Gathered on the steps of Nassau Hall, a group of about 50 postdoctoral researchers read aloud their open letter calling for a higher minimum salary. Armed with a printed petition which spanned the length of the Nassau Hall steps, the protest comes just two days after an announcement from the University that postdocs would receive an increased minimum salary of $65,000 and follows months of discussion about whether postdoc pay is sufficient.
On Jan. 19, a group of postdoctoral researchers sent an open letter addressed to Dean of the Faculty Gene A. Jarrett ’97 and Provost Deborah A. Prentice, urging the University to raise the minimum postdoc salary to $68,500, provide experience-based increases, and adjust salaries annually to account for costs of living. Over 400 individuals signed this letter, which called for administrative action before Feb. 6.
The discussion about postdoctoral pay was in part catalyzed by the University raising graduate salaries by an average of 25 percent in January 2022. In an anonymous op-ed in the ‘Prince’ published in April of that year, a postdoc wrote: “the University seems to have forgotten to extend the same pay increase to the essential postdoctoral community.” The postdoc cited that Princeton’s minimum wage for postdocs was set at the NIH postdoc minimum, noting that under certain assumptions, postdocs could be earning less than graduate students and “paying up to 68 percent or higher of their after-tax income for rent.”
Eight days after the open letter was delivered, the University announced that it would raise the minimum salary from $54,840 to $65,000, an 18.5 percent increase.
In a letter to postdocs, Jarrett said, “Establishing this new minimum salary recognizes the vital role that postdocs play in our campus community as researchers, in advancing faculty scholarship, and in contributing to Princeton’s academic mission.”
Jarrett also stated that “The new minimum salary will make [the University] even more competitive in recruiting excellent and diverse postdoctoral researchers to Princeton.”
However, organizers from Princeton University Postdocs and Scholars critiqued that message in an email to fellow postdocs.
“We deserve more than a salary increase that allows for ‘more competitive’ recruitment. We need a salary that covers the cost of housing, food, and childcare in Princeton,” the message said.
“[We asked for] the same 25 percent raise that graduate students received in 2022 (to $68,500), a yearly increase to track continued inflation, and an experience-based scale to acknowledge the value we bring to Princeton over time. Princeton did not meet these asks.”
Harrison Ritz and Judy Kim, two organizers of the protests, told The Daily Princetonian that the new plan announced by the University fell short in a few key areas and failed to consider the voices and needs of postdoctoral scholars.
“We are thankful and excited about the pay raise which will be beneficial to several of us,” Kim said. “The issue is we were not consulted or acknowledged in any way, and the University’s announcement did not acknowledge our email with requests for what we deserve and need. We want fair compensation for our labor.”
Ritz said that the postdocs had received no communication from the University.
“We want to be a part of the process. There was no communication or acknowledgement [of our demands],” Ritz said.
On Jan. 30, postdocs gathered to march from Icahn Laboratory to Nassau Hall. The postdocs filed into Nassau Hall to deliver their letter to University administrators personally. The protestors had hoped to meet with Dean Jarrett and Provost Prentice, but neither appeared.
When reached for comment, the University referred the ‘Prince’ to the letter sent by Dean Jarrett last week, as well as the University’s Postdoc FAQ page.
In their open letter, organizers referenced nationwide campaigns advocating for increased compensation for postdocs, including for postdoc unions such as those at Mt. Sinai and Columbia.
Postdoc Eve Beaury commented on the widespread nature of the issue and current efforts across universities.
“This is definitely a national issue, and something that's been getting attention a lot recently. In our letter to Princeton, we cited recent efforts by University of Washington, MIT, Harvard, and other universities,” Beaury said. “We’re trying to be part of that national effort.”
According to Ritz, the efforts that culminated in the protest built on the work of postdocs in years past, but specifically began last summer.
“This started sometime last summer with a group of like-minded postdocs who came together and felt like ‘we deserve better.’” Ritz said that the compensation received by postdocs “wasn’t enough to track the skyrocketing costs of living in and around Princeton.”
When asked about what the group hopes their efforts will accomplish, Ritz commented, “as a starting point, we want a modicum of dignity and respect. We want a seat at the table.”
Beaury noted that the recent salary increase was a positive sign, and that the group would continue working to address their needs.
“Because of how rapidly this is evolving, we’re really hoping that the University is going to respond by that February 6 deadline. But we're going to keep the communication open and keep working as a postdoc group,” Beaury said.
News contributor Kayra Sener contributed reporting.
Sophie Glaser is a news and features contributor, as well as a copy editor for the ‘Prince.’
Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.