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Countries which pay scientists well?

  1. Jul 29, 2013 #1
    I'm studying physics in the UK and I like the idea of a research/teaching career. However I'm very aware that these jobs tend to be underpaid, involve horrible hours and often offer very little to no security. I'm interested if people here know of countries or parts of the world where working as a scientist is a profession which isn't at the bottom of the pile in just about every respect (apart from getting to work in a field I love).

    I know full well that it's not just a case of finishing my PhD and then jetting off to country X/Y/Z where I'll work 3 days a week from home in my mansion. But I do want to be able to have some sort of basis for this to be an avenue that I can explore more for myself.
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  3. Jul 29, 2013 #2
    In my experience, most countries pay scientists more than the national average salary, while at the same time leaving them with lots of freedom like having no fixed office hours and often even the possibility to chose their research themselves. From the next-best numbers I found, average UK income is 26k pounds (averaged over male and female), the next-best offer for a lecturer position in physics I found was 30k-44k pounds (no idea where the large span comes from). And full professors are paid significantly more than their minions.
    Long hours solely come from competition with other people who gladly work more than 40 hours/week for above-average payment and self-defined work hours and self-set research goals. And, in case of academia, from having more people interested in a get-paid-for-following-my-interests job than availability of such jobs, which causes the need to compete.

    I find these "I deserve at least the salary of a plastic surgeon" whinigs annoying. From my experience, salary expectancies amongst students tend to anti-correlate with competence. The good news: On an Internet forum full of scientists and wannabe-scientists you will always find someone to pad your back and tell you how adequate your complaints about scientists' salaries are (which may relate to another possible correlation: that between academic performance and time spent on Internet forums).

    There is one really serious problem with academic careers which you also mentioned, and that is the long time spent on limited contracts and the related inability to plan your (real) life. But that won't be set off with a higher salary (unless it's a Bill Gates' type of salary, of course).
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2013
  4. Jul 29, 2013 #3
    depends what kind of scientist you're talking about. it's pretty vague, doctors are well paid everywhere if that's what you're asking. (relatively speaking)
  5. Jul 29, 2013 #4
    Give me a break... Being a professional scientist is far from the bottom of the heap in just about every respect. Its an elite, high paid and valued position that few science graduates ever get the opportunity to do.

    What prompts you to make this kind of claim? What about being a scientist makes it seem like bottom of the heap to you?
  6. Jul 29, 2013 #5
    What prompts me to make this claim is just about everything I've read on this forum about the life of someone continuing in this field after their PhD. But you're right, I should have phrased it as the path to being a profesional scientist, rather than actually being a professional scientist. I'm sure being a professional scientist is great, but everything I've heard from anyone on the topic is how after 8+years of expensive education, the best to hope for is year after year of low paid post-doctoral positions and that actually being hired as a permanent lecturer/researcher is vanishingly small given the number of positions vs the number of people who want these positions.
  7. Jul 29, 2013 #6
    Post-doc positions are not "low paid". People like to complain, but post docs make fine money (relative to the population rather than relative to an individual's expectations). Also, the education need not be expensive. You only need to pay 20-30k for an undergrad at a state school and then your PhD is paid for. Positions are certainly hard to get though, as you mentioned.
  8. Jul 29, 2013 #7


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    PhD students and postdocs in the US are professional scientists for tax purposes.
  9. Jul 29, 2013 #8


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    What about a Post doc isn't low paid? When you consider the lack of job security, and the years of education required to obtain a post doc, the average of 45,000 is rather low. I made that much as an uneducated Sergeant in the military. Can a person live on that money, sure, and if you're single you can live decently enough, but let's not pretend that the money is good money. It's livable money. With much less education, and years of my life, my initially salary was twice of that.
  10. Jul 29, 2013 #9
    I dont think 45k is low paid at all. Not even close. That is nearly the median US household income and that is right out of school. Its absolutely good money, far above livable.

    heh, the funny thing is when I wrote that post docs are not really that poorly paid I had a number of 35k floating around in my head. I think the low job security also balances with the flexibility and lack of commitment the post doc gets. Its a temporary position for both.
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2013
  11. Jul 29, 2013 #10
    I mean it's not bad, but its just that "average" and most people don't go to school for years and years just to earn 45k/yr. there has to be a balance between the amount of work put into a degree and the kind of salaries you get once you're done studying.
    you can get close to 40k with Bachelor of Education which isn't even as hard as a Bsc in Physics, let alone a PhD.


    On another hand, for the OP, it's one thing to complain about salary and what not, when it all depends on the type of work you do. I don't like that generalization, I mean Science is so diverse that saying science "doesnt pay well" is just lazy thinking.
  12. Jul 29, 2013 #11
    They dont? How much do you think they go to school for years and years to earn? I would go to school for years to earn the average household income right off the bat as my starting salary, no question.


    In any case, I doubt that any country will pay much more than the UK. People with skills and education in science move to places like the UK and US for high pay, 45k jobs - not the other way around.
  13. Jul 29, 2013 #12


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    What are you trying to show with that chart? That a person with less education still makes the same as someone with a PhD. Obviously a career in science isn't and shouldn't be about making a boat load of money, but part of the valuation in deciding such a career should be what your potential income can be and how long you'll stay in an income bracket. While, yes, 45,000 is good for someone without a family or obligations, if your goal is to eventually have a family or own instead of rent, then the pay is low. The fact of the matter is that it isn't to uncommon to find a 30 something year old post doc still making that amount of money and essentially keeping his or her life in a state of stagnation. This becomes even more apparent then you consider these jobs are often salary based and require long hours and for the amount of work required and education needed that pay is low. I'll personally never understand why someone would subject themselves to that. Clearly, the OP has concerns about that financial future and you do any person who has an interest in being a professional scientist a disservice by saying, that the pay is fine and nothing to worry about. There are plenty of things to worry about and factors to consider.

    More to the point, while looking up data on this out of curiosity, between the Europe and the U.S. I have found little data separating income of post docs by much. If your goal is to become a scientist, then one of the simple facts you'll have to accept are the initial less than stellar pay.
  14. Jul 29, 2013 #13
    I do nothing of the sort. I simply bring different and I would claim broader perspective to the discussion by saying that 45k is fine compared to the broader population. Many PhDs graduated from my lab into that kind of pay. Many also made quite a bit more as industry scientists.
  15. Jul 29, 2013 #14
    Not everyone would agree that getting educated must be compensated for. Quite the contrary: Living in a country with state-paid university education I consider my education a great gift given by society. Not a financial investment that society has an obligation for me to pay off. Also note that while salary is a conceivingly nice property to measure, it is not the only thing that matters. I already mentioned freedoms granted, job and life-plannig security (the latter being rather bad for non-tenured scientists). Health is another obvious factor that may matter.
  16. Jul 29, 2013 #15


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    Obviously we are choosing to define what is fine differently. I personally, would be disappointed to be in my 30's and making 45,000. I understand some people feel that that is acceptable for the opportunity to study science, and that's awesome for them. However, I don't think comparing newly graduate college students pay and showing that it's nearly identical to newly minted PhD's pay does anything to help turn around the perspective that postdoc's pay is decent. Maybe someone else disagrees.
  17. Jul 29, 2013 #16
    it's really a matter of perspective.
    and with that I think we all went a bit off topic -_-
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2013
  18. Jul 29, 2013 #17


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    I agree, we're probably straying quite a bit. Obviously the OP is aware of the challenges that persist in becoming a scientist and clearly only the OP can decide what his or her values are and decide how to precede with his or her future. In the western world, I don't imagine you'll find much pay difference when you look at G8 countries and if you find some, I imagine it'll be off set by the cost of living there. In essence, I suppose if you really want to be a scientist, you should go to where the job is, and not worry so much about the pay, since it appears to me that they'll all relatively be the same.
  19. Jul 29, 2013 #18

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    In the US, the median physics postdoc makes 50% more than the median 30-year old's salary. A physicist 20-years post PhD makes about twice the median salary. I suspect that these ratios are probably typical, and places where the ratios are better is not because the numerator is higher but because the denominator is lower.
  20. Jul 29, 2013 #19
    You are asking the wrong question/making the wrong comparison. The median postdoc makes a bit less than the median bachelors degree holder with 5-10 years of experience. So getting the phd has a cost, not a benefit (and this is not including foregone wages from graduate school).

    You should be comparing to the median 30 year old WITH A BACHELORS, and not just median 30 year olds.

    Postdocs are low paid compared to comparable positions for people with at least a bachelors. If you compare total compensation and not just salary, the postdoc is further behind.

    That said- to the OP, science is basically an international labor market, with scientists routinely jumping from country to country to follow the work. This helps even up salaries, at least in terms of purchasing power/standard of living.
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2013
  21. Jul 30, 2013 #20
    Being a scientist is a calling, if you want to make big bucks become a tech entrepreneur.

    I agree with what Timo said about whining. Too many scientists, science enthusiasts, and would-be scientists seem to think that all scientists are deserving of six-figure paychecks and make huge contributions to society. The reality is that actually pricing the value of a given scientist's labor is virtually impossible. Your research could help almost nobody for the rest of human civilization, or it could provide a big breakthrough that creates a new industry, or it may not help anybody for two hundred years, or any other possibility.

    This inability to properly price a scientist's labor doesn't mean they should all have a default salary of $300,000. In all likelihood, the average salaries of scientists who are de facto government employees is, if anything, probably too high. It's not about how much you know, how many years you spent in schooling, etc., it's about the value of your productivity. And in a system where almost all scientists (I'm not counting engineering research in industry as science) are ultimately paid by tax-payers or philanthropic donations, you take what you can get.
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