Friday, May 27, 2011

Salary talk: what is the salary range of a computational chemist?

If this is your attitude towards computers (like mine),
you shouldn't be a computational chemist.
Photo credit:
Thanks to yesterday's graph about salaries, I've gotten to thinking about salary levels of non-bench chemists, specifically computational chemists and the cheminformatics folks. What's their pay range in comparison to bench chemists? Are they paid higher or lower?

In the environments I've worked in, there are traditionally a lot fewer computational folks than there are traditional synthetic chemists. (With the advent of the designer/synthesizer model that Derek Lowe was posting about yesterday, of course, that might change.) If I were a manager, I might be tempted to pay a computational chemist slightly more than a bench to attract a really good experienced modeler. It's not going to cost you that much more, and their results are going to be driving your science (if you let it.) They also serve, those who stand and compute. 

On the other hand, there sure are a lot of computational chemists out there, and supply-and-demand does drive these discussions. 

In other salary talk =, how much of a salary discount should you expect for working for a start-up versus an established company? (Have you ever noticed that a lot of small companies will refer to themselves as a start-up during salary negotiations, even though they've been around for 10 years?) 

Readers, you know the answers. Please comment freely. 


  1. In biopharma in this US hub city, a very small company (<20) may pay about 20-25% less than a very large company for an entry level PhD scientist.

  2. Which allows a better environment for innovation or growth? Are smaller wages offset by other benefits?

  3. It's gotta be a slight step above poverty wages like the rest of us regular chemists out there. Comp chemists probably get on average 2 extra months on their temp job contracts than the rest of us.

  4. @anon 3:42

    Sure, the contract workers are being lured in by those 10k sign-up bonuses and stock option bonuses and a free massage at work, with an optional BJ upgrade. Otherwise, why would anyone possibly sign up for a 6-month contract at 20 USD an hour?

  5. The real question: is totally bogus data better, or worse, than no data?

  6. @milkshake
    (anon 3:42 reply)Perhaps I should reword the question... Are the rewards obtained in work happiness worth a pay cut? For example would you rather work in a biotech for a smaller wage then for example Pfizer?

  7. @anonymous: perhaps I should reword the answer...Only an astounding moron can ask this sort of question. Yes, in theory it would be nice to take a small paycut and work for a smaller company, in a place where you can feel more motivated and have a sense of purpose about what you are doing. But this is not the case.

    Anyone who is following the job market situation for synthetic chemists can tell you that when you lose a 120k job at Pfizer, you can easily get another job a 95k job at Exfunnexis. The reality is that wast majority of synthetic jobs is being outsourced to China. The rest is being outsourced to US. Even small companies and startups like to outsource. Now, the CROs in US are the very few places hiring and they hire experienced chemists for 6-month contract with negligible benefits at 20 USD an hour. Even well to do company like Vertex and Lilly use contractors on short-term basis, simply because it is cheap not to pay a living wage, benefits, and you get rid of people without severance and unemployment benefits. It is being done because there is plenty desperate chemists to chose from, desperate people who cannot find any other job.

    If you skipped the college and grad school and postdoc and took trades and became a machinist, with 10+ years of job experience (if you are any good) you would be making better pay working on a milling machine and lathe than as a synthetic organic chemist doing qualified lab research for a CRO. As a machinist you would probably be unionized so you would not suffer the kind of "take it or leave" abuse chemists get these days. And this presumes that these chemists can get a job at all. So yes, you must be an imbecile to ask this sort of question.

  8. sorry it should have been ..."You cannot easily get another 95k job"...

  9. @milkshake (neither Anon3:42 nor Anon6:32) - Whoa there, simmer down! The dude is probably some ignorant grad student/postdoc who probably still has plenty of opportunity to become disenfranchised by synthetic chemistry. There's no need to lambast a stranger who hasn't directly offended you.

    @Anon3:42/6:32 - Before you even concern yourself with incidentals such as "opportunities for innovation and growth", make sure you ACTUALLY get a job offer. The US job market for synthetic chemists is AND will be harsh for the next few years. Regardless of their degree (BS/MS/PhD), all freshly-minted chemists are in a particularly tough spot: over-educated for menial jobs yet under-experienced for mangerial positions. As much as I hate to admit this, many of us who are still employed have simplified our priorities, i.e., we are working to survive. A select few are fortunate to have high-income, steadily-employed spouses who can support their respective families while ex-chemists "re-invent" themselves.

  10. this is anon3:42/6:32
    Actually, I am not a student, but employed in industry. I also do not have a spouse to help mitigate the risks of a chemistry career. Therefore, I am making sure I keep my eyes open about what is going on in my field.

    I have several years of industry experience. I was laid off by big pharma a few years back, and got a different job (FT permanent, not big pharma) for less (around -15%) money. I find I am much happier in my new working environment, which I find more conducive to innovation. I was wondering if others felt the same about money vs. environment.

    Sorry to post something off topic to the thread. I had no intention of offending anyone who is currently looking for a job. I have been in that situation before, and I know that it is extremely stressful.

  11. "Have you ever noticed that a lot of small companies will refer to themselves as a start-up during salary negotiations, even though they've been around for 10 years"

    That sentence really struck a chord with me because it's the boat I'm in...the company I work for fits that description to a "T"...the thing is, we are still not wholly profitable and thus there is no career advancement/raises/promotions/etc. It's frustrating to say the least. As far as salary discounts working for established companies vs. start-ups, my job at said start-up pays me well and I enjoy the work, but since it is still a "start-up" and thus strapped for cash (and this down economy certainly doesn't help), I've seen no increase in my salary for a few years and counting, which is definitely frustrating! While I'm sure this may be the case at bigger companies as well, I have to believe there are also bigger companies that still give raises, bonuses, promotions, etc.

  12. I see in 2012 Forbes placed chemistry at six out of ten in its Worst Master's Degrees For Jobs list. According to its list job prospects for someone with a history degree are better.

  13. Note on computational chemistry: anyone can do Spartan, but few can do it well. I use sawf and just for grins I picked an element from row two and row three. Then I made a compound P2O3 and calculated the PO bond. The accepted bond strength was 3.55ev and before looking the sawf bond strength was 3,5ev. So the correct answer more often should attract clients, but secret provisions prevent advertising. So I feel sorry for the client who can only pick the most hits. Jim

  14. Ooooops. A good modeler should never rely on memory. The correct figures are 5.55ev and sawf 5,5ev, Jim


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20