This quick post is in response to one by DrugMonkey a few days ago entitled, “Nope, I just get my regular salary…” Drug speaks of the realities of federal research grant-supported scientists at US universities and research institutes and how the apparent large dollar figure grants do not line the pockets or supplement the salary of principal investigators.
Yes, there are some caveats here in that many institutions now offer professors a base salary that can be increased by some percentage if they receive X grant dollars or % effort. This was started at some institutions by taking one’s current salary, say $80,000, and telling faculty they were guaranteed $60K but could win back their full $80K if they got a grant that paid the other $20K. Happy day, eh?
Drug asked what others have found to be the perceptions of friends, neighbors, other university employees, etc. when they learn that one just received, say, a half million dollar grant.
Here’s one of my earliest experiences upon becoming an independent investigator:
One of my previous institutions would routinely publish in the dead-tree university news the full dollar figures of recently-awarded grants. The indirect costs would also be added to the figure, making a then $175K/year grant look around $250-260K. So, a 4-year R01 back then woyld still look to be over a million bucks, right? I’d have students come up to me and congratulations me on my millionaire windfall, assuming that this money went entirely into my pocket, and ask why I was still driving the same shitty car.
So, I would actually take time once a semester to explain to my students (B.S. pharmacy students then) how much it takes to pay, say, 25% of my salary, a postdoc, and a technician, plus the 27% or so in fringe benefits that “the university pays” to those lucky enough to be employed. Students had no idea that the postdocs and graduate students there had to be paid by us; their impression was that they were university employees provided to us to do our research while we counted our million dollars. Add reagents, common equipment maintenance, etc., and they saw right quick what “my” million bucks went to. This was useful for two reasons: 1) to help students understand why we did research even though they were told “teaching is the most important thing we do at this university” and 2) enhance the respect they’d have for the level of science being done in the labs they though were just dabbling in some foolishness.
They began to understand, in essence, that each prof was a free-agent, small-business owner that operated in a collective or co-op where they could share in some higher-ticket common instrumentation.
I’d also share with these students, in general terms, what a new assistant professor makes after a BS, PhD, and 3 to 6-year postdoc (was $50K at the time) versus a fresh BS in pharmacy – back when it was the entry-level degree, it still paid $60-80K/year. Today, PharmD graduates easily make $90K while new assistant profs in our market get $70-75K. They were amazed that the people teaching them made less than they’d make their first year with a BS.
Okay. Now I’m depressed.