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I'm a PhD student that is finishing up, and I want to do a postdoc. Yesterday I went to a lecturer's house (he was above 60 years old) and I was really shocked because it is not what I expected.

Right now I live in student accommodation where I pay about £500 per month (without bills) and it is decent. But now I am really worried and sad because I don't want to be a poor academic having to live in some little awful house just to make ends meet... I want a nice house (though it does not need to be huge).

Am I worrying for no reason???

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    Knowing academics, I'd find more likely that he can afford living in a better house, but doesn't want to because he is content like this; not everyone is craving status symbols such as a big house. Or he might be the kind of person that reuses tea bags and has one million dollars on his bank account. – Federico Poloni Aug 9 '15 at 14:35
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    Since you talk about £, I assume you are talking about the UK. It is well known that an academic in London, especially at the lecturer rank, is poor. I was interested in possibly moving to the UK and was told flat out that if I wanted to have money, I should avoid London. – user3697176 Aug 9 '15 at 14:50
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    In any case, here are some raw numbers: eui.eu/ProgrammesAndFellowships/AcademicCareersObservatory/… – Federico Poloni Aug 9 '15 at 15:38
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    The average rent in London is 1500 £/month. In Yorkshire, it's 600 £/month. The same difference applies to buying a house. For your personal wealth in the UK, where you live is far more important than how much you are paid. – gerrit Aug 10 '15 at 9:17
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    @zibadawatimmy "Lecturer" in England isn't the same as a lecturer in the US. In England, this is the equivalent of an Assistant Professor. – xLeitix Aug 10 '15 at 14:31
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Current salary scales for UK academics can be found here. Lecturer pay scales start at point 30 (currently around £31k). I would expect most lecturers to be paid at point 40 or above (currently over £40k) within 10 years at most through promotion and salary increases - many that I know of did it within 5 years, or were appointed at that level or close to it.

For comparison, the UK salary deciles are reported eg here, with a source linked. £31k is in the top 30% of salaries, and £40k in the top 20%. Professorial salaries will be in the top 10% nationally.

We could make endless comparisons between countries or within different parts of the UK, but compared to salaries in general UK academics are not badly paid.

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    Until you realise that they have to work extra on top of their contract hours to get the job done because there is always too much work and too little staff... (I'd say there is work for at least 20% more staff.) - And of course many researchers only live grant to grant - tenured permanent positions are the exception for the majority of academics. – DetlevCM Aug 9 '15 at 15:37
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    @DetlevCM Both are true but neither question is about pay; and working for a small private company, the entire company may exist project to project. So uncertainty is not limited to academia. – gerrit Aug 10 '15 at 9:14
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    @DetlevCM Most professionals don't get to work 9-5, academia is not special in that respect – Calchas Aug 10 '15 at 18:04
  • @Calchas Except that you don't normally get paid overtime in academia - and during busy periods you can quickly end up with a 70 hour week - with ZERO compensation. In most regular businesses (at least assuming they aren't the exploitation type and of course assuming something like workers rights exist in the country) you will generally get some kind of compensation for extra work - this could be pay or extra holidays. – DetlevCM Aug 10 '15 at 19:16
  • If you're working 70 hours in the EU, then you've signed something (not under duress) to remove your rights under the Working Time Directive @Detlev. I also don't know where you got the idea that other businesses paid overtime - in a "professional" job this is unusual, though there might be a bonus at some point in the year. – Ben Aug 10 '15 at 21:04
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The standard of living you'll attain depends massively on where you are and what field you are in (note that my answer assumes tenure, rather than the horribly exploited condition of adjunct professors).

In the United States, for example, liberal arts professors are typically paid much less well than professors in science and engineering subjects, who are in turn paid much less well than law or medicine instructors. Location makes a difference too: a big midwestern state university will probably pay less well than Harvard, but Ann Arbor is a lot cheaper to live in than Boston. In general, though, you should expect that a professor can have a relatively comfortable (if not lavish) lifestyle.

In other countries, academics may have significantly higher or lower relative standards of living.

FYI: For many US public universities, their employees are considered government employees and thus subject to public disclosure of their salaries. You can thus find the salary distribution of most positions directly yourself if you wish. For example, searching this database of the University of Illinois system shows that University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign currently has 632 assistant professors: the highest paid make around $200K (at the business school), the lowest paid are visiting professors and clinical professors for whom the bulk of their income is clearly elsewhere, and the vast majority make in the range of $60K - $120K, with humanities at the low end and biomedical sciences at the high end.

  • Hmm, let us constrain to US and Germany, UK, Italy, France and Spain. Suppose I am a postdoc or a lecturer (not a professor). Do you think it is still good? Since i have no way to know if I'll be a professor, and anyway, that is many many years away. – C_Al Aug 9 '15 at 14:48
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    @C_Al My salary as a postdoc was double that of my salary as a graduate student, which is relatively normal in the US. I think the typical range is approximately 1.5x to 3x. I don't know the statistics for Western Europe. Postdoc, however, is expected to be only a couple of years way-station on the way to a more permanent position that will likely amplify your salary by a similar factor. – jakebeal Aug 9 '15 at 15:07
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    @C_Al As a "PostDoc" in Germany you would have no job security and live temporary contract to temporary contract - also beware that there is a time limit for temporary contracts too. – DetlevCM Aug 9 '15 at 15:39
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    @DetlevCM, postdocs in most countries are intended to be short-term, and this is stated up front. The whole point is to give you a little time to publish things from your dissertation, broaden your horizons, and find a permanent position. Tenure-track faculty positions have little security either. You either make tenure in 6 or 7 years or are fired. – Bill Barth Aug 9 '15 at 16:44
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There are already a couple of good answers but there is another point:

You do not stay in academia to make money.

Just on an anecdotal side from a friend in Russia, you'd be hard pressed to live from the pay you get there - it is very little. In most "western" countries you get enough to live decently, but then quite often you live grant to grant, especially if you do research.

Permanent positions are far and few - and mainly coupled to teaching - so if you really want to stay in academia you will have to aim for something like lecturer/senior lecturer (and maybe a professorship eventually).

Now there will be some people who make a lot of money in academia, but these will be far and few again. To earn a lot in academia (aside from being at the dean or vice chancellor level for the UK), you would have to be so important to the teaching/research of the university that they will do their best to keep you. But then again, they will possibly try to keep you with research resources rather than personal pay.

If you are only motivated by money, industry would be the place that - depending on subject - pays better eventually (or sometimes already right at the start).

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    Of course, I am not too worried about money, but I think you need to be happy in your own home. Some places I have seen are horrible. – C_Al Aug 9 '15 at 16:17
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    @c_al: some folks are perfectly happy to continue living like a somewhat-well-funded student. Different people have different priorities. – keshlam Aug 9 '15 at 16:29
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I think the broader concern is that in academia, you take jobs where you can get them, and you might not get the chance to live in the kind of town/city that most appeals to you.

I'll speak to the US because that's what I know, but I'm guessing that the UK is roughly similar. In research universities here, it is relatively typical for assistant professors to make around $70K, and for tenured professors to make around $100K. (There are, of course, outliers in both directions.)

As it turned out, I got a job in a rather small city. The city is quite inexpensive, and it's very easy to find spacious and convenient housing on a professor's salary. The downside is that it's somewhat dull, the public schools are only so-so, and the dating scene is limited.

People who get jobs in the Bay Area, Boston, New York, Seattle, etc. (and I'm guessing also London) have the opposite problem. These places are very exciting and considered extremely desirable by many, but academics living there typically have to compromise on the kind of housing they can afford.

The job market is extremely competitive. If you are very, very lucky, then you might be able to choose between these two sets of tradeoffs. That said, most of the tenure-track or tenured academics whom I know are happy with their housing situation.

9

What you mention is an anecdotal fact. According to a recent New York Times article, the salary of someone not at the beginning of her career is sufficient to support a middle-class standard of living. This is statistics, each person has a specific personal situation (a partner with a good job or with no job, no or a lot of children, a side job as a consultant, etc.). If you don't know the personal situation and way of living of this lecturer, there is nothing you can conclude with your visit.

5

You should read this:

My mid life crisis, by the way, was having three kids preparing to go to college and realizing that even a senior tenured professor at a good university can’t send them to college and can’t buy a house.

This Georgia Tech professor then resigned from his position, and joined Amazon. So your lecturer is in better situation, because he has his own house.

Since you are paying £500 per month for student accommodation, I guess you live around London or Cambridge, because in the north, even in the biggest city like Manchester, one can rent a 3 bed room apartment with the same amount of money.

In these areas, around London, Cambridge, Oxford etc, as long as you have your own house, you should be happy. You can check the house prices in Zoopla, and estimate the time you can buy a house by mortgage with your expected salary.

I give you an example. I have a friend who are working as a Software Engineer in Cambridge with a salary of £50k per year, i.e. equal to that of a lecturer. He is paying mortgage for a one bed room apartment, far from the center, for 30 years.

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    To that article: it's worth pointing out that Greg Duncan, who said that, was at Georgia Tech; the median salary of the 494 people there with job title "professor" in 2014 was almost $160,000/year. (here, search "Units of the University System" / "Georgia Institute of Technology", sort by salary, click to halfway) Though someone like him can obviously make much more money in industry, "can't send [three kids] to college and can't buy a house" seems like an overstatement; $160k is in the top 10% of US households even assuming zero spousal income. – Dougal Aug 10 '15 at 5:19
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    @Dougal I don't know about Georgia, but here in Mountain View, California, you can't buy a decent house with $160k/year. Note that the tax is around 40%, and there is no decent house that value less than $ 1 million. I know several well-respected researchers at NASA Ames who could not buy a house after more than a decade working here. And they haven't had kid yet. – qsp Aug 10 '15 at 6:36
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    £500 pcm will not get a 3 bed house in nice parts of Manchester. However rents are still about half in Manchester then Cambridge – Ian Aug 10 '15 at 9:28
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    @C_Al You can afford it, salary for postdoc is about double that of a PhD student. But having your own apartment is a totally different story. If you want high salary, try to find a postdoc in Switzerland, many PhD students there have higher salary than lecturers in the UK (75K CHF with 10% tax). – qsp Aug 10 '15 at 15:48
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    @qsp Mountain View has one of the most famously expensive housing markets in the country; Georgia not so much. Also Duncan said he went to Georgia Tech because of a two-body problem, which means he has a spouse who is also a professor and so is presumably making similar amounts of money. I'm not saying they'll be rolling in it, but they would certainly have been far better off than most of the country. – Dougal Aug 10 '15 at 16:41
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(The following answer focuses on France)

Researchers

In France, CNRS researchers (largest governmental research organisation in France) are paid according to the class they belong to (monthly gross salary):

  • chargé de recherche de 2 ème classe: between 2 200 € and 2 600 €
  • chargé de recherche de 1 ère classe: between 2 300 € and 3 900 €
  • directeurs de recherche: between 3 000 € and 6 000 €.

In addition to the base salary researchers get some bonus that can go up to 1275 EUR per year:

Each grade has several levels that determine the remuneration of researchers . The gross monthly salary research managers is between € 3,000 and € 6,100 (assessments in September 2007) . In addition to the base salary directeurs de recherche receive a yearly research bonus ranging from 650 to 1275 EUR (depending on the corps and grade) and , where applicable, family supplements.


Professors

The following two Wikipedia pages contain the salary grid for Maître de conférences and Professeur des universités:

enter image description here - Professeur des universités

enter image description here


Research engineers

Gross salary for research engineers working in public institutions:

Ingénieur de recherche de 2ème classe

  • Début de carrière : 1907,68 euros
  • Milieu de carrière : 2 546,66 euros
  • Fin de carrière : 3 301,39 euros  

Ingénieur de recherche de 1ère classe

  • Début de carrière : 2 694,83 euros
  • Milieu de carrière : 3 398,63 euros
  • Fin de carrière : 3 801,46 euros  

Ingénieur de recherche hors classe

  • Début de carrière : 3 046,73 euros
  • Milieu de carrière : 4 079,28 euros
  • Fin de carrière : 4 458,97 euros

For the sake of comparison, the monthly gross median wage in France is around 1717€, and the average monthly net income is 2128€.

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