Why A Postdoctoral Researcher Position Pays Less Than A Librarian Salary
Written by Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.
“Wait, a first year postdoctoral researcher position pays how much?”
I looked up from my labmate’s computer screen and back down again.
There it was on both the National Institutes of Health and the National Postdoc Association webpages.
The number was so small I couldn’t believe it.
“Not very much is it?” he said.
No, it wasn’t very much at all.
It was pathetic. In fact, it was demeaning.
It was less than librarians, mail carriers, and garbage collectors make.
But this wasn’t the worse part.
The worst part was that most postdocs didn’t get any benefits either.
At many Universities, once you went from being a graduate student to being a postdoc, your healthcare benefits were dropped.
If you paid enough, you could get put on one of the University’s most expensive, lowest coverage healthcare packages.
But all other benefits were nonexistent.
Forget about it.
A report from the National Postdoc Association shows that only 41% Institutionally Funded Postdoc Employees and only 17% of Institutionally Funded Postdoc Trainees receive matched contribution to a retirement plan.
I couldn’t believe it.
It was the middle of my second year of graduate school and all of this was shocking to me.
I seriously thought that once I got my PhD I would be taken care of.
I figured that PhDs made close to six figures right after graduation, even as a postdoc.
Dozens of questions filled my head.
What am I doing here?
What am I working for?
Did I really dedicate over 20 years to academia for this?
I made a decision right there to never do a postdoc, but ended up applying to postdocs my final year anyway because it was what everyone else was doing.
It’s all that I thought I could do.
Luckily, I was wrong.
As my final year came to a close, I came up with a job search strategy that got me several industry job offers.
A few years later, I got together with some other industry PhDs and we worked out a system for helping graduate students and postdocs get high-level industry jobs.
Things are not any better for PhDs in academia but they are better than ever in industry.
Why You Should Quit Your Postdoc Position
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay of a Librarian is $55,370 per year.
The Bureau also reports that the median annual salary of postal service mail carriers, as in mailmen and mailwomen, is $57,200.
Meanwhile, according to the National Institutes of Health and the National Postdoctoral Association, 5th year postdocs make $52,116.
In other words…
A scientific postdoc with a doctoral degree (to be redundant) with 5 years of experience makes ~$4,000 less than the typical librarian and ~$5,000 less than the typical postal carrier.
Okay, but maybe you’re thinking that you won’t stay a postdoc for 5 years.
If this is what you’re thinking, you’re wrong.
The director for extramural research at the National Institutes of Health reports that the average length of postdoc time in the sciences has stretched from around two years to over five years.
It only gets worse if you’re a first year postdoc.
First year postdocs make $42,840 while the average garbage collector makes $43,000 a year.
The hard truth is academic postdocs are not valuable.
It’s simple economics.
The supply of postdocs in academia far exceeds the demand for them.
This makes postdocs essentially worthless in academia.
Argue all you want, but the data don’t lie.
If you’re an academic postdoc, you are worth less than librarians, mail carriers, and garbage collectors.
You can’t deny this.
The good news is that in industry you are worth much more.
Accept That The Academic System Cannot Be Fixed
Every year a few articles come out from lifetime academics or academic journal editors touting the increase in pay for postdocs.
Postdoc salaries are on the rise!
But what they neglect to tell you is that salaries for many positions are on the rise.
They also neglect to account for inflation.
Most importantly, they neglect to mention that a slight increase from an abysmally small number is meaningless.
100% of 0 is still 0, so to speak.
You could increase postdoc salaries by 10% right now across the board, which would be a giant raise, and a first year postdoc would still make ~$10,000 less a year than a mail carrier.
Academia cannot be fixed.
There is no funding and there are no jobs.
The NIH Director reported in USA Today that the NIH has lost 25% of its purchasing power.
At a certain point, you need to stop trying to fix or adapt to the system and instead, leave the system.
How To Transition Out Of Academia
The only way to escape a dead-end postdoctoral researcher position is to develop an intelligent job search strategy.
But before you do this, you need to drop your poor academic mindset.
You need to change your perspective and change what you value.
For example, you must stop writing a bloated, self-indulgent resume that no one will ever read.
You must stop believing that your publications will matter to recruiters and industry hiring managers.
You must also start creating a real networking strategy and start leaving the lab to go to seminars, conferences, job fairs, and daytime networking events.
Most importantly, you can’t keep executing the same twenty-year old, career-killing job search mistakes that keep getting regurgitated online.
You need to get access to exclusive, high-level job search information.
You need to get access to a quality network of PhDs and industry professionals who will support you during your transition.
You can either get access to this information and these contacts, or not. It’s up to you.
3 New Cheeky Scientist Association Success Stories
With the way things are in academia, it can seem like there’s no hope for postdocs.
It can make you feel helpless and even foolish for getting a PhD in the first place.
But don’t lose hope.
There is a better career and a better life waiting for you if you stop burying your head in the sand and instead, take action to improve your situation.
It’s possible and it’s been done by hundreds of other postdocs and graduate students in the Cheeky Scientist Association.
Here are 5 new Cheeky Scientist Association success stories…
“I was looking for an industry job for over a year without any luck. Now, I’m a Medical Science Liaison for a top pharmaceutical company. What happened? I joined the Cheeky Scientist Association. After joining, I was really impressed with the quality of the private group. The amount of support and high-level insights were invaluable to me. I was able to have in-depth conversations with other Associates, learning from the resumes they shared and the networking and interviewing experiences they had. I also got to attend live webinars and workshops with top MSLs and other industry professionals. After making a few key changes to my own resume, interview presentation style, and networking strategy, I was suddenly hired. It all happened very quickly after I got my strategy in place. I couldn’t be happier now. I finally have the career and life I’ve always wanted.”
Yuri Klyachkin, Ph.D
Now A Medical Science Liaison At Bristol-Myers Squibb
“Prior to joining the Association, I was a postdoc and working in a lab just like I had been for the last several years. Though I love science I realized that academia was not for me. Since budgets are cut more and more a lot of labs turn into an environment full of fear and jealousy where publications are “produced” under high pressure, which has nothing to do with the innovative, cool science I wanted to be doing. I wanted to move on and do something new but I felt stuck and like I didn’t have any job options or good connections. I realized I needed to change strategies and joined the Association. Since becoming a Cheeky Scientist Associate, I’ve been on several interviews and have had numerous recruiters contact me. I recently got the industry job of my dreams and I’m still having recruiters contact me. The Cheeky Scientist Association continues to keep me one step ahead in my industry career. I really enjoy interacting with the private online groups and know that I can ask questions and get support whenever I need it. The Association is a great resource for any postdoc, PhD, or Phd student.”
Account Manager at Bio-Rad Laboratories
“The Cheeky Scientist Association took me from being very unsure on how to approach my job search to getting an industry position above the one I interviewed for and a correspondingly much bigger salary package. Trust me, the program is worth every penny. The Association takes you through the broad strokes of networking and designing a job search strategy to concrete practical tips like inserting the right result in the right place on your resume and saying “any reasonable offer will be considered” when asked how much you expect to earn during an interview. The resume workshop in particular was a game-changer. The only people that shouldn’t join this program are PhDs who want to keep procrastinating and making excuses for why they are still stuck in academia.”
Aaron Gajadhar, Ph.D.
Now A Senior Scientist at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals
You don’t have to accept being an overworked and underpaid postdoc.
You don’t have to accept being valued less than a librarian, mail carrier, or garbage collector.
You deserve better. You deserve to do meaningful work and to be paid well for it. But it’s not going to happen on its own. You need to take action. You need to get access to top-level job search information and a top-level industry network to support you during your transition. Either start creating an intelligent job search strategy now or settle in, because you’re going to be in academia for a long time.
To learn more about transitioning into industry, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.
Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.
Isaiah is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.
Latest posts by Isaiah Hankel (see all)
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