Life Sciences Salary Report 2007

Find out which fields and regions are paying best.

By Edyta Zielinska

Straight out of a postdoc at the University of Southern California in 1970 and looking for his first faculty position, Alvin Crumbliss wanted a place that would buffer him through the first challenging years of becoming an independent scientist. Of the four positions he was considering, all offered a competitive salary, which at the time was less than $20,000...

The base salary that Duke University offered was lower than that of other schools, but Crumbliss says he felt that Duke offered him the best laboratory startup package. He was also able to negotiate a lighter initial teaching load so he could focus on those first crucial experiments that would win him outside sources of funding.

His priorities were the right ones for him. He gained tenure in 1977, and his work has been cited more than 2,700 times, according to ISI Web of Science. This past August, Crumbliss was appointed as dean of the natural sciences at Duke, after 37 years in the chemistry department.

"I think there's a huge void in the American marketplace for people who can not only work and speak in an engineering environment, but who can also work through problems creatively and communicate well." --Edmund Orr

Recruiters, who negotiate top salaries for executives and lower-level scientists alike, say it's important to know your priorities and to argue for the factors that will move your career forward quickly, as Crumbliss did in 1970. An important place to start any negotiation is to know the salaries of positions in your field, your sector, and your geographic area. The Scientist's 2007 Life Sciences Salary Report, with data from the Economic Research Institute (ERI), can help provide that information.

Boston is one of the areas "where demand is outstripping supply."--Rich Pennock

The salaries of biochemists and biomedical engineers are not only high today, but both are also projected to grow at a rate of 4.9% in the next year, says Linda Lampkin, research director at ERI. By contrast, at $45,500, zoologists' salaries are the lowest and are projected to grow only 4.1% next year, says Lampkin.

Geographic factors play a role

When he decided on Duke, Crumbliss realized he'd need to change the lifestyle to which he'd grown accustomed. He and his wife had spent their lives in big cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, and 37 years ago, Durham held no resemblance to those metropoles. "My wife and I would go out to Washington, DC, sometimes just to hear the traffic and see the big lights of the city," says Crumbliss. "We did miss it a little." On the upside as an academic scientist, Crumbliss could take sabbatical leaves to Paris. "We live both good lives."

A scientist working today in Los Angeles would need to be paid an additional $40,000 on top of the $70,000 median to have the same standard of living as the average American renter.

So while salaries for the typical scientific researcher are higher in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, so is the cost of living. A scientist working today in Los Angeles would need to be paid more than 50% more in salary - an additional $40,000 on top of the $70,000 median - to have the same standard of living as the average American renter. A Durham renter would need to be paid only $4,000 more.

Still, some of the more expensive locations boast the most opportunities. For example, Boston remains a hot spot for scientists in the biotech and pharmaceutical sectors because several companies, including Novartis, are building facilities there. It's one of the areas "where demand is outstripping supply," says Pennock. Moreover, salaries in that area are increasing across the technical skills, says Pennock.

Other areas, such as San Francisco, San Diego, and cities along the East Coast are continuing their strong growth in the life sciences, though not all hot-spot areas are immediately obvious. Orr says the little city of Warsaw, Indiana, is on his top-five list for areas with jobs specializing in medical devices.

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