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I'm currently an assistant professor at a US university, three years away from coming up for tenure. Recently, a former colleague of mine who is a professor at a university in the UK approached me about joining their institution, as they were advertising a search in my area for all ranks (Lecturer-Professor).

Even though the interview didn't go particularly well in my opinion, I just got a job offer for Reader. However, their offer would effectively require me to take a 40% salary cut. When I applied, there was a form that asked me about my current salary. After asking about this, they replied that my current salary was not taken into account as it would create a "salary anomaly" with respect to what other Readers are being paid and that the salary isn't negotiable. Note that their job ad only stated a very broad salary range (for all ranks) and hence I did not anticipate this before applying.

  1. Is this the usual experience when applying for academic jobs in the UK? Or, does this perhaps indicate that my application wasn't perceived to be particularly good after all?
  2. They also stated that Reader is a "leadership position" in contrast to my current position and hence it would be a promotion. However, it's not exactly clear to me what this means in practice: Apart from the obvious advantage of not having to go through the tenure process, what other benefits does a Reader position provide over Assistant Professor?
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    It's simple. Pluviphiles take the job. Pluviphobes don't. – samerivertwice Dec 29 '19 at 10:06
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    Can't edit the post, but you shouldn't use blockquotes if you're not quoting someone (or something). – pipe Dec 30 '19 at 6:24
  • Is there any option to try this as a placement, job exchange, or swap ? That way you could try for a year for The Experience before you commit. – Criggie Dec 30 '19 at 21:40
  • I think the answers below are already great, just a few things to add: a) put the university's ranking into consideration: this impacts the opportunities you will get (e.g., attracting good students, connections, etc.). b) The salaries in UK unis should be available online; Google "salary pay scale [university name]" and then negotiate for a higher salary within your Grade, and c) moving to a new academic system will cost you some time to get used to things. I suggest you check the professorial promotion criteria (google it or ask their HR) and assess it in comparison to your current pathway – Mohamed Khamis Jan 2 at 1:20
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Yes, UK salaries are currently significantly lower than US salaries at most ranks, and don't have much room for negotiation outside of a standard range. The only exception to this is "professor" in the UK (which is often closer to distinguished professor in the US) where there's more latitude for higher salaries.

One major reason for the salary gap is that as recently as Summer 2015 the pound was worth nearly 1.6 US dollars. If it comes back up then their offer would be more competitive, while if it goes down further then the offer will look even worse.

The only meaningful advantages I can see of a Reader over a US Assistant professor as a position is that there's more job security. But presumably if you're a strong candidate for a Readership you shouldn't be too worried about tenure, and at many US schools this offer would get you tenure this year in a retention package. (There are lots of advantages and disadvantages of UK vs. US which I won't get into, I'm only talking about the rank comparison.)

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    The other meaningful difference between Assistant Prof and Reader is that you're considerably higher up the academic tree, which is likely to translate into (a) more opportunities to shape the department's overall direction in research & teaching, and (b) more invitations to participate in strategic projects (multi-institution grant applications etc). You may or may not see these as advantages. – avid Dec 28 '19 at 20:55
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    I’m not sure if this is a UK/US difference or if my department is unusually inclusive of assistant professors, but I felt like I had a good amount of say in my department as an assistant professor and it hasn’t increased noticeably as an associate. I guess the main difference was that I am now able to serve on the hiring committee, which is a meaningful perk. I think multi-institution grants may be rarer in the US? I don’t know a meaningful number of people who have them at any rank. – Noah Snyder Dec 29 '19 at 0:15
  • Is some of the disconnect here that in the UK teaching is more standardized and so dept level decisions are more important relative to the US where most decisions about teaching are made by the professor for each individual class? Enough of the UK people on this thread are disagreeing with me to make me think I’m missing something, but most of what they’re saying doesn’t seem to me to map onto the Assistant/Associate difference in the US. – Noah Snyder Dec 29 '19 at 0:23
  • In addition to salary compensation, other factors should be considered as well (ie: benefits, pension, the lack of need for health insurance, etc) when coming up with the full value proposition. – J... Dec 30 '19 at 21:44
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In my view it is completely misleading to compare salaries at all as you are ignoring the cost of living and other differences. You seem to be equating a UK salary with seniority based on a strict conversion to USD and seeing where that fits in the salary scale. This position is definitely a promotion.

The best way that I know of to compare salaries is to find the average (pre-tax) salary for both locations and compare the salary based on what multiple it is of the average. This gives a relative 'well-offness' rating.

However, UK academic salaries have the oddity that they are essentially the same wherever you are working. Really a lecturer salary in London is unliveable but is very good in say Northern England. Even a reader salary would be a struggle to live on in London if you were trying to support a family. So you definitely need to consider the cost of living in your comparison. Use a property rental site to get an idea as housing would be the biggest expense.

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    I'll say a reader salary is quite nice in Scotland, and I live(d) in a particularly expensive bit of Scotland. I'm leaving in a week's time, mind. Healthcare and prescriptions are free up here. Dental care is partially free and otherwise costs next to nothing by US standards. – GrotesqueSI Dec 28 '19 at 11:42
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    Oh yes, food is cheaper in the uk compared to the US, at least it will be until Brexit. I have found cost of wifi and mobile phone contracts to be significantly cheaper in the UK. – GrotesqueSI Dec 28 '19 at 11:46
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    Scotland also has free university, which is a huge benefit if you have kids. Health care in the US is terrible in general, but it’s often affordable and good if you’re a professor. Many of the advantages of UK over US don’t apply once you have a TT university job, so a lot of the trade off is giving up salary for a better life for your children. – Noah Snyder Dec 28 '19 at 15:06
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    Good answer, except for the grotesque exaggeration of calling these salaries “unliveable” in London. You certainly won't get rich off them but they're most assuredly liveable. Furthermore, you might actually earn more in London due to the London allowance which also exists for academic jobs, though doesn't quite cover the difference. – Konrad Rudolph Dec 28 '19 at 22:18
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    @KonradRudolph With the London allowance, lecturer starts at either 36k (grade7) or 44 (grade 8). I don't think 36k covers decent accommodation (or cheaper accommodation + expensive transport if living an hour outside London) + typical student debt payment + utilities, food etc. Sure, it's liveable in the strict sense of living in a 6 room HMO, but I don't think it's a 'grotesque' exaggeration. – JenB Dec 29 '19 at 10:10
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To add a bit more to the other fine answer:

  1. There is a set and published salary range for Senior Lecturer/Reader at each UK University, and they are all close to the same. At my (and other) UK Unis this is grade 9. If you search for the University in question's salary scales, you can see the grade 9 range and that is what you have to work with. They cannot offer you more without making you a professor and making you a professor would be strange indeed (see 2)

  2. Untenured assistant professor to reader is really quite a big promotion in UK terms. You started at what we'd call Lecturer and you've skipped a whole academic rank (Senior Lecturer) that most people would spend a few years at. As a reader you may be asked to serve as head of department, or on higher level University committees, etc. Yet the service jobs wont be as onerous as those for being a professor. You might get a further teaching buyout due to taking on some of these service roles. You'll have less teaching than the US anyway. As you are in a promoted position, more funding opportunities will be available to you via the research councils as you'll look senior on your CV. You also have the ability to apply for promotion to professor in your next promotion round (or as soon as you feel like you have the evidence). Reader is quite a good position to be in.

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    Note, if you find that they have offered you something on the low end of the Reader salary range, you can ask to go up a few pay spines. That's certainly an acceptable request. – GrotesqueSI Dec 28 '19 at 9:16
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    Higher ranks are an advantage when there are fixed salary ranges, but I don’t see why they’re an advantage otherwise. Most of what you list seem obviously like disadvantages (increased administrative responsibilities). The research council point may be relevant in the UK, but in the US assistant professors aren’t at a significant disadvantage for grants, and at any rate the UK is barely going to have grants post-Brexit. – Noah Snyder Dec 28 '19 at 15:19
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    @NoahSnyder "the UK is barely going to have grants post-Brexit" that's certainly true and is exactly why I'm leaving. – GrotesqueSI Dec 28 '19 at 16:08
  • It’s not true that they can’t offer more to a reader. In some subjects “market supplements” are common, and these are sometimes large. The reason stated (that they want to avoid a pay anomaly) seems plausible to me. Having one reader being paid twice , say, what all the others make will be costly to morale. – dothyphendot Dec 28 '19 at 18:19
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    I think to write that "You'll have less teaching than the US anyway" is very institution dependent and cannot be stated with any confidence unless you know which are the two institutions. – Virgo Dec 29 '19 at 0:28
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Comparing salaries across the Atlantic is really difficult, because there is so much difference in what they have to cover. It's worth using a cost-of-living index from the web to compare your old and new cities, but then you need to allow for differences in Healthcare costs, education costs if you have kids, the greater level of municipal services provided out of taxation... In general there's less you have to pay for in the UK. If you're potentially staying for a long time, then most UK academic jobs come with good pensions, where "behind the scenes" your employer currently contributes over 20% of your gross salary (this is currently under threat, and so may not continue to be the case. But it'll still remain better than the usually non-existent employer contributions in the US).

With all that said, under the current exchange rate a UK Reader is still likely to earn less than a US Professor (which is roughly the equivalent rank), but the differences can be smaller than they first appear.

As others have said, there are fixed national pay spines that most UK universities adhere to. You can find this with a search engine. Reader would usually be a Band 9 job (check the job ad to confirm), and there will be a range of salary points within Band 9. Within the band, the spine point is down to the individual institution. A common approach is for people to start at the bottom of their band and move up by one point each year, until they "max out" at the top of the band - at which point pay rises don't stop, because the pay scale as a whole is negotiated nationally each year, but they slow down dramatically. Universities can start people at a higher point within the band - a common reason is that somebody was previously earning more elsewhere - but the given reason of not paying the new guy more than existing staff of similar rank is a plausible one.

Jumping from Assistant Prof to Reader is a big leap up the academic ladder - some would argue that it skips a level - and while of course there will be personal considerations around any relocation, the biggest "advantage" is that you get this on your CV - so if, in a few years time, you find yourself moving back to the US, you will probably be looking to do so at full US Professor level (I'm not sure if/how "bypassing" the tenure process like that works, but that's a different question)

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  • "Comparing salaries across the Atlantic is really difficult". It's actually not that hard to calculate, see this post. The US will come out on top most of the time. And if you're about to decide where to spend 10 years, it wouldn't be a stretch to spend an entire week making a detailed calculation, as your financial wellbeing depends on it. – JonathanReez Dec 29 '19 at 16:21
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    "But it'll still remain better than the usually non-existent employer contributions in the US" - all employers contribute around 10% of your salary to social security. Plus many employers match 401k (private pension fund) contributions. Retiring professors in the US are way way wealthier than their European counterparts, presuming they worked at a good institution and saved their money. – JonathanReez Dec 29 '19 at 16:22
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    @JonathanReez Huh, I stand corrected - I understood that employer contributions to 401ks were rare nowadays. However, I've only worked in the US at postdoc level, and certainly the inequalities are greater over there ;-) I fully believe that retiring professors in the US are way wealthier, if you add "provided that nobody in their family got seriously ill" :-/ – Flyto Dec 29 '19 at 16:25
  • @JonathanReez: All UK employers contribute 10% national insurance towards our equivalent of Social Security. All University employers also contribute ~20% of salary to the "University Superannuation Scheme (USS)" on top of that. Employers must also pay 8% into the scheme (note Unis are paying more than twice what employees pay). If you pay into this for 30 years, it gives you a guaranteed retirement income of 50% of your career average salary indefinitely. Such "defined benefit" pension schemes are rare both sides of the Atlantic these days. – Ian Sudbery Dec 31 '19 at 13:54
  • Thats not to suggest that US professors are not wealthier than UK ones. At a comparable level on the ladder, they almost always are. But the pension is pretty amazing. 50% of your salary for life for only 8% of your salary is something you'd struggle to match with a 401k, certainly with zero-risk. – Ian Sudbery Dec 31 '19 at 13:56

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