39

I have an interview later this week and the advertisement goes something like:

Grade 7: £31,604 - £38,833 p.a.

While talking to a postdoc at my own department, she told me that the scale wouldn't actually matter, that I'll always be placed on the lowest possible spine on that grade and it's just to show that every year I can move up a spine. She said even attempting to negotiate would be seen as a major red flag by the interviewers.

I wondered if anyone here can confirm this. It'd be amazing if you've been hiring postdocs in the UK so you definitely experienced this. Is there a way to be placed somewhere else on that scale, let's say on £35K?

Disclaimer: I'm not greedy or material-minded, but life is expensive especially with two kids and being a single parent. This position is also in a pretty expensive area.

  • 3
    In what sense did she mean not wanting to live in poverty is a "red flag"? It outs you as not being independently wealthy? – A Simple Algorithm Jun 26 '18 at 1:51
  • 6
    @ASimpleAlgorithm: It's usually a "red flag" when you don't know how things work in your discipline/area. There's an element of in-group cliquishness to it (you need to know people who can explain it to you, or to have worked in a similar place before), but it's also a legitimate indicator that your expectations might be out of sync with the work, which can lead to unpleasantness (will you also raise a fuss when you discover you won't get a personal secretary?). – nengel Jun 26 '18 at 5:31
  • 15
    @ASimpleAlgorithm a £32k salary is not "living in poverty", it corresponds to a post-tax take of £24k, only marginally below the median UK post-tax household (not individual) income of £27,300. It will go less far in Cambridge or London but let's not pretend this is a poverty wage. – A Simmons Jun 26 '18 at 11:45
  • 5
    @ASimmons I assume the comment was hyperbole. But for a bit of perspective, UK postdoc salaries are absolute not competitive. Neither internationally with academic positions, not nationally, compared with industry. Most people will say “that’s normal” but it’s really not. It’s only normal because we have been conditioned to expect it. UK postdoc salaries are p*ss poor. – Konrad Rudolph Jun 26 '18 at 16:19
  • 2
    @AzorAhai It's less than a PhD would make in industry sure. And by a lot, as well. But two people on that amount make in the 93rd percentile for household income (source ifs.org.uk/wheredoyoufitin). While there are many places that offer higher postdoc salaries, plenty do not- I understand France pays similar amounts to the UK, for example. – A Simmons Jun 26 '18 at 20:27

10 Answers 10

35

There is no reason why a post doc cannot be appointed at a higher point on the spine if there is money there, that said, rarely is there money available. The number of people doing multiple post docs in the UK is smaller than in the US, and they usually stay at the same school. That means they often can be appointed to a higher grade. Therefore grants for post docs usually budget for the lowest salary and normal progression. A school or university funded postion would have more flexibility, but the head of school is not going to authorize more money from their budget.

I would not bring up the salary until after an offer is made. Once an offer is made, it cannot really hurt to say "hey, I deserve to be at the top of the scale since ...". They will then laugh and say you are right, but that is all they can offer.

  • 4
    Nice answer (+1), though I think there is a danger in waiting until after an offer is made. In my personal opinion, it is better to put forward expectations up front. There is also an "anchoring" effect in making it clear up front that you are worth more than the lowest offer. I would think that once they make you an offer at the lowest level, it is probably hard to negotiate up. – Reinstate Monica Jun 26 '18 at 3:06
  • 11
    @Ben the negotiations are not going to be successful. If you have minimum requirements for an offer, then state those up front and don't waste people's time. If you will take the lowest offer under the right circumstances, then don't shoot yourself in the foot, – StrongBad Jun 26 '18 at 3:12
  • 2
    The number of people doing multiple post docs in the UK is smaller than in the US, citation needed. My anecdotal evidence says the opposite (UK group with 10 postdocs at a department with ~120 postdocs). – gerrit Jun 26 '18 at 10:45
  • 1
    @gerrit I cannot give you a citation, but in my field in the US it is unheard of to go straight from a PhD to a faculty position while in the UK pepe often do. Someone with 5 years of post doc experience would almost be guaranteed a faculty position in the UK. – StrongBad Jun 26 '18 at 10:50
  • 1
    @StrongBad Maybe we're experienced with entirely different fields. I know plenty of people with >10 years of postdoc experience who are not competitive for lectureships / faculty positions. – gerrit Jun 26 '18 at 11:03
21

Yes, you can negotiate your salary …

I, and several of my friends, successfully negotiated an increased initial postdoc salary in the UK.

… but it’s hard

First off, the timing is awkward: It’s altogether common to start your postdoc work without a contract in hand. At this point your chance for negotiation is effectively over (or at least greatly diminished). Many postdocs even start without having formally defended their PhD, which makes negotiation even harder (because your previous salary is very low, and you don’t yet have the degree, which determines the salary).

In addition, there isn’t a good time during the interview to bring up the salary. This is also true in industry but it’s even harder in postdoc interviews: depending on the circumstances there might not even be a formal interview.1 My advice is to bring it up before you commit, even hypothetically, to starting the postdoc. This may seem obvious but it’s not.

Secondly, you are negotiating with two distinct parties: your prospective group leader, who will also be your line manager, as well as the University’s HR department.

In my experience, your future PI is probably happy to support your demands, if they’re at all interested in hiring you. In fact, if the PI is blocking the salary negotiation I’d count that as a red major flag.

The University HR department, on the other hand, aims to keep cost low. They want you to justify every single increase. I had it easy, I was able to provide a salary statement from my previous “bridging postdoc”, which happened to be outrageously high by UK standards.2 Prepare to provide an extensive record of your work experience prior to, during and after your PhD. This seems to be the single most relevant argument for an increased starting salary scale point.

The easiest way of increasing your starting salary would be to get hired as a senior postdoc. But this effectively requires either extensive previous postdoctoral experience (which you don’t seem to have), or the support of your former PI; and your future line manager will still need to provide compelling reasons to HR.

Given that your posted salary range looks suspiciously like the one from the University of Cambridge, it may be relevant to mention that my experience is at the same University.

You should negotiate your salary

Universities don’t really expect postdocs to negotiate their salaries. They expect them to accept whatever offer lands on their table. Some institutes3 go to great lengths to avoid having to negotiate, for instance by billing the postdoc as a “postdoctoral trainee”, rather than a full fellowship or research position, or by refusing to acknowledge relevant work experience before the completion of the PhD.4

I find this unacceptable, and strongly recommend pushing back. Prepare to walk away from an offer that refuses to acknowledge your work experience in a salary negotiation, or which pretend that you’re still a “trainee” after ten years5 of University education. This isn’t being “materially minded”, it’s valuing your own worth. Postdoctoral salaries in the UK are low enough as it is, compared to cost of living. Other European countries pay a lot more.

In sum, I strongly advise everybody looking for a postdoc to negotiate their starting salary.


1 For the position that I ended up accepting, I didn’t have a formal interview: I met the PI pre-interview and then scheduled a separate day to present my research to his group, and talk to its members, without the PI present at any point. After that I got a formal offer by letter. Luckily I had already mentioned the salary to the PI beforehand. So when I received the offer which put me into the minimum salary point, I replied to HR (CC’ing the PI) with my demands.

2 I did the bridging postdoc in the UK but working for an international organisation so I was paid a salary that’s competitive internationally, which the UK postdoc salary is decidedly not (my bridging postdoc salary was ~ 38k GBP).

3 E.g. the Francis Crick Institute in London. Shame on them.

4 Even if you have several years’ worth of relevant work experience pre-PhD, the Crick Institute’s internal rules ignore this for the purpose of salary calculations.

5 Assuming undergrad, master & PhD.

  • 1
    HR will often tell a PI that the appointment should be at spine point X+3 and ignore the fact that there is only enough grant money for an appointment at X. I have never felt bad about blocking the salary demands. The grant is what it is and the offer is what it is. I feel bad that I can only ask for so much grant funding in my field, but that is a hard battle to fight. – StrongBad Jun 26 '18 at 10:47
  • 1
    @StrongBad Sure, there needs to be money for it but my experience somewhat contradicts yours (this is probably field specific): grants budget for bigger salaries, it’s HR which blocks this increase. This was explicitly the case for me. – Konrad Rudolph Jun 26 '18 at 10:53
  • @StrongBad makes a point that deserves emphasizing: if a position is paid out of grant funding, the total pot of money available for salary is often fixed. So, negotiating salary up may imply negotiating contract length down... – avid Jun 27 '18 at 7:40
  • 1
    @avid As mentioned in my previous comment, in my experience the grant size is hardly ever the limiting factor. Furthermore, there’s other sources of money. If a PI wants to hire you, they may have ways of finding more money (that’s their job, after all). They may not be able to, of course. But this will be made clear during the negotiation. It never hurts to bring the question up. – Konrad Rudolph Jun 27 '18 at 7:54
  • 1
    @KonradRudolph The PI job is (a) to propose research, (b) to find funding and (c) to make research happen. At the interview stage, (a) and (b) are done. Finding extra money takes extra time and may delay the production of actual results. – Dmitry Savostyanov Jun 27 '18 at 21:21
11

I have not been on a hiring committee in academia, so take my answer with a grain-of-salt. However, I see no particular reason that an applicant could not negotiate their starting-point in a salary scale if the applicant has appropriate qualifications/experience to justify being on the high end of the scale. Universities hire new staff at all sorts of levels, and if they are willing to hire staff across different Grade levels, there is no reason to think that they would be unwilling to hire across different scale levels within a Grade level, particularly if it allows them to attract a good hire. (Bear in mind that there may be budget constraints that constrain what the panel can offer, but if they advertise a particular salary range, they should be able to make offers in that range.)

If you have not previously worked as a postdoc or equivalent, then it is likely that you will not be able to make a strong case for a higher level on the scale. In that case, it is probably not a good idea to seek a higher offer, and it may come off badly for you. However, if you already have substantial experience at this level of appointment (e.g., having done a postdoc or equivalent at another university), and you are close to the requirements of a Grade 8 hire, then you could point out your additional experience and skills, and seek an offer at the higher end of the Grade 7 scale. Basically, if you want to seek an offer at the high end of the scale, you need to be an applicant who is close to meeting the requirements of a hire at the next grade level. Be clear about this, and make sure you have judged things correctly, and can back this up.

If this is a situation where you think you might be a good enough candidate to be given an offer at the higher end of that scale, you should obtain a copy of the university's position descriptions of what it expects from a Grade 7 academic and what it expects from a Grade 8 academic. Check with the specific university you are applying for, but here is an example of grade descriptions from the University of Edinburgh. Once you have this information, you now have a basis for determining whether you are near to meeting the requirements for a Grade 8 appointment . If you are close to these requirements (by the university's own description) then that would make a reasonable case for seeking an offer at the high end of Grade 7.

One final piece of advice: if you are considering doing this, make sure you look at it from the University's point of view. Don't think about it from the point of view of your needs (single parent, kids, expensive area); think about it from the point of view of the University's needs. What is so great about you that you would be the exception here; the person who comes at the mid-level or high-level on the scale? What sets you apart from the other applicants they will get, that shows that you are much closer to a Grade 8 hire? If you can answer these questions soundly, then you have a reasonable case for seeking a higher offer. If not, it is probably best not to do that.

My personal experience: In academia I came in at the bottom of the pay scale. However, I have personally applied for a position (outside of academia) where I made it clear at the interview that I would consider an offer at the top of the available salary scale. This was a case where I was applying for a position for which I had very high qualifications and experience, and I was already working in another job that paid more. I had a nice interview with the hiring panel, and I explained to them that I was interested in their work, but that even at the top of the pay scale they were offering, it would be a small pay-cut for me relative to my existing position. I told them I would be willing to consider an offer at the top of their pay scale, since I liked the sound of the work they were doing. Two days later I got an offer at the top of the pay scale (a small pay cut, but a move I was happy with) and I was working there within a week.

8

In my experience (having had a couple of these positions) the bottom of the range is what you should expect if you're coming straight from a PhD, and then you would normally progress one point on the salary scale each year (the top salary listed is seven points higher than the low end, but some universities don't use all the points on the scale, in which case you can progress faster).

If you're coming from another postdoc, they may well start you at the point which matches the amount of experience you have, i.e. one point higher for every year of experience. I think this tends to happen (or not) as a matter of policy and so I wouldn't anticipate much room for negotiation, although I've never tried to negotiate so I can't be sure how it would be perceived.

  • 2
    I moved UK institutions with 5 years of postdoc experience and had my salary matched. I did ask for it and don't know if it would have happened without me asking, but there was no issue with that. The listed salary range is what they are willing to pay - I have seen some postdoc positions where the cap is lower due to funding restrictions. – KraZug Jun 26 '18 at 8:25
7

You don't mention your discipline; my own is the physical sciences, and this may be somewhat subject-specific.

Regardless of how much experience you have and how much you deserve a salary higher than the base rate, the key question is where the money is coming from. Postdocs are almost invariably hired from grants that have already been awarded, hence from a pot of money whose size cannot be changed. (Many funders are strict about the categories in which money can be spent: that is, if I have been awarded £100k for personnel and £100k for consumables, it could be difficult or impossible for me instead to spend £150k on personnel and £50k on consumables.) So the only way to hire you on a higher salary may be to hire you for a shorter period of time.

If you want to go down that road, you might be able to argue that your greater experience is such that the project will benefit more from having you for 1.5 years than someone else for 2. (Perhaps you can complete the work faster, or help support more junior members of the group, or even apply for further funding as a named investigator to continue the work beyond the current grant.)

I disagree that trying to negotiate is necessarily a red flag, but you may look a little naive if you don't appear to appreciate budgetary constraints. But I think it would be perfectly acceptable to ask at interview how the post fits into the context of the grant; whether there is the budget to potentially renew it after X years or to hire at a higher grade; and so on.

Good luck!

  • 2
    Mostly correct, but it's normally equally difficult to pay someone more for a shorter period - if you received funding for a postdoc for 3 years, most funders expect to see you employing a postdoc for 3 years, not a senior postdoc for 2.5 or an RA for 4. This varies by funder, though. – arboviral Jun 26 '18 at 8:54
  • 2
    I've seen ads with that explicitly said that the position was either senior postdoc for 18 months or junior postdoc for 24 months (or something along those lines). – gerrit Jun 26 '18 at 10:47
  • 2
    Having said that, there is often a delay in hiring which can work in the postdocs advantage. For some grants, the university may only advertise the position after the contract has been signed, which might be after the project has already started officially. That means it may be 2–5 months after the project official start, that a postdoc would start. That means the position will be shorter, which means there should be some spare money in the budget to pay a little extra, and you may or may not be able to negotiate this extra money arguing you're doing the same work in less time. – gerrit Jun 26 '18 at 11:01
  • +1 on this. Here in Canada, only within the past decade have some institutions acknowledged that Post Docs are legally "employees"; they were previously held to be "trainees" along with grad students. Their pay is strictly pass-through grant funds and the institutions consider it a great risk that they may be held accountable for benefits or other payments to them, for which there is no budgeted money. It would be entirely appropriate for a prospective PostDoc to inquire about the source of funds from which their pay will come. – CCTO Jun 26 '18 at 18:09
7

During the selection process you interact with academics. The terms of your contract, including the starting salary, are prepared and signed by the HR department.

The relations between academic administration (e.g. Head of Department) and HR varies from place to place but I have not yet seen a University in the UK where this relation is described as ideal. It is quite usual that the HoD / selection panel is sympathetic to the arguments about the unique experience or particular life situation, but HRs would make a decision based on the specific rules they have.

The rules depend on where the funding is coming from. If the post is created by the Department, HoD / selection panel usually can suggest the salary that will be accepted. If the post is funded by the University, you will be likely offered a salary one spinal point above the final salary of your previous academic employment or the starting rate if it is your first postdoc. If the post is funded externally (e.g. via UKRI), the same rules apply within the additional restrictions imposed by limited grant budget.

To answer your question, salary negotiation in the UK is limited compared to e.g. US. In most cases, University matches or slightly increases the applicant's current salary.

3

Discipline specific advice klaxon: applicable to Bio-molecular science type fields (Mol Biol, biochem, genetics, genomics etc)

All employees at the vast majority of UK universities are paid on a single, nationally negotiated pay spine (although I recently learned that imperial is an exception to this). Your pay will be at some point on that spine.

The vast majority of postdocs will be funded from a UKRI project grant. When you apply for a grant to have to say, up to a year in advance of actually hiring, what you will pay the postdoc. Most university finance departments will encourage PIs to put point 2 or 3 on the universities Postdoc pay grade and then hire at point 1. The extra points are to cover the fact that there will almost certainly be an uplift in salaries on the national spine between applying for the grant and appointing someone. The money you are given then accounts for the fact the postdoc is expected to advance one salary point per year of employment.

However, once the funding agency gives you the grant you are not allowed to spend money earmarked for other things on salary, although you are allowed to spend less.

Now there is no reason when you apply for a grant to only apply for the lowest point on the pay grade. In my last grant we asked for enough money to appoint at point 5 because we were looking for some particularly rare skills. However, if you ask for too much the granting body is liable to reduce what you've asked for, or worst deny you the grant on a value for money basis.

The salary range in the Ad will be referring to the whole of grade 7 (look about the same as grade 7 at my uni). It shows the range of salaries you could conceivably get at the uni if you stayed long enough.

So by all means try to negotiate your salary. But don't be surprised if you just get a flat out no. That may not be because the PI doesn't want to pay more, but simply that their grant won't allow it.

0

On occasions I and my PI managed to roll an extra point on the scale when moving to a new contract. The thing to watch is hitting the top of RA I (possibly called something else now) as unlike lecturer A/B there is no automatic promotion, so you need to start applying for grade II jobs to get a raise after that.

After 14 years I made it to grade III but HR refused to consider a grade IV appointment despite the grade existing.

So my advice is to ask for a raise with each and every reappointment (even if changing institutions) some one has to compensate for the short term nature of your employment.

0

My experience is in the US and with a different sort of job, but it may help give you something to think about. First, if you are to get anything beyond the minimum, the institution has to really want you. But they have limitations in what is possible, even then.

However, there is more to life than salary. You might be more successful in negotiating other things that will amount to increased pay. You might, depending on your field, need lab space or an allowance for journals or publication fees and the like. In my case, I once asked for a quite high salary and mentioned that the reason for the request was that I have very high standards for cooperative work with colleagues around the world and so have high travel costs, beyond what most places normally pay. They suggested a lower salary but promised to cover a substantial part of my travel. My request was valid and the university followed through on their commitment, so it worked out well. It turned out that the additional travel funds weren't taxable to me also, so another win.

Think about the whole picture, not just salary, but office, etc., maybe even housing.

0

I recently did this. This was my first post doc after my phd and I have yet to do my viva. I asked when I was offered the position where I could be in the scale and manged to get a position mid point on the band.

protected by Alexandros Jun 28 '18 at 19:19

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.