27 and a PhD

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Daily Archives: September 18, 2009

Postdoc salary … a very non-scientific comparison

My apologies for not writing sooner. I’ve been swamped with tasks in the lab, still getting organized, and now the BF and I are addicted to a really funny show called “Little Mosque on the Prairie.” Anyways, so while all that was happening I was logging in to check the blog, but not to write.

I noticed that some of the most common phrases typed by users (that ultimately land in the blog) are as follow: “postdoc salary”, ” 28 and a phd”, “post-doc salary”, “postdoc salary USA 2009.” As I mention in the title, this is a very unscientific comparison between my salary as a postdoc, and the one I had as a grad student. Bear in mind that I will not go into details such as comparing salaries between disciplines, geographic areas, etc. I just want to give you a clue as to where I am situated, which is probably more or less in the middle. Also, my PhD is in Biophysics, one of the fields I am currently working in.

Just yesterday I found the letter of acceptance to the graduate program I attended. I started there in the summer of 2003, and my starting compensation was 20,500 USD. My salary increased over the next 6 years to ~25K, gross amount, without taking too much money out for taxes and school fees. I went to a decent-sized school in the Bible Belt, which for undergrad education ranks pretty high and the pay seemed fair enough to live in that city. My gross monthly income was over 2,200 USD by the end of my years there, and usually between 130-150$ were taken out in taxes. My fixed expenses while in grad school were:

  1. Rent -660-690$ (especially during my last year) for a 2BR apartment located ~ 15-20 mins away from school. It’s pretty expensive staying close to campus, but if you want to save gas and don’t mind walking or biking, it’s no biggie, and you probably end up even in terms of overall expenses between rent and transport.
  2. Car – I bought a new car when I started. I was afraid I’d end up with a lemon, especially since I didn’t have my parents to help me look for a car. I had it a 2% interest with a well known brand and I paid ~290 USD/month.
  3. Internet and cell. By the end of my career I had given up cable, so it was ~ 100 counting both. I got a small discount from the cell phone company through school.
  4. Credit cards. ~600-700$ between the 3 of them … and they’re not paid off due to my laziness and irresponsibility.
  5. Gas – ~60-100$. I filled up once a week and tried to do the maintenance work at the appropriate times.
  6. Car and apartment insurance. Ended up costing ~110$.

That left me with a couple of hundred bucks to eat, dress, take care is misc. things and do groceries. I almost always eneded up short of cash. Again, due to my irresponsibility. Compared to what I remember were the salaries of some college classmates who’d gone to get their PhDs in California, Michigan, Texas or Jersey, I was being paid slightly more (except for Cali) and the quality of living was not bad.

Now as a postdoc I’m paid 37,000 CADs, split into 3100 CADs per month. In USDs that amount translates into roughly 25-28k, depending on how the loony is doing. As when I was in grad school, taxes are not taken out of my salary, therefore I *must* set aside close to 800 CADs per month, so when tax season comes, I won’t be even more choked up in debt.

My salary is roughly divided like this:

  1. 500$ for rent (I live with the BF thus we contribute the same amount, live in an apartment that’s gorgeous, spaceous and is very quiet).
  2. Credit cards – same as before, and because I’m trying to knock off some of that debt, I’m trying the debt snowball method.
  3. Cell and internet – a little over 100$, but I don’t have the exact numbers for the internet yet.
  4. Car insurance – (super expensive) ~230$ … OUCH!
  5. There are probably one or two more things I’m forgetting, but like I said earlier, this is a very rough estimate, meant to give you a general idea of how money is split.

As you can see, because some of these expenses are shared between the BF and I, I end up with more money in my pocket, or roughly 1/3 of my salary if left in the end. I also pay for parking at school (30$/mo.) and health insurance (90$/mo.).

At my old school, depending on what your level of experience was, the staring salary of a postdoc was ~36k USD. In CADs that’s a lot more than what I am currently being paid, but the cost of living is lower here, and I did not qualify for any fellowships that might have complemented my salary or even bumped it a little bit.

I don’t know if other universities have a policy of showing the base levels for salaries, but my guess is that if they are government funded, more that likely you can check the site(s) of those agencies and see if what you’re being offered is fair and up to standards.

Good luck and I hope this might help you to situate and compare the cost of living and salaries of your current or future postdoc position.

———-Have a great weekend!