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Post-doctoral fellows to vote on mandatory services fee

Post-doctoral fellows will vote on the creation of a $136.44 per semester student services fee during the upcoming referendum period for the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), which runs from Nov. 8 to Nov. 14.

If passed, the question mandates a non-optoutable fee for all post-doctoral fellows, which would allow them to access a full range of student services, including Mental Health Services, Chaplaincy Services, Career Planning Service (CaPS), and others. Currently, post-doctoral fellows have the option of paying a $136.44 fee if they wish to use the services.

Post-doctoral fellows are individuals who have completed their doctoral studies and are continuing to work in their field of interest by conducting research under a supervisor or principal investigator prior to applying for job as a faculty member. While the Quebec Government classifies post-doctoral fellows as students, the university considers them to be staff.

“We’re in this limbo between staff and students where we don’t actually get the benefits of either, which is a problem because you don’t get things like access to health care, counselling, mental health, [and the office for students with] disabilities,” explained Emma Vincent, president of the Association of Post-doctoral Fellows of McGill University.

The need to access student services can be vital for many postdoctoral fellows, whose salaries range from $30,000-$40,000, according to Dr. Min Liu, a post-doctoral fellow currently working at the Montreal Neurological Institute. As individuals who do not currently pay a student services fee, postdoctoral fellows must often spend more on a variety of services.

“To have access to the gym [….] we are actually treated as staff,” Liu said. “So in order for me to enroll in the gym for a year, it’s about $525. A student per semester only pays $37.”

Despite the current option for post-doctoral fellows to opt-in on the fee, Vincent said very few post-doctoral fellows actually know that access to student services is available to them for this price, and that the Association of Post-doctoral Fellows only found out about it recently. Furthermore, for those who do choose to opt-in, many of the services are not tailored to suit their requirements because many of the student service staff are not familiar with postdoctoral fellows’ needs.

“The advantage of having everyone opt-in would be improved services for post-docs because they would be tailored and specific to us, whereas right now those that opt in just get what’s sawed off for grad students,” Vincent said.

Vincent also said she hopes that having all postdoctoral fellows obligated to pay the student services fee will help increase the sense of community among them in order to use it as a tool for lobbying the McGill administration.

“Right now […] we’re just a community adrift with no bargaining power,” she said. “If we paid an amount of money, we could sit down with the people that run the services and say ‘we’d really like this for the post-docs,’ and actually work on achieving that.”

Full disclosure: the Tribune Publication Society (TPS) is also running a fee levy question in this referendum period. Adrien Hu, Steven Lampert, and Carolina Millán Ronchetti are on the TPS ‘Yes’ committee. 

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