2009 ACS salary survey

So, the results are in from the 2009 ACS salary survey, and they can be summarized in one word: ouch. Median salaries for all chemists fell 3.2%, and the unemployment rate jumped to 3.9%, the highest rate for chemists in 20 years.

Image by flickr user sea turtle

Hemlock, anyone?

Okay, so things aren’t that bad. The overall unemployment rate for the same time was 8.6%, according to the report and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So at least chemists had it better than the general population. But keep in mind that the numbers in the salary survey are from March 2009, and things may have gotten better (unlikely) or worse (probably) since then. For June 2010, the national unemployment rate was 9.5%. So use that to normalize your thinking as you read it. Also note that this survey focuses on the Big Three* types of employers: academia, industry, and government. But even if you don’t want to go into one of those areas, I do suggest you go read it, as well as C&EN editor-in-chief Rudy Baum’s take on it. I’m just talking highs and lows here.

And there really aren’t that many highs. I guess one would be that the unemployment rate for PhDs was lower than that of master’s level chemists (3.3% versus 4.2%). So finish your degrees, grad students. Also, oddly enough, median salaries for professors teaching with 12-month contracts at PhD granting schools shot up, from $120,600 in 2008 to $149,000 in 2009. The article calls it an anomaly. And it does seem very strange, given that more educational institutions are cutting back in everything, including salaries. At my school, Indiana University, there’s a hiring freeze right now. So yeah, go figure.

(Aside–did you know that salaries for all faculty and staff have to be publicly posted, if the school is public? Yep. So if you attend one, you can look up how much your adviser gets paid. Try looking at your respective Office of Financial Affairs website.)

And now the bad news: there was a large increase in the amount of PhDs in post-doc positions, 2.5%. That’s up from 1.3% in 2008, and the highest number in 10 years. Ergh. That either means that people are post-docing longer, or more new PhDs that would have normally gotten a job are now going for the post-doc. Or both. In any case, that’s not good news. I really hope chemistry doesn’t turn into one of those disciplines where you can expect to post-doc for a long time after you finish, like biology or astronomy. To put it mildly, that would suck.

More things that suck: in academia, the higher the rank, the greater the gender difference. For assistant professors, both men and women make about the same. But for associate profs, women make only 92% of a man’s salary. And for full profs, that number drops to 83%.

Image by flickr user kittybabylove

There’s a similar trend for industry. (I’m just highlighting PhD levels here, but for master’s and bachelor’s degree holders, the gender gap is actually worse.) Things are hunky-dorey and equal for men and women for a bit, and women actually get paid on average more than men for a few years (25-29 and 30-34 years since bachelor’s degree). But then at 35 years, average women’s salaries slump to 90% of men’s. And then after 40 years, they plunge farther to only 80% of what an average man gets paid.

And that’s not actually the whole story. Those numbers only include the base salaries. They don’t factor in bonuses. On average, men’s bonuses were twice the amount of women’s in 2009.

I’ve always wondered how exactly this happens. Despite the obvious explanation that women’s ovaries get slowly filled with lead as time goes on, which leaks into our brains and makes us stupid, of course. Is it a case of women not knowing how much their male counterparts are getting paid? Or is it a case of women not negotiating as hard as men do, so therefore settling for less? I guess the odd thing is that men and women start off pretty much even. But as time goes on, men get more of the dollars. Is this because in the higher ranks, people tend to be older and are still buying into this sexist crap? Or is the gender gap perpetuating itself? It would be interesting to track the gender gap of people starting off now, and follow them through their careers. Difficult yes, but still interesting.

Anyway. If you are in the sad position of applying for jobs right now, print out the pdf of this report and stick it into your purse or pocket. It will probably come in handy.

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*Since I just finished reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, of course I’m thinking of The Big Three as Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. But which corresponds to which employer? In my current state of thesis writing hell, I’m prone to cast academia as Hades…

Author: Leigh Krietsch Boerner

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