Thursday, February 09, 2012

Anything for money...

Some days ago, I was in a meeting where the group discussed how to attract the right type of applicants for a research project. I had pointed out that they might need to rethink their call, if they wanted new partners, because not everybody would be willing to cooperate or interested in the call the way it was presented. The response was "researchers will do anything for money."

At the moment, I responded snappy and snarky, as I sometimes can, with enough humour that there was laughter. I didn't stop thinking about it though. Do we do it all for money?

My paycheck, to start there, indicates that of the group at the meeting, I am the least motivated by money. They all out-earn me, some of them several times. Then to the things I do for them and for others. I am a pretty cheap lecturer, and a very easy partner for discussions. I travel large distances to contribute, sometimes without decent funding even for the costs. When that same group needed to make the initial plan for the research call, I sat aside a day, for free, to speak to their staff and assist them. If I had asked them for help, 1000 kr an hour would have been charity.

I respond at length to journalists, I give lectures at schools and organisations at a symbolic pay, I respond to public hearings and I publish for nothing but the chance to have my work aknowledged. While I do get a salary, I don't even get all my books and computers covered, the tools I need in order to do the work I am hired to do.

I, like most others in the same position, put in a huge amount of effort at unpaid work, reviewing for journals and conferences, and a huge amount of underpaid work, such as assessing exams and applicants for various positions - luckily some of the last work is occasionally paid fairly. That is not the rule, though. And all of this adds up to work-days which are illegal according to Norwegian law. If I registered all the work I do my employer could get in trouble for taking advantage of the work-force.

Yes, sometimes money motivates me. Like right now, while we are two people on one salary, I would really like to be paid for some of that extra work. But when I apply for research funding, it's not the money that motivates me, it's the project.

What I am willing to work 50-70 hour weeks for is the research itself. For this I am willing to write applications and argue for funding. I will patiently and politely listen to employers who insult my professional integrity, and then spread the money I get out of it so thin that it looks fake, in order to make it really, really last.

Next time people claim I (a researcher) do anything for money, I'll ask what they get paid. What motivates them, you think?


Writer Chick said...

That's a very good point. Please consider being a little more aggressive when next you undertake salary negotiations. If doing anything only for money creeps you out, consider couching it in terms of self-respect: I am willing to put up with this crap to do my research, but if I have to put up with it, they can at least pay me for the inconvenience!

Torill said...

Dear Writer Chick

It was not a salary discussion, and the people I was discussing with work in very different organisations. Being more aggressive in negotiations do not work THAT well in Scandinavian Academia; I could be the second coming of Einstein, and the people in that meeting would still out-earn me several times.

The point is that I do my research not because I "will do anything for money" but because I want to do research. If I was willing to put up with a lot of shit for money, I'd have had one of their jobs, and not mine.