, ,

There are several excellent posts on the problems with volunteer/interns in science:

1. Here’s mine

2. And Auriel Fournier’s

3. One from drugmonkey

4. And by Susan Letcher on Small Pond Science


Today, Sean McCann shared what has got to be one of the worst offenders: this post on EvolDir.  Go ahead and read it (though mind the awkward formatting).  In brief, the pay is $0. Oh, and it will cost you $300/month for food/accommodation, $1100 for permits (WTF?!), travel, insurance, and a minimum 6-month commitment… well you can see where this is heading.

And every so often, colleagues and I point out the inequalities perpetuated, the problems inherent, and the general issues with volunteer “staff”.  What baffles me is that this seems to elicit a very strong response, not necessarily in accordance with my/our views.  Volunteer positions are defended, lauded, and held up as the key breakthrough in someone’s career.  I’m glad to hear that.

But consider for a moment some alternate realities. Would you be as successful if:

  • you were a person of colour?
  • you were caring for an elderly family member?
  • you had a child?
  • you were LGBT?
  • you had little/no financial means?

There’s ample evidence to suggest that these groups are those most at a disadvantage by the current university system, and in science as a whole, and to whom I (and others) argue are done the most disservice by the perpetuation of volunteer positions used in place of paid staff. See the four posts at the beginning of this page for the evidence.

The argument that unpaid positions are the norm isn’t valid: it used to be(/sadly still is?) the norm for women to be kept out of positions of power, for there to be poor field safety, for mothers to smoke while pregnant, for LGBT folk to be assaulted/arrested, or for racist/sexist jokes around the dinner table, and for child labourers to work 80+ hours/week. But, by and large, western liberal democracies have adopted cultural norms that state these are not acceptable.

We don’t ask dentists, car mechanics, analytical labs, airlines, departmental administrative staff, or bakers (or any other professional) to volunteer “for the experience”. We need to treat our field staff (whether they be trainees or not) as professional scientists, because that’s what they are.

So, in an effort to highlight some of the problems in hiring wildlife/conservation/ecology field staff, I and a few others have started CrapWildlifeVolunteerJobs.tumblr.com, the premiere site for all unpaid positions! Feel free to submit job adverts you’ve found that don’t pay their “staff”.  As the site says, the goal isn’t necessarily to call out people or organizations, but to highlight the issue as a whole.  It even has an RSS feed, so you can follow along.

No money = no lab analyses

No money = no field supplies

No money = no gas for the truck

No money = no staff


It’s not rocket science.