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Do scientists get screwed?

  1. Nov 27, 2007 #1
    Might sound a bit ignorant..but a friend and I were talking the other day about peoples pay. He wants to be a lawyer, I asked why he said for the pay. I didn't want to argue so I didn't mention that you should like your job. He knows I wanted to be a physicist so he goes, "Why would you want to be a physicist? They all get ****ty pay and do a load of work all day". I didn't argue because I don't exactly know how much work a physicist does each day and I don't know exactly the pay range. I did some research a while back and whereever the sites were that I went to (that I don't remember) said physicists get paid an average of 60,000 a year or so? Well...I was thinking..isnt that kind of a kick in the face? These people go to school for numerous years and study an extremely challenging subject which I'm sure requires alot of intelligence, and then they get this crap pay? I know 60,000 a year isnt that bad, but considering garbage men in New York can make up to 80,000 year (yes I know that NY has very high taxes), that's kind of insulting. I know physicists love their job and everything, so I suppose pay doesnt really matter, but I would feel like whoevers paying you is screwing you over. I also understand that it sort of depends on where you work that determines your pay, and experience I'm sure..I read that private institutions pay more than a public one such as NASA or maybe a University. I dont know..what are your opinions on the subject?

    Honestly though, How many people in the world can do what a physicist can do? I wouldn't consider a pharmacist above a physicist intelligence-wise or probably not even work wise. I know a pharmacist who makes around 120,000 a year, he has a bachelors degree, so why shouldn't physicists with a Ph.D get paid more?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 27, 2007 #2
    60,000 dollars is not the pay for ALL physicists. That would probably be the pay for the average physicist. You have to consider whether you will be a SUCCESSFUL physicist.

    There are not many jobs that pay large amounts of money all of the people in the field (even if you need to be intelligent to be in the field). In order to earn a large salery as a physicist, you need to be the best at what you do.

    Being a garbage man might have a larger initial pay, however, if you are a garbage man, then you are a garbage man. A garbage man, no matter how much he steps up the pace, has a set amount of work, there is no 'best' garbage man.

    So the advantage of being a physicist is that you have the opportunity to work hard and be the best at whatever field of physics you are in, then you will see more opportunities open up.
  4. Nov 27, 2007 #3


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    $60,000 is about starting pay for assistant professors (give or take some depending on your negotiation skills and location of the university; it can range as high as $80,000 in some places).

    Lawyers can start out with considerably more, but they also start out with considerably more debt from law school. And, you only make the really big bucks if you're in a good law firm. They're not much better off if they aren't the top in their class going into a big firm in a big city, where they have to pay a lot more to live. Keep in mind, there are a lot of universities located in places where it is fairly inexpensive to live.

    And, your friend is going to be in for a rude awakening if he thinks lawyers DON'T do a load of work all day...and it's tediously boring work they do all day...the same things over and over. At least in academia, you can vary what you do with your time. Lawyers are slaves to the billable hour. A good chunk of their work day doesn't even count toward the salaries they earn, because it's "non-billable" work. I have a friend who is one of those very highly paid lawyers, and his work day starts at about 7 or 8 AM and ends about 9 or 10 PM (he has clients in Japan, so needs to be at the office late enough to handle their calls before he leaves every night), and he rarely has a weekend when he isn't taking home work either. I've asked him a few times if it's really worth it, making all that money when he never can take the time off to enjoy spending it, never has time for his wife and kids (I wouldn't be surprised if he winds up divorced within a few years if he keeps up this schedule...his wife gets mad at him for not being home much on a regular basis now). I get vague answers on that. He's never said it's worth it. Usually I get comments like, "Some parts of the job are interesting," or "Some days I wonder that too."
  5. Nov 27, 2007 #4
    I would never want to be a lawyer haha. Wow though, I couldn't imagine being a lawyer. Glad I don't like law haha.
  6. Nov 27, 2007 #5
    Lawyer is one of the most over-rated careers. At least it is according to US News Best Careers
  7. Nov 27, 2007 #6

    D H

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    Bingo. They can make considerably less than scientists as well. Public interest lawyers don't get much at all, but at least they can sleep at night. Public defenders and prosecutors fare a little better, but not much. Having honorable jobs makes it so they can sleep at night, too. I haven't the foggiest idea how those sleezeballs who run ambulance chasing ads on the TV can sleep at night. Freshouts who start at a big law firm don't get much sleep at night either, but that is because it is hard to slip sleep time in their 80+ hours/week schedule.

    One wierd thing about science and engineering is that its a pretty level field, pay-wise. People with loads of talent and experience make about two to three times what a freshout with an advanced degree makes. If you want to get rich in science or engineering, you either need to start your own business or work your way high (very high) up into management. If you start your own business you might be able to squeeze in some real science/engineering. The chances of doing science or engineering are pretty slim after you've taken about three steps on the management ladder. And you're still only paid about three or four times what a freshout makes.
  8. Nov 28, 2007 #7


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    Reading this thread title, and then seeing what it was really about...that was an identical experience to reading the lines that Ivan just posted in the Best Song thread.
  9. Nov 28, 2007 #8
    Sometimes it makes me wonder what people expect out of a high school student with not even half the education as them....:rolleyes:
  10. Nov 28, 2007 #9
    I just tell myself I'm not doing it for the money, which is true.

    I'm doing so I can finally get the rocket in my backyard off of this damn rock and away from the jackasses that make up the rest of the human race.:tongue:
  11. Nov 28, 2007 #10
    :rofl: Great plan! :rofl:

    Yeah but if I became a physicist I wouldnt do it for hte money either. But I was just wondering though why should they get paid so little for the contributions they make
  12. Nov 28, 2007 #11


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    Because they do it anyway. The market will not pay more than it has to.
  13. Nov 28, 2007 #12
    moonbear's got it pegged. the AVERAGE starting salary of a lawyer is about 60K. That means a lot make less. The big law firms pay 6 figures, but you have to be in the top 10 percent of you law class, and you have to bill a minimum amount of hours (2500+/year for some). Hence all the 12 hour days.

    I have a relative who is an executive and she makes, a lot of money has a nice house and plenty of money. She is on the road 80% and every time I see her, she's working(I only see her when she's on vacation-which means she doesn't really take a vacation) and she always looks exhausted. I don't have to ask her if it's worth it. A picture says it all.

    Everyone I know who makes a lot of money works very hard to earn it, and to put it in economical terms, it becomes a rule of diminishing returns. How much free time, family time, and personal time are you willing to sacrifice to make an extra $40k/year? Is it worth owning a $400,000 home if spend most of your time away from it?

    Z Factor, my advice is to figure out what it is you love to do, and figure out how to make as much money as possible doing it, and everything will fall into place. If you do what you love, it will show in your work, and the money will naturally come to you. If you choose for money, that will show in your work as well. I know lots of people who are happy doing what they love, even if they don't have a million bucks. I can't say I know many people who are happy making a lot of money to do what they loathe.

    Life is full of inequities. Teachers, firefighters, police all make a pittance to risk thier lives while scum sucking lawyers make hoards of money by tossing aside morality.

    Food for thought...
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2007
  14. Nov 28, 2007 #13
    So we spend so much time worrying about our income that we don't have time making doomsday devices and taking over the world, that's my conspiracy theory.
  15. Nov 28, 2007 #14


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    Sometimes the quoted salary is for a 9- or 10-month academic year... so that quoted salary may be enhanced by summer teaching, summer research, etc...

    Tenure (job security) and "the pleasure of finding things out" are additional factors that could make up for a relatively low salary compared to other jobs.
  16. Nov 29, 2007 #15
    Income now... Doomsday Weapons tomorrow...
  17. Nov 29, 2007 #16


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    If they make a significant enough contribution so as to win a Nobel prize they would indeed get a nice paycheck. I think it's like $1.5 Million now or something like that.
  18. Nov 29, 2007 #17


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    Correct. It's 10 million swedish kronor (SEK) per unshared prize. That means $1.58 million today. For prize amounts during the years, see
  19. Nov 29, 2007 #18

    Chi Meson

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    I have a friend who is a VP at a major pharmaceutical company. I won't say which (but there are only three left now, anyway, right?).

    He has a PhD in Chemistry, but all he does these days is write memos and attend meetings (his own words, spoken in partial jest.) He has a very nice salary, and 7 weeks of vacation. But as DH mentioned, this guy is no longer a scientist, he's a manager. I know lots of other people who work at this place (heck, 10% of the town works there) and anyone who is dedicated to the actual science is stuck about 3 levels below the "big bucks."
  20. Nov 29, 2007 #19


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    I agree with this. Scientists definitely do not get screwed. Good ones make a lot of money and enjoy their job. However, the key here is to really figure out how to make money with what you enjoy. It is probably not the "standard" way. For example, an entrepenurial scientist can make truly staggering amounts of money.

    I agree regarding firefighters and police, but in my experience most teachers deserve the pittance they make.
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2007
  21. Nov 29, 2007 #20

    D H

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    Pharma and the medical fields are exceptions to my comments. There are big bucks to be made here! Even then, as Meson noted, if you want to make those big bucks, you won't be doing science. If that's what grabs you, go for it. Some people go for it intentionally, getting a technical education first and a graduate management degree later. While people who take this route this don't do science/engineering directly, they certainly can influence the direction of the work. It can be quite lucrative.

    Another exception is intellectual property law. IP lawyers can easily make 7 figures. If you take this route you once again won't be doing science. You will need a technical degree on top of your law degree. The scientific rewards are vicarious at best. The monetary awards are anything but vicarious.

    My comments were directed primarily at the areas where the bulk of physicists work: academia, defense/energy/aerospace, and research labs. These fields are amazingly flat salary-wise. Ben and Jerry would approve.
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