arrow70 Comments
  1. John
    Dec 15 - 2:26 am

    The commentary on chemistry pay is without merit. Using average pay says nothing about supply-demand which is only picked up in starting salaries. Salaries of employed chemists are almost never cut. Fired chemists’ salaries go to zero and are thus dropped from the pool of salaries in the averages. So there is little downward pressure on average salaries in the time span examined here.

    The over supply of PhD chemists has depressed chemistry salaries for decades. The starting Salary for a PhD chemist was $16,000 in 1968. Using your calculator, the starting salary for a PhD chemist should be at least $100,000 in 2010. I could hire a new PhD chemist in California for less than $60,000 today – 40% less than a chemist would have cost me in 1968. Now what kind of a return on a 12-13 year education is that? Think MD or CEO pay has eroded that much in the past 40 years? This is the impact of over supply chemistry bodies on the rewards of the chemistry profession!

  2. Thomas McEntee
    Dec 15 - 10:28 am

    @Paul: Scaling down academia is a difficult problem…my sense is that the US academic community can be a viable force, a bona fide “business”, in educating both US and non-US students. In today’s US economy, we shouldn’t sniff at viable businesses. I have been critical of the ACS in the past for promoting chemistry as a career in the face of steady declines in employment of chemists in US manufacturing and R&D. However, my sense has been that such optimism on the part of ACS is ill-advised, given the whole Ponzi scheme concept, irrespective of whether anyone is being purposeful in the scheme.

    Academia’s dilemma is tied to its funding model in which professor must obtain grants, most typically from without the university, and from which the university extracts a substantial portion. Add in the non-tenured assistant professor rat race and you have a recipe for an ever-expanding perpetual motion machine. So long as the manufacturing base is viable, personal and corporate taxes flow into the IRS for eventual distribution to US Government funding agencies, all is well. Assistant professors get tenure, grad students get PhDs, standards of living go up, and the machine hums along. But along the way, as standards of living go up, our manufacturing costs go up. Eventually, being a capitalistic economy, concepts like off-shore outsourcing spring up and you know the rest.

    The grant model for funding universities and the tenure-track rat race are big contributors to the problem. What if tenure were abolished except for true luminaries? What if the grant system were scaled back?

  3. Leigh Krietsch Boerner
    Dec 15 - 11:29 am

    @z I really wish the data were available for comparison of all the sub-divisions of chemistry. Some chemistry jobs consulting business needs to start up where they track this kind of stuff.

    Hey Chemjobber, looking for a career change?

  4. Matt
    Dec 15 - 12:33 pm

    If you’ve got someone to pay him, I’m sure he could be persuaded!

  5. Grinch
    Dec 15 - 3:51 pm

    Phytochemist, I also know several postdocs who won’t encourage their kids to study science. How many phsyicians or lawyers tell their kids not to follow in their footsteps? Who would have ever guessed that the inspirational story about parents wanting their kids to have “a better life than they did” would stem from parents with a Ph.D in science? This is a pathetic state of affairs for all of science, not just chemistry.

  6. Chemjobber
    Dec 15 - 10:50 pm

    You know, I think there are a lot of lawyers who tell their kids that there are better ways of making money…

  7. Chemjobber
    Dec 15 - 11:18 pm

    “I could hire a new PhD chemist in California for less than $60,000 today – 40% less than a chemist would have cost me in 1968.”

    John, I really challenge that statement. Unless you’re talking rural California (Barstow?), I doubt it.

  8. AnonX
    Dec 15 - 11:47 pm


    I wouldn’t doubt the $60K figure these days, I see new PhDs getting hired at $65-70K in LA and SF. Not to mention the fact that many people in industry now face long periods of unemployment (4-6 months)that further erodes their yearly pay rate. Over a course of 2-3 years, a PhD’s income might actually average far below $60K. Just hope they get unemployment benefits.

  9. Chemjobber
    Dec 16 - 12:36 am


    The comment said “less than 60k”; you’re saying 65-70k.

    Assuming John meant 59.5k, that’s a 10 to 17% difference.

    Also, in what industry are they getting hired in, especially in LA?
    No offense, but I just have a really hard time believing that less than 60k.

  10. [...] about a couple really tough acts to follow. CJ, Leigh and Paul set a really high standard with their posts, and reader response has been [...]

  11. Anonx
    Dec 16 - 2:20 am


    The people that were hired at $65-70K were in Med Chem at smaller companies. Believe it or not, there is some Med Chem in LA, those people got laid off recently, some not even a year in. This is why I’m thinking the situation is leaning towards John’s side right now, because if you can’t count on being employed for a year straight, then you have to assume your yearly income is somewhere south of $60K, even if the rate your are being paid would add up to $70K when hired.

  12. Chemjobber
    Dec 16 - 7:29 am

    Interesting data point, AnonX — thanks for sharing.

  13. [...] Too many PhDs? That’s anybody’s guess. [...]

  14. [...] who sent the press release), Chemjobber (opener and closer), Leigh Krietsch Boerner here at Just Another Electron Pusher, and Paul at [...]

  15. [...] First, folks, if you’re interested in the chemistry job market and haven’t already seen the blog roundtable discussion this week, head on over to Chemjobber’s recap today (note that Leigh at C&ENtral Science’s Just Another Electron Pusher contributed to the discussion with a post on Too many PhDs?). [...]

  16. [...] excellent post and discussion can be found here. [...]

  17. Tommy L
    May 22 - 9:43 pm

    Nothing is ever 100% secure.

  18. Namita Dube
    Apr 02 - 7:23 am

    Hi everyone,
    I have done MS in Medicinal Chemistry.Now I want to peruse PhD at US. After reading this article I have a doubt to whether join PhD in Medicinal Chemistry or Pharmacology. I need your kind guidance, Which will be better in regard to job opportunity.

  19. D. Raj
    Apr 18 - 11:48 pm

    The over supply of PhD chemists has depressed chemistry salaries for over decades.It has to balance the out put and job availability. It should not compare Ph.D with unemployment or good job opportunity.
    I am mortified at how those choices fit into my long-term goals. I sense that’s a common theme for folks who get their undergraduate education.Job availability, salary and job stratification is depends on so many other factors.

  20. PO'D PhD
    Apr 30 - 1:52 am

    It’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not there are too many PhD’s? In what universe? Of course there are too many PhDs. Unemployment is in double digits. Underemployment accounts for more than 50% of us: how many are rotting away in yet another postdoc? How many have gone back to school to get a JD and be bottom feeding patent leeches, er, lawyers? How many are stocking groceries with 10 years post-PhD research experience? How many years can we shut down every single university on the entire planet before we have a shortage of PhDs? Five years? Ten? Twenty? More? Oh and to the terminally clueless nitwit who challenged the idea of hiring a PhD chemist for $60k…you’ll have PhDs with 10+ years experience lining up around the block, and you’ll be able to hire your pick for half that because chemists are just that desperate. To the other nitwit citing 4-6 months unemployment, you’re off by a factor of five: typical PhD unemployment periods are measured in years not months. Don’t worry though, you’ll have the opportunity to experience long-term unemployment about once every three to five years.

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