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Starting salary of PhD graduates in the life sciences


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Hi all,

I am a second year PhD student in the life sciences. My goal out of grad school is to go into industry (biotech/pharma, etc.), preferably as an R&D scientist. I also don't mind government scientist jobs as I heard that they have more job security. Any ideas on the starting salary of a "fresh" PhD graduate in these sectors? I am talking about right out of school (no postdoc). I've heard somewhere around 80-90K, but others also told me around 50-60K (which is extremely hard for me to believe). Many Scientist 1 jobs that don't require a postdoc seem to be around 80-90K, but I would like other inputs. Personal experience is always welcome. Thanks!


p.s. I study protein-protein and protein-RNA interactions using hardcore biochemistry, which heavily involves protein purification, expression, all kinds of pulldown techniques (coIP), a little bit of structural biology, etc..


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  • 2 weeks later...

It would depend on your title and duties, of course, as well as the firm. The government has a salary schedule that you can look up; generally speaking, a brand-new PhD would be GS-12 in scientific professions. The base salary for GS-12 step 1 on the government salary schedule is $62,101. However, there's also locality pay for higher cost of living areas; many large urban areas in the U.S. have special locality pay. So if you were to work in DC at the NIH, your starting pay would be $77,490. If you worked for the CDC in Atlanta, your starting salary would be $74,260. However, your salary does increase somewhat rapidly; advancing between the first 4 steps takes 1 year per step. So in the DC area, at the beginning of year 4 on the job you'd be earning $85,238 (plus about 1-2% more due to annual cost of living increases). That's a jump of almost $10K in just 3 years. And you only need one year of specialized experience to apply for GS-13 jobs internally, which come with an even bigger salary boost.

In short, the earning potential in the federal government is pretty good.

In biotechnology I'm pretty sure starting salaries for most scientists are in the $80,000 to $100,000 range, depending on the size and resources of the company you apply to. Genentech, for example, seems to be starting its new associate scientists in the $100-110K range or so (it's a bit hard to tell, but Glassdoor and Payscale data seem to reflect that). Celgene looks to be starting new scientists in the $90-100K range. So I think it's reasonable to expect to start somewhere in the $80-100K range - top end at larger well-known and well-funded biotech companies and lower end of the range at smaller, newer companies and startups.

Glassdoor seems to indicate that pharmaceutical scientist salaries are a bit lower (maybe in the $70K to $90K range), but I'm less familiar with that field. I find Glassdoor to be relatively accurate in my corner of the professional world (tech), but it relies entirely on people actually entering their starting salaries into the tool so it's going to be biased a bit.

The thing to remember when comparing salaries in the private sector is that these are just base salaries, and private sector jobs come with other forms of compensation. For example, a lot of companies (most biotech and many pharma, probably) have profit-sharing in which you get an annual bonus that's usually some percentage of your income (e.g. at my company it can be up to 20% of your salary). There are also potentially signing bonuses, relocation coverage and/or reimbursement and the value of your benefits. 

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