2015 Life Sciences Salary Survey

This year’s survey highlights dramatic regional, sector, and gender variations.

By and | November 1, 2015

© ISTOCK.COM/JCGWAKEFIELD

In the life sciences, having a PhD continues to pay. And according to The Scientist’s 2015 Salary Survey, your chances of being well compensated also increase if you are employed as a full professor in academia; specialize in biotechnology or clinical research; work in industry; have a job in the U.S.; or are male. Each of these populations reported the largest average salaries this year. The highest-paid respondents, earning an average annual income of $198,746, were those holding medical doctorates. Conversely, the lowest-paid group was female professionals reporting from Latin America, who earn just $22,091 on average. In the U.S., the lowest salaries were earned by respondents under age 25—$34,716.

Since 2014, most average salaries in The Scientist’s annual survey have increased, with some rocketing up more than others. The greatest jumps were seen in biotechnology and clinical research, two areas that also led the pack in 2014 and now tower over other disciplines by a much wider margin. Salary discrepancies are also seen across sectors—with industry researchers making considerably more than academics—and between genders. Clearly, all is not equal in life-science research. —Karen Zusi


Since the Recession

In the U.S., compensation for life-science researchers continues to rebound from the dips seen after the 2008 economic recession. “Faculty salaries got hit,” says Martin Finkelstein, a professor in the department of education leadership, management, and policy at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. “A lot of places did not provide any raises at all for three, four, five years.” With a few exceptions, this year’s survey showed an increase in average earnings over last year across most academic levels, fields, and sectors surveyed.

In industry, “the market is so hot right now, and employees have choices,” says Robert Surdel, a partner at the San Jose–based compensation consulting firm Radford. Many startup companies have seen an infusion of capital, for example, and with that comes increased competition for talent, he says. In contrast to just a few years ago, “it’s not the situation where they feel like they’re lucky to have a job. That sense is gone.” —K.Z.


Hot & Cooling Fields

Across areas of specialization, one of the largest increases from The Scientist’s 2014 Salary Survey data is in biotechnology, where average salaries increased from $114,084 last year to $140,091 in 2015. “The biotech market is probably up 400 percent since 2011,” says Surdel. He adds that biostatistics is another fast-moving job area, as companies start capitalizing on large data sets and technology-enabled science. Other high-paying fields in this year’s survey are clinical research ($139,434) and genomics ($119,994). Cancer biology is one of the few areas across sectors where earnings decreased. For reasons that are unclear, average salaries dropped to $86,112 from 2014’s average of $101,732. —K.Z.


Age & Experience


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within the U.S., it’s no surprise that more experience leads to higher average salaries. Across all life-science specialties, average salaries top six figures once professionals reach their early 40s or 15–19 years of experience in the field. In academia, the largest leap in earnings comes in the transition from postdoc ($51,559) to assistant professor ($90,899), and then again from associate professor ($105,499) to full professor ($151,825). “Within the regular full-time appointments, there is a lot more distance between a full professor and an associate professor, compared to an associate professor and assistant professor,” says Finkelstein.—K.Z. 

 

Around the World

Data are displayed as average compensation in 2015 US dollars.

Life-science professionals in the U.S. and Canada earned more, on average, than their counterparts in Europe, Asia, Oceania, and Latin America. The average income reported by US/Canadian respondents was $100,722, a stark contrast to Latin America’s $29,290, with other regions falling in between. Average 2015 salaries in Asia, compared with the data collected in 2014, increased by more than $22,000—up to $67,027. The leap is largely due to a reported increase in Japanese salaries—which averaged a whopping $311,789 this year, compared with $66,047 in 2014—though The Scientist received only seven responses from the country each year. —K.Z.

Sector Disparities

Data are displayed as average compensation in 2015 US dollars.

European respondents had an average income of $58,686—some $40,000 less than salaries reported for the U.S. and Canada. This wide margin holds true across the academic, industry, and government sectors. For academic researchers, the difference may largely be due to the required pay scales in European countries. Full professors at European institutions, for instance, usually earn similar salaries regardless of whether they specialize in biomedical engineering or German literature, according to Finkelstein. “In most of the rest of the world, academic compensation is not much of a matter of discussion. Whatever it is, it’s the same for everybody,” he says.

A larger gap between US/Canadian and European life scientists exists in the commercial sector, however. Industry professionals in the U.S. and Canada earn $47,664 more, on average, than their counterparts in Europe. Surdel partly attributes the difference to overall compensation packages that may not be not included in the figures reported in The Scientist’s survey. “A lot of these countries, particularly in Europe, have a lot of additional programs that have bigger pensions or other benefits that are significant.” For employers seeking to attract talent, Surdel adds, “there are also different competitive market dynamics, internationally. It’s not quite as aggressive [as in the U.S.]—there are different levels of commitment.”

But both in the U.S./Canada and in Europe, biotech and pharma companies offer life-science professionals higher compensation than academia, nonprofits, or the government—a trend that echoes The Scientist’s previous salary surveys. In these regions of the world, life scientists working in industry earn an average of $30,000 to $40,000 more than academics, though this average includes postdoctoral appointments in academia, which pay significantly less than other PhD-level positions. With such disparate earnings, the draw toward an academic career is often more about research freedom and advancing the mission and values of an educational or research institution. But it’s a tough decision for early-career PhDs, says Surdel. “If they want to go into industry, they can close that 30 to 40 percent gap pretty quickly.” —K.Z.

Gender Gap

Data are displayed as average compensation in 2015 US dollars.

Internationally, the gender disparity in earnings remains striking. The gap between men’s and women’s average salaries in the U.S. and Canada, for example, is nearly $30,000, with women earning only 74 percent of what men do. In Europe, women in the life sciences still earn some $13,000 less than men, or 78 percent of men’s average salaries. These discrepancies stem, in large part, from the numbers of men and women at different academic ranks: women tend to be disproportionately represented as instructors and lecturers, according to Finkelstein. “In terms of growth, where women do better than men, most of that is in the part-time, non–tenure track positions,” he says. There are also differences in the numbers of men and women in different life-science fields, which may contribute to overall gender disparities in salary, he adds. But studies of academic salaries suggest that the disparity remains even when controlling for these factors.

The gender gap is particularly apparent in faculty start-up packages, says Carrie Byington, a professor of pediatrics and associate vice president for faculty and academic affairs at the University of Utah. “The negotiation of a start-up package is an important function that happens at the time of hiring, and many times, someone as a young faculty member relies on their mentor to help them navigate that negotiation. If women don’t have mentors, then they’re really at a disadvantage,” says Byington, who coauthored a recent editorial on this topic in JAMA. (See “Let’s Make a Deal,” The Scientist, February 2013.)

Byington argues for transparency and structured mentorship programs, having implemented the latter in her department in 2007. “Before I started the program, only 10 percent of early-career, grant-funded investigators were women. After we started the program and had this two-year mentoring program for everyone, 55 percent of grant-funded investigators were women,” she says. “It was easier [for women] to come into a program than approach a man one-on-one to be their mentor.” In 2013, Byington’s program expanded to all of the university’s departments and colleges in the health sciences. While closing the gender gap is not an overnight process, structured programs and transparency can raise awareness of the disparities and help mitigate them, she says. —K.Z.


Latin American Science

Data are displayed as average compensation in US dollars.

This year’s survey yielded our largest response yet from several Latin American countries, with 162 completed questionnaires coming from Chile alone. “In Chile, scientific research is currently in a growing phase, and there is a general interest amongst young scientists to start their own laboratories,” Andrés OspinaÁlvarez, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Marine Conservation in Chile, wrote in an email to The Scientist. Government funding for PhD students and postdocs is meeting demand, he adds, and salaries for public researcher positions seem to be on par with jobs offered by the private sector.

But in Venezuela, which only contributed 13 responses to this year’s survey, the situation is not so bright. “There were several years of decent allotments of dollars for reagents and equipment from 2006–2011, but the high inflation rate of the local currency has progressively eroded the wages of government workers, especially in the science and university sectors,” one Venezuelan researcher, who asked to remain anonymous, wrote in an email to The Scientist. Publicly funded scientists also took a hit when oil prices dropped precipitously in 2014; much of the government’s budget comes from the country’s nationalized petroleum company.

In Chile, scientific research is currently in a growing phase, and there is a general interest amongst young scien­tists to start their own laboratories.—Andrés Ospina-Álvarez,
Center for Marine Conservation

According to our survey results, females in Latin America make on average about USD $14,000 less (61 percent) than males in the region. Ospina-Álvarez says that, at least in Chile, this gap may have more to do with which jobs are open to women than with men and women in comparable roles earning different salaries. “The greatest gap between men and women in research is regarding access to research positions,” he says. “Male researchers are favored over female colleagues. Likewise, there is gender discrimination in the most influential positions in academia, and also in the private and public sectors.”

The biggest bottleneck for Chilean scientists, however, is getting a bachelor’s degree in science, which requires an in-depth research project and oral defense that often adds a year to the typical undergraduate experience. The research enterprise may also be missing out on a lot of talent because the average Chilean citizen finds it too expensive to attend the country’s colleges. —Amanda  B. Keener

THE SCIENTIST 2015 SURVEY OF COMPENSATION OF LIFE SCIENTISTS

The Scientist collected data via a Web-based survey, which was open from March 13 to July 13, 2015. Participation in the survey was promoted by email and advertising to readers of The Scientist and visitors to the-scientist.com. We received usable responses from 4,724 individuals from around the world. Because many individuals are subscribers to The Scientist, it is not possible to compute an accurate rate of response.

The survey asked respondents to provide demographic data about themselves in 18 categories, and to report their base annual salary and other cash compensation. All international salaries were converted to US dollars on July 14, 2015, and analyses were done using the US-equivalent amount. For year-over-year comparisons, data from previous surveys was first converted into USD using the conversion rates from July 14, 2015, to control for inflation. The data reported are averages of the total compensation reported for a given category.

Analysts carefully filtered responses to eliminate duplicate or misleading answers. Not every participant provided all of the information requested. If the participant provided income data plus information concerning at least one demographic characteristic, the response was included in the study. The result of this decision is that the total number of cases varies among the analyses. All categories reported received a minimum of 50 responses.

©2015 The Scientist LLC. All rights reserved.

 

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Comments

November 2, 2015

As always, a valuable resource.

The bars on the chart for academic titles are not proportional to the numbers in the last 2 categories. Maybe some labels were switched?

 

Avatar of: Jef

Jef

Posts: 641

Replied to a comment from academicscientist made on November 2, 2015

November 2, 2015

Hi academicscientist. Great catch! Indeed, two of the numbers were transposed when we created this graph for the online story. The graph is fixed here.

Thanks for reading!

Jef Akst, The Scientist

Avatar of: Nick dalton

Nick dalton

Posts: 1

November 2, 2015

Hi

Are or can the US salaries be broken down by regions in the US (Mid-west, East, and West Coast etc)?

Thanks

Avatar of: Jef

Jef

Posts: 641

Replied to a comment from Nick dalton made on November 2, 2015

November 2, 2015

Thanks for your interest, Nick. Unfortunately the US data are not broken down by region. We stopped doing regional analyses when we made the survey international three years ago. Let me know if you have any other questions!

Jef Akst, The Scientist

Avatar of: tlasd

tlasd

Posts: 2

November 2, 2015

Can you break down the gender gaps by job title (grad student/postdc/professor, tenure/tenure-track/non-tenure track)?

Also, for negotiation purposes, it would be really helpful to know what the range of starting salaries for assistant professors at R1 insitutions is.

Avatar of: tlasd

tlasd

Posts: 2

November 2, 2015

Can you break down the gender gaps by job title (grad student/postdc/professor, tenure/tenure-track/non-tenure track)?

Also, for negotiation purposes, it would be really helpful to know what the range of starting salaries for assistant professors at R1 insitutions is.

Avatar of: Jef

Jef

Posts: 641

Replied to a comment from tlasd made on November 2, 2015

November 2, 2015

Hi tlasd. Thanks for your interest! If you contact me via email, I'd be happy to share additional breakdowns of the data.

Jef Akst, The Scientist

jef.akst@the-scientist.com 

Avatar of: Bernard

Bernard

Posts: 1

November 3, 2015

Why ignore Africa completely? Is this just laziness, or worse - ignorance or discrimination? Really sorry to see such sloppy research and reporting. You could have gotten a set of representative respondents with relatively little but informed effort.

Avatar of: Ian Roustan

Ian Roustan

Posts: 1

November 3, 2015

Quote Bernard

Why ignore Africa completely? Is this just laziness, or worse - ignorance or discrimination? Really sorry to see such sloppy research and reporting. You could have gotten a set of representative respondents with relatively little but informed effort.

Jef,

Take this negative, destructive criticism, and get the windows of opportunity for improvement on the next publication. True, Africa should be included. True, a relative effort should be implemented to get the data. But overall, it is a fine work, data presented can be used to derive further analysis and inferences. Thanks to Karen and Amanda for taking the time to do this work.

Avatar of: swaroop

swaroop

Posts: 1

November 6, 2015

An EXTREMELY SKEWED article.

#1. Mathematics: Medians or Modal numbers are more appropriate representation of the market than average salaries.

If you arrange 3 tech salaries @35k, 2 postdocs@ 45k, 1 lab mgr@60k and a PI @150k , the Average is $57.8k (~lab mgr), Median is 45k (post doc) and most frequently occuring is $35k (tech salary).

The Average salary (here ~Lab Mgr salary) isn't a genuine representation of the salary of the "group".

 

#2. Salaries by Title and Age: Salaries beyond the ages of 50 typically involve lesser sample size, more specialised postions like Directors, Project leaders, Senior Managers etc and by definition much higher salaries. Once again, being a smaller sample set and a much diff sample set, the values give a false representation.

A 30 year old Lab Mgr making 57k (as per chart) is NOT going to be sticking around to make $150k as a "Lab Manager" at age 60. It just does not work that way. 

#3. Industry v/s Academia:  You simply cannot average Industry and Academia salaries and represent in the same plot. A $45k post-doc could easily start @$80-$90k in the industry.

#4. Location: Also, a $40k postdoc in Baltimore could easily get a $110k position in the Boston or Bay Area industry. You cannot average that and call $75k as  "representative" salary of the field.

Avatar of: Derek R

Derek R

Posts: 3

November 16, 2015

Would it be possible to see the breakdown by job title for other regions and age brackets, as I feel this is much more informative of the whole field than placing them all together and taking the average, which tells us next to nothing IMHO.

 

D.

Avatar of: Derek R

Derek R

Posts: 3

Replied to a comment from swaroop made on November 6, 2015

November 16, 2015

I agree, there are too many different jobs and positions thrown together under the term 'academic'

Avatar of: Corrado

Corrado

Posts: 1

March 3, 2016

Very interesting topic. To complete the view of situation I would like to see also the probability of finding work in the various area. This will be important for those who are undecided about which career to choose.

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