Brief: Landscape of US Postdoctoral Salaries

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Join me in saying congratulations to Adriana Bankston, one of NIH BEST bloggers and co-author of Assessing the Landscape of US Postdoctoral Salaries.

Throughout the years, many organizations (National Research Council; Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group, 2012; and National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine) have recommended that the NIH set higher stipends for postdocs. Unfortunately, NIH has yet to keep pace with these recommendations. While many consider the compensation too low, graduate students do know what salary they can expect if they enter into a fellowship, and can use that information to make informed career decisions. However, there is little data on the wages of postdocs not on NIH stipends. To increase the transparency around postdoc salaries Athanasiadou and colleagues, at Future of Research, investigated postdoc salaries, as of 2016, at US public institutions. They examined various factors that may cause wages to differ nationally. 

In the article, Assessing the Landscape of US Postdoctoral Salaries, the authors found that the median salary of all postdocs surveyed did not significantly differ from the NIH NRSA minimum stipend (FY 2017: $47,484 for Year 0). A total of 22% of all salaries were in the median range; however, the salaries had a widespread, from the legal minimum of $23,660 to $100,000 across the dataset, which was based on several variables.

While on the surface the higher-than-expected median pay may seem promising, the data does not discriminate between years as a postdoc. Meaning the average years as a postdoc in their data might be three years; resulting in a significant difference in the NIH NRSA minimum stipend set for year three postdocs (FY 2017: $50,316).

Wordcloud using titles and frequency from table 3

In a possible attempt to breakdown salary by experience the authors used postdoc title and found that it did have an impact. For example, the title “intern” had a negative effect on salary and the title “senior” had a positive effect. Unfortunately, throughout the years there has been inconsistency in the titles given to postdocs and only assumptions can be made about seniority by using the title. The authors echoed the call made by many for a consistent postdoc taxonomy. The BEST consortium in collaboration with others have offered suggestions for a unified three-tiered career taxonomy.

The authors also found that gender pay inequity exists for postdocs; male postdocs made $860 more than female postdocs. However, when the authors examined the pay inequity geographically, it appeared to be isolated to the Northeast and the South.

They conclude the article by urging institutions across the U.S. to increase transparency in postdoc counts and salaries. Their goal is to give postdocs greater agency to make decisions about their career and support institutions who give this agency.

In Adriana’s next blog post, she will cover the publication’s findings in more detail, including the data collection process.

Gary McDowell collected the data for the article.

Rodoniki Athanasiadou, Adriana Bankston, McKenzie Carlisle, Caroline A. Niziolek, Gary S. McDowell, (2018) “Assessing the landscape of US postdoctoral salaries”, Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 9 Issue: 2, pp.213-242,

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