Q. Job woes: I have a Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard and am currently working at a community college. I love my students and feel like I’m really making a difference in their lives. I’m in a smaller city and love the opportunities I have given the size (e.g., I’m not a millionaire and I’m still on the board of directors for the symphony). Sounds perfect, right?
The problem is, my salary is very low compared to what I could be making in a more technical job. I could easily double my salary ($60K to $120K) if I moved to a bigger city and worked in something like software testing. I would love that kind of job and I would excel at it and I would make twice as much money! The cost of living would be higher but not that much higher. I could have more money to donate to causes that I’m passionate about.
At the same time, I wouldn’t be making a real difference. Sure, I would be doing a job well, but I wouldn’t be contributing to society in the same way I feel I am now. To see a student, whose parents are migrant farm workers, going to graduate school in my subject because I was able to share my passion for science and education—that’s making a difference! But I’m tired of being poor (relatively speaking). I bring home $1,700 every two weeks. Not peanuts but not a lot either. Do I stay or do I go? How do I even begin to decide?If you read Prudie's advice, it's pretty good and not too different from what I would suggest. She mentions the classic factlet that the "happiness/money" correlation begins to fall off at around $75,000. She suggests that our Ph.D. chemist consider working for a few years as a software tester to see if they like it and then if they don't, they can return to teaching. That seems pretty reasonable.
At the same time, I am really confused by this situation. First, how do you go from a Ph.D. at Harvard in chemistry to community college teaching? There's gotta be a story there. Second, how can you be unaware that community college teaching does not pay very well? Finally, if you're the kind of person who deeply loves community college teaching and the arts, how do you get attracted by the siren song of a career in software testing at $120,000? Something about this story does not add up, and I can't quite put my finger on it. Readers?