PhD salary expectations

PhD salary expectations

Finding jobs that align with graduate education provides a range of options from junior positions to internships. However, once students carry on to gain a PhD their perceived possibilities of gaining a job that is outside of the academic market decreases. After 3-5 extra years in further education you would expect that post-graduate students would see a broader spectrum of job possibilities on the market. However, this is not the case with many PhDs and Post-Docs having tunnel visions of becoming group leaders and Professors in academic institutions or finding reduced options in the job markets that deal with their experience.

PhD salaries in industry

Last May I was on a panel for the pathology department discussing post PhD career options. One of the main discussions we had was “what should PhDs/Post-Docs expect to be paid when transferring to jobs in industry?” (this was in the UK). Like every career question, this depends on the type of career and country; however, what was interesting was what salaries the audience expected to earn once they left academia and what PhDs earned in reality. From the audience we got back answers of €60,000 for PhD graduates in the life sciences; however, in reality many PhDs can expect to earn around €30,000 when looking at positions in industry labs or business positions. A quick search on reed.co.uk or jobsite.co.uk will give you an idea of the average figures based on having a PhD. However, interestingly is why PhDs would expect significantly more once graduated. Is there some rumours on the corridors in University laboratories that a golden pile of money is awaiting all PhDs. Something that PhDs don’t really think about is loss of earnings during their PhDs. On average PhDs earn 16-€20k a year depending on funding agency and possibly no payment when writing up their thesis reducing their average income even further. Looking at a college graduate who went straight into the job market, they would expect to earn €20k-25k in their first years, with salary increasing based on experience. A nice article by Jeff Sauro questions whether it’s really worth doing a PhD in the long term versus carrying straight on from graduation. Although Jeff claims that PhDs earn on average $17,000 a year more versus a graduate, this figure is eroded due to the increased experience a bachelors student has gained in the intervening years and salary increases in accordance with experience that a PhD would not have.

Underpaying life science PhDs

However, what I have wondered is whether a PhD could graduate and expect to be on a significant salary that is linked to their level of education. Careers with similar levels of time spent studying such as lawyers & medical doctors would expect to earn a lot higher than a scientific PhD even though they have spent similar amounts of time in education. If you think about it, why would people with similar levels of education expect to earn vastly different salaries. What it could come down to is perceived value. Of course Doctors and Lawyers are hugely valuable to society, as too are life science PhDs, but why is there such a discrepancy in pay? Is this due to the fact that scientific PhDs are willing to work for little salary for up to 5 years after graduating and therefore have sold themselves short when it comes to the job market? If you knew someone was willing to work 7 days a week for €16,000 why would you expect to pay them €50,000 for working 9-5 Monday to Friday? Is this the biggest problem facing the life science PhD job market? Or is it that Industry does not see PhDs as valued candidates when freshly graduated, so require some fine tuning to adapt to industry and therefore do not deserve the mega salary that PhDs expect. One solution to alleviate this scenario would be to educate life science PhDs in business while carrying out their studies, possibly setting this as mandatory for all post-graduates. This could possibly be implemented into post-doctoral education where there is an increased need for cross over skills. Therefore once PhDs enter the job market they would instantly make a impact.

Educating life science PhDs for jobs in industry and academia

Recently I carried out a survey on SurveyMonkey.com and asked “Do Universities provide training/guidance for PhD students looking for jobs outside of academia” (92 respondents from 19 countries) and found that only 40% of Universities in question provided training for graduate students considering jobs outside of academia.

Secondly what was also interesting was the amount of PhD students that received grant writing training during their studies at only 35%. If PhD students are not being trained to look for jobs outside of academia or being trained to write grants to become academics what vision do Universities have for them?

Addressing some of these questions and providing support through grant writing classes, industry career seminars and business courses will provide life science PhDs to clear options to carry on with the goals and be economically beneficial to the University and state.

If you have any comments or thoughts please post below!


6th Oct 2021 Sean Mac Fhearraigh

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