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Why did I bother with this PhD journey? 
22nd-Jul-2014 12:30 pm
pic#111812164 bunsen burner
Originally posted by energyresearch at Why did I bother with this PhD journey?

Whilst there were no illusions of a research career equating to limitless wealth, it is profoundly depressing to read further confirmation that the market value of research skills is less than £ 30k, with the added luxury of a fixed term duration of barely a year:

BioenNW Interreg IVB Research Associate for Pyrolysis Systems – Pyrofabs
Project Manager (2 Posts) Engineering & Applied ScienceSalary: £27,057
to £28,972 Contract Type: Fixed Term (until 30 September 2015) Basis:
Full Time Closing Date: Sunday 17 August 2014 Interview Date: To be
confirmed Reference: R140233

The European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI) is seeking to appoint
two Research Associates with a strong experimental background and track
of independent research to work on the thermal processes for biomass
conversion. You will join a world-renowned European Bioenergy Research
Institute and will be working at the cutting edge of interdisciplinary
research problems and industrial applications. The EBRI has developed an
innovative new bioenergy technology that increases the efficiency of
anaerobic digestion by up to 25%. You will be involved in performing the
start-up and preliminary tests of the pyrolysis mobile testing units –
Pyrofabs, in EBRI, and then move to reside in the countries where the
Pyrofabs are to be allocated; liaising with the different project
partners to provide them with the specifications of resources needed for
the demonstration tests; producing a procedure on how to obtain results
from the mass balance calculations and sample analysis; providing
technical advice and facilitate training of BioenNW partner staff on how
to operate the Pyrofabs; producing a Risk Assessment and Safe Operating
Procedure of the Pyrofabs; facilitating the procurement of feedstocks;
organising samples analysis, liaising with external laboratories. The
role will require travelling extensively across Europe between January
and June 2015

You will be a highly a motivated researcher with a proven track record
in delivering solutions for the continued research into pyrolysis
systems. In addition you should have proven expertise in independent
development and designing of specialised equipment and new laboratory
techniques and methodologies whilst having the ability to conduct
independent research and to supervise research staff. Experience of
managing research projects is essential.

You should have a PhD or a similar degree with a strong focus on thermal
processes for biomass conversion.

(source: Jobs at Aston).

Comments 
22nd-Jul-2014 12:03 pm (UTC)
Mmmmm. And just how loudly did you protest when it was humanities and arts positions offering this type of job and salary?
22nd-Jul-2014 12:11 pm (UTC)
Academic salary scales in the UK are nationally negotiated, so most postdoc positions will have been offered on the same scale regardless of what subject they are in. The difference tends to be that part-time or less-than-twelve month teaching contracts are used more in the humanities and social sciences, whereas science postdocs are more likely to be 1-4 year fixed-term full-time. On the other hand, humanities academics who do get teaching and research jobs seem to move through the payscales a lot faster than science researchers, who can spend 5-10 years on the postdoc pay scale where humanities academics will have moved up to Lecturer or even Senior Lecturer.
22nd-Jul-2014 12:12 pm (UTC)
That's good. Are all recent PhD grads expecting salaries of about $50,000 USD too?
22nd-Jul-2014 12:39 pm (UTC)
Differs widely. The majority of those who manage to get academic jobs (whether research, teaching or both) will be on a salary of around £30k pa, but it might be reduced pro rata. The kind of admin job that I got after my PhD was on the grade below the typical starting academic salary, which was around £24k in 2008 and is around £26k now (which is a significant drop in real terms, because the salary scales haven't kept up with inflation.) However, the last time I knew the figures well only around 30-50% of PhD graduates were staying in the higher education system, and obviously it'll vary much more for people leaving HE.
22nd-Jul-2014 01:25 pm (UTC)
Still seems pretty whiny to think the whole degree and one's life is just no longer worth it to earn a salary US adjuncts will kill for.
22nd-Jul-2014 02:33 pm (UTC)
But 30,000 GBP in the UK doesn't go anywhere as far as 50,000 USD does in the US. It's not a paltry sum, but you can't really raise a family on 30,000 GBP in the UK, while I'd say that you could comfortably do so with 50,000 USD in the US.
22nd-Jul-2014 02:41 pm (UTC)
Indeed.

> max_ambiguity:

Try a quick review of international living cost comparisons at: http://www.numbeo.com
22nd-Jul-2014 02:59 pm (UTC)
Yes, I did that. It's cheaper there. $50,000 seems very reasonable for a starting salary, at least compared to the US. I'm all for everyone making more money, but I'm not getting out my violins for your prospects over this.
22nd-Jul-2014 02:58 pm (UTC)
That's a very limited understanding of the United States. Most people could keep themselves in the black on $50,000 in the US, but whether you can support even a single other person on that salary is highly dependent on where you live. As far as I can tell, this job is in or near Birmingham, UK, so the question is not whether $50,000 goes as far in the UK as a whole as it does in the US as a whole, but how far it goes in the specific region it is being offered. The online calculator I used says that living there is about 17% cheaper than where I live in the US - and my starting salary was $52,000. And adjuncts make a lot less than that.
22nd-Jul-2014 04:06 pm (UTC)
Does it matter what it equates to in the US? The job is in the UK, the poster is presumably job-seeking in the UK, if the only response you have is to work out whether that's good or bad by US standards, maybe just pass on by?

I mean, my assumption on reading the OP's post is that the more relevant comparison would be "what might I be earning now if I hadn't done a PhD", not "what would this equate to in the US."

Edited at 2014-07-22 04:07 pm (UTC)
22nd-Jul-2014 05:02 pm (UTC)
The poster is complaining about how low the salary is. In order for Americans who have not lived in the UK recently to understand if or how low it actually is, comparison to what it equates to in the US is the obvious approach.

The OP claims to not have expected "limitless wealth," but seems to have expected a much cushier starting salary, boo hoo.
22nd-Jul-2014 08:20 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I suppose we could discuss exactly what standard of living £30k works out as, in order that you can sneer at the OP in a more informed fashion, but, equally, we could not.
22nd-Jul-2014 09:21 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I still can't care here. I used the OP's suggested cost of living calculator and - particularly as this is a job ad and not the OP's actual job - there's nothing here to make me interested in the standard of living you don't want to talk about.
22nd-Jul-2014 07:17 pm (UTC)
That's an incredibly stupid response to this post (for the reasons others have mentioned).
22nd-Jul-2014 07:45 pm (UTC)
I disagree that it's stupid to point out that a single job post with livable salary is not cause to bitch and moan about why one "bothered" with a PhD at all. It's insulting to all the people who find worth in intellectual pursuits in spite of the (well known for anyone who paid the least bit attention before applying) lower salaries than one would get in the industry, and insulting to PhDs who are fighting for health insurance and a living wage.

You want a discussion of all the ways PhDs are undervalued in the UK? Have at it: Post articles, discussions, statistics, whatever. But spare me the "oh poor me, I never thought I'd be rich, but I thought I'd be richer than that" nonsense.
24th-Jul-2014 10:02 am (UTC)
The motivation behind making the post was to share surprise at the _market value_ of the skills acquired for PhD-level research, evidenced by this single advertisement. There is a constant noise about the alleged shortage of scientists, but according to a simplistic understanding of the free market, such a shortage should be evident in higher salaries. It would be interesting to know the opinion of a school child considering various career options: why pursue an interesting career path that is characterised by an adequate salary and more importantly, a relatively uncertain career progression? The issue (personal opinion, of course!) is that the market value appears to be: (salary x) + (career progression: who knows?)...
24th-Jul-2014 12:26 pm (UTC)
I don't see why you were surprised, quite frankly, or why you think a simplistic understanding of economic forces would apply here. And since when is a PhD nothing more than a guarantee of a set of skills? More and more, the quoted salary seems appropriate to me if all that is involved with the job is applying job training you have received at university, not knowledge, experience, or engagement with a community of scientists that might inform your future work.

Ask any school child about career options and they'll assume all jobs pay reasonably well and pick what sounds like fun. Seems like you were still doing that when you decided to get a PhD.
25th-Jul-2014 08:32 am (UTC)
Oh for heaven's sake - how young people make career decisions and how to support them is also a body of knowledge with research and professional standards. No, young people do not just "assume that everything pays well and pick what sounds like fun" beyond primary school. Particularly given the cuts to careers guidance in schools, it's actually really important that school students and their informal advisers have an accurate idea of whether so-called "skills shortages" actually lead to increased salaries (or, possibly more importantly, increased opportunities) in relevant areas.


25th-Jul-2014 12:40 pm (UTC)
Yes, beyond primary school I would expect a higher level of thinking, but a "school child" is not beyond primary school, and I see no relevance to what they think in this conversation. Unless in the UK you also give career guidance to six year olds?
25th-Jul-2014 02:24 pm (UTC)
Ah yes, that well-known definition of 'child' that only refers to someone aged 11 or under.
25th-Jul-2014 02:34 pm (UTC)
More like 13 and under, but yes, you do seem to understand the meaning of the word.
25th-Jul-2014 10:31 am (UTC)
Disagree that those on academic contracts move up the pay scale faster. One of the main differences between research associates (postdocs) and lecturers/ senior lecturers at my RG university is that research associates move up two spinal points every year whereas permanent academic staff move up one point. Thus, three years in a postdoc/research position at my institution can mean that your pay is the same as SL on the national scale.

26th-Jul-2014 10:08 am (UTC)
Oh, fair enough! That was based on anecdote and what I've heard from people and clients rather than the research. Now I'd like to look it up in What Do Researchers Do now, but it looks like it's not publicly available anymore.
22nd-Jul-2014 12:07 pm (UTC)
We are the victims of our own success. We can solve all problems in a year.
22nd-Jul-2014 05:57 pm (UTC)
I am expecting your cure for cancer within the hour. Stop wasting time on LJ.
22nd-Jul-2014 05:54 pm (UTC)
I am totally highly motivated as a researcher for less money than I could make as a full-time bartender. Totally.
22nd-Jul-2014 08:29 pm (UTC)
Most of us are, otherwise we'd be pouring drinks. Perhaps one way to look at it is that this is not about the money. This is about the way society looks at science, technology, education, and creativity.
23rd-Jul-2014 08:29 pm (UTC)
even your professors and advisers think it's not about the money.

Because they get theirs and expect 100% dedication, motivation, results and profit while you may actually be starving and then they are totally _shocked_, SHOCKED, they'll say, that you consider doing a part-time job (at university, even! In something related to your subject!) because of such nonsense as paying rent and having to eat.
23rd-Jul-2014 10:05 pm (UTC)
Aren't you suppose to TA during your PhD? That's basically a part time job.

Yea, professors are evil. We've forgotten what it's like to be starving grad students.
24th-Jul-2014 12:13 pm (UTC)
In my country there are different options for earning your PhD.
The most wanted, of course, is being hired in part-time and working at the university, possibly in your subject.
But if you don't get one (some universities are killing off several faculties at the moment, so there _are_ no jobs the graduates could get) you have two other choices left
a) apply for funding, which is an intensely long process (half a year for the presentation, half a year waiting, if you don't get anything, try anew with a different foundation. You are not allowed to apply to more than one foundation at once (although some do, of course. It's only bad if you get caught)). It doesn't necessarily say something about quality if you aren't accepted - there just aren't as many foundations as in the US and they have much smaller budgets, to the acceptance rate is also comparatively smaller. Many foundations don't fund for your project anymore, but only for 1-2 years. And then there are those that fund for example 350€ for three months. Yeah, that will surely help some PhD candidate... and if you get funding, no matter how small, from that moment on you are _forbidden_ to do any other kind of job - including teaching! (some foundations have an exception for teaching, you are allowed to teach voluntarily for free, but only if it's not more than 2 hours a week).
b) external PhDs, then, you don't work at university but still get access to your advisers. However, you have to finance yourself. There is no teaching involved if you don't luck out and get some lectureship, which means you get ~790€ for _half a year_.

I was lucky to get funding _and_ being allowed to teach _and_ already having a lot of teaching experience, but the university itself was dirt poor.
24th-Jul-2014 01:12 pm (UTC)
Yea... Life in academia sucks. We let it happen to us because we love it to much. I think. Or because we are masochistic by nature. Who knows.

I've never heard of a rule preventing the submission of a scholarship proposal to several private funding sources. You only accept one outcome, but submitting it? Usually the goals is to find as many possibilities as possible at once. Of course, only one can be finally accepted.
24th-Jul-2014 05:58 pm (UTC)
nah, the foundations here are totally overworked (that's why they take so long to get back to you) and they don't want to waste review- and jury-staff to someone who might then say "no" because another foundations made a better offer.
23rd-Jul-2014 07:21 am (UTC)
That looks like one of those job descriptions where they titled it as a research associate to attract people with PhDs but in actuality this is an entry level project management position/technician/product promoter post. I see posts like this a lot. If it was a position with a grant attached to it, the salary would probably be better. I suspect the post in actuality would be pretty research light, hence the lower salary. Why pay for specialist skills you don't plan to make use of?
23rd-Jul-2014 09:47 pm (UTC)
What salary scale would you expect to see a postdoc on? I'd not be surprised to see a salary range that goes up higher than that for people who are on their second postdoc, but £28k - £32k would be pretty normal for a starting salary, I'd have thought?
24th-Jul-2014 06:16 am (UTC)
I've seen 22-26k for humanities/arts, and 28-35 for sciences. Depends so much on the grant behind it. My first post doc I'm starting in October is 33k because of the grant it's attached to. But I work in health research so I can only comment on that area. I've seen "research" posts offered by private hospitals that are lower in salary and have a strong teaching or clinical component - they're not really wanting a researcher, they actually just want someone with a PhD qualification. But I could earn just as much by going back to my Band 6 NHS work (for which a PhD is completely irrelevant) so to me it doesn't seem an appropriate level of pay for the skill level they're asking for, further emphasising the point I made above about not paying for skills they don't plan to use. So in the job description OP posted, I can only identify one small, initial aspect that requires some research (development work) and the rest seems to be a generic project management, advisory and sales technician job that anyone could do with the requisite training - seems like they just want to skip the training stage by appealing to those trained in it for their doctorate.
29th-Jul-2014 04:17 pm (UTC)
If you want to make money you should become a builder in the UK.

There's been this problem where the generation before us found that by getting a degree (any degree) they could move up from working class to middle class, so that's what they told us to do. But the situation changed in the meantime and no one paid attention.

This salary seems on par for the UK when it comes to academic post-doc salaries in the sciences. You might expect more from industry, but it really does vary depending on the company.

You'll have to go to Germany if you want a massive starting salary in industry with a science degree. They will pay you a huge amount and then later you can return to the UK once you're in a managerial position. Although by then the UK may have absolutely no industrial left where research is done and just be running on banking jobs and fracked oil and shale gas.
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