US life science salaries become biodegradable

Salaries in academic life sciences in the US have fallen significantly for the first time in a decade, according to a major survey.

November 11, 2010

The Scientist magazine gathered data from nearly 7,000 scientists working in the biomedical field, including more than 4,000 in universities.

It found the median salary for academic life scientists, including postdoctoral fellows, had fallen from $85,000 (£53,000) in 2009 to $74,600 (£46,000) in 2010. This compares with a figure of $105,000 in industry. The median salary at tenure level is $115,000, compared with $53,000 for tenure-track and $47,000 for non-tenure track academics.

Most disciplines saw salaries fall. At tenured level, median salaries in 2009's highest-paying discipline, preclinical/translational research, declined from $174,000 to $125,000. The highest-paying area at non-tenured levels in 2009, clinical research, saw salaries plummet from $148,500 to $62,400.

Barry Toiv, vice-president for public affairs at the Association of American Universities, said the drop was a result of the wider economic situation.

"Public universities have faced cutbacks from state government appropriations and privates have faced significantly reduced outlays from their endowments, which were greatly harmed by the market crash of 2008," Mr Toiv said.

"So it is natural that amid the layoffs, furloughs, reduced classes and unfilled jobs there would also be reduced pay in some positions."

John Curtis, director of research and public policy at the American Association of University Professors, said: "If we continue to see compensation in academia failing to keep pace with other sectors, it will become increasingly difficult to attract the best researchers and teachers".

But a small number of disciplines saw rises. Pay in bioinformatics grew at all levels. Last year's lowest-paying discipline at tenure level, animal behaviour, saw salaries leap from $72,200 to $88,000.

Tenured salaries in epidemiology rose from $143,000 to $156,000, making it the highest-paying discipline in 2010.

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