How much is a postdoc worth?

Is the question asked by Jack Parker. So are we really taken advantage of, or are we just a bunch of whiners?

A study from 2002 says it all. (Keep in mind that the study is 5 years old and that postdoc salaries have gone up.)

First off, some comparisons:

Compared with their peers in engineering, law, medicine or business administration, natural scientists languish at the bottom of the salary league. In 1999, the median annual income of those working in the natural sciences in the USA was almost US$10 000 less than that of mathematical and computer scientists. This imbalance was even higher when it was compared with the income of lawyers and judges, who, on average, earn US$25 000 more than scientists.

So here is a table that represents the

average salaries for the whole of the academic spectrum, ranging from technician to institute director


We are at the bottom. And this is just anyone in academic science. How about postdocs?

Since no specific data are available on postdoctoral incomes in the natural sciences, a sample of salaries was taken from job advertisements posted on the EMBO database, in Nature and in Science. Although this is clearly not a thorough analysis, it provides a snapshot of the average salary a postdoc can expect to earn in various countries.


Bad. And in many cases we have invested many more years in training then any of the other profession listed above.

And how about fellowships? (Again these are old numbers and things have changed for the better):


Again some extra worries that are not reflected in the numbers:

As also shown in the table, many fellowship programmes do not include health insurance and this in itself can devour a significant chunk of the basic salary, especially if the recipient is married and/or has children. They often do include family benefits, but the value of these varies enormously, and there is still a long way to go before pay accurately reflects these additional costs.

Plus no retirement saving funds (although HHMI are pretty good with that), no money for child care expenses. And of course my biggest gripe, the pyramid scheme. (See this post too.)

So when Antonio Coutinho, Director of the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência in Portugal, is quoted in the article as saying that it

is unacceptable that people with 10 to 15 years of education end up with these levels of salaries.

I think to myself that it is no wonder so few Americans are in science - it's not that they are dumb, but that they are smart. They don't want to sacrifice their earning potential for the life of a scientist. But I guess we live in a society where the government (who pays most of our salaries) is bad, and "looking out for number one", is forced upon the citizenry.

Fortunately things have improved in the US (how about in various European countries?) but more needs to be done.

We need to ask those who hold the purse strings (i.e. the NIH, and the government), How much do you value young scientists?

Jack Parker
How much is a scientist worth?
EMBO reports (02) 3:1012-1015 doi:10.1093/embo-reports/kvf229

[HT: Andrea DA]


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Interesting. And sad.

Sorry about the long comment - but I just moved to Australia after a 2-year post-doc in US and wanted to add some perspectives from down under. Firstly, you get recognized as a full 'staff' - in US, many universities do not recognize Postdocs as staff members and hence get excluded from staff benefits. Second, salaries are slightly higher (about $45,000-$48,000 starting) here. Third, 17% contribution from the University for pension funds (called Superannuation here)! Fourth, a post-doc actually signs a proper work contract, which spells out benefits and everything. This does not leave the post-doc at the mercy of the PI.

Having said that, there seems to be fewer support systems for post-docs here. Perhaps I was spoiled by the excellent post-doc services office at the US university, but there are no career advice, support groups etc out here. And I am still not sure of how the post-doc salaries compare to other industries.

I'm sorry to say this but it's one of the reasons I'm ditching natural science for computer science. There are plenty of people who have the money for 15 years of education to get paid just 30,000 a month, the scientific community doesn't need me.

Uh, you probably wish it was 30,000 per month. I meant "per year" of course.

First of all, those numbers are in fact above the average in many cases. At least for most of European countries, especially for Portugal. I don't think most postdocs make those large figures here.

Second, I'm not surprised to see someone from IGC, namely Antonio Coutinho, speak up since we are most probably below the EU average.

The constant lookout for the next postdoc, next contract and no real reassurance of future stability makes things harder for scientists.

Let's hope that these numbers grow and that we can start getting paid accordingly.

BTW, great post!

The typical sentence we end up most of our PhD happy hours is:
(with all the respects to bus-drivers..)
Why studying 10/15 years, being ourselves part of the most innovative thinking power of a nation, and get the same salary of a bus-driver.. with less benefits such as pension, medical insurance and so on..
Obviously it can be argued that if we wanted money this was not the careeer to seek. But the way postdocs are considered
is awful.
I wish some research minister could read this, even if I fear that he will not even know what a postdoc is.
ciao ciao

By Andrea D'Ambrogio (not verified) on 26 Jun 2007 #permalink

Am i the only one who reads this blog that likes being a post-doc?

Don't tell my boss, but as a post-doc having transferred from comp. sci to biology and lost 40% of my wage as a result, I'm very happy. In comp. sci., despite the huge pay, people were constantly whining about how much more they'd earn in industry. The biologists I know, in contrast, seem to take the attitude that we're incredibly lucky to be paid at all to work on something that's meaningful, fascinating, constantly challenging and truly changes the world - and to have smart, highly motivated colleagues to share it with. How many people get that in life?

Hoping that what we can change the world is the motor that keeps us doing this work, you're right.
And I like also that we actually do something instead of just saying that something should be done.
I wish this attitude could be incorporated into politics.

By Andrea D'Ambrogio (not verified) on 26 Jun 2007 #permalink

as a still-predoc, i found this post both horrifying and satisfying.
horrifying in that our culture still doesn't appreciate the contributions of scientists, both in the basic knowledge that they generate and in their ability to substantially advance our society.
satisfying in that scientists remain scientists, for the love of the process and pursuit of their passion.
i linked to this post, as it provides good reminder of both :)

yes, this is exactly why I am gonna leave science! I am a person passionate for knowledge. I made my doctorate thesis, I published many articles in neuroscience, psychology etc. Well I just think that working in science does not pay off, and this is not at all meant financially but also in many other respects.

You have to work hard and very hard. This is sort of fine because at the end this is passionate connection. So it is not that I am lazy when I say this. However it is a fact that you have to work and work very hard, if you are a young scientist you may also work during weekends. And what do you get as reward? Few stupid papers published in few journals that nobody is gonna read. No normal non-scientist human being
will ever notice it. Ok let's say you publish in good high ranking journals. But so what at the end. There are only few hundreds of people who are going to read this paper and understand what you are doing. That is a good feeling to be in the 0.00000001 percentile of the whole humanity but at the end, what do you get back from it? A stupid salary, a lot of working hours. Rejected papers, extremely arrogant reviewers, stupid supervisors, schools of thoughts and wild competition, enemy laboratories and scientist with querrels, unfair treatments from editors... the list is long to be honest...

Yeah, so goodbye science. I would like to say good luck you scientist. Enjoy your conferences and be a good guy. And good luck with the grant applications :)

Hi. I am living in Indonesia.

Perhaps, scientist would be a little bit suprise to know the truth, but yes this is the truth.

Having giving a lecture for 3 years at the private university in Jakarta [some says this is the best and a number 1 of private university in Indonesia], and after some conversation with my previous lecture who has been around for 30 years, and talking constanly with so many colleagues.

This is the conclusion:

1. All University in Indonesia is a printing shop of certificates and diploma. Yes, this is valid for undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral studies.

2. Because of the above reason. Indonesian academie tends to act and think that a University is a place to teach, that is a place to teach and get some cash from teaching activities.

3. Based on no.2, the main job description for lectures, assistant professor, and full professor in Indonesia is to do some teaching in order to get some cash for university.

Research is considered as a not-normal-activity carried out by lectures or by professor.

There are no research skills requirement is needed in order to be a Chairman of Depart or even a Chairman / Rector of University. No scholary published paper is needed to become a Chairman of Depart.

I think that the research capabilities of Indonesian University is at the bottom compare with EU or American University.

4. The salary pay scale is very-very lowest compare with industry.

The monthly salary for a lecture [with MBA's without doctoral degree] who have been teaching more than 20 years is not more than a taxi driver can earn in a month !, around US$ 600 a month.

A fresh-american Phd's salary is same with the fresh-local undergraduate who enter the job for the first time [22 - 23 year old], around US$ 300 a month.

Yes, it is true that some Indonesian university professor can earn US$ 10,000 to US$ 30,000 a month. But not so many professor have that luxury, maybe around 100 to 200 men [not women !],

5. I recommend for any PhD's holder to stop working and teaching at the university. Working at the industry is the best things that someone can get, or you can establish your own company and do the business for yourself.

6. The final questions then:
What about the passion to science and knowledge ?

Yes, with the help of the internet, and Google, we can do it at home, studying,researching and producing some good paper to publish.
This is what Dr Stephen Wolfram do.

7. Dr Stephen Wolfram owns company who can generate enough cash to support his scientific interest and passion.

8. To university lecture and professor in Indonesia. First, get some cash as much you can and then you can do whatever you want to.

9. .....

By Indoenesian (not verified) on 09 Jul 2011 #permalink