If I were a member, I’d be the poster boy for GESO. I’m married, we have two kids with a third on the way, and my son requires special education. To save money, my wife and children have dropped the Yale Health Plan and are enrolled in the state-run program HUSKY, which is designed to provide healthcare and dental coverage for low-income residents. Our income is so low, we qualify for Earned Income Credit; to that end, we get “paid” taxes, rather than pay them.
But I’m not a GESO member now and I will resist becoming assimilated. You see, I’m happy, my wife is happy, and my children are happy little kids. I get paid to do cutting-edge research, learn amazing science, and most importantly work when I want and study what I want. I’ve chosen to work for investigators whom I both admire and strive to emulate.
It wasn’t always this way for me. As an Army pilot, I was told in no uncertain terms what I should be doing and when I should be doing it. Because I was told to, I flew intelligence-gathering missions against countries with which I have no gripe. I’m proud I did it because it was my job and I raised my right hand and said I’d do it.
Likewise, in August of 1999, I freely made a choice to enter graduate school. My wife and I planned for a couple of years prior to making this commitment. We came to Yale with our eyes open, prepared to work hard for very little money. Our prize at the finish line, a fancy piece of paper with a lot of words in Latin, is the key to our financial future.
I am not afraid of a six-year postdoc stint because I’ll never do it. If my record doesn’t make me competitive for an academic job after two or three years, then so be it. I’ll take a position in industry and mope in my $80,000-plus salary. While I’m pretty sure that I will be offered some sort of academic job, the ones who need to worry are the folks who spend vastly more time recruiting for GESO than they do in either their lab or library. It is amazing to me that they cry oppression when they’re getting paid by Yale to hang out, drink coffee and recruit.
Also amazing to me is this notion that Yale graduates have some divine right to an academic position. In our free market economy, these things are earned. Just ask my West Point buddies who left their secure Army pilot jobs for positions with the major airlines last summer. After Sept. 11, many of them, having been furloughed by the air carriers, are scrambling to pay bills. They made the choice to face the free market and are now adjusting to it quite like the dot-commers had to adjust a year or so ago.
Last year, I asked Graduate School Dean Susan Hockfield about Yale’s commitment to sustain my current stipend and benefits. They informed me that I had nothing to worry about since my letter of acceptance stated I was to earn a specific stipend and benefit package. The truth is that there is no guarantee — and that’s fine with me. There will be neither a guarantee that my pharmaceutical-company employer won’t fire me if my productivity drops a bit during a fiscal quarter, nor will there be a guarantee that I will get tenure should I take an academic faculty position.
I gladly take the responsibility of being a low-income student because I know that it’s temporary. I plan on beating the average Yale graduation time. The only things that can hold me back are myself and bad luck. I take responsibility for myself and GESO cannot do anything about luck. I hope my fellow graduate students will take responsibility for their actions, and not farm out their voices to some external administrator. I call on my fellow graduate students to reevaluate their needs and wants.
J. Kenneth Wickiser is a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry.