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Are really scientists earning this much?

  1. Sep 24, 2010 #1
    In this article, they say that average astronomer's salary is more than $90000 and that physicist is 25th best paying job...
    I somehow always thought, that physicists would earn more by begging on the street, are the salaries really that good, or is the average so high just because there must be some physicist that earn a lot who rise the average?
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  3. Sep 24, 2010 #2


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  4. Sep 24, 2010 #3

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    First, a bit of a caveat: An astronomer typically has a PhD. Comparing astronomers to the typical engineer is not quite a fair comparison. A better comparison results when you compare astronomers to engineers with PhDs. Astronomy don't look quite so lucrative in that light. It's still pretty dang good, however.

    That said, salaries in technical fields (medical doctors excluded) are fairly flat. Lawyers and doctors are a different story, particularly lawyers. The salary range for lawyers is huge. A small number make incredibly vast sums amounts of money. Most do not. Here is the salary distribution for starting salaries for lawyers in 2006 (source: http://blogs.payscale.com/ask_dr_salary/2007/09/median-vs-mean-.html):


    Those are starting salaries, mind you; the disparity grows with time. The mode in that curve is $42,000 per year (2nd mode: $135,000).

    You just won't see something like that for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Salaries are more or less unimodal and the distribution is fairly tight. A very influential scientist might makes 3 times what a freshout makes. The only way to make vast sums of money is to move beyond being a scientist, engineer, or mathematician. Presidents of prestigious universities and CEOs of large engineering firms can make a large amounts of money -- but they aren't really scientists or engineers anymore.
  5. Sep 24, 2010 #4
    I think this statistic is kind of a misrepresentation. Most people who get PhDs in an astronomy related field do not become astronomers. So most people with a PhD in astronomy are not counted in that stat.

    Similarly, I would expect AIP's survey to be skewed towards the high wage earners because they are the ones who actually join and stay active with AIP.
  6. Sep 24, 2010 #5

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    And you know this because? Those stats are quite in line with surveys done by schools, professional organizations, and government organizations contacting people who have degrees in various fields. They are not limited to people who are active with professional organizations such as the AIP.

    My experience: Most people who get a PhD in some field work in that field. Some don't, but that is often because they have found even better opportunities elsewhere (e.g. PhD physicists and mathematicians who become quants). The number of underemployed PhD astronomers (or physicists) is quite small.
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2010
  7. Sep 24, 2010 #6
    Where do people get this idea that physicists make 30k a year? 80-90k a year seems pretty standard for professors, as well as experienced engineers and scientists in industry. For accomplished senior employees in industry, it could easily be as high as 120k.
  8. Sep 24, 2010 #7
    Well, I started to think that after reading this thread:


    Check the third from the bottom. By the way 1USD is about 22CZK and 26000 is about the arithmetical average here, which I think is very little for a professor. Maybe in the US are scientist more treasured.

    That's why I'm really surprised that they are payed so well... And also the PHD comics... :) I know that these are graduate sudents, but it kind of makes me feel that there's very little money in the field.

    Thanks for your answers.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  9. Sep 25, 2010 #8
    Probably for a newly hired non-tenured professor, the salary is a bit lower ($30,000 - $50,000 perhaps?). Like most professions, you don't start right off the bat with the higher salaries in your profession. A new Assistant Professor who has only had their PhD for <5 years and only a handful of papers authored will obviously make less than a full Professor who's been teaching and doing research at a school for over 20 years.
  10. Sep 25, 2010 #9


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    It also makes a difference (in the USA) whether you're starting out as an entry-level assistant professor at a generic small liberal-arts college or at a major research university.
  11. Sep 25, 2010 #10


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    I think when the public is ignorant of what a certain group of people actually do, they assume they must not be paid well either. We all know exactly what engineers, doctors, and lawyers do, and there is no question about how much they can make. An anthropologist, however, is someone that I really don't know what they do and my immediate assumption is they probably aren't paid well for whatever they actually do. I think it's a basic human thing to think "If I don't know what they do, they must be fairly useless to society, so who would want to pay them anything?"
  12. Sep 25, 2010 #11
    In academia, professors make decent amounts of money, but the trouble is that there aren't enough jobs for all the people that want them so that the salaries for entry level positions (i.e. post-docs) tends to be low. However, there are lots of jobs in industry, and $90K is a reasonable salary level for someone with an astrophysics Ph.D. that ends up working in industry.
  13. Sep 25, 2010 #12
    Assistant professors make about $60-$70K. $30K-$50K is at post-doc level. I should point out that professor salaries are public records for state schools, so you can go to the library and get a list of what each professor in a state school makes.

    That's not obviously true in physics. In physics and academia, your salary is pretty dependent on what your field is more so than seniority. Entry level finance professors make a *LOT* more than professors in medieval French lit, and if you want to pull in the megabucks, look at the football coach.

    Also academia is one of the few areas in which professors are encouraged to have outside income. I know a lot of professors that make money (sometimes large amounts of money) from a side-business.
  14. Sep 25, 2010 #13
    And people that go into Wall Street end up making $250-300K and there are people with physics Ph.D.'s that make $1M+.
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2010
  15. Sep 26, 2010 #14
    I was comparing professors in the same field e.g. an assistant physics professor vs full physics professor, but thanks for the clarification.

    What sort of side-jobs do professors typically have?
  16. Sep 26, 2010 #15
    Lots of different ones. Some of them become billionaires by making speakers.


    Pretty much every MIT physics professor that I've ever met either was trying to start their own small company or was doing consulting work for large ones. One big difference between academia and industry is that in industry you generally get fired for moonlighting, whereas in academia the university will active encourage you to start your own company or do outside consulting work.
  17. Sep 26, 2010 #16
    What's really shocking I think is not that the general public has no clue what physics Ph.D.'s do, but that people in academia have no real idea what physics Ph.D.'s do, and how much they make. I think that part of "the myth of the starving physics Ph.D." is that there is this idea that if you don't go into academia, then you'll be spending the rest of your life begging for spare change in street corners.

    The problem with this idea is that it doesn't really apply to investment bankers or high school teachers. Most people can explain what a high school teacher does and how it is beneficial to society. Most people can't explain what an investment banker does and how they are beneficial to society. Yet investment bankers make more money than high school teachers.
  18. Sep 26, 2010 #17

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    That's not all that shocking. People in academia tend to have misconceptions of what people outside of academia do, period. Ivory tower syndrome. Overcoming this problem is one reason why schools encourage their professors to moonlight, particularly during the summer break.
  19. Sep 26, 2010 #18
    It always confused me how a starting lawyer can make so much money.
  20. Sep 26, 2010 #19
    I've noticed a few people saying they want to go into a field of science to make enormous salaries. Struck me as rather wrong, and fanticiful. But we'll see you can always go work in finance with any sort of strong mathematical background.
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