What does your school require from you? Salary Support Edition

Apr 29 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Beatrix Kiddo (@tehbride) asked me whether job depends upon grants. "Do you have hard $ salary, or soft all around?"

This becomes a tricky question and is something that you can negotiate before taking a job (I did).

At my old MRU, I was in a clinical department. In the beginning, every penny of salary was accounted for: research (external grant), teaching (central funds for classes or residents), service (it pained the chair from hell to pay for this out of his precious clinical income), clinical (the gold standard for everything). Then NIH objected to people being 100% research, on grants, and still writing grants. This was considered "lobbying" and one was not permitted to use gov't money to request more gov't money. Things changed, and the department (reluctantly) funded 2-4% of time to write grant proposals.

Ha. I wish I only spent 2-4% of my time writing grant proposals.

In those days I was a vice-chair, and that accounted for a chunk of time. It irritated my chair, although I would have thought that he would have been relieved to have a cheap vice-chair (I made less than asst profs who were MDs). I sometimes did some teaching, and that would bring in another chunk. As vice-chair I knew that everybody was on this scheme in one form or another.

Part of this byzantine scheme was how the junior faculty were treated. This differed between clinical PhDs and MDs. Non-clinical PhDs, pure research folks, were only hired if they already covered that almost-100% of their salary. This, by the way, meant that no young research people were hired.

The MD's were by and large hired to do clinical work and clinical research. The hope was there would be sufficient overlap so that they would generate huge enormous buckets of clinical income, and yet, in their copious free time (20%) write papers and proposals and establish themselves as young giants in the field. Of course, they had little to no training and this didn't work well. Their salary was dependent on clinical income, "salary at risk" was the terminology, in a simple formula (though reality was more complex, this serves for understanding):

salary = some constant  * income brought in/hours worked per week

Thus, if you had 20% protected  time, your denominator was smaller, and your salary larger. Some, very few, had the opposite scheme - 75-80% research, 20-30% clinical. These were folks who had done some kind of research fellowship. Often they showed up with a K-award, or significant promise of one. These people often succeeded, but tended to, shall we say, blur the %s, so that they were closer to 60/40, to generate more clinical income, which turned into bonuses for them. We can argue about people who value money more than research, and who's willing to be poor. But I think that's another argument for another day.

Things were different for the clinical PhDs (psychologists, Phys Therapists, Audiologists, SLPs, OTs). Their salaries were much less than physicians (40-60%, depending on seniority and specialty). They did clinical work for one or more of several reasons. The department needed their services, and they were cheap. The department gave lip service to having these folks do research, and covering their salary was the cost of having them on the roster. From their perspective, clinical service was a pathway to generating data, finding subjects, or keeping their hand in clinical matters should academia not work out. Many more of these people were the 75-80% research to 20-30% clinical, with the department promising 2-3 years of research support. Those people often hit the  ground running, writing K-award proposals at an impressive frequency (every cycle or every other cycle). They got funded or not, and stayed or not. But by the time such a person was up for promotion to assoc prof, they had to cover their whole salary in a mix of research grants and clinical income. Period. If you didn't have the research dollars, you were in the clinic. Very hard, and many left.

Now: I have moved to a basic science department. I teach a major medical school class, and that covers a large part of my salary. It is assumed that I will bring in some percentage of my remaining salary in grant money. That number was part of my negotiation when I came here. There is still a gap between teaching/research funding and my salary. I am aware of this. So I do some significant service here (mentoring, running promotions committee, organizing the women & URM of the medical school).

I also keep an eye out for opportunities to do things that Interest Me and that I would find Good To Do. My criteria for such things are 1) I really want to do it (because its fun, because it will make a difference, because it means something to me) and 2) Someone in administration will see what I do as a big plus and preferably will think "wow, only Potnia could pull that off". Thus, writing blogs and tweeting fails #2. Most admin/service things fail #1. I've found something recently that I'm following up on. Its a local hospital that has more money than brains, and no research and the Head of Something Or Other mentioned to me that they really would like to get their fellows / jr faculty involved in research. It has the potential to support the junior faculty in my department. I am exploring, which makes the research admin in my Uni very very happy.

The most important thing to consider as you move from postdoc to faculty, or one faculty place to another, or from research faculty to tenure-track, is to get as much information as you can. Get information about: the field, the discipline, the school, the department, anything you can. Lots is hidden, so talk to other junior faculty. Ask them about it. Public uni's often have databases with salaries in them.

But salary number is not the single most important thing. In fact, its usually down the list. Important (and go back to DocBecca's page as well as this page from a chem blogger, Ken Hanson) are: what are you expected to do about this salary, how much research support are you getting? I have always thought that seed money and research space (is it ready, available?) is more important than salary, even though when you are starting out that's hard to see.

So to answer Beatrix: now, I've got some squish. Its partly why I left MRU. But if I don't get funded, I will be in trouble. So I'm off to write another proposal.


5 responses so far

  • Dave says:

    98% of my salary has to come from grants. Period. No hard support whatsoever. No financial credit for teaching, mentoring or service.

  • Ola says:

    At my R1 Med Ctr the rules for PhDs are (thankfully) transparent and consistent across departments, both clinical and basic. Essentially this is because the Dean went in all-guns-blazing a few years ago and took away the autonomy of departments to set faculty salaries. It pissed off the chairs, but was a good move IMHO. Anyway, the rules are:

    Assistant Prof 50%, Associate 60%, Full 70%. They use a rolling average 2 year window, and if you're below that expected level for a sustained period, they can cut your salary down to a "base salary", which is 60% of whatever your last salary was.

    At the junior job-search level, one of the things I'm seeing now that my former trainees are out looking, is the amount of dicking around by squirrelly deans and chairs. When I was hired, things were laid out very clearly but nowadays I see a lot of dodgy numbers being floated around to candidates.

  • Dave says:

    Ola we have opposite problem. No consensus across the institution and PhDs in clinical departments are treated terribly. Essentially no salary support, but chairs can help out on a 'case by case' basis based on budget/performance etc, which means they never do, of course. It's a classic soft-money med school situation.

    Base/guaranteed salary only exists in the basic departments and they are only required to bring in 50% anyway. Tenure means tenure there and they hog all the teaching even though the students would clearly benefit if more clinical faculty were allowed in. There are a large number of unproductive, non funded faculty there who appear to think we are in the 1970s.

    It's odd. The divide and animosity between PhDs in the clinical vs basic departments is becoming very negative. Two vastly different worlds and careers. Administration claims ignorance.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    Back when I was at an R1 Med school, I started at 50% as an assistant professor, but it was jacked up to 75% within a few years and I hear that they are now on the road to 90%+.

    Where I am now, it's the equivalent of the 9 months + summer salary deal at arts & sciences schools, except that we don't maintain the "only working during the academic year" fiction.

  • E rook says:

    At my old uni, it was 3% from the dept, no start up funds, use "shared" space. I failed at getting an R01 after 5 years of bouncing around 2 yr mechs and submitting lots of grants and publishing 3 mediocre papers per year. Teaching was sort of a contract basis thing, signed up for it and (if a spot was available to you) got paid per classroom hour.

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