27 and a PhD

Home » Grad school » Postdoc salary … a very non-scientific comparison

Postdoc salary … a very non-scientific comparison

Welcome to my blog!

Hello there, awesome reader. My name is Dr. 27. I'm older than that now, but I'm staying faithful to the origins of the blog.

This blog started 2 months before completing my PhD in a pretty southern university back in 2009. It was a way to practice my writing and take a break from all things thesis. My PhD is in a branch of structural biology where I studied some rather impressive stuff.

After completing the degree, I packed my life of 6 years in 3 days and moved to Canada to do a postdoc in a completely different field. Two years later, and after attending a lot of seminars, workshops and doing some much-needed soul-searching, I ended up getting out and looking for an alternative path to academia and industry.

The blog chronicles my mishaps, ideas, musings and tips on entering, staying and finishing grad school. It also talks about some (or a lot) of personal stuff. For a while, the blog became a place to talk about the frustrations of not knowing what to do after PhD. I wanted to explore alternatives to the traditional paths of research (academia, industry and goverment) whilst going back to my field of training (if at all possible). Eventually a job materialized. Follow my quest as I navigate the waters of being a staff scientist at a core facility.

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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!

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12 Comments

  1. Typemycle says:

    Could not find a suitable section so I written here, how to become a moderator for your forum, that need for this?

  2. Martin says:

    Thank you for the information, it has been very helpful for me. My Phd-defense is due in 3 weeks and I have been thinking of going to Canada for a post-doc. It seems your salaries are just not worth the trouble, but it might be different for post-docs in engineering.

    Let me add to your non-scientific comparison:

    About me: 32 yr, Male, (soon) PhD in materials engineering.
    Nationality: Swedish
    Current employment: phd-student at a research institute in Sweden.
    Annual salary: 48k in CAD (1 CAD = 7.3 SEK)
    Annual tax: 16k (it’s sweden, we love taxes…)
    Expenses: rent 850 CAD/month, car fuel 100 CAD/month, car (other costs) 310 CAD/month, food 350 CAD/month, communication (cell + internet) 150 CAD/month.

    These are the main ones, if I don’t go out too much (that is REALLY expensive here) or do something stupid, I can quite easily save 500 CAD/month. And my expenses are really a bit higher than normal.

    So it seems to me that both the US and Canada will have to do without me, when it comes to a post-doc position. A job in the industry in your countries however seems like a much better deal, they apparently pay roughly 80k for materials engineers.

    • 28 says:

      Hi Martin. Thanks you so very much for your comparison. You’re right, doing a postdoc does not pay substantially more than when you were doing a PhD (in my case, roughly 3-4,000 dollars more, in my honest opinion, money-wise not really worth it). What I tell people is that unless they’re SURE they want to stay in academia, then, and only then you should do a postdoc. Alternatively you can do a postdoc in industry (and get paid anywhere from 50-80K, plus substantial benefits), or get a kick-ass fellowship. Taxes to eat a good portion of one’s earnings. Here, depending on how much you make you get a taxed differently, so I got taxed at 13.5%, but if you make above 40K (I think) then the % increases. Take into account that you may not get relocation money (though you can claim your relocation expenses on your tax forms, but I think that this is just plain shitty). I’m humbled that you found this info worth reading and somewhat useful. You can check for jobs, especially in industry in the Science and/or Nature jobs sections. In my case, I’d like to earn more, but I’m thankful though that I have a steady income (since I carry a significant amount of debt with me due to bad use of credit cards).

  3. Dr. Yogi says:

    I too found this info very useful. I spend way too much of my time concerned with monthly expenses due to credit card debt. I just graduated in March 2010. I had to speed up my graduation due to the financial burden of my irresponsibility. As my committee said: “I sold myself short” with my PhD. Now I am working for a non-profit and doing a career change from biochem/biophysics in a yeast genetics lab to psychiatric clinical research. Luckily I make more than I would have as a postdoc. But not much more.

    • Dr. 28 says:

      Thanks Dr Yogi! I feel for you, and for me, and for all of us silly, silly scientists who got ourselves wrapped in debt. I finished last year, and instead of taking a break I started working 3 weeks after my defense, in another country because I needed the money to make the monthly payments. It sucked … and I’m still hitting my head for being so stupid to let MC/Visa rule my life when it shouldn’t be that way. Wow, from yeast to psychiatric clinical research, that is indeed quite a change. And yes, though one makes a bit more money (I probably make way less than you), it’s still not enough to get rid of the debt as fast as I’d like. I’m making small dents, but it’s a very slow, and painful process. Thanks for visiting and good luck! Please come back and say hi again!

  4. pooja says:

    what is expected salary of a science researcher at sweden.is it worth going for a post doc at sweden.any body can plz help me????

  5. pooja says:

    what is better option for a post doc US,UK,CANADA,AUSTRALIA,SWEDEN??

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Depends on what you want to study. I’d say, check out your options in the countries you’re interested and try to get in touch with people with a similar background to yours that are there. There’s no single right answers, just a what works best for you and will help you feel successful.

  6. Sam says:

    I think there should been more talks and discussion about Postdoc salary. I am doing Postdoc for past 7 yrs and my current salary in 50K, translates to appox 4K per month and that eventually gets down to 3K after taxes! that means I make 36K(not 50K really) after 7 yrs of Postdoc ! What Policy makers don’t understand (and perhaps their IQ will never permit them to understand ever) is that when a Postdoc with 7 yrs of experience just makes 36K a year, what is the motivation for fellows to be in academia or even be a Postdoc after grad school! Is this the pay they want to pay to a scientist whom the society wants to discover a drug for cancer or find treatments for disease ! comeon! idiots , you will never ever achieve the goal when your scientist community are living pay check to paycheck with an uncertain future .

    • Dr. 27 says:

      So very true!!! Thanks for posting this Sam. Indeed, I don’t get why after so many years of work, as postdocs we were/are making as much as a grad student.

  7. […] know what’s weird (but good)? I’m not shy about money. You can see how much I’ve written about money or salary related things here, here, here and […]

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