Postdoctoral compensation policy

Apr 19 2010 Published by under Careerism, NIH Budgets and Economics

I can't make this a poll because there are simply too many options and subtleties.
The question, Dear Reader, is would you please relate how postdocs are compensated, or have been compensated, in institutions/labs/situations of your experience.
A comment from me on a prior thread lays out the NIH starting pay for postdocs on NRSA awards.

and just because...i thought I'd look up the numbers my memory being what it isn't and all... all are starting postdocs with 0 yrs prior postdoc experience.
FY97, $20, 292
http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/not96-266.html
FY98, $21,000
http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/not98-001.html
FY99 $26,296
http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/not98-161.html
fy00, $26,916
http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-00-008.html
FY01, $28,260
http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/Notice-files/NOT-OD-01-011.html
FY02, $31,092
http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/not-od-02-028.html
FY03, $34,200
http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-03-036.html

I have always stuck to the NIH NRSA scale when setting my postdoctoral trainees' salaries. The reason* I do so is that it seems to me to be the only fair way, assuming that one's University does not set a higher default scale, to deal with a mixed bag of NIH fellows and paid-from-grant people.
I do not supplement above the payscale. Or I have not yet done so. Within my own group, the grants fluctuate over time. There are times when I could "easily afford" a few extra thousand and times when I could not. Starting to pick and choose when/who to supplement seems to me to lead to bias. You supplement person A now but three years down the road you can't afford it for the person B- aha, BIAS! You are discriminating because you really could afford it, technically, it would just mean a bigger hit to the research program. Sticky. Also sticky is the issue of postdocs within the department being paid more / less than the person sitting next to them just because the PI is relatively flusher at that moment in time. I'm willing to use the NRSA scale as an excuse to pay my postdocs more than the PI next door if she chooses to pay less. Not so willing to tilt departmental equity "just because".
So have at it. What were / are you paid as a postdoc? If a PI, what practices have you adopted and why?
__
*To my recollection I was always paid a salary consistent with the existing NRSA payscale as a postdoc. This may contribute to my viewpoint as well.

139 responses so far

  • anon from the southern hemisphere says:

    In this country, there is no set nationwide postdoc scale, instead it varies with each institution. So you could begin a postdoc at one university which pays less than other universities (eg around 5,000 less than the average, and 18,000 approx less than the best paying university), as I did. Or go from a high paying one to one where you have to take a substantial pay cut, like my friend. (Let me also be clear that postdoc pay is not linked to external measures of research excellence at our universities).
    My current postdoc is from government funding, set at almost the average for postdoc slaries, (despite being very prestigious!). However, we now have a situation where university departments increasingly will not accept postdocs with external government funding unless the postdoc is paid the same as all other postdocs at that university - hence my current salary is now topped up by the department I work in (after quite some negotiation by my mentor).
    Other experiences: I was unable to complete the paperwork on a postdoc offer at a university I particularly wanted to work in, as the department refused to top up the salary on principle to match other postdocs at the institution, and the human resources section of the university refused to approve the government funding unless the department did- no win for me and a number of other postdocs as no positions were granted. Another offer I had elsewhere: I was unable to take up an offered postdoc as the postdoc salary was apparently unsuitable for someone with children. So they told me. Go figure.
    Looks to me that consistent pay scales and funding for postdocs is a big plus, as long as it is at a level that allows someone to live - without discriminating against postdocs, especially women that might have other life experiences like gasp! families.

  • Jim says:

    Currently $50K.

  • ginger says:

    Don't forget to include the period of your contract over that time - the main reason I moved overseas is that I couldn't afford to keep a roof over my head between soft-money periods.
    I finished my PhD in 2006, but basically because of grant timing I worked for pay only about half the time between 2006 and 2009. I'm midway through my three-year contract at an Australian research university, and I'm in the middle of the scale for Level B Research Fellows here. I started here at about $75K. When AUD and USD are at parity, that's just over twice what I made as a post-doc on an institutional training grant. (Sometimes it's as little as 1.5 times what I made.) I also get about a month's PTO a year and my university contributes to my super (retirement fund).
    I swear, I didn't move here for the money, but for the potential to keep working steadily for three years at a stretch, instead of bopping back and forth from grant to grant and totally failing to publish any first-author papers. But the money means if we do move back to the US, I can afford to keep myself alive while I try to figure what to do about the problem of trying to get an academic research career going in a flat-funded environment.
    DrugMonkey and PhysioProf - how do you decide what to pay yourselves as PIs? I assume you're at least partly soft-money people and so you have some leeway.

  • From 2002 - 2005: $35,000 (Canadian)

  • I have no discretion whatsoever concerning my own salary. And my position is 100% hard money, although I am expected to support a substantial fraction of that salary from my grants.

  • queenrandom says:

    Well I'm not a postdoc yet, but I can tell you that for FY03 as a tech making R1 institution minimum with a B.S., I was only a couple thousand under a postdoc. At my current institution, techs with no experience are slightly under beginning postdocs, but techs with 2 years experience get a higher salary than postocs with 2 years experience. (I also took a paycut to go to grad school - even if you include tuition waiver - but we won't get into my opinions on that).
    Given the data above, I feel postdoc minimums should be much higher. But that could be clouded by the fact that I will be transitioning to a postdoc in less than a year 😉
    Now, I wonder about one thing when I think about tech v. postdoc salary: tech salary is not NIH regulated (to my knowledge), but rather institution-regulated. We all know that NIH has its postdoc minimums. I wonder if that actually artificially lowers postdoc salaries (or on the flipside, artificially inflates tech salaries) creating this imbalance in salaries v. education level.
    I also notice the jumps from postdoc salary to associate professor to professor salaries are relatively huge compared to the jump from grad student to postdoc salary. (Most) Institutions pay part of professor PI salaries but none of postdoc salaries. I envision a system where trainee salaries are also partly paid by the institution rather than entirely on grants, but I doubt it will happen. (I sometimes feel the attitude towards grad students and postdocs by institutions in regard to compensation is why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free-it's like institutions completely ignore the fact that our research benefits them, too). Anyway, my long and rambling point after a day of both encouraging and depressing career mentoring at a big meeting is this: if there is to be change in postdoc compensation, it must be at an institutional and systemic level rather than the level of individual PIs - and that's why it will never happen.

  • jenny says:

    New post doc here with 0 years experience paid the NRSA rate ($37,368)

  • FSP says:

    As a PI, I am now paying between $45-50k for a postdoc. I don't have a particular policy, but I try to pay on the high side of a typical rate for my field and I budget for raises.

  • kiwi says:

    In NZ postdoc salaries vary between 53K and approx 80K depending on which institution, and with increments each year. Usually for 3 years of funding. These amounts are enough to live on, and 80K is pretty sweet. Lecturers similarly vary between universities, but gnerally begin about $10-20K more than a postdoc.

  • Bal_Inst says:

    I was always paid by NRSA payscale, until I landed the K99-at my institution you budget your own salary off the K99 according to minimums stated in the program announcement. These were ~10K higher than NRSA level. So now I pull down 60K/yr. My institution is good about benefits (medical/dental/life insurance/matching retirement funds/flex spending for medical and child care). Unless you get an NRSA, then you lose retirement. I have recently started as a tt asst. prof. It is nice to make more, but I am not rolling in cash by any means.
    IMO, the argument that postdoc pay should be more similar to PI salary is ridiculous. I know that postdoc salary can seem pretty harsh, especially living in the more expensive metro areas. No matter how much, as a postdoc, you feel that you are running the research it is still a TRAINING position. If you want a "real" job with real pay, then go get one (industry, policy, writing, etc.). Several posts (including http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2008/04/repost-em-postdocs-always-overestimate-their-intellectual-contributionsem#comment-859818 and a similar post by Professor in Training at http://trainingprofessor.blogspot.com/2009/04/postdoc-perceptions-as-to-what-pi.html) have covered this.

  • I started over 2 years ago at $37k. I'm now at $38.5k.
    I had two good friends start postdocs in different engineering departments at the same time as me. One started at $42k, the other at $44k.

  • Dan says:

    I am currently paid $40k/yr as a postdoc in the US. This is the start of my second postdoc, after having spent three years in Europe.
    I think a big thing that we haven't discussed is the cost of living in various places. $40k is pretty much fine here in Houston, TX, but living on that would be harder if we were in Boston, NYC or the SF Bay Area. In the UK, I believe that Wellcome Trust postdocs are automatically paid more if they are in London. Does anyone know of similar adjustments for cost of living variation in the US?

  • Anonymous says:

    2004-2006; 32K/yr in California

  • whimple says:

    We pay 90% of the NRSA scale as a set policy for all postdocs, because we are in an affordable neighborhood. We kicked around the concept of increasing that to 100% of the NRSA scale last year, but decided not to. One weirdness of the NRSA scale is that postdocs get pretty good raises every year, until they max out. On the other hand we haven't had any raises for faculty and staff for several years running, and have no prospects for staff/faculty raises in any meaningful amount for at least several years more. It's counterintuitive here, but everyone is tightening their belts except the postdocs. (actually, the grad students are also doing pretty good raise-wise, again based on the NIH scale)

  • Anon 4 this says:

    With

  • D says:

    I'll be starting a postdoc in Europe relatively soon. In American dollars my pay will be ~$58,000 (and they're covering the international moving cost). I was also offered a position in a different European country for $75,000 American. Frankly, the pay here in the US is crap. I made almost as much as a beginning postdoc when I was a tech with just a college degree and working 40 hours a week. Now that other countries are paying more and their funding is starting to catch up, I wouldn't be surprised to see more talent leaving the country.
    @Dan, I know grad students make more in the Bay Area than elsewhere (at least where I went) to make up for the cost of living. Though, this is somewhat program dependent as a friend who was a Chemistry grad student got paid ~$5K less than me (not sure how he got by with the insanely high rents).

  • Anonymous says:

    in my institution (west coast of usa) physics postdocs make ~50k, chemistry postdocs ~$45k, and I've heard bio people make ~40k, but it sounds like you guys know more than me about that.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    NRSA rates have always been shamefully low for any US geographical region in which humans outnumber cows.
    I was amazed in the previous thread that so many so-called progressives could not fathom the idea of a living wage. I may be an eeeeeeevil Rethuglican, but I would never stick to bare minimums.
    I do not flatter myself so much to believe that my brilliant mentorship is worth abject poverty for my trainees.

  • Anon 4 this says:

    Shit. HTML fail. I meant to say I have less than 1 year of postdoc experience and make $35k. I do live in BFE, which was part of the equation, because I do have some student loans and whatnot. That is not ALL of the equation of course, but it's worth noting.

  • Venkat says:

    Just finished my 1st yr as postdoc in big city, got ~$38k. OK if you are single, else gotta have either a very understanding or a very rich significant other.
    A friend of mine went to Bay area, gets $45k. But he tells me everything is costlier there.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Who are you calling a progressive N-c? Me?

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Own it, dude.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I am not loudly and overtly in favor of legalizing cannabis therefore I cannot possibly be a progressive dude.

  • puck says:

    Starting a US postdoc fellowship in the physical sciences this fall; pay is $62.5K/yr, duration is 3 years (with potential raises in the 2nd and 3rd years depending on fellowship budget). This is my first postdoc, but the pay through the fellowship (aimed at 1st or 2nd postdocs) is the same regardless.

  • puck says:

    ETA: This fellowship also comes with a research budget, to be used directly by each postdoc (not filtered through a PI or adviser/mentor) of 16K/yr, and starting relocation expenses can be reimbursed up to $7500 (my moving expenses won't even get CLOSE to this if I try; it's clear that this budget is aimed towards accommodating postdocs with young families. Not sure if that's sufficient for an average family's moving needs, but it's definitely a great step in the right direction!)

  • expat postdoc says:

    in Germany first year postdocs start at TV-13 or BAT II which is about 45000€ with full benefits. As a second postdoc, it's somewhat easy to get 50k-60k€ with group leader type positions.
    I am still currently on NRSA stipend, until my group leader salary starts.
    Got to agree with D, pay in the US is shitty by comparison.

  • anon says:

    For the first year of my postdoc in the Bay Area, I was paid $43,000 which was the NRSA rate + a bonus for having a PhD in an engineering or quantitative field. I've come across that bonus in multiple places, but it doesn't seem to be well publicized.
    Neuro-conservative, I get the point you're trying to make, but you could check living wage before making snide comments.
    http://www.livingwage.geog.psu.edu/places/0607567000
    In the Bay Area, the living wage for a single person is $26,300. For a person supporting a single child, it's $45,400. Although I did support a child and spouse for a single year (living wage) $54,900, it would be difficult to set a flat payscale for an uncommon scenario for postdocs (i.e. if there's a spouse, the spouse is often earning money... though in my case the spouse was finishing grad school, which isn't that uncommon a scenario).
    So yes, a pay scale in the upper 30's lower 40's does fit into the Bay Area living wage for most postdocs. Living wage isn't comfortable and there's a argument that someone with 9+ years of post-secondary education should be making more than living wage, but I don't think that's the argument you were making.

  • coolnik says:

    Very interesting to see the wide spread in postdoc salaries..
    Mine: Second year postdoc in an Engineering department on east coast USA, $41000.

  • Anonymous says:

    I am in my third year of a postdoc and make $50k.

  • tideliar says:

    First postdoc was in DC on $35k fixed rate. I naively thought this was totes awesome till I got evicted. Second postdoc was NRSA scale. Now, of course, much better 🙂

  • Jason says:

    I'm in the NIH/NIMH intramural program and started at ~42k and now am at ~50k, 4 years later. My supervisor, and this is either institute-specific or maybe even lab-specific, has a fixed maximum number of postdoc slots she can fill. And salaries do not come out of lab operating costs which frees her to pay us the maximum allowed by NIH guidelines.

  • Jen says:

    I am a postdoctoral research/teaching fellow in biology paid by a K12 institutional grant, so my stipend is strictly NIH scale, plus a small budget for travel/teaching-related expenses. Although I am in the 2nd year of my fellowship, I had one year of prior postdoc experience, so I am currently paid at the year-3 rate (just under $44k). My PI pays all postdocs not on fellowships at NIH scale. I'm in a state with a pretty hefty income tax, so my monthly tax hit is fairly steep.

  • neulover says:

    You're now arguing that you fix the market -- pay only standard scale, whatever you might think an individual post-doc is worth (can't tell whether you give "seniority" bonuses). If so, then, we're really arguing about what "post-docs" are worth, compared to people in the rest of the reserach enterprise (rather than arguing that they are paid the market, because there is no market, there's market fixing). If the average NIH-funded faculty member makes 100K (and my guess is that the average NIH-funded faculty member in biomed makes more than that, though I'm not finding a number --the current salary cap is 199K), what should the pay differential be? Arguing that it's flatter in other enterprises (where the market isn't fixed) isn't particularly relevant. The main question is how should we divide the salary pie, among the people who contribute to the reserach (i.e grad students, technicians, post-docs, and PI's). Those are not separate items, and to argue that increasing the salary of individual post-docs -> firing post-docs is not a foregone conclusion. If a PI makes 3X what a post-doc does, they can fund the salary increase of 3 post-docs by taking a 6% paycut themselves (as well as by firing 6% of their post-docs). You can refuse to do so, but when you do, you're just arguing for your personal benefit (you think you should be paid what you're worth) just as the post-docs are arguing for what they're worth.
    (And, I paid my last post doc 40K, w/ 0 years of experience. We regard the NIH bases as bases -- not caps).

  • zoubl says:

    I started a post-doc in '96. The pay was less than I made as an entry level tech. It was abysmal. I got my own funding from two different sources and used one to supplement the other for a whopping total of $25k.

  • Sxydocma1 says:

    Here, at some fancy-pants institution in Boston, I am paid according to the NRSA payscale. I'm about to start the 4th year of my post-doc.

  • Scicurious says:

    Sci will be making NIH base ($37K) in large super expensive city. Gonna be fun.

  • Minimum institutional salary for postdocs here is 36K. That's what I get. If I land an NRSA this year, my salary will go up to 37K but the dept has already made it clear that I will have to supplement the institutional allowance for benefits out of my own paycheck, so net income will be less than 36K at that point. Awesome.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Further to DM's original query, I am curious how much range is being seen in PD offers. How much of this is by choice? Back when, I chose an offer of more money at a less well-known institution against a minimum-stipend offer at a top-5. Worked out OK, but YMMV.

  • miko says:

    At my previous institution (overseas), postdocs got around $45K (US) in salary, which is significantly more in terms of living cost there. They also got housing of about $18-24K per year and usually around 10-15% performance bonus.
    At my current institution, where, in addition to the pants being fancy, the stomach-turning sight of blue-blazered undergrads is not uncommon, postdocs generally get NIH scale, though there is no policy I know of. There are postdocs here who get no benefits, a larger category get so-so health insurance. None get staff benefits.
    Oh yeah, we get 10% off for Verizon mobile contracts. Maybe postdocs who teach get holiday cash from the undergrads when they tip the rest of the help.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    You can refuse to do so, but when you do, you're just arguing for your personal benefit (you think you should be paid what you're worth) just as the post-docs are arguing for what they're worth.
    If that is directed at me, the difference is that I realize it is just selfish interest and I don't try to dress it up exceptionalist arguments.

  • Janessa says:

    I'm a 3rd year grad student at a pretty well known Midwestern university living in a major metropolitan area with ~3 million people. Graduate students are paid $24,000/year and postdoc salary varies widely between laboratories within my department. I'm not sure if there is scale they use to set the pay, it seems that the PI just pays whatever he/she feels. The lowest paid postdoc makes only $26,000 and the highest makes about $40,000. The average salary is ~$32,000. I, a penny-pinching single female living with a roommate, am able to live on $24K/year, but I can't imagine how a postdoc with a family survives on $32K let alone $26K. Hopefully they are all single or have spouses that contributes to the family finances.

  • Some Bloke says:

    Twain's turf, 2004-2010, $32K to $48K

  • Namnezia says:

    As a postdoc I made NIH-pay scale salary, plus a housing subsidy such that no more than 30% of my salary went to housing costs (within reason). Also I had to pay a very small amount of out-of-pocket expenses for health premiums and had access to very discounted childcare. I also had retirement benefits.
    As a PI I pay my postdocs at the NIH pay scale. Our University is not in a high cost-of-living city. The one glitch I came across last year was that due to the fact that the university put a freeze on all raises, I was not allowed to give my postdocs a raise last year despite me having the funds to do so.

  • miko says:

    "...and I don't try to dress it up exceptionalist arguments.'
    who did? the postdocs here have been for the most part been arguing that though a salary increase for pds might make YOUR life harder, why should we give a shit? we're fucking broke. You have essentially been arguing that what's good for PIs is good for Science.
    It is in our self-interest for their to be fewer, better paid postdocs. That's all.
    There is also a principled argument to be made that postdocs should be entitled to the benefits of other full-time employees. Insofar as a raise might be seen as a mitigation against this very expensive and unlikely scenario, I don't see how this is an "exceptionalism" argument.
    I would be willing to take NIH base pay plus the value of repair work I do for free on microscopy equipment damaged by grad students.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    You have essentially been arguing that what's good for PIs is good for Science.
    No, I have not. Try again.
    There is also a principled argument to be made that postdocs should be entitled to the benefits of other full-time employees. Insofar as a raise might be seen as a mitigation against this very expensive and unlikely scenario, I don't see how this is an "exceptionalism" argument.
    This is not and it is a decent one. However, I still think it is misplaced. Argue the point about those who are in reality full time employees being treated like students. Connect the dots on that for the Congress.

  • JMB says:

    Here is Stanford's postdoc payscale:
    http://postdocs.stanford.edu/handbook/salary.html
    I rarely hear of anyone getting supplemented above these rates.
    Here is Berkeley's 2008-09 data:
    http://apo.chance.berkeley.edu/postdoc-UCB-10-09.pdf

  • arrzey says:

    Faculty on soft money seldom, if ever, get to set their salaries, at least at the BSD medical schools.
    The salary freeze issue is quite frightening in its impact on post-docs & jr faculty. By us, no raises means no raises. When a jr faculty who had a title, but PD level wage, got a K22, with money for a serious raise, the dept head vetoed it as "unfair to others".
    That said, I pay NIH-standard for precisely the reasons DM outlined above - its damn hard to keep it consistent over several years, as grant funding fluctuates. I try to supplement by paying for travel, and other goodies as feasible.
    I think this is a hard area in which to do the right thing.

  • cookingwithsolvents says:

    large, expensive northeastern city:
    2008-2010: 35K to 45k (raise through external funding mechanisms)

  • ginger says:

    Just to be clear, I raised the question of who sets PI salaries as a question, not to score points. I genuinely didn't understand how that works, especially in fields where people can actually get hard-money jobs. (Epidemiology is weird, even among public health and medicine, because it's so postgraduate-heavy, and although supervising grad students and postdocs sucks up time and is required for promotion, it's not usually paid for out of hard money. There's often not as many courses to teach as in other disciplines, either. It's the opposite of most fields where there's so much more teaching than people, and faculty have to fight to try to protect their research time.)

  • Sab says:

    I'm an ecology postdoc at a Canadian University, currently on: 45,000 CAD$ plus pension, healthcare etc. I can live on that but can't save any money what with paying off student loans. I managed to find a good place to live with impressively low rent. Can't imagine trying to look after a family on postdoc pay though.
    I'm looking at a variety of job options, but if I were to accept another postdoc position I'd be looking at moving to Europe/Asia/Australia where there is plenty of interesting research often with a significantly higher wage.

  • BB says:

    $49K, 3rd year bio postdoc in Boston. Within my (large) lab group, I know for a fact that there's a wide range of salaries even among postdocs with equivalent seniority. I'm at the highest end of that range. I'd like to think it's because I'm awesome but I suspect there's a lot of luck involved. I'm pretty sure my PI doesn't think about our individual salaries after the initial offer. He's made comments (for example, about salary negotiations for lab members moving into TT jobs) that indicate he has very little idea what the postdocs and lecturers are currently earning.

  • Anon for now says:

    I am a grad student but at the national lab where I work, the payscales are of the order of 75K+.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    There has been a definite morphing of the concept of postdoc that has moved from a post-PhD training where you receive a stipend, to a career that expects PIs to worry about a postdocs family size and support "worthy" of a doctoral degree. If I really want someone I might up their salary, but generally I pay the NIH scale. However, the notion that I should be worrying because a postdoc has 3 kids...that is not really my concern, it's the postdocs. They are the ones making the career decisions. If I should pay more for a family laden postdoc as compared to a single postdoc, that would be criminal IMHO. It is reminiscent of paying married women less than a man because they have a husband who is the "real" bread winner. Thinking like this is reminiscent of the 60s.
    Postdocs should get paid the amount that they will accept to be paid. While I am a screaming liberal, I am all for market forces with respect to pay. If you are that valuable, ask for more, you may get it....I always did.

  • bsci says:

    Dr. Feelgood, I think you misunderstand the family issue here. Most people start a postdoc between the age of 25 and 30. Even in the academic world, a substantial portion of people are married by that age and a smaller, but non-trivial, proportion have children. How these people are supported on post-doc stipends is definitely an issue even in the first years of postdochood.
    When you consider, even in academia, women are more often the primary care provider, having salaries too low to support children forces researchers, particularly women, to choose between a research career and having children. If gender balance in science is your concern than wages that would be able to support childcare should be your concern (even if it means paying everyone more).
    You're right that this is market forces with pay. It's say to say, but you'll be able to fill a lab up with postdocs at pretty much any salary above minimum wage. That says nothing about their quality. It's nice that you'll hand pick individuals to pay more, but if you care about selecting postdocs from the best possible pool of candidates, you should absolutely be concerned with paying a wage that will discourage a huge chunk of potentially superb applicants (male and female) from applying for the job.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    I don't think you are wrong here. However, while I would advocate for an appropriate living wage in a general sense, I am not willing to create a pay disparity in the lab based on family needs. What if someone has a sick mother to take care of? Should I pay them more? If they need to send their kids to private school or drive from really far away should I pay them more? It can get a little silly. However, I am all for pay equity.
    You do get what you pay for. But that is not a high correlation. I have had fabulous people who received half of utter shitboxes whom I fired right quick.

  • Anon says:

    Basing compensation on perceived needs and family status is a slippery slope. I have often heard that, on average, male scientists are more likely to have wives who either stay at home or make less money than their husbands. If you open the Pandora's Box of family need, some could argue that on average male scientists need more money. Certainly people used to make similar cases in the past. This is a really ugly path to go down.

  • Anon in the Ivory Tower says:

    I'm a 2nd year postdoc (~47K). I've heard at least 2 profs here comment that they find it impossible to attract US postdocs if they don't pay more than the NIH stipend levels. (Both have medium-large laboratories that include postdocs from a number of countries . Apparently they thought it important to increase/maintain the balance of American postdocs.) This is in a high cost of living area.

  • Sab says:

    Perhaps I should have been clearer. I was not suggesting that postdoc wages should be increased because some (many?) applicants have a family to support. I am saying that the relatively low wages can and do turn perfectly good researchers away from postdoctoral research. The need to support a family is simply the most common reason I have come across for fellow postdocs either leaving academia or turning toward other types of job opportunity.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Dr. Feelgood @53 -- The kind of hypocritical "liberalism" you espouse really burns me up. You can feel all good about yourself voting for the politically correct candidates, but you fail to act on any sense of solidarity in your own life, where you can make a real difference. People like you, DM, and CPP like to posture about your sensitivities to the underprivileged, but when push comes to shove, your true colors come out. Classic.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    It is hard to find a US postdoc for any position. My department currently is advertising 3 positions at a Tier 1 MRU in a specific area of neuroscience (not too specific). The positions are fixed term assistant professorships (that can convert to tenure track based on predefined achievement of goals) with startup and full salary funding, lab and office space in a brand new building and in the first two weeks we have received 12 applications....Zero from American postdocs. Where are all of these sad jobless postdocs looking for faculty positions?

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    Dear Neuro-conservative,
    Heh. You don't really know shit about me or these other pseudonymous peeps. I dont even know what you are non-descript rant is attacking: Are you telling me I am a hypocrite for espousing market forces for pay? When did I discuss the need to help the underprivileged?
    All I am saying is that I generally espouse the concept of liberalism or progressivism, but I support the concept of the market based pay scales. People should take the jobs they think pay well. If no one takes the lower paying jobs, the rates will go up. (Don't worry about them border crossing Mexican postdocs taking them jobs though NC!) However, it's not my job to just offer up higher pay out my own internal construct of what I think people should have. That is nannying, and I dont do that.
    At least I can say I am not a douchebag!
    Doc F

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    You call it nannying, I call it solidarity and making a difference.
    You espouse the concept of liberalism or progressivism, except when it directly affects you.
    How do you define douchebag?

  • ginger says:

    Ai yi yi, let's not get derailed with back-and-forth about who's a hypocritical this and who's a market-driven that and what's "Classic". This thread is interesting and calling each other douchebags or whatever is a distracting waste.
    So, I'm especially interested in how we make the academic workplace more sympathetic to people with families. In a climate where pay is stagnant, are there other things we can do to encourage people to stick with postdoc work instead of abandoning it because they have families to raise?

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    You can sure make alot of conclusions without data. You must be an awesome scientist. Why don't you explain what the hell you are talking about? I don't even know what your opinion is. Please opine. For me: I am all for more taxes, universal healthcare, better centralized control of government, Gun control, pro choice, pro peace, pro immigration, anti-xenophobia, pro gay marriage, pro whatever the hell people wanna do. I am just all for market forces on pay (my lone conservative talking point).
    To honor your request: I operationally define douchebag in this situation as someone who is critical without actually espousing an opinion, and is proud of that behavior.
    Let's see what I have gleaned: You think we should all pay postdocs alot of money? Is that right?(that would be solidarity or "making a difference" as your response to my use of the term nannying). Or are you angry that I would deviate from the NIH scale (its own twisted kind of solidarity, but not making much of a difference).
    How can you say I espouse liberalism or progressivism except when it applies to me? Hmmm....in the current situation when I apply liberal tenets to others, you would be stating that I think NIH scale should be sacrosanct. Since its a federal mandate of sorts.(well not really, but its a centralized payscale at least)...and that market forces SHOULDNT be used to determine payscales for postdocs (the progressive view). I specifically took the conservative view that market economics should be used for salary levels if warranted. NIH scales are a starting point and a guideline. If I want to pay more, hell yeah I will pay more for someone. But only for their awesomeness, not because they popped out 19 kids. (Dugger Family, I am talking to you!)
    You also state I would not apply such progressive rules to myself....also an odd statement. In this case, my opinion for others matches perfectly with my opinion for my own compensation. Market forces have determined my payscale, as I have whored myself to several institutions already, and they have paid what I wanted (well over NIH max).
    So what are you trying to say, brother? Spit it out!
    Please make this non-argument into something interesting....

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    @Ginger,
    What do you think is a livable wage for postdocs with families? Are you geographically limited? I see alot of problems with many postdocs who have so many geographic requirements or limitations, that they are not going to pick a place where the pay and the living situation are a match for them.

  • New Asst. Prof. says:

    In 2003, my postdoc pay started at ~$34,000, or close to the NIH scale. However, health insurance was a bit messy in year one so I ended up paying out of pocket each month for my own policy (those of us on institutional T32s weren't classed as employees until the 2nd year of my postdoc, meaning that we couldn't buy into the university health plans and had to get individual plans through whomever would cover us, which was naturally more expensive than the monthly allowance built into the T32). In subsequent years I got roughly a 3% increase per year, which put me behind the NIH scale. However, 3% was the max allowed for anyone at our institution (faculty, staff, or postdoc) and there was no way around it.
    Flash forward to today: I'm now a new PI, with a flat salary of my own for the last 2 years, and starting postdoc pay here is $42,000. However, postdoc salaries are held to a 0% increase right now too, regardless of whether they are covered 100% by a grant that built in a raise.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Doc F -- It's not all that complicated. I am saying that NIH minimum is not a reasonable living wage for many people aged 30+ in the major metro regions of the US.
    You seem to think that's not your problem, and anyone who is disadvantaged by it must be some weird Christian fundamentalist who doesn't use contraception. I think that is a lame attitude at many levels, not least of which is that you believe in using the power of the state to redistribute other people's wealth.
    As a PI, I don't feel comfortable running a sweatshop, even if I could get away with it. I live my beliefs (including the idea of solidarity) in my actions, and I don't need Obama to do it for me.
    Capisce?

  • whimple says:

    Let's turn the debate around. Suppose (hypothetically) that postdocs actually were unionized such that a first year postdoc cost $50k plus full benefits. Would you hire one? How about if they were $60k? What is the most you would pay for the instant productivity postdocs are advertised to bring to the research table? At what price point would the postdoc union price themselves out of business?

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Reminds me of the old Churchill joke ;>)
    I think $50K + benefits is a perfectly reasonable number, assuming the postdoc brings valuable skills to the table (which is of course part of the basis for hiring them). I have never lived in rural areas, but in the major metro regions I am familiar with, $50K is a rough threshold for a living wage for a 30+ year-old IMHO.
    Whimple-- I'm not sure why you are interested in the upper limit -- this conversation has mostly been about finding a reasonable floor.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Wait, Feelgood, I thought you were a cop lover too?
    N-c, it really is a pathology to think that one must adhere unthinkingly to some cartoon political orthodoxy. I realize you people who think Lindsay Graham is a liberal all of a sudden this week believe in this wholesale or nosale stuff but it is just idiotic. There is more than one hypothesis about how to accomplish a goal and the fact that mine differs from that of some current postdocs doesn't mean we don't have the same goals in mind.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    DM -- I'm specifically not talking about ideology or political opinions. I'm talking about one's own actions and behavior. Everything else in this discussion is a dodge.

  • Just for reference: in the US in 2005, the median personal income for someone employed full-time was about $39,300. We can all agree that postdocs have far more training than the median American worker, but I'm not convinced that crying "Poverty!" is fair when half of all American workers earn less. Similarly, median household income is around $53,000. If you're a postdoc married to another postdoc, your NIH-base-pay household income is something like $80K, a good 50% higher.
    The best argument for increasing postdoc pay would be if one could point to a country (eg Germany?) with significantly higher postdoc pay and demonstrate that due to better postdoc recruitment/retainment, that country's science outstrips the US's. But as the US is generally agreed to have the best research science in the world, this is difficult to do. (Our teaching, not so much. But that's an argument for overhauling teacher pay/training, not postdoc.)

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Those median numbers fail to take into account two factors: geography and level of educational attainment (which includes the likelihood of student debt).

  • ginger says:

    Dr. Feelgood, I was asking a real question, not holding forth rhetorically. I have no idea what a livable wage for postdocs with families is, but I'm pretty sure they're not going to get it. So how do you make it desirable for a postdoc to stay in academia if the salary's unattractive?
    (Also, to answer the rhetorical question about "Where are all of these sad jobless postdocs looking for faculty positions?": this situation isn't new, and during the grimmest period a few years back, I, for one, went overseas. My other alternative was to quit altogether and go back to work in my pre-PhD field, or see if I could find work as a programmer, because there was flat out nothing out there after everyone's budgets got cut in the mid-aughties.)

  • Anonymous says:

    @Ginger
    I justify the financial sacrifices that my family is making so I can be a postdoc with the following: 1) flexibility in schedule (certainly not every postdoc has this) and 2) it's temporary. I have some solid evidence that I have a good shot at a TT job offer in the near future (starting 3rd yr of postdoc). I wouldn't be willing to ask my family to do this for much longer than another year though.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    The economics of hiring a brand spanking new postdoc for 50-60K plus the fringe costs (36.5% at my institution) is essentially a cost of up 82K per year. I should take a third of my budget on an R01 and put it toward a post-doc fresh out of school? They better be squirting data out every orifice.
    I have over many years, in my own experience, and observing the experiences of other PIs, have found that maybe 20% of postdocs are worth the trouble. Their letters, their interviews, and yes even their publication records, are often not good predictors of success. It' really not a good gamble. I much prefer to hire in advanced postdocs for a little more cash with a real record of achievement. However, I cant even find advanced postdocs (with a whopping min of 2 years as a postdoc) who are willing to take a 3 year 80K/yr, fixed term assistant professor position with access to a senior mentor and their own 50K discretionary account. A position that can turn into a tenure track position based on predetermined metrics of achievement. This is a departmental program that I administer as a dept chair advertised nationally.
    It's not about paying more money or being selfish, N-C. It's about squandering hard-won research money (the peoples money, mind you) on some loser who can stall your research program. I actually think grad students are a better bet economically than most postdocs. At least you can train them appropriately before they develop into indecisive, mealy mouthed, repeat experiments the same way expecting a different outcome, idiotic, self-entitled, whiny, lazy postdocs ...which 75-80% of them are. The other 20% are fantastic, but I have not found a good metric that predicts who they will be. So I still think they are generally a poor way to spend alot of money unless they come with a postdoc NRSA, or there are institutional NRSA funds or university fellowships available to pay for them.
    My view is, if people give you funds to achieve something, you better achieve something. If you don't, you cannot really go back and ask for more. I expect a return on the investment. Not for me personally, but for my reputation as a good shepherd of people's funds, whether its federal dollars, philanthropic donations, or university funds. If more people need to thought like that, maybe they would work harder to ensure a return on a very rare and precious commodity: the people's research money.

  • JohnV says:

    "However, I cant even find advanced postdocs (with a whopping min of 2 years as a postdoc) who are willing to take a 3 year 80K/yr, fixed term assistant professor position with access to a senior mentor and their own 50K discretionary account."
    looking for a microbiologist? :p

  • pinus says:

    I am amazed that you can't find people interested in that deal Dr. F. Sounds like a good opportunity to me.

  • cookingwithsolvents says:

    @72
    Dr. J and Mrs. Hyde hit the nail on the head for me. 35-45k (actually fairly low compared to the individuals in this very thread) is a decent salary for an entry-level position. Furthermore, 2 postdocs would have 70K when the median household income in
    boston: 47k family (2006) http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2006/snapshots/PL2507000.html
    cambridge: 65k family (2006)
    chicago: 43k (2000)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago
    Berkeley: 57k, 93k for a family
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berkeley,_California
    These are some of the most expensive areas in the country and NIH guidelines are all above the median income for a dual couple of POSTDOCS, much less with one spouse having a higher paying job than the postdoc half. I concede that you have to be 2x5th year postdocs (95,880) to meet the median family income in Berkeley.
    I do think postdocs should be paid better, commensurate with their schooling. However, they are not by any measure walking the poverty line. My "meager" salary of 45k is more than my parents make (one with a master's degree) and while I do have higher costs of living and would love more money I do not feel "put upon". Sure, I can't buy a house. By choosing this career path I made the choice that I wouldn't be able to do that at my 30-ish age and I'm more than ok with it.
    I realize that the 4-6 year (+?) postdocs common in biological "stuff" at a fairly flat salary have to be pretty tough. That long is not common or encouraged in my field.
    note added in proof: i added cambridge to put boston in context, for chicago evanston is 62k w/ 102k family (NW) hyde park (UC): 47k (2008) and I picked Berkeley for the bay area 'cause as most know it's damn expensive.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Two possibilities: 1) Doc F's institution is in some godforsaken place, or 2) Doc F's stellar attitude has a negative impact on applications.

  • bsci says:

    Dr. Feelgood,
    I've definitively not saying that you should pay people more based on family size, but that base salaries should be set so that they don't discourage someone from a family from accepting a job. Sure that means a single person, might be getting more than living wage, but is paying a person with more than living wage a bad thing?
    As mentioned in comment #27, the living wage for a person supporting one person in one of the most expensive parts of the country is $45,400. If you assume a spouse is bringing in enough salary to cover professional day care + a few thousand dollars, the raise from the NIH base pay is minimal. All this talk of $50 or $60K as living wage isn't really part of a factual discussion.

  • becca says:

    @79 Knowing a bit about Dr. Feelgood, I doubt both of these things. However, I would submit that Dr. Feelgood is an impatient SOB. "Oh noes!!! I haven't found perfect applicants in a whole TWO WEEKS! Those sad desperate postdocs must not actually exist!"
    Also, he wants any postdoc to come ready to "squirt data out of every orifice". Obviously, impatient fellow.

  • DSKS says:

    @ #76
    "However, I cant even find advanced postdocs (with a whopping min of 2 years as a postdoc) who are willing to take a 3 year 80K/yr, fixed term assistant professor position with access to a senior mentor and their own 50K discretionary account. A position that can turn into a tenure track position based on predetermined metrics of achievement. This is a departmental program that I administer as a dept chair advertised nationally."
    Jings, you looking for a channel geek by any chance?! 😉
    But seriously, that's an interesting program. My society committee is organising an alternative career track info packet at the moment, and I think I might delve a little deeper into this particular option (I've seen similar advertisements, possibly that one too, cropping up more frequently in job rags of late).

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Interesting and related thread at ant-dude's blog http://scienceblogs.com/myrmecos/2010/04/what_happens_to_women_in_acade.php
    another one is at AiE&S.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    @becca:You are correct, neither godforsaken, nor is my attitude the issue. Although I am an impatient SOB! Am I that easy a read over beers becca?!?!?
    @pinus: no shite! i would have been all over this option in my youth. I think part of the problem is, as it has been mentioned here previously, the older the postdocs get, the more tied down they are. Often they are the secondary bread-winner, and the other person dictates the location.
    @DSKS: I think this is going to be a more prevalent option in the future, because it gives MRUs two chances to say no to you (meet criteria for TT and then making tenure) instead of one (making tenure).
    @ anyone who wants an awesome job: For all of you interested in these jobs it must be related to age-related neurodegenerative disorders. If you are so awesome, I am sure we could arrange a neutral place to drop our pseudonymity. DM maybe you can broker it for a free set of beers at SFN.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I think this is going to be a more prevalent option in the future, because it gives MRUs two chances to say no to you (meet criteria for TT and then making tenure) instead of one (making tenure).
    If this could be coupled to a reduction in the time in postdoc'ing, I could be on board with this in a big way. If it is the first step after the already-too-long training period- not so much.
    For all of you interested in these jobs it must be related to age-related neurodegenerative disorders. If you are so awesome, I am sure we could arrange a neutral place to drop our pseudonymity. DM maybe you can broker it for a free set of beers at SFN.
    I am happy to forward emails along to Dr. Feelgood if anyone is interested. S/he can then decide whether to respond to you...:-)

  • I think both DJMH and cookingwithsolvents are bringing up an interesting point with respect to post-doc salaries and poverty lines. Yes, objectively 2xpost-doc salary puts a couple well above the poverty line anywhere you look.
    But consider the expense that was undertaken to achieve the education that makes one eligible for post-doc salaries and you're looking at ~30% (sometimes greater) of the take-home pay turned around immediately to student loan payments. Suddenly, that "comfortable" salary is no longer very comfortable at all.
    Now, hold on you say, how does some accrue such educational debt in a field where the grad students get a cost of living stipend? Pretty easily, actually.
    To use myself as an example, I had pretty minimal loans from my BS since I was a decent student and had a few scholarships. I went straight from my BS to my PhD program (no time in the workforce in which to put together some savings) and my stipend did indeed cover the costs of living: rent, utilities, groceries...with nothing leftover at the end of the month.
    Which is fine, as long as you never have any unforseen expenses. Need to fix your car? Credit card. Get sick a few times but not enough to meet your shitty student health insurance deductible? Credit card. Get really sick and need a couple surgeries? HELLO student loans. Need to keep paying on your medical bills since you have now exceeded the maximum coverage on your shitty student health insurance. More student loans. God forbid you have some horrible living circumstances emergency, like a divorce or needing to leave your abusive partner before he actually hurts you. So you take a hit for breaking your lease, and need to put a deposit on a new place in a hurry - there's a couple grand you don't have, so you have to take another student loan.
    Not all of these things happened to me, but they all happened to grad students I know, and all those grad students (me included) ended up with more educational debt from our PhDs than we had from undergrad. Those expenses couldn't be covered on a cost-of-living stipend, so the expense gets paid forward to the post-doc period.
    As a result, after subtracting student loan payments from my post-doc salary, I take home far LESS than I did as a grad student. And if ANY of those unforseen circumstances come up in my life again, I can't take a student loan now that I've graduated.
    SCARY.
    I'm not saying that every postdoc finds themselves in these circumstances, but a substantial percentage of the ones I know do. This is a problem once we start talking about living wages.

  • DSKS says:

    "If this could be coupled to a reduction in the time in postdoc'ing, I could be on board with this in a big way."
    I'd expect this to occur as an immediate effect of implementing such programs assuming that they supplement, rather than substitute for, the availability of conventional TT positions.
    Whether it offsets the bottleneck problem in the long run is debatable though. If such programs are particularly alluring (and 80K/yr, even for a fixed contract, is certainly that) then I imagine, over time, they might have the effect of attracting more graduates into the mix.

  • pinus says:

    I guess the real question to ask...will study sections want to give people like that R01's? Because, presumably, that is what it takes to get converted to TT?

  • whimple says:

    @DSKS: I think this is going to be a more prevalent option in the future, because it gives MRUs two chances to say no to you (meet criteria for TT and then making tenure) instead of one (making tenure).
    It's just a stealthy way to phase out tenure. First you get to do this three-year "pre-tenure" thing... then we can sneak that up to 5 years, etc. It's code for a soft-money position with minimal institutional commitment. I can see why the administroids love this kind of crap.

  • cookingwithsolvents says:

    @87
    My numbers were posted to put this conversation focused more on 1. data and 2. how well postdocs have it compared to a huge portion of this country.
    I am sure there are cases where people have huge loans that earned a PhD ("late bloomers"). Many have had substantial financial support, though. I took the maximum gov't loans, myself (~19K, deferred and stupidly didn't pay anything towards it during my PhD = ~23K w/ interest). Without details, I have additional debt from incidents occurring during my PhD (~10K). A loan consolidation has my payments at a quite manageable level in one of the more expensive cities from my earlier post and, as I noted, I don't feel impoverished (though I certainly don't feel rich, either).
    Medical hardships are more a comment on the US healthcare system than on the postdoc system because they are unfortunately an equal-opportunity problem. Furthermore, healthcare insurance options vary widely amongst institutions and more of a case-by-case than the "back of an envelope for the whole system"-type of discussion I'm shooting for.
    I do not have children and I realize they change they change the equation completely. I don't consider that relevant to the discussion of the CURRENT situation; those I know that have them made the choice to have them with full knowledge of all the difficulties entailed and I support that. i.e. they made a decision to blend their career choices with their long term family plan. That's a personal thing and not a system-wide type of discussion (again, drastically affected by individual institution child care options, healthcare and insurance options, etc. etc.).
    Back to concrete numbers (and gross simplification!), a 5K raise to the NIH minimums seems like a number that would provide a comfortable "living wage" somewhat commensurate with education and not so far off from the current values to be totally unrealistic. That is ~12%, 2000-2001 raise was 10% (see OP) so we're in the ballpark. HOWEVER, many people in this very thread are making more than that and arguing for even more. IMO that's just "I want more money" which is understandable but has not yet been justified with numbers.
    Even more support for this calculation: compare the hypothetical 5k raise to the gap between grad school stipend and a good starting job somebody smart enough to earn a PhD is likely to get and the answer is 56%(25k vs 45k). This hypothetical 5k raise brings an NIH-scale year 0 postdoc vs industry to 42.7k vs 75k (57%).
    Thoughts?

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    @whimple: I would be suspicious about this concept too if I were not involved in the creation of these positions myself. You see, the problem is that TT positions can be applied for by chairs/deans at my institution to the provost's office. TT positions are tough to get, but if the need is there, they can be created. They created several tenured positions when I came here with my colleagues (tenure transfer). My MRU is old school real tenure full salary hard money, honey.
    Since it comes through the college, and growth at most MRUs is limited currently by economics, we created this hybrid compromise. The letters of offer discuss specific hurdles for achieving the TT. The dean has made a very specific commitment (and I have confirmation from the provost's office) on moving these to the TT if successful. Who wouldn't want a TT asst professor who already has a grant? If we screwed around with them, they could take their achievement elsewhere and get a TT position, so we wouldn't shoot ourselves in the foot after investing those funds. The TT position will appear.....The dean/provost feel that this gives us the opportunity to give salary independence, limited independent support and additional collaborative support with a senior mentor as a research partner..a real partner...people with track records of success in fostering junior faculty.
    The idea here is, take people who are at the point where, with a little help, could become independent fairly quickly. This is a K01 style strategy funded by the college. If it works, they have a TT asst professor, who gets additional startup upon achieving the TT, but costs less than a new asst professor coming in after a cattle call recruitment. If it fails, the university is not out huge amounts of funds, the senior mentor had a decent collaboration etc..
    I think it fits in right where that catch-22 problem of: "I can't get a grant without a faculty position, but they won't give me a faculty position without a grant." This takes care of that problem by creating a position to allow them to get a grant, and then receive even more support upon achieving the TT. A good deal for all.
    As for how grant reviewers will view this, what will they know other than the person is an asst professor applying for a grant? They don't have to add the "fixed-term" to their title in the bio sketch. Shouldn't be much of a problem there.
    See, not all of us salt & pepper-beards are heartless cretins. I mean I am, but not all of us are.
    I am just surprised they are letting us do this.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Three years with very limited start-up funds is probably not enough to get rolling in the current environment. Is it possible that potential applicants feel it is a bad wager?

  • whimple says:

    It's a gruesomely awfully terrible idea. What academic science does NOT need is *yet another* layer inserted between grad student and tenure track faculty member. You go to grad school (5 or 6 years), you do a competitive postdoc (4 or 5 years), you do this new bullshit additional holding pattern (going to morph from 3 years into 5 years), THEN you *start* the tenure clock to go off in 7 more years? The AAUP is going to have a cow. What happens to the 45 year olds that get denied tenure at the end of the process? Just more disposable human garbage like the postdocs whose salary you lowball?
    The only thing that surprises me is that there hasn't been a sufficient combination of stupidity and desperation for someone to take you up on your offer.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    cooking@91 -- Your numbers are a reasonable starting point for discussion, as long as you recognize they are pretty much pulled out of a hat.
    It is indeed highly unlikely that NIH will go for a much larger increase of the sort that occurred during the doubling.
    However, as you acknowledge, having children changes the equation dramatically. What you don't seem to acknowledge is that the desire for children in one's thirties is not an aberration or merely a personal choice like which pair of shoes to buy.
    In this context, your insinuation of whining on the part of those who want more than the $45K that you find satisfactory, is unfair.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    @whimple: We are not really looking for ancient postdocs. We are looking for precocious candidates 2 or 3 years out. We have our first one, three more to go. He is from a top lab, with an interesting area of independent research. He is about 30, and he put in his first R01 application prior to starting. It is very competitive. I wouldn't be surprised if he met criteria within the first year.
    I think you are looking at this the wrong way. The sponsoring research team has significant funds of their own set aside for these candidates. Candidates get some startup on their own, they can request additional amounts from the team, and we pretty much have every piece of equipment available for their use that they could want, along with technical help. We aren't a walled up set of fiefdoms. We espouse and practice team science across all of our PIs. Most independent PIs cant do this, but we have grown together organically as a team for many years. This is actually a pretty good deal. Trying new things is good.
    I got my start with an informal version of this deal and I had my first R01 at 33 and tenure at 36, full prof by 38 and chair by 43. Every informal version of this program we have run over the past 10 years at 3 institutions has resulted in about a 75% success rate.
    Also forgot to mention, that part of your time in the fixed-term position can be used to offset the TT clock. So its not as long as you think Whimple.
    If you can't meet criteria for this job, with the expertise of the colleagues already assembled, within 3-5 years, then you shouldn't be a PI. I dont care what excuse you have at that point.
    The whole idea is to get the university to commit, even at first, if its only halfway, to career development of young faculty. Getting someone a job and shot at the TT beats working at Burger King. (No offense Burger King employees). If you think K01s are a bad thing, then I guess that's your opinion. That is basically what this is....
    Doc F

  • Am I remembering correctly that K01s have been objectively determined to be a bad idea, and that former K01 recipients have a worse track record at later securing R01 funding than non-recipients?

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Doc -- C'mon man, now you're just becoming a parody of yourself.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    I dont think it was the support provided, rather I think it was the fact that they had a full proposal for the K01. If it fell flat, they would obviously be at a disadvantage for getting an R01. Think of this as K01 level of support, while working on getting R support year 01.
    @98: Alas...maybe I am....*sigh*

  • cookingwithsolvents says:

    N-c,
    Taking a moment away from the discussion about pay: those that do choose to have children, regardless of whether they make 30k, 45k, or 100k, work in the service industry, "business", or science, ALL should do so with full knowledge that they are putting a new human being (or beings) above their own career and happiness for the next 18+ years. The new parents had damn well better considered their financial situation amongst their decision to have kids. I am awed by taking on that huge responsibility and am not quite there yet, myself. "Juggling your career and raising a child", in reality, results in somewhat less output at work because there are only 24 hours in a day. Whether that amount is measurable varies widely, however parents will always be at a time disadvantage vs singles or DINC's. Luckily for homo sapiens many very successful people navigate all this just fine.
    There are always going to be people that are 1) willing to forgo having children for a few years to get ahead and 2) people that are good enough to still attain high levels of success while doing the "juggle" with kids to become upper-echelon in any profession (partner in law or advertising, an uber-surgeon, a professor, tier 1 actor, etc.)
    Therefore, it is an individual decision to decide whether you are 1 or 2 or want to pursue a different path with your life. I won't link to the article but the title is "Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go" in the chronicle of higher ed. about the humanities but really a lot of the points apply to the sciences as well.
    Back OT, the numbers are also basically "how to" approach your PI and get a raise when negotiating salary, doing my best to stay within the here-and-now financial situation. Just being self-aware enough to run the numbers, knowledgeable enough about your own value, and confident enough to broach the subject tactfully are cues that indicate the potential postdoc is probably worth more than the average new PhD (assuming their science/CV/letters are up to the mark), though I'd really appreciate the more experienced PI's perspective on those thoughts.
    yay post 100?!

  • LadyDay says:

    Why can't we separate the postdoc salary + fringe component from an R01's overall funding? Kinda like a mini-training grant? That way, hiring a postdoc doesn't have an effect on the rest of the R01 budget....

  • LadyDay says:

    That was a suggestion for the *future.* I realize that it's not that way now. Duh.

  • whimple says:

    Because 80% of grant dollars go to salaries. If you take the postdoc salaries out, you don't really need the grant.

  • Peanut says:

    U.S. federal agencies that do research hire post-docs at GS11 or GS12. That's $50-60K salary. They also get benefits: health, 401K, and leave (annual and sick).
    Federal wages, locality specific, are here:
    http://www.opm.gov/oca/10tables/html/gs.asp

  • blatnoi says:

    Too bad postdocs don't get tenure. Cause then, I would get it with no problems at all. I wouldn't mind working for a crappy salary of 40 K for a very long time due to being geographically limited. I'm paid a lot more than that now as a postdoc on a fellowship that runs out in a year.
    Unfortunately, I think I might have to move again and take a really good fellowship far away from where I am now in two years. Either that, or apply for TT positions that are also far away from here. I have to leave my friends, family, and country (significant other I don't have; it was too painful to leave the last one in the previous country when the current postdoc started) yet again.
    For the third time.
    I can't do this anymore. I really want to quit science (which I love) and just stay here working in a kitchen if I have to and can't find a job in my field in this area. How do I 'delicately' say this to my boss who's impressed by my publication record and thinks very highly of me? He expects me to apply for TT positions abroad. Maybe I'll bring it up after my conference talk or after the last paper gets accepted...

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    @105: The one thing I was taught by my mentor: "Make yourelf indispensable". I did just that. If you can do it too, and your PI finds he/she/it really needs you, they will do whatever it takes to keep you around. Losing a key person in your research program when it's going well is just crushing....They will go to bat for you, promotions, salary etc. Most places have contingency plans for doing just that. If the chair or dean value your PI, they will help them get you what you need.
    It's always worked that way for me on both receiving such help and giving it.

  • Amy says:

    When did people forget that postdoctoral positions were temporary training positions?
    You're not supposed to spend your life postdocing any more than you're supposed to spend your life as a graduate student, or undergraduate student, or in high school.
    And PLEASE get over the idea that all postdocs deserve a job as PI. Not all undergraduate English lit majors will become famous writers, not all high school football players will get recruited for college ball or by the NFL. Not all postdocs will become PIs.
    If you don't like that, don't be a postdoc. Everyone else manages to live in the real world. Having a Ph.D. doesn't exempt you.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    @107: I like the cut 'o yer jib!

  • miko says:

    @107- omfg! i DID forget this was supposed to be "temporary" "training"!!
    I forgot to learn anything from my PI while I'm slowly explaining my results. Worse, I forgot to go straight from my PhD to a tenure track job--I even wasted time publishing papers! Man, people getting PhDs in the 80s had it all figured out.

  • blatnoi says:

    #107
    The postdoc can do the same job as a staff scientist. A position that doesn't exist anymore but should since it would take power away from the PI and would allow for better science to be done and less money would wasted by the public on training people who don't end up doing science. I would be happy to do that. I already plan my own projects, write my own papers and grants, and even suggest projects to other postdocs. I will get a job as a PI if I want it. There is no question of whether I deserve it or not. I will get it if I bother applying. No ifs or buts.
    However, it will be back in North America if I want it... The thought of that just kills me and makes me want to cry. I don't want to go back there. But my country is small and there are no positions for someone in my field... or indeed, any industry jobs (unless I go to USA or Germany, bleh). I want to live around people I grew up with; who speak the same language as me and have the same weird culture. I think I made a big mistake somewhere along the way...
    Don't worry, I'm ready to live in the real world after my well-paid PDF runs out. I'm probably going to quit science when I do that though. I saved enough money from the giant PDF stipend to coast along for a few years. Maybe I can teach English.
    Or I'll chicken out and go back to the States and be depressed for the rest of my life.

  • LadyDay says:

    @ whimple: But, some of the funding for those salaries covered by R01's goes to technicians and PIs. And some of the funding goes toward research costs. Anyway, I see nothing wrong with more forcefully separating out the postdoc salary + fringe component from the rest of that just to keep things honest.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    @miko: Do you think late 80's and early 90's were easy to get TT jobs? Ha! NIH percentile for funding in the late 80s were under 5% for many NIH institutes. TT jobs had 200 applicants per position. I got my Ph.D. 1993 (god I am so old now) and I was busy cursing my mentors who basically said ANYONE could get a TT job in the 60s and 70s during the massive expansion of public institutions. They all wanted positions and Hard or Yale but if they couldn't get them they settled for UCLA or Berkeley. Those were the good old days.
    80s were no better than now. The only time there was a brief reprieve was during the NIH bubble of budget doubling in the late 90s. Other than that, it's been the same for about 25 years. So anyone bemoaning the current state of affairs was not paying attention to it for the last quarter century.
    Anyone who got into grad school in the last 10 years should have known it was shitty. Anyone in it longer than that who is willing to move around and find a TT position and doesn't have one yet, probably isn't qualified to be a PI.
    Boy am I cranky. Need my Ensure I guess.

  • bsci says:

    @101 Ladyday. That's actually how postdoc/staff positions are funded in the intra-mural program at NIH. Each section or lab has a budget for staff and supplies and a separate budget for stuff. Labs each have X openings for postdocs. There is some flexibility and it is possible to ask for more, but that is a separate budget.
    @104 Peanut. This is almost completely false at NIH. I don't know a single postdoc on a GS pay scale. (There are staff scientists, but those are career jobs). Postdocs are hired as "awardees" just like an external postdoc receiving an NRSA grant with similar benefits or lack-thereof. More senior postdocs can be hired under Title 42, which are time-limit positions, but are considered government employees with "some" standard government benefits.

  • LadyDay says:

    @bsci: Thanks for the insight. So if that can be done at the NIH, why can't it be done nationally? This suggested NIH payscale is total BS if NIH-funded PI's outside of the NIH campus, itself, don't intend to follow it.
    Also, the question about why postdocs don't get GS pay scale is good. I have friends who only have a BA or BS who work for the government, in low cost-of-living areas to boot, and they make a LOT more income (with great benefits and job security) than any postdocs I know.

  • bsci says:

    @ladyday, There are several reasons why the intra-mural NIH system couldn't be instantly adapted to the extramural world. The main one is that with-in the NIH, lab budgets are relatively stable for 5 years and then each lab undergoes a major re-evaluation which includes how many staff slots it has (to my understanding). This stability makes it a bit more possible to hire someone with a slot. If a postdoc was linked directly to a specific staff slot in a grant, then it would be difficult to hire someone when that grant is close to renewal. It would also mean that each postdoc would be assigned to a specific grants slot, which wouldn't be conducive for developing an independent research profile. This isn't an insurmountable problem, but it would take some creativity to solve.
    From my understanding, the main reason GS isn't universal is because GS is more than just a pay scale. It is an employment classification that comes with immense long-term job security. It is not appropriate for something that's supposed to be a time-limited position. Both lab PIs and staff scientists used to be on the GS scale, but they've both been moved to Title 42., which actually has a larger potential pay-range, but also makes it more possible to remove people.
    The interesting thing with the GS scale is that it historically had wage compression (i.e. the difference between the maximum and minimum is much less than in private industry). Also, if you look at the actual pay rates linked to in comment 104, you'll see that GS1-6 almost never passes postdoc pay even after all possible steps (roughly years on the job)
    http://www.federal-resume.org/gs-levels-explained.aspx says that a bachelors degree is GS5-7 while one needs some graduate education to start at GS7 or higher. A bachelor's degree plus multiple years experience seems to track postdoc salaries fairly well (though the benefits are probably better)

  • LadyDay says:

    @bsci: Thanks for your thoughtful response! Regarding your first paragraph - yeah, I understand that. However, as you say, "This isn't an insurmountable problem, but it would take some creativity to solve." We're all scientists here, so we should be more than capable of coming up with creative solutions to problems within our own community, right? Aren't troubleshooting and strategizing integral to what we do every day? Or am I hearing a bunch of crickets chirping on this one?
    My friends who work for the government are definitely making more than that table's GS-7 pay range, though they certainly would have qualified for GS-7 when they were first hired (due to excellent academic records, I believe, not extra coursework). However, they have been working those jobs for a long time (as long as I've been in and out of graduate school, etc.,... which has been a LONG time). I want to say that they make at least $50-60K/year, plus excellent benefits and have great job security, with only a BA or BS degree. Anyway, the 2010 pay scale (the one on the link you provided is for 2006), appears to have slightly increased salaries, and there's also locality-specific pay adjustment to factor in, which increases salaries according to area. See: http://www.opm.gov/oca/10tables/indexGS.asp
    I think the locality adjustment explains why my friends are making the salaries that they make (they live in one of the areas with higher pay adjustment)?
    Anyway, shouldn't PhD's automatically be qualified for GS-11 or GS-12 pay scale? That's significantly higher than NIH pay scale for postdocs....

  • LadyDay says:

    @bsci: You know, that pay location-specific pay adjustment doesn't really seem to correlate with cost of living. For instance, both Houston, TX and Huntsville, AL have pretty high pay adjustments. Both places they have a lot of defense industry/military contractors, so perhaps the pay adjustment there is meant to help compete people off of those types of private-sector jobs?

  • LadyDay says:

    That should read: "For instance, both Houston, TX and Huntsville, AL have pretty high pay adjustments, despite having relatively low cost of living."

  • expat postdoc says:

    Those GS salaries are pretty much in line with the big scientific economies in Europe (UK and Germany), not sure about France.

  • bsci says:

    I really have no clue precisely how the cost-of-living adjustments are calculated. I agree that people can think through a solution, but the complexity also includes figuring out how to change a huge and complex system without harming the parts that are working. That's multiple full time jobs and it's not the job I currently have.
    You are right that a PhD entering government usually start at GS-11 or 12, but there's a logical jump to saying all postdocs should be paid at those levels. There are places a PhD can work that pay much less than GS12 (i.e. a faculty position at many public teaching colleges) and there are places that pay more (like venture capital firms). The going rate for a postdoc happens to be less than GS11.

  • Peanut says:

    Been off for a few days.
    The fed agencies that I know hire postdocs at GS-11 or GS-12 are natural resource agencies. I have not investigated other fed research agencies.
    The ones I know do for sure:
    Agricultural Research Service, Forest Service, US Geological Survey, NOAA
    Postdocs do not get a "permanent position", but a time-limited appointment that comes with benefits, as I described above.
    @120: It's not a "logical jump" that all postdocs should be paid at those levels. It's the fact that all natural resource agencies offering postdocs, do, in fact, pay at those levels.
    So, here's USDA Agricultural Research Service Postdoc info. Click the green link at the top to see which postions are currently available:
    http://www.afm.ars.usda.gov/divisions/hrd/hrdhomepage/vacancy/pd962.html

  • bsci says:

    I didn't know there were time-limited GS positions. I stand corrected.
    I still stand by the comment that it's a logical jump that those are appropriate postdoc wages. As seen in this thread, the range of salaries for postdocs is from the mid 30's to the mid 60's. Saying any datapoint means X is the appropriate postdoc salary is a logical jump.

  • acai says:

    This may have a lot to do with points of reference. I have daughters and am, by by native country's (U.S.A.) standards, left-leaning.

  • LadyDay says:

    @Peanut: Thanks for posting that. It's interesting that of all the federally funded institutes, the NIH seems to be the worst in terms of setting postdoc salaries.
    @bsci: I wasn't saying that postdocs MUST be paid a certain salary. I was just trying to point out that, according to the standard you posted, a postdoc would be qualified (because they have a PhD) for GS-11 or GS-12 wages, and NOT GS-5-GS-7, which is what you initially compared with postdoc salary. The other thing I was pointing out was that the table on the website you pointed us to was outdated and only reflected *base* pay - not the actual location-adjusted pay that government employees take home. So, it seemed that your point was to make an artificially low comparison to begin with. Anyway, I still appreciate your input, because it helps to look at GS pay scale as another point of reference (to quote acai).

  • pinus says:

    After reading through this...it made me wonder: how many of you started grad school knowing how crappy the pay would be as a post-doc?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    When I started grad school I was under the impression that I would get a traditional professorial TT job right after defending.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    I thought my pay was going to be awesome. I received a 28K salary when the postdoc standard was 19K. I thought I was rich! At least until my first paycheck. I had a fellowship AND a teaching assistantship in my final year of grad school which totaled $24K. After taxes I made less as a postdoc. It totally blew....but I lived.

  • becca says:

    If I remember correctly, when I started grad school I thought post-docs made <30k. Although I thought it would be feasible to get past the post-doc stage in <5 years (not crazy-unreasonable, but not as typical as I thought).

  • Perovskite says:

    I'm in the second year in a national lab post-doc for the Department of Energy. Salary = $65k, but I know for certain I make up to $10k more than some of the other post-docs in my same research group. I'm basically a GS-12 with a few years of experience. The pay is plenty for a family of four living in West Virginia. But I feel it should be high because I'm a PI. I write all the reports, papers, and budgets and give all of the presentations for the project, and I am in charge of a technician and a GS-13 staff scientist. In what way is this "training position" any different from my boss who has fewer years of experience but happened to be hired earlier in his career as a GS-13?
    @Peanut: For all the DOE post-docs I know, nobody gets 401k, sick leave, or vacation days. The only benefit I get is health insurance (no dental) and a flexible work schedule.
    Salary (and geography to a lesser extent) did play a large role in accepting my position over others, but I am aware of and do openly admit this.

  • pinus says:

    to answer my own question: I saw what the NRSA payscale was, and it didn't bother me. I was convinced that I Would find a faculty job or stop being a post-doc in 5 years.

  • toporowski says:

    So Pinus,
    I assume that your conviction "convinced that I would find a faculty job or stop being a postdoc in 5 years" became a reality, did it ?. Just curious !

  • pinus says:

    Topo,
    It worked out. I got some lucky breaks for sure. I think I was a bit naive about the process. live and learn!?

  • neurolover says:

    "When I started grad school I was under the impression that I would get a traditional professorial TT job right after defending."
    Are you joking DM? Or is it really true? I'd be tempted to believe it was snark. But, one of the main things that I spend time explaining to entering graduate students is that you don't usually get hired as faculty at the school where you do your graduate degree. If you're at a youngish school, or one where lots of faculty were hired at a particular time in academic history, a lot of people think you get hired by your graduate institution, that that's the natural career path.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I simply meant that I thought a freshly minted PhD would be able to secure a job offer. I was pretty unaware of the idea of postdoctoral training.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    I secretly had that dream too DM. The guy who graduated from the lab before me (4 years prior in 1989) went straight into a TT position at Washington State University at a whopping $29K a year (hahaha!). I hoped I would be so lucky. I feel so old....

  • DrugMonkey says:

    In partial defense of my younger naive self, hires w/o any postdoc experience were still going on in my training field. Even in top10, top 20 programs.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    What field was that DM? Must be something horrible if it had so many vacancies: TT in Carnie Gaming? perhaps field service in sewage science? hmmm.....

  • Anonymous says:

    I'm a post-doc at a large pharmaceutical research company in the SF Bay Area and I make ~$55k.
    I would be more interested in what lab heads make, both academic and industry. It's a topic that doesn't get discussed much, but is pretty important for fledgling post-docs forging their career path.

  • Markus says:

    Comment in response to "New Asst. Prof."
    Many universities are freezing the pay raises of post-docs and other unclassified staff doing research even when those pay raises are built in to external grants.
    This practice is in some cases illegal. Although I've been on NIH and NSF grants I am not familiar with how they are awarded, but I can tell you that military related agencies often do not allow this practice (of universities withholding pay increases from defense/military sponsored grants). Some employees may want to check the fine print on their contracts.

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