’t be for real? Having more things to do in less time will not help me manage time better, it will just fucking burn me out and make me feel useless or like a failure for not getting everything done. Even when it can’t be done!

If you want me to manage time better by balancing teaching and doing research, one of them will suffer. And it’s often the teaching. Which means the next generation of leaders is getting shitty educations because who the fuck has time to adequately plan, teach, grade students appropriately when you have to work an extra 40 hours in lab? It’s easier to just give everyone ‘A’s regardless of whether they deserve it or if they learned anything.

But anyway, the real reason I wanted to vent was because of a meeting with my PI recently. I’ve been learning how to script to analyze interactions between chemicals in computational models for the last three years. This required a lot of effort on my part because I was trained as a biochemist in college and knew nothing about scripting or modeling. I’m very proud of the work I’ve completed and the insights I’ve learned from my efforts. I was planning on publishing the findings in a paper. Fast-forward to yesterday when my PI said he wanted to scrap all that analysis because it was superfluous decoration in favor for some 1-line code analysis that doesn’t prove or predict shit. All those nights I stayed up fixing bugs in code, all those weekends I stayed inside making plots for the past three fucking years and it’s all decoration? Seriously what the fuck. One line of irrelevant code is more meaningful to him than 3 years of hard work.

I don’t even know why I worked so hard. I don’t regret learning what I learned, because it made a more well rounded scientist. It broadened my career opportunities. But I really regret that the motivation for learning at the time was fear of disappointing him. I wanted to show him that I was capable, or whatever. Why the fuck did I feel the need to prove it to him? He’s disappointed in me regardless of whether I slaved away or not, so why did I waste so much time overthinking about how he’d view me if I behaved one way or another?

I guess I’m more angry at myself than I am at him. Even so, I lost a lot of respect for him. Because he can’t value work properly, I don’t really care for his good opinion. I just want to leave this program as soon as possible.

But here’s the new problem: Now that I have lost respect for him, I really don’t know how to bow out with grace. My instinct is to fight. I really cannot let someone call my hard work superfluous. That’s going to fuck me over though since like I said, my mentor’s letter of recommendation will determine my future for the next ten years.