Annual Life Sciences Salary Survey

It's been a good year for salaries in the life sciences: Median salaries have gone up by 3.8% since last year, surpassing the consumer price index rise of 3.2% from July 2004.

Maria Anderson
Sep 11, 2005

It's been a good year for salaries in the life sciences: Median salaries have gone up by 3.8% since last year, surpassing the consumer price index rise of 3.2% from July 2004. The top earners live in Boston, Mass. – which this year replaced San Francisco as the best place for senior researchers to earn big bucks – and work in drug discovery. These and other results of The Scientist's annual salary survey paint a mostly upbeat picture of earning trends in the industry.

With the only six-figure median salary, topping out at $107,000, drug discovery has outperformed clinical research as the most lucrative specialization; biotech is just shy of six figures at $97,100. Drug discovery paychecks have increased by 24% since 2001, while those for biotech have grown by 26%. The microbiology field has experienced the most growth since 2001, with a median salary increase of 40%.

While dreaming of big post-training salaries, postdoctoral fellows are paid the most in Madison, Wisc. But the differences in postdoc salaries aren't that great, falling within a range of $5,000 instead of $10,000 as in previous years, says Sue Rosser, professor of history, technology, and society and dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at Georgia Tech. Such salaries are undergoing "a kind of national standardization," closing in on the national median of $39,000. That may be due to the widely influential NIH postdoctoral salary guidelines, which now sets a baseline of $35,568 for starting postdocs.

A surprising finding: If you want to earn more as a patent executive, quit school after college. Those with a BS actually reported making more than their colleagues with an MS or PhD. Still, for the most part, says Rosser, the MS degree tends to provide only modest pay increases over a BS, while the PhD is still "very much an important degree to have."

<p>Median Salaries, 2005</p><p>Salary by Metropolitan Area</p><p>Salary by Area of Specialization</p><p>Salary by Highest Degree Earned</p><p>Salary by Ethnicity</p><p>Salary by Job Activity</p><p>Salary by Type of Research</p><p>Salary by Age</p>

There is some bad news: Minorities continue to earn less in the life sciences than do whites, even though Cynthia Robbins-Roth, founder of BioVenture Publishing Inc. and BioVenture Consultants, says the prevailing wisdom in biotech is that diversity is of "overwhelming" importance for survival. Find out where your salary fits in, and how big your next paycheck might be.

Salary by Metropolitan Area

A senior researcher typically conducts independent research, receives little technical direction, and often serves as lead scientist/principal investigator/team leader on a major research question but does not have supervisory responsibilities.

An intermediate researcher typically conducts independent research as a part of a major research project or of a fairly routine nature and receives technical supervision on unusual or complex problems.


The survey, "Compensation of Life Scientists in the USA," was conducted by Abbott, Langer & Associates and sponsored by The Scientist, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) and the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). E-mail invitations to participate in the survey were sent to subscribers to the print edition of The Scientist, to registrants on The Scientist Web site who identified themselves as professional life scientists residing in the United States, and to members of ASBMB and ASM. Data were collected through a Web-based form from June 15 to July 6, 2005. Usable responses were received from 12,064 participants. For a response to be considered usable, all the information requested had to be provided. Significant overlap between the various lists used for sending the invitations precluded calculation of an accurate response rate.

All salaries listed are median salaries in thousands of US dollars (USD). Cost of Living index is provided courtesy of Sperling's BestPlaces,

Visit http://www.the-scientist.comfor additional Salary Survey information including:

• More historical salary comparisons

• Expanded cost of living indexes: housing, healthcare, transportation, tax rates, and more for each city on our map

• Salary calculator: see how you stack up against your peers

• Cost of living calculator: compare COL in cities across the US to determine how relocation might affect you financially