Salary disparities in academics have been a topic of debate for decades. Anyone entering the field of education knows that they’re going in for the passion and love of helping to shape the world and make it a better place, not for the paycheck. In fact, the average teacher makes around $40,000 per year and often needs a second job to make ends meet.
As a researcher, this median pay is bumped up somewhat to $50,000 annually, but the workload increases substantially, making it difficult to get a second job, even if you wanted to. The problem isn’t the wage, necessarily. It’s the fact that at some point, stagnation occurs. Your experience and expertise in your field aren’t always equivalent to your pay, as it is in other careers. Institutions must use the standardized levels that usually go by years of experience, with bonuses given for meeting certain qualifications.
Salary Versus Workload as a Researcher
The question of whether a researcher’s salary is commensurate with their workload must be evaluated if you’re considering this role. As a research scientist, you’ll be expected to put in your hard work and extra effort, working 8-12 hours a day in your lab and filling in with classroom teaching roles as necessary. This changes when you get tenure, which is the goal of most academic researchers. However, the field is highly competitive, so to hit that desired target, you must show that you deserve it over and above all of those around you who are also aiming for the limited tenured positions.
This means that to find the actual hourly rate that you’re receiving, you’ll need to divide your annual salary by 52 weeks in a year. Take that number and divide it by how many hours you’re putting in at the office, lab, or classroom, and you get your pay rate.
As an example, the average research salary, as mentioned, is around $50,000 per year. A typical hard-working, goal-oriented researcher will put in at least 50 hours in the workweek. Using this formula shows the hourly rate:
$50,000/52 = approx. $962 per week
$962/50 hours = approx. $19 per hour
Before you accept a career as a researcher, use this formula to ensure that the average pay and workload is something you are willing to accept, as chances are, it won’t change too much over your career due to wage stagnation.
What Wage Stagnation Means for Your Future
Wages aren’t expanding in multiple industries, but it’s a serious concern in academics, where the expected workload continues to pile up and salaries aren’t moving. For the past fifty years, researcher and teacher salaries have been sliding instead of growing, with a nearly 20% pay gap when compared to other careers requiring similar education.
This wage stagnation in the midst of spiking inflation and interest rates can be dangerous for your financial future. On the one hand, research careers are typically stable. Once you’re hired for a position, as long as the funding is available, it’s easy to keep your job if you’re competent and doing the work required of you. However, the compensation you receive is going to be similar to what the current rates are, including benefits and perks.
Researchers can aim for bonuses by publishing high-quality findings and receiving grants, with the ultimate goal of tenured positions. But the question is whether the pay and workload are “worth it” depends on you and if you believe that the potential to make a difference in the world is more important than a hefty salary.
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