AAAS 2004 salary survey: Despite long hours and low pay, life scientists love their work

06/17/04

Most of the life scientists who participated in the second AAAS salary survey are glad to be working in the fields they have chosen, though they do have some gripes about salaries, workloads and career support.

This relatively sunny picture emerged from an electronic polling of the 42,000 U.S. members of AAAS in the life sciences. AAAS, a nonprofit institution, is the world's largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal, Science.

Members who answered the inaugural survey in 2001 had a similarly positive outlook, but the makeup of the group has changed. This time around the participants were younger and included a higher percentage of postdoctoral researchers, or "postdocs," foreign-born scientists and women.

Gary Heebner and colleagues at Cell Associates carried out the 70-question survey, which produced 6124 usable responses. A special news section of the 18 June issue of Science describes the results. Some of the highlights:

  • Overall, salaries have grown by 4 percent since 2001, with those in industry topping those in academia. The median academic salary for life scientists is about $76,000 and outside academia it's about $88,000. Postdocs are at the low end, averaging $39,000, while physicians bring home approximately $170,000.

  • Seventy percent of scientists in universities and other doctoral-granting institutions claim they are either "extremely" or "very" satisfied. Self-employed people also rate their satisfaction highly. Only 22 percent of scientists in the pharmaceutical industry give themselves high marks for job satisfaction, compared with 62 percent of those in the biotechnology industry.

  • The disparity in pay for men and women persists. In academia, the income gap has shrunk from 35 percent in 2001 to 24 percent in 2004. In nonacademic settings, however, the gap hasn't budged in three years.

  • Postdocs salaries have increased 15 percent in the last three years, and fewer researchers are going through multiple postdoc positions while waiting for a job to open up.

  • Heavier teaching loads, more nontenured faculty, delayed retirement and a need for more career advice are growing trends in the life sciences.

    Source: Eurekalert & others

    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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