Graduate School Money V – Return of the PostDoc

July 19, 2007 at 12:54 pm | | grad life, stipends

To follow up on Charles’ theme, I decided to post what you can expect to make as a postdoc in the sciences. The information below comes from the excellent Sigma Xi postdoc survey. Read it and weep.

The salary increase from graduate student to postdoc is not too bad ( ~35%) but one must not forget that the average postdoc is in his/her early 30s, already has a partner/spouse that may or may not be working, and may be looking forward to starting a family:
Most schools base their postdoc salary from the current NIH postdoc stipend rate. These rates are only marginally adjusted for years of experience and do not reflect the differences in cost of living between, say, Ohio and NYC. Furthermore, most schools do not treat their postdocs as students so on-campus housing, medical, gym, and other “perks” are significantly more expensive.


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  1. so what you’re telling us is that it only gets worse!

    Comment by sam — July 19, 2007 #

  2. It doesn’t get worse if you get the hell out of academia after your degree, but that is little comfort if one wants to be a professor. Think the current old guard profs would make it today? When most of them graduated the majority of people got faculty or academic jobs. If my memory serves me right, it is down to ~25%, and that is after post-docing which most of the old guys never had to do (not to mention they finished their PhDs in 3-4years).

    Comment by Griffin — July 19, 2007 #

  3. Berkeley doesn’t pay their non-NIH fellowship postdocs the NIH rate. $31,666 is what I made my first year, until I got an NIH fellowship (thank god for that). I was living far worse off than I did as a graduate student in the midwest.

    Comment by anon — July 19, 2007 #

  4. Do you have a source on that “most schools” figure?

    It certainly isn’t universally true (I know of one postdoc who was paid about $23,000 only 4-5 years ago), so I wonder how much postdoc salaries vary.

    Comment by Colst — July 19, 2007 #

  5. At my undergrad, my understanding is postdocs were doing 31 – 33k gross.

    Comment by kendall — July 19, 2007 #

  6. My statement about “Most Schools” comes from the Postdoc Survey figure I showed above. Keep in mind that the life sciences, especially biology and medical school postdocs, are generally better compensated than physicists. The median postdoc salary across dozens of top tier schools was $38,000 for FY2004. In FY2006, the NIH postdoc salary with 0 years experience was $37,000. That increases slightly for every additional year of experience so $38,000 median is very possible.


    Its a little advertised fact that postdoc salaries are *gasp* negotiable! Unless you’re on a fellowship, what you get is what your boss thinks he can get away with paying you. There are generally university guidelines and some schools have minimum requirements. For example, the University of Iowa (chosen via Google at random) states that a PI should pay their postdoc, at a minimum, at the NIH level. If however, that level can not be met, a waiver is available. (link) Bottom line: be an informed consumer. Look up what the guidelines at your next job are before signing on the dotted line. Try asking for a little more, it can’t hurt.


    Furthermore, inequities exist throughout the system. Labs with HHMI support are required to pay their postdocs higher rates, unless that postdoc is on a different fellowship. So, for example, if I get NIH money, I am stuck @ $38,000 while my fellow postdocs who didn’t get any grant are getting the HHMI level of pay @ ~$41,000. Effectively, in that case the additional fellowship is a penalty.


    I bet if you ask around in your labs, you may learn that two postdocs working in the same group and with the same experience are not getting paid the same. If that isn’t the case, then I bet the mean salary will be different from group to group within the same department and from department to department within the same university.

    Comment by ilya — July 20, 2007 #

  7. Sure, postdoc salaries are negotiable, but try negotaing with a top professor who is getting loads of applications everyday. If you press hard enough, you’ll be out of a postdoc in their lab.

    And I wouldn’t say your (ilya) fellowship is a penalty, depending on your career plans. These days (in chemistry, at least) a fellowship is essentially a requirement for academia (at least at the top-30-ish schools). You might get paid less, but your chance of employment is higher, especially in academia where no fellowship might mean no position.

    Comment by anon — July 20, 2007 #

  8. Anon,

    I never claimed that my fellowship was a penalty. I am happy that I got it as it gave me significant independence. I just brought an example of a situation that can occur when postdoc fellows are paid less than their co-workers. As for fellowships and academia, you’re right: a fellowship is practically a requirement these days.

    The point you make about salaries is also true. The big PIs know this, of course, and probably underpay some of their employees. (no proof for the last statement) I wonder if international postdocs (especially from China and India) are getting the same salary as the Americans?

    Comment by ilya — July 20, 2007 #

  9. Ilya and Anon.,

    Good point abt the big PIs, but thankfully the big schools have policies that prevent them from underpaying. You can push your luck with them, but essentially you are tied to the NIH pay scale at these places (for biology postdocs, at least). International postdocs get the same salary at my school (a top 10 place).

    Comment by SS — March 19, 2008 #

  10. I started my postdoc 3 yrs ago at 36K and thought I had a good deal. Three years later I am on the same salary and worse off than I was in grad school.

    I did my PhD in the south where the cost of living was half what it is here, and because of the poor employment around here I now I am supporting the both of us on postdoc salary.

    My younger brother did not go to college, and is earning more than I do by driving trucks. I am not bitter, and I am going back to grad school for more.

    Comment by Dr. Girlfriend — July 15, 2010 #

  11. re last comment – I stumbled over this post somehow and did not look at the year part of the date before I commented several years after conversation was over – duh!

    Comment by Dr. Girlfriend — July 15, 2010 #

  12. no prob! i’m sure not much has changed, stipend-wise!

    Comment by sam — July 15, 2010 #

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