Projected NRSA salary scale for FY2017

NOT-OD-16-131 indicates the projected salary changes for postdoctoral fellows supported under NRSA awards.

Being the visual person that I am...
NRSAFY16-17chart

As anticipated, the first two years were elevated to meet the third year of the prior scale (plus a bit) with a much flatter line across the first three years of postdoctoral experience.

What think you o postdocs and PIs? Is this a fair* response to the Obama overtime rules?

Will we see** institutions (or PIs) where they just extend that shallow slope out for Years 3-7+?

h/t Odyssey and correction of my initial misread from @neuroecology
__
*As a reminder, $47,484 in 2016 dollars equals $39,715 in 2006 dollars, $30,909 in 1996 dollars and $21,590 in 1986 dollars. Also, the NRSA Yr 0 for postdocs was $20,292 for FY1997 and $36,996 for FY2006.

**I bet yes***.

***Will this be the same old jerks that already flatlined postdoc salaries? or will PIs who used to apply yearly bumps now be in a position where they just flatline since year 1 has increased so much?

38 responses so far

  • odyssey says:

    The essentially flat 0 to 2 year portion perplexes me. Why hire a PD straight out of grad school when you could try to get someone with a couple of years of experience for pretty much the same cost? (Assuming you're at an institution that ties PD salaries to the NRSA scale.) I would rather have seen a more linear increase like FY2016, but maybe with a slope that has it converging with the FY2016 7 or more years stipend. The proposed scale looks a lot like a lazyarse fix thrown together in the absence of any thought process.

  • odyssey says:

    Right after posting the above comment I had another thought. I wonder if the flat 0-2 year portion is an effort to stave off PI's whining about added personnel costs in the face of flat modular budgets? i.e. PI's could choose to give more reasonable raises moving into PD years 1 and 2, but that's their choice, not a NIH mandate.

  • Dave says:

    Postdocs don't get raises typically at my place, so it's unlikely those curves are relevant. The vast majority of PDs here also are non-US origin and are paid whatever the PI wants to pay them (it's usually much less this scale).

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    "Why hire a PD straight out of grad school when you could try to get someone with a couple of years of experience for pretty much the same cost?"

    You'd think, but the common wisdom is that graduates are like cartons of milk and are more valuable the fresher they are.

  • fjordmaster says:

    "Why hire a PD straight out of grad school when you could try to get someone with a couple of years of experience for pretty much the same cost?"

    Along with the fresh-factor, they also give PIs a chance to lock in stable salary lines for a ~3-year period. We'll see if the FY18 scale has a similar flat Year 0-2.

    Could this also be their attempt to incentivize PIs to design, as much as they can, 3-year terms for postdocs?

  • Luminiferous Aether says:

    "Why hire a PD straight out of grad school when you could try to get someone with a couple of years of experience for pretty much the same cost?"

    There's no scale that supports the idea that a second or third year PD is better than a first year PD.

    Plus, because now you can have that brand new PD for three years at essentially the same cost!!!1!!11!!

  • Susan says:

    My postdoc is getting a ~10% raise over his initial contract this year, due to the new federal overtime rules.

    I am getting a 2% raise this year, which is "above average' for my institution.

    It might take a while before I feel compelled to give the postdoc another raise.

  • Anon says:

    "Why hire a PD straight out of grad school when you could try to get someone with a couple of years of experience for pretty much the same cost?"

    PD grant eligibility (NRSA/K99/society/foundation) x # of years out of a postdoc rises then falls sharply as x goes to 1, 3, and then to 5. Year 1-2 PDs have more opportunity to fund themselves, pub track record from grad school and early PD if they got lucky, are less jaded, and less involved in looking for other jobs.

  • Grumble says:

    @Susan: Bingo.

    I might add that DM's dollar value numbers are enlightening. For instance: "$47,484 in 2016 dollars equals ... $30,909 in 1996 dollars". Well, my starting post-doc salary around that time was $21,000.

  • Mikka says:

    Welp, if they are trying to make postdocs shorter this will certainly do it.

    We'll see what the line looks like next year. If the slope goes up in the 1 to 2 years of experience then they are trying to ease PIs into the transition to higher salaries. If the shape stays the same they are penalizing PIs for letting postdocs run too long, but strangely incentivizing postdocs to hold on for dear life until the increases become significant. Or maybe this is some convoluted way of forcing/incentivizing/favoring more permanent research-associate-like positions for permadocs?

  • Luminiferous aether says:

    @Mikka or forcing postdocs to apply for fellowships asap.

  • The Other Dave says:

    Things that now seem true:

    1) Fewer postdocs will get hired, because people don't have the money.
    2) Grant budgets will go up, therefore decreasing the fraction of awards.

  • odyssey says:

    *note to self* Perhaps don't comment before having sufficient coffee.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Grumble- this is to provide needed perspective. Susan's comment, likewise. And do note- these increases have been at the front end of postdoctoral experience. So to some extent the argument about ppl being longer in "postdoc" positions is blunted.

  • neuromusic says:

    lol @ PIs indignant that Obama is giving their PDs a bigger raise than they get

  • Yizmo Gizmo says:

    You know, I didn't really give a hoot about big wages as a post doc.
    (Not that 47,500 is big wages for a "doctor" of research.)
    I was willing to hunker down and work hard, and I published a lot of stuff.
    I could pay the rent, I had enough to get a nice meal at a fancy restaurant on a Friday night, etc.
    What is much more important is *career prospects.*
    The 800 pound gorilla is diminishing career prospects for Biomed Phds.
    The post-doc used to be a 1 or two year stint a few dacades back; now it is a 6-8 year slog
    if you're lucky. Something's gotta give; this is not sustainable.

  • Mikka says:

    Lemme guess Yizmo, you were single and childless?

    I agree with you on the career prospects stuff though. But it's a separate problem from that of the low salary.

  • drugmonkey says:

    It's not always being indignant about relative raises neuromusic. It's about the utter cluelessness on the part of postdocs about relative pay. Makes it hard to take it that seriously.

  • neuromusic says:

    In what way is "It might take a while before I feel compelled to give the postdoc another raise." not indignance? That sounds to me like a punitive reaction: "my postdoc got a 10% raise but I only got 2%, so I'm not gonna give them a raise for a loooooong time"

    I think it's much more accurate to think of this as "Thank goodness I've gotten PDs sooo cheap for YEARS. Bummer that couldn't last forever and the federal government stepped in to correct what it considers to be the exploitation of salaried workers nationwide."

    We can also look at this w/r/t PD yearly raises. Under the FY2016 a PD can expect a 4% raise each year, whereas under FY2017 their raise is 0.76% the first two years before they start getting a 4% raise. This is the kind of incentive structure I would expect from a company trying to hold onto employees for 2+ years & I suspect this could weirdly reinforce the postdoc glut... "if can stay on one more year, I'll get a bigger raise".

    Now the NRSA payscale gets capped at 7 years, but why shouldn't it cap earlier? Might it be smarter policy-wise to actually *decrease* the % raise each year... say 4% at Y1, 3.5% at Y2, 3% at Y3. Would this exert financial pressure on super postdocs to cut and run earlier?

  • neuromusic says:

    Woops, I missed that Mikka made a similar point w/r/t the weird incentives here.

  • lurker says:

    How are you PIs with R01's and postdocs previously budgeted on the original payscale now going to handle this big salary increase law? Fire the PD early? Do fewer experiments with fewer reagents and pull back on grant aims and scope?

    Anyone have luck with their NIH PO for administrative supplements or raising their award back up to the full modular before the 15-20% cut?

    One can dream while still being delusional, I know.....

  • neuromusic says:

    Also in terms of cumulative cost, this means that if you hire a Y0 PD at the start of a 4 year R01, your total salary cost will only be an additional 4% under FY2017 versus FY2016 ($193,860 vs $185,556). On the other hand, if NIH had pegged PD raises at the FY2016 rates, you would be looking at an additional 8.6% increase in cumulative salary costs ($201,660 vs $185,556)

    So yay for PIs!!! The FY2017 payscale has saved you ~ $7800 per postdoc per R01!

  • The Other Dave says:

    Don't forget: These are NRSA stipends. If the postdoc is getting their salary from another source (including the PI's R01), they can be paid less.

    But what about Obama's overtime rules? These only require that time and a half be paid for work over 40 hours per week. Any PI with sense will say: "You must work 40 hours per week on *my* projects. Anything you do that builds your own career must be done on your own time". Basically, the postdoc becomes a tech who also does volunteer work in hopes of getting a better job someday.

  • Mikka says:

    That's not gonna fly, TOD, it's a lawsuit waiting to happen.

  • PaleoGould says:

    Job descriptions for any postdoc paid under threshold are going to have to be much MUCH more specific, should such positions even be allowed to exist.

  • Postdoc, partially gruntled says:

    Honest question: how many institutions actually tie non-NRSA postdoc pay to the current NRSA scale?

    I realize that the new DOL guidelines will change the PD base salary for institutions who don't want to track hours (which has a non-trivial effect on lab budgets), but that's different than the cumulative pay raises indicated by this scale.

    My institution sets a minimum salary that is reasonable given the cost of living here, and the dean says that annual raises are suggested but not mandatory. Most of the non-fellowship PDs I know started at the minimum and are still there, since most PDs who doesn't live under a rock know that having extra hands in the lab can be more helpful than extra $$ in your pocket, and we can't have both. Management of a lab budget seems like an important thing to teach trainees who may have ambitions/delusions of running a lab someday, so I'm guessing that these discussions may just be more of a reality here than in the Ivies.

    Re: reinforcing the PD glut and "if I can stay on one more year, I'll get a bigger raise"...where is this unicorn postdoc-ship? I want to go to there. In my current location, the NRSA scale does a pretty good job of paying PDs well enough that PIs can't keep them around forever but poorly enough that PDs don't want to stay around forever. Seems like a reasonable thing to aim for, with or without raises.

  • drugmonkey says:

    "It might take a while before I feel compelled to give the postdoc another raise." not indignance?

    Could also be, "this is fair so why would I go above and beyond". Not to dissimilar to *my* position that I stick to NRSA scale and don't see any particular reason to go above it. (and yes, I also have other reasons having to do with bias)

    This is the kind of incentive structure

    Oh, it's about "incentive structure" now is it? Because that argument puts us back to "pay em whatever, they'll still come calling because of the carrot we dangle".

    why shouldn't it cap earlier?
    Because as you full know the "incentive structure" argument and the "recognition this is not just a temporary position and living wage, duh" arguments are in some conflict and this is compromise solution.

    Fire the PD early? Do fewer experiments with fewer reagents and pull back on grant aims and scope?

    "Get by as best we can under the circumstances" is *always* the PIs' response to everything. So yeah, all of the above depending on circumstance.

    Anyone have luck with their NIH PO for administrative supplements or raising their award back up to the full modular before the 15-20% cut?

    As far as I am aware, supplements are not awarded explicitly to restore cuts but friendly POs may advocate for them with a thin fig leaf of an argument for why you need a supplement. This part of the "as best we can" toolbox. Available to some, not others.

    Any PI with sense will say: "You must work 40 hours per week on *my* projects. Anything you do that builds your own career must be done on your own time".

    You can draw your own conclusions about my sense but I'm not doing this. no way. no interest whatever in micromanaging this sort of crap. OTOH, *apparently* there are some PIs out there that chronically and severely underpay postdocs compared with NRSA scale. So yeah, presumably there will be some who pull this. Hopefully the Obama overtime will put some backbone behind HR departments to rein this stuff in.

    Job descriptions for any postdoc paid under threshold are going to have to be much MUCH more specific
    The job description for my technicians is no more specific than for my postdocs, maybe even less so. It doesn't seem to pose any problems for them keeping within 40 h a week.

  • drugmonkey says:

    As a general point, btw, NIH has been very slow to do anything to track postdoc support/work under research grants. This has changed a bit lately because you have to report effort for specific people but it will obviously take some serious data thumping to start to see answers to many of your questions about practices. I'm not sure if actual pay rate is part of this yet, or just %effort, tbh.

  • Grumble says:

    "How are you PIs with R01's and postdocs previously budgeted on the original payscale now going to handle this big salary increase law?"

    Apply for more grants.

    (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!)

  • Yizmo Gizmo says:

    "As a general point, btw, NIH has been very slow to do anything to track postdoc support/work under research grants. "

    The Powers That Be do not want people know that postdocs have become little more than migrant laborers. Better to obfuscate and deceive.

  • The Other Dave says:

    The best way to get a "raise" as a postdoc is to work in Chicago instead of Manhattan or Boston or the SF Bay area.

    DM: It sounds so nice the way you say it, but in the end I think your 'PIs get by any way they can' means that people will do what I threatened to do: Make anything not directly associated with the grant unpaid work. If I tell my postdocs that I am only going to pay them for 40 hours, and I expect their first priority to be the project that pays their salary... what's wrong with that? If they want to stay longer doing extra experiments... fine. But I never agreed to pay them for that. And ultimately, every postdoc is going to compete for jobs with people who *did* stay longer doing extra experiments.

    In the end, I think the NRSA pay bump is just another 'rich get richer' scheme. NRSA application success depends heavily on the training environment, which depends heavily on existing funding. So the boosted NRSA pay scale is basically just more money going to already rich labs. Well-funded institutions love this, because the pay bump means bigger NIH payouts, which means more ICR. If they could jack up the cost of pipette tips to justify a jump to $300 modules, they would.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Apply for more grants.

    But of course the only reason PIs ever do this is because they are greedy arrogant assholes who want all the monies for their own glory...

  • drugmonkey says:

    Make anything not directly associated with the grant unpaid work

    Some will. Very likely. Mostly those who were already screwing postodocs relative to NRSA scale and with respect to annual increases. The question is really if there are any previously well-intentioned PIs who now are forced by these rules to do this sort of dodgy stuff.

    I think the NRSA pay bump is just another 'rich get richer' scheme.

    Or, at least, it does nothing to alter the scheme that is already in place.

  • Jmz4 says:

    The way to counter the rich get richer problem is to institute federal locality pay adjustment tables.

  • Pleb says:

    I'm not convinced that PDs with a couple years experience are a better investment than the fresh meat, because do these PDs even exist on the market? I can't imagine it commonplace today to find PD's with a couple years experience looking for another PD stint? My understanding at this point in my PD is that if I have to do a second PD elsewhere, it's because my first one was not very productive and successful, and I need more papers. Perhaps this was different years ago, however with current dwindling career outlooks, if I were to find myself in this situation in 2 years, I'd have to seriously ask myself if it's worth it to continue onto another one (probs not).

    Echoing what others said above, the pay raise appears to be enough for PDs to afford the cost of living in most cities at a time when we're trying to leave behind our beautiful dirtbag grad student pasts, and maybe even start a family. But not enough for us to hang around and enter permadoc territory. Maybe it's the beginning of a terrible solution to the glut problem. It's not that much money for a full salary, but indeed a larger share of the modular R01, and that is concerning in the absence of a fellowship.

  • I agree with Dave's point about postdocs often not getting raises and this likely not meaning too much outside NRSA awards.

    The NPA's 2014 Institutional Policy Report (Figure 21) shows that the majority of postdocs are firmly at or below the NRSA Year 0 minimum of the time. 51% were on the NRSA minimum for Year 0, so a lot of places use it as a peg but the distribution around that point illustrates that they are just vague guidelines, and raises are likely implemeneted on a rare or patchy basis. With most postdocs at or below the current year 0 (I guess about 3/4 from the NPA graph), the new federally-mandated minimum is going to be the major effect. NIH is just making the adjustments it needs to to be in line with federal law and I wouldn't predict a massive effect from their new levels alone.

    The "40 hours and anything else is your own work" argument won't fly, and I believe it won't because of the lawyers I hear telling institutions it won't. Postdocs are not techs, in that they are federally recognised as both employees and trainees, and those "extra experiments" are likely going to be pointed to as evidence of necessary work in the postdoc position, which is a position that is transitioning to independence in a mentored environment. This argument could work for a tech or a staff scientist, but I doubt you'll find an institution that will support it for a postdoc. In addition, the responsibility for tracking hours, and the burden of proof, falls on the institution, not the postdoc. If an institution is not logging everyone's hours, identifying/restricting access to email and labs, and making sure PIs comply and do not make requests that could be construed as required tasks outside the 40 hours, they are the ones liable when the postdoc makes a grievance to the Department of Labor. It would be very easy for the postdoc to win in these cases - this is what lawyers advising institutions have said, not my opinion. Combined with the effect that FLSA is having on admin positions at institutions too, they will most likely be unable to afford to implement and maintain the tracking required to show compliance, and it will be cheaper from their perspective to raise the salary minimums than to try tracking and risk litigation.

  • […] of the stipend levels for 2016 and 2017 is depicted in Drugmonkey’s blogpost, “Projected NRSA salary scale for FY2017“. As you can see from the graph, the NRSA minimum is set much higher for years 0 and 1 […]

  • "Don't forget: These are NRSA stipends. If the postdoc is getting their salary from another source (including the PI's R01), they can be paid less."

    I think a lot of institutions tie their post-doc salaries to the NRSA scale. My own post-doc school certainly did this.

    "But what about Obama's overtime rules? These only require that time and a half be paid for work over 40 hours per week. Any PI with sense will say: "You must work 40 hours per week on *my* projects. Anything you do that builds your own career must be done on your own time". Basically, the postdoc becomes a tech who also does volunteer work in hopes of getting a better job someday."

    It is illegal for non-exempt employees (people who receive overtime pay for working more than 40 hours per week) to donate time to their employer, even for a project that differs from the one that pays their salary. This is true for all non-student employees, including post-docs, lab techs, staff scientists, etc. Not sure about students since some labor laws are different for them.

Leave a Reply