Saturday, June 18, 2016

All median Ph.D. scientist salaries are trending lower from 2010 to 2013?

Credit: Wall Street Journal
In a Wall Street Journal article about Ph.D. job prospects*, an interesting graphic, courtesy of NSF data and a Boston University professor:
Shulamit Kahn, a labor economist at Boston University, said that among foreigners who earn Ph.D.s at U.S. institutions—about one-third of total recipients—about 60% remain in America. A jump in the number of American women earning doctorates has also been a game-changer, she said. 
“Women were encouraged to become scientists, which is great, but the jobs haven’t kept up,” said Ms. Kahn. 
Ph.D.s still earn a significant premium over others in the labor market and their overall rate of unemployment remains low, though a growing number are taking jobs that don’t use their education. At the same time, their median incomes have been falling. Computer scientists earned $121,300 in 2013, down from $129,839 in 2008; engineers saw a drop to $120,000 from $125,511 and social scientists fell to $85,000 from $90,887.
I presume this is data from the Survey of Doctoral Recipients, but I am not sure. I am surprised that Professor Kahn was able to get breakouts for math/physics data (I guess the chemists got lost?) Still, it doesn't seem to be good news that median salaries for Ph.D. scientists have been trending lower against inflation.

*Can't get past the paywall? Google search "Job-Seeking Ph.D. Holders Look to Life Outside School."

10 comments:

  1. it does say chemist with phd saw a 13% decrease in salary over 10 years. that sounds a lot.

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  2. The impression I get is that salaries have been stagnant at best and the rising cost of living in Boston and SF has taken a toll on chemist's salaries. :-/

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  3. I'm not quite seeing how women getting PhDs brings down salaries. If women enter the applicant pool for PhDs but the number of people admitted to PhD programs stays constant (which seems reasonable, since the number admitted depends on how many teaching and research assistants they can support) then I would expect the quality of entering PhD students to improve (because the programs can be more selective). I suppose there could be a slight increase in quantity if improved quality lowered attrition rates, but that would be balanced by increased signaling value from having a PhD and increased median value added from hiring a PhD (if PhD graduates are getting better then you have more reason to hire one). But these are all second order effects. The only first order effect would be from slight improvements in graduation rates, and I would expect those to be modest.

    Unless Kahn is just saying that exogenous forces decreased salaries so it really sucks for all of the women who entered the field thinking this would be a step up.

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    1. Actually, duh, these are all second and third order effects, and they have competing signs, so the effect on the going salary should be minimal.

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  4. As a recent graduate who went from from my Ph.D. (at a large state institution, ranked in the ~50s) straight into industry, I can say that I am the only one in collective memory of the graduate students that has been able to land a job in industry straight out of grad school (20-30 graduates a year). Most head into postdocs, others into temporary teaching arrangements.

    Salary isn't even the root of the issue though. Many qualified students are applying to 100s of jobs and not receiving a single offer (or even interview). They would gladly work for less than 80,000/year, just for the opportunity to make the transition over into industry. Why is this happening? As the article alludes to:

    "The reality, especially in the humanities, is that only “Ph.D.s graduating from top-tier universities stand a real chance of landing a tenure-track position."

    Is the same thing happening to industrial positions as well? I think yes, making graduate school at anything less than a top 10 school even more of a sham than it already is. I consider myself lucky.

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    1. I gladly took a job that paid significantly less than 80k/yr to get into industry

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  5. After a few years in industry, I'm making the transition back to academia as a tenure track faculty member. It hasn't been an easy process, and I wouldn't recommend it for everyone. However, the experience has made me wonder if perhaps a 4-8 year stint in industry after grad school should be the "new postdoc"? As many readers of this blog have pointed out, getting a permanent industry position now seems to be more difficult than landing a postdoc position. My industrial experience tempers some of the stress related to tenure and promotion because I can see a clear road back to industry if things turn sour at the university or if I simply have a run of bad luck and don't get great students or pull in a lot of grant money. This idea of "experience first, professorship later" is not uncommon in fields like business, law, and certain sub-fields of engineering. Perhaps chemists are not quite the unique flowers that we sometimes think we are and we could learn something from our peers in other fields?

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  6. Perhaps Academics not having industrial experience is part of the problem. You spend time in school to get training that has some value to the economy, but if the trainers have no experience outside of academia the value of the trainees while not null is limited.

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  7. Always interesting to read about what people have observed in the immediate environment. Would be interesting to have a big study to see what the real trends are. CJ, are you up for it?

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  8. I am well under the average mark. I am only making 50k a year in the industry right after graduate school.

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