Friday, September 27, 2013

Salary.com versus the ACS Salary Survey

Chad Brick makes an interesting point in the comments:
The ACS salary survey is a poll of ACS members, who are not average chemists and who seem to have higher salaries than most. For example, new PhDs normally enter as something equivalent to Salary.com's "Chemist IV" at the companies I have worked at, starting at the bottom/middle of this distribution and working their way up. 
That's a full $10k less than what ACS is reporting as the typical salary for PhDs with 5-14 years since their BS, which is pretty much the same group of people. I think you are better off looking at salary.com's distributions for Chemist IV (younger PhD) and Chemist V (after your first major promotion, small group leader) than the ACS survey.
I've posted the two of them against each other above, so that you can see the difference.

I think Chad's comment is correct, in that we do not have an ACS-independent sense of "the average chemist." Also, because larger companies tend to support ACS and to pay employee dues, one suspects that more large company employees are represented than not, driving the salaries up. Finally, there's the methodological issue: ACS Salary Survey numbers are self-reported (you'd be likelier to report if you felt better about your numbers), while Salary.com's numbers are from HR professionals (a different problem: they might be tempted to fluff up their numbers a bit.)

Readers, your thoughts?

UPDATE: Chad has more thoughts on this on his blog. 

13 comments:

  1. I wonder what fraction of PhD Chemists out there have left science because they could not find a job in science.

    Also, Im wondering if there are any PhD chemists reading here making less than $60,000 USD per year.

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    1. Two years ago, the answer to that question for me would have been "yes."

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    2. Well, if you were the unlucky bottom 5% of salary 2 years ago, then Chemist IV would be an appropriate bell curve for starting PhD Chemists. If this proportion is higher (like bottom 20%) then maybe Chemist III on Salary. com is a better measure of the pay bell -curve for starting PhD chemists

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    3. I wonder if the differences are regional? Maybe the ACS survey participants live more on the coasts, where cost of living is higher, while the salary.com data is more widely distributed?

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    4. I'm a Ph.D. chemist who has also completed a postdoc. I make less than $60k/year. If it matters, I am not in a big city market and I am not in industry. On a related note, I am looking for another job.

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    5. My first position after my Ph.D. (from a top 10 chemistry program) was in the mid-$40's. The position did require a Ph.D. Most of my Ph.D. colleagues are under $60K and are not compensated differently than MS/MA peers; I moved into another position in the company outside of chemistry and am just above there now.

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  2. I'm not sure there are any real differences between the Salary.com data and the ACS data. The midpoint of the Salary.com bell curve is at ~$86K, which is within 2% of the ACS value for 5-9 years beyond the BS degree. Presumably, the ACS value is a mean that encompasses chemists throughout that time span, so if you hire in at the 25th percentile, and progress to the 75th percentile over 4 years before your first promotion, all of that matches up pretty well.

    There seems to be some belief that the ACS numbers are inflated. I'll give you a data point for comparison. I am not an ACS member. I received my BS in 1999, and my PhD in January 2005. I started my current job at the end of 2006 after a ~2-year postdoc. My starting salary was $75K. At that point, I was 7 years beyond my BS. Within about 1.5 years, I was making ~$90K without a promotion (fairly close to the ACS numbers). Since then, I've received two promotions, and now make ~$117K, 14 years after my BS. That's just one anecdotal tale, but I'm certain there are others who have followed similar paths. Therefore, my belief is that the ACS numbers are a decent reflection of reality (+/- 10%, say), even if their sampling methods aren't perfect.

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  3. I distinctly remember coming to work one day and discovering a group of non-chemistry Ph.D's huddled over the fresh issue of C&EN. "Say it ain't so!" they begged me, pointing to "average" salary of chemist in our area.

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  4. I live in a coastal hub area. 15 years since my BS, have worked for my current small company for 2 years. My salary is much closer to the 5-9 year salary than the 15 year. Some of that is undoubtedly due to the size of the company, but I doubt if I had been with one of the big pharmas the past couple years my salary would be much closer.

    One thing I don't understand about the ACS survey is why it asks the amount of time since your BS. Is there a correction factor for people who go straight to grad school and work for 5 years at a PhD level vs people who work for 5 years, then get their PhD and are fresh into their first PhD level job?

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  5. I think Chemjobber is right in that big companies with generally better pay are more likely to pay your dues, or send you to an ACS conference, in which case it is practically free to obtain membership due to the registration fee discount for members. This is one way that the data gets biased a bit upwards.

    I don't think ACS is wildly off, and the trends its data show are generally valid. However, it likely samples heavily from the top half of the bell curve and winds up something like 5-10% too high as a result.

    I would also guess, however, that there is some personal-level bias as well. For those who don't get a "free" company-provided membership, those that voluntarily shell out the ~$150/year dues are likely to be the most successful, most well-connected, and, obviously better paid. It's a little easier to justify a $150/year expense when you are paid $150,000 a year than when you are only earning $75,000.

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    Replies
    1. I put up a longer response on my blog. Click my name above if you care.

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  6. I was contacted by Chemistry World and quoted for an article on this topic found here:

    http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2013/10/us-employment-picture-brightens-chemists

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    ReplyDelete