Wednesday, January 09, 2008

No Stem Cell Sinecure at CIRM

The California stem cell agency is planning to make some pay changes for its staff and seems to be setting the stage with an interesting document that is now up on its web site.

In some ways, the three-page statement of "compensation philosophy" could be considered a list of the reasons not to work for CIRM. On the other hand, it is a realistic portrayal of work-life at the agency. The staff is tiny – now only 26 and limited to 50 by state law. The work is intense and demanding.

CIRM directors have repeatedly expressed concern about burnout. Seven persons, including some high level officials, have left since October.

Nonetheless CIRM offers some extraordinary opportunities to work at the cutting edge of science, government and business. It is doing pioneering work and is watched globally. It currently has a "wow" factor that has even enticed its new President, Alan Trounson, away from Australia.

Here is the segment of the compensation philosophy that might give pause to some who may be looking for a sinecure:
"CIRM recognizes recruiting and retention challenges that are unique to CIRM and that reduce the pool of talent available to the Institute. These include:

CIRM’s inability to offer tenured positions to any of its employees. All CIRM staff are at-will employees and can be terminated at the discretion of the President, which is a strength of the Institute but a liability for individual employees.

CIRM’s anticipated life-span is 10-14 years, which rules out the possibility of a longterm career track that is available for many civil service positions in the UC system.

"Due to CIRM’s projected limited life span, the Defined Benefit Plan (a traditional pension plan) is not perceived to be of significant value by staff members who will presumably have left the organization by the time they reach retirement age.

"The Defined Benefit Plan dictates a five-year vesting schedule, which is unattractive if the employee is with CIRM for a limited time period.

"CIRM has a defined contribution plan (e.g. 401K & 457) not supplemented with employer contributions.

"CIRM’s Conflict of Interest policy limits an employee’s ability to engage in outside opportunities to earn additional income through consulting and/or holding investments in organizations that can benefit from CIRM’s programs, including a requirement that employees divest themselves of any investment in a company that devotes more than 5% of its research budget to stem cell research.

"CIRM, unlike many of CIRM’s academic competitors, does not offer housing allowances, which is a significant challenge when relocating prospective staff to the Bay Area with its high cost of real estate and living.

"CIRM does not provide a long-term career path or advancement for staff within CIRM due to the limited number of positions defined by law to be within CIRM’s structure. Promotion can come only when existing staff members leave.

"Given our statutory inability to recruit a large number of new staff, CIRM employees need to be flexible and willing to transfer skills to support CIRM’s overall operating goals, which may go beyond bench-marked job descriptors gained from larger established institutions.

"Staff members need to be willing to be cross-trained as CIRM’s needs develop.

"As part of their job descriptions, CIRM employees need to be able to work “out of the box” in that they are to interact with institutions arround the world to ensure positive international relations."
The proposed changes in pay come up at next week's Oversight Committee meeting. No information on the specifics is yet available on the CIRM web site.

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