NPR story on Postdocs: what is your salary? edition

Sep 16 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

This morning there was a NPR story on Postdocs. The story (and lots to talk about in the whole thing) made the claim that:

Whether she succeeds or not, she's part of a shadow workforce made up of highly qualified scientists who work long hours for comparatively little pay, considering their level of education: about $40,000 a year.

The NIH scale is:

The stipend for each additional year of Kirschstein-NRSA support is the next level in the stipend structure and does not change mid-year.

Career Level Years of Experience Stipend for FY 2014   Monthly Stipend
Postdoctoral 0 $42,000 $3,500
1 $43,680 $3,640
2 $45,432 $3,786
3 $47,244 $3,937
4 $49,128 $4,094
5 $51,096 $4,258
6 $53,148 $4,429
7 or More $55,272 $4,606

- See more at: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-14-046.html#sthash.RiG1ZhsK.dpuf

Digging a bit deeper, from her webpage:

Dr. Vanessa Hubbard-Lucey received her PhD in 2011 from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY in the lab of Dr. Fernando Macian. She did her thesis work on the role of macroautophagy in T cell activation, in collaboration with Dr. Ana Maria Cuervo. Vanessa was a recipient of the NRSA F30 pre-doctoral fellowship, and currently has an NRSA F32 postdoctoral fellowship studying the role of Atg16L1 after bone marrow transplantation.

So, first, if she got her PhD in 2011, she is at least 3 years post-degree, and should be earning  $47,244 according to the table. Second if she is on an NRSA, there is no excuse to be NOT on the scale. In my maths, $47K is closer to $45K or $50K if you are rigorous about rounding.

And, I am glad she found a position in NYC. I am sure she loves The City. But $47K is a lot more than median salary in the United Sates right now. Maybe its not enough to live in NYC, but it is elsewhere.

 

 

6 responses so far

  • JunionProf says:

    Could not agree more. Postdoc salaries are more than adequate. People have to remember postdocs are training positions; the salary is actually quite good for a training position.

  • anon PI says:

    I just left a reply on DrugMonkey's blog, but again, these NRSAs don't count as earned income, and she might not even get many benefits if she's not counted as an employee. This is common. So she's effectively not earning $47k. As a NRSA fellow, I qualified for subsidized low-income housing where I lived. It wasn't NYC.

  • Cathee Johnson Phillips says:

    Hi,

    The NIH-NRSA stipend was significantly less than $40,000 for many years. It's only been after a lot of advocacy by the National Postdoctoral Association and other concerned groups and after Dr. Francis Collins became director that the stipends started increasing. (Dr. Collins promised to raise postdoc stipends, and he kept his word.) As recently as 2013, the entry-level stipend for postdocs was $39,000. Read more here: http://www.nationalpostdoc.org/policy-22/briefing-room/stipends#stipendbackground

    Also, the average salary of biomedical postdocs is now $42,000, according to the 2014 NSF Science and Engineering Indicators (Table 3-21, chapter 3, page 3-40).

    But there's another part of the story that wasn't told. The benefits that the average postdoc receives are not good. So, even if the average postdoc salary was $47,000, that value is diminished when they don't receive health insurance, etc. That's improving, too, thanks to a lot of hard work, but it's not there yet.

    You have to be a dedicated to researcher to study well into your mid-30s and still not have a decent salary or benefits for you and your family. Postdocs deserve our thanks and support for sustaining scientific research in the United States.

    Cathee Johnson Phillips
    Past Executive Director
    National Postdoctoral Association

  • Cathee Johnson Phillips says:

    Correction to the first sentence in the last paragraph: It should read "You have to be a dedicated researcher to study... "

  • Jmz4 says:

    They NIH pay levels for postdocs went up significantly this year (after having been flat for a couple years). When I started my postdoc 3 years ago, a starting postdoc (the 0 years experience) was 38,496 (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-11-067.html).
    The story has a lot of issues, and the actual salary guidelines would have been easy enough to link to, but its more or less accurate to say "around 40k" for the majority of postdocs working today. Perhaps saying 40-45k would be more accurate. However, the country's median income is around 50k (http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/five-years-of-recovery-havent-boosted-the-median-household-income/). Putting postdocs on the low side.
    And as far as her choice of where to live, there really is no choice if you want your shot at a good career. All of the top schools and biotech are concentrated in three or four areas: Boston and San Francisco being the top, New York and DC coming in behind that. You'll recognize those as some of the most expensive places in the world to live.
    Now, this isn't to say I agree with the article's premise. By the time you hit your postdoc you should have a decent idea what the academic job market is like and if you can hack it. So all the whinging about what we were "promised" seems like a bit of melodrama.

    The real issue is that it is not a sustainable system. Postdocs do almost all the research in US universities. That is what our system as become. The low salaries and lack of employee benefits are usually justified because the position is technically a "training phase", which is BS. But rather than squeeze the taxpayer for more cash, why not see if the universities can skim some money out of their bloated administration to treat their postdocs like actual employees. So, instead of taking almost 8000 bucks out of my grants for "fringe benefits", pay it like you do for the janitors.

  • Morgan Price says:

    Although "$47K is a lot more than median salary in the United S[t]ates" it's probably a lot less than many of her friends from college are making. I think this is fair because curiosity-driven science is a lot more fun than most jobs. But I know several people who were very disappointed when they got a biology PhD and then realized that they would have a lot more money if they'd gone into programming or finance.

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