By Jennifer Crebs and Meredith Salisbury
To the survey respondent who wrote, “I am really not interested in salary. My job is very interesting and that is what matters,” we’d like to say: more power to you. To the rest of our respondents, and indeed all of our readers, it seems that salary and overall compensation package are of much greater importance to you. One way we know this is that the response rate to our annual salary survey keeps going up: this year, 1,990 of you took the time to tell us how much you earn, what your perks are, and plenty of other great facts that served as the basis of the results you’re about to read. Many thanks to all of you for your time and cooperation.
In our exclusive fourth annual salary survey, we have information for the first time from readers in Europe and Asia — allowing us to help you compare compensation data on a more global level. As always, we include results on layoffs, benefits, and more, broken out into public versus private sector, scientific tasks, and job title.
Finally, we added to the survey this year an invitation to readers to submit career-related questions. Boy, did we hit a nerve. We whittled down the list to the most common questions, and took those to experts in the field to provide you with practical tips and advice. That section begins on p. 32.
To see a PDF of our full salary survey report, click here.
Materials and Methods: A Career Improvement How-to Guide
In an added twist to the salary survey this year, GT invited respondents to submit their career questions to us. We followed up with experts in the field to get answers to the most commonly asked questions.
SALARY & COMPENSATION
How do I negotiate my salary and benefits package?
This was by far the most common question scientists asked; most experts responded with some variation of “it depends.”
Linda Kirsch, a professional executive recruiter who specializes in the life sciences, says each person has to figure out what’s most important to him and go from there. “For some people, money is number one; for some people, a title is really important,” she says. She warns against “negotiating hard”: “Be careful that you don’t set the bar so high that if a manager hires you, they’re always feeling that they’ve overpaid,” she says. “Likewise, if somebody underpays for you, you as the employee always have this feeling [that] they’re not giving me what I’m worth.” She adds, “both parties at the end have to feel good about it or otherwise there’s an undercurrent of discontent that rides throughout the relationship.”
Pragmatically, she says, “the best time you can negotiate a salary is when you’re coming in the door.” She’s seen people boost their incomes by 20 or 30 percent by changing jobs.
Jodi Greco, senior employment administrator at the Broad Institute, says, “A candidate should attempt to determine the hiring range for the position and obtain a copy of the job description [to] try to figure out where he/she fits in the range.” She also indicates that while industry is fairly open to negotiation, it’s much less so in academia, where successful negotiations are more likely to result in things like an extra week of vacation or flex time than in salary adjustments. For current employees, she recommends that people negotiate for salary increases tied to specific goals or added responsibilities.
I want to stay at my company, but I’d like a promotion. Is it wise to get an offer from another organization to use as leverage?
No way, says Laurie Irwin, a longtime biotech recruiter who works for Fortune Personnel Consultants. “It’s like a cheating spouse,” she says, pointing out that arriving on your supervisor’s doorstep with a competing offer “could be perceived as a threat.” The better course of action, she says, is to “sit down with your boss or manager and talk about reasons why you’re feeling a little stale.” She notes that in a case where somebody did use another offer as leverage, a company that six months down the road had to downsize might look at that person less favorably.
Which reference guides are used to establish salary baselines?
The formality of salary baselines varies considerably from one organization to another, says Kirsch. Some places actually set up salary grades corresponding to certain titles, and within those grades there may be very little flexibility.
At the Broad Institute, Greco says a number of factors go into salary ranges. These include external surveys as well as industry and market analyses. She also points to resources such as the Radford life sciences sector survey and monster.com as other potential sources of salary baseline information.
Jim Maus, grants coordinator at WashU, says that at the genome center there much of the salary guidelines are “handed down by the university.” There’s some wiggle room within that — in fact, the university just finished an extensive market analysis and regraded its salary ranges.
Baylor’s genome center works similarly. Roxanne Beltran-Reyna, who heads up HR there, says the university standards are established by a compensation group that issues guidelines based on title, responsibility, education, and experience. Reyna says the genome center can sometimes justify slightly higher salaries in order to compete with industry compensation.
Do I have to disclose my current salary when I’m looking for a job?
Most likely. “I think you always have to disclose and you have to be honest about what you’ve made in the past,” says Kirsch. In her experience, many companies will actually ask to see a potential employee’s previous W2 forms to get a salary history. “They can’t force you [to provide those], but if you don’t they might not make you an offer,” Kirsch says. Greco at the Broad Institute advises giving your prospective employer a salary range instead of an exact number.
I’m a bench scientist but I’d like to get into the marketing or management side of the company. What’s the best route? Should I get an MBA?
Nate Lakey, CEO of Orion Genomics, started out on the technology and science side of the field and made the transition to the business front. He credits much of that with the volume of business reading he did, including topics like statistical process control and total quality management. “I was interested in the processes behind science,” he says. “Pretty quickly you find yourself getting into business questions.” That led him to accept and excel at an operations position, which paved the way for his business career.
Kirsch says she considered getting an MBA when she realized she wanted to go from science to the business side, but decided that for her, the cost/benefit analysis didn’t make sense. She recommends that scientists take executive classes and other business training classes when possible, noting that most highly regarded management schools offer short weekend or evening programs on very specific business topics.
Jane Krug, a former scientist who now runs her own marketing consultancy, says her path involved spending time in the sales department as her transition period. “I was really glad I had that experience.” She also notes that this kind of move can be easier in a startup environment, where boundaries aren’t as rigid.
I’m about to start my own lab. What factors should I consider?
Rob Mitra, assistant professor in the genetics department at Washington University, says that the most practical considerations are equipping your lab, choosing staff, and selecting a research goal. “Be focused and figure out exactly what you’re going to do in the next two, three, four years,” he says. That information will help you with the other key steps: “Figure out what equipment has to go in the lab. … [And] try to get the best graduate students and postdocs and technicians that you can,” he says.
I am an unhappy postdoc. How do I get out of this lab before my project is completed?
Mitra at WashU advises people in this position to sit down with their PI and talk candidly about the situation. “I think it’s important to have a frank discussion as to what it is that makes you unhappy,” he says. “Your PI shouldn’t be surprised.” He says that in a case where there is no clear way to come to an agreement, a PI would be likely to release, and even help find a new position for, the postdoc. “It’s the honorable thing to do,” Mitra says.
How do I know when it’s time to move on?
“If you’re feeling stale or bored or underutilized, it’s time to look,” says Irwin. She says if you find that you’re no longer being challenged, you’ve accomplished what you set out to do, or that the organization is not doing well, you should take stock of your situation and seriously consider a move to another place.
Kirsch says obvious situations include those where “your needs aren’t being met [or] when there are situations that you know you can’t correct.” She says it’s common for people to try to ride out bad times with a company, but it may be time to go in cases where that’s actually hurting your livelihood or ability to provide for your family.
Should I get a PhD? Will just having a master’s limit my advancement?
“A PhD in the sciences really takes you a long way,” says Linda Kirsch, noting that very few senior level people in academia or industry don’t have a doctorate. She says opportunities are more open in fields like sales, marketing, or field operations for people who choose not to pursue a PhD.
Laurie Irwin says smaller organizations, like small pharma or biotech, are more likely to advance people who have a master’s degree. Greco at the Broad says having a PhD is more critical for academic careers than industry ones.
“Often [organizations] still weed people out that don’t have PhDs,” says Rhonda Knudsen, HR director at the Institute for Systems Biology, adding that that trend is slowly changing. “It’s fundamentally hard to change that bias.”
I know networking is important, but how do I do it?
There’s no trade secret for how to become a well-connected person, but experts agree that many simple steps can help the process. Consultant Jane Krug says when she gets someone’s business card, she writes a note on the back about where she met the person or about some aspect of their conversation that she wants to follow up on. In cases where she wants to keep in touch with the person, she says, “I’ll often e-mail them right after and say it was great to meet you.”
Krug also encourages people to walk the exhibit hall floors and attend social functions at conferences — and don’t stand “with the people you know,” she says.
Meeting people at a conference may seem about as appealing as cold-calling for a telemarketing firm, but once you get past any reluctance it can be quite painless. “If you’re shy, you can overcome that by asking people questions about them — people like to talk,” says Nate Lakey at Orion Genomics. “I try to really reach out. If I meet someone who’s new I proactively introduce them to everyone I know. They’ll return the favor and introduce you to people that they know.” Lakey also cautions scientists to keep their expectations reasonable. “It takes about three to five years” for most people to feel solidly connected, he says. “You’ve got to pick a meeting and go to it for three to five years.” At the end of that, he says, you’ll come away “tired but with a great network.”
ISB’s Knudsen recommends joining associations — alumni, scientific, social — to meet more people. She points out that if you move, often associations have other regional branches and become a great way to plug in to a new community. “You have to put yourself out there,” she says.
I’m a scientist later in my career, and I’m concerned about looking for a new job. Do you have any advice for people in my position?
Experts agree that this topic has become a particular challenge in this field. “As you go up the pyramid, there are fewer jobs,” says Kirsch, who encourages people to keep their networks active and always be open to opportunities. “Say you’re 55 years old and you get laid off … you might have to take a step back, you might have to make less money.”
Irwin recommends networking and keeping up with new trends and supplemental education, when possible. “With so much downsizing, people who have been secure in their positions for the past five to 10 years are suddenly out there looking,” she says. “If they haven’t kept up to date, if they haven’t continued with their education … then they’re going to be stale.”
Greco from the Broad says contract work is one possible avenue of tracking down another job as a more senior person. Those “often lead to permanent positions,” she says.
Which areas are poised for growth or slowdown in the next several years?
Laurie Irwin sees hiring trends in academia and government more so than industry at the moment. Within the field of bioinformatics, she says, she sees companies looking for expertise in specific therapeutic areas and statistics in particular.
Kirsch says that “employers are spending more money closer to the product, no matter what the product.” She’s noticed people who were in earlier-stage research heading down the pipeline to pharmacogenomics, for instance, or other clinical areas.
Are there opportunities for part-time positions or flex scheduling?
There may be such opportunities out there, but don’t count on finding many, experts say. “I’m seeing organizations offering contract work,” says recruiter Laurie Irwin. “I can’t say that I’ve seen any part-time [work], not that it’s not out there.”
At ISB, Knudsen says she really hasn’t seen part-time positions either. “Most of our people [work] more than a 40-hour week,” she says. But as far as flexible scheduling goes, “people are just expected to get their work done” — there’s no set schedule for staff, she says.