I am interested in taking up a postdoctoral position in a UK institution. The appointment details write:

Appointment will be on a Fixed Term Contract for 3 years and with a starting salary in the range of £29,517 to £42,187 p.a. inclusive dependent on postdoctoral experience. It is anticipated that the starting salary will be in the range from £29,517 to £33,740 p.a. inclusive.

I just started a family and I will need ~£36,000 p.a. to break even when calculating living costs in UK (London). Is it reasonable to negotiate for a ~£36,000 p.a. salary? (I know it is somewhat on the high side but not insane by UK standards.) It is reasonable to apply in such a position and explain that I will expect an substantial increase (~10%) in my salary within my first year of employment if I start around the £32-33,000 mark?

I do not want to waste my time or theirs on this matter but clearly my cover letter is not a place to put this concern forward. I also think ill of the idea of e-mailing a potential hiring manager/team lead with queries about a salary raise right off the bat.

The USA-based post-doctoral appointment I currently hold pays ~£40,000 p.a. I do not mean to sound like a money-grubber; I am genuinely interested in the position and I think I will be a great fit for that team but I do not want to endure a ~20% pay-cut.

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    You will have to explain why you deserve the extra money. If they really want you, your family will be a valid argument, if you are just one of many candidates, your family won't be a valid argument. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 8:59
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    Salary negotiations are usually not about how much you need, but what you bring to the table. Also be aware that when comparing salaries, that things work differently between the US and the UK, e.g. public health insurance and pension contributions.
    – Gerhard
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 9:03
  • Thank you both for your comments. Yes, I checked HMRC, rents within a reasonable distance from that institution, etc. before coming up with that figure. Yes, of course, I appreciate that I will be bringing extra skills. The point is though if such a salary is plausible or they want someone within the £29-33,000 range for 3 years and the £29-42k range is just a place holder. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 9:16
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    I don't think it's realistic to to move to London and expect to break even, unless you're moving from equally extremely expensive cities. Living in London you can't realistically expect to support a family on a single post-doc salary, although you might be able to afford living ½–1 hour commute away. Commuter passes are expensive (£5024/year from Reading to London, ½ hour by train) but not as expensive as London rents.
    – gerrit
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 11:05
  • Living outside London is definitely something you should consider, some organisations offer help in paying for rail season tickets (I know that the Wellcome Trust does). You could ask about this at your interview.
    – MJeffryes
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 12:00

7 Answers 7


You have the same issue that many people do.

The cost of living in London (rent or buying a home) is often double what it is outside of London, yet salaries are about the same in London as elsewhere in the UK.

It is common for professionals (e.g. computer programmers) in their 30s to not be able to afford more than a small room in a shared house if they choose to live in London. Expecting to support a family on any “normal” single salary in London is unreasonable.

If you are willing to spend 2hr each way commuting, then you can get a lot cheaper housing, but your train ticket will often be over £5K a year. But why have a family if you are commuting so much…?

  • Thank you, I appreciate the point you raise. I apply in jobs outside London too. This question concerned a specific London opening. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 17:54
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    It's also worth noting that "London" can vary. An academic wanting to live in reasonable distance of UCL or SOAS in Bloomsbury will have a much harder time than one wanting to live in reasonable distance of UEL in Newham. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 18:40
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    On the other hand distance is not the only factor in commute times. Somewhere like UCL is close to a group of major london rail terminals. Possiblly better to have a job right in the center which you can commute to using one fast train than something slightly further out that requires changing transport. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 18:56
  • Distance, Travel Time and Travel Costs are not well collated with each other in London. If you are happy to cycle then you can find cheaper housing as most people wish to live near the transport links. (I think you could get a 2 bedroom flat for £1000 pcm within a 1hr cycle ride of UEL)
    – Ian
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 19:06

This depends heavily on the funding source. For all UK funded postdocs the pay will be set on the national scale - current rates without London weighting are up-to-date, but I'm not sure if the comments about the London weighting are correct.

For research council funded postdocs I would expect the salary range to be fixed somewhere between spine point 27 and 40, with the initial upper limit more likely around spine point 34. This is close to the numbers you quote. I would not expect much flexibility unless they can find additional funds to supplement the (fixed) funding from the grant.

On the salary increase in post: there would typically be a 1 (one!) spine point increment after the second year. I'd be very surprised if a substantial increase along the lines you're wanting could be negotiated, let alone after the first year.

If the funding is not pure research council then there may be more flexibility.

As someone who's been on both sides: I have fielded salary questions, particularly from overseas candidates, and (done sensitively) I don't think it will be held against you. The above is more a warning that the constraints of RCUK funding may make it impossible to get a solution that's acceptable to you.

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    Perhaps add that in the UK the PI doesn't set the salary, it's done by HR on the basis of candidate experience (so that all everyone on the same grade is meant to be of similar experience). (I'm assuming of course the funding has already been secured: if applying for funds for a specific researcher one can ask for more up-front.) Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 13:36
  • @JosephWright Does it mean that HR can offer a candidate higher salary than the one requested by PI from RCUK? Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 20:24
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    @DmitrySavostyanov The PI has to agree and there is a resulting cut in the length of the appointment (or the difference has to come from other allowed fund), but yes, subject to agreement from the funder. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 20:28
  • (My direct experience of this as a PI is with another funder, but as a PDRA I moved job/employer and was appointed at the 'correct' scale point without any comment on my part.) Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 20:36

When I was searching for a post-doc position, during the phone interview with the PI asked about salary. I just told him I have a family. He said he could get me something a little higher than what they were advertising. Basically, in academia, a good PI will understand your situation because he's been there.

Expanding on Ian's excellent answer, there is a best practice for salary negotiation. Your instinct is correct: don't mention money in a cover letter. They will ask you about money at some point. You are not wasting anyone's time if you are applying for a job you are seriously interested in taking. They expect to interview many candidates and have some offers they make rejected. And you should not expect that both parties could understand the complete situation from your cover letter.

The correct response to the money question for a post-doc position is simply to state you have a family to support and you'd like them to do the best they can for you. As Ian pointed out there may only be so much they can do.

Once you get an offer, you can decide if that's enough. If it's not, you can always call and tell them you'd sign instantly if you could get +x instead, if indeed that's the case. It may be they cannot. However, once they are trying to get you (i.e. post-offer), you chances are maximized.


Since there is so much new activity on this post, let me try adding some information as somebody who is currently a postdoc in the UK and understands somewhat which factors are important in the salary negotiation.

To reiterate what everybody else is saying: salary negotiations should only happen after (if) you get an offer. In general, postdoc and many other academic salaries in the UK are on a spine point system, that is dictated on the national scale. London has a certain fixed "location bonus" that any position in London would get on top of what is dictated by the national scale, to adjust for the location (which does not actually make up for the cost of living in London in mine and many other people's opinions). Negotiations on a yearly basis are not common, but until you reach the top of your salary grade, you get an increase of 1 grade point by year, corresponding to approximately £1k a year. Anything outside of that is very uncommon, and would only happen in exceptional cases (i.e. you could try to renegotiate if you were signing a new contract within the same institution, but not in the middle of a fixed-term contract which has already been signed).

What you can negotiate is a starting salary, or more precisely, where you will begin on the spine point system. A person straight out of their PhD would start at the lowest point in that range, typically with no munition to negotiate with. Now, your family situation might make your (future) postdoc advisors more willing to help you negotiate a higher salary but ultimately will not be a direct factor in determining your starting salary. I say "help you negotiate" as the salary is something that is typically negotiated with the HR, not the team/advisors that are advertising the position. Where you start on the spine point system is primarily dictated by one thing: your experience, or more precisely, years working as a postdoc. You can expect it to be relatively easy to negotiate a single spine point up from the minimum per each previous year of postdoc experience (where 1 point is approximately £1k/year).

Since it is a cultural norm in the UK to ask for the previous (current) salary while applying for positions, this can also help in negotiation somewhat. I would expect years of experience to be a primary factor, but you might be able to wrangle an extra spinal point on top of the ones you would get for the duration of your previous postdoc experience based on your previous salary.

Any "equivalent" experience could also count, e.g. some years of working in industry before returning to academia as a postdoc would count as some extra starting points, but maybe not precisely 1 point per year of experience. In such situations one might be able to negotiate how precisely the industry experience will be considered.

To summarize: you can expect to be able to easily negotiate £1k higher starting salary than the advertised minimum for each previous year of postdoc experience, plus maybe an extra £1k based on the previous salary if it was still yet higher. Your family situation might make your advisors-to-be more inclined to aid you in this negotiation by identifying the factors that could help increase your starting salary, but will not be a factor all into itself. Your can expect an approximately £1k salary increase every year (until you hit th top of the advertised salary grade), and higher jumps are virtually impossible to negotiate. Hope this helps future applicants decide whether to apply for the positions in the UK based on their situation and experience.


From a business point of view, it is MUCH easier for HR to give you a higher starting salary due to "technical excellence" or something similar, than to try and justify a large salary increase after the first year. HR asses their own job performance by breaking down cost to hire new employees, and costs to retain existing employees, respectively. In short, a 10% salary bump to just 1 worker will look weird and raise eyebrows, while a larger-than-average hire cost will not look so weird if it can be justified.

And no, I wouldn't put it on your cover letter - I would bring it up at the correct moment, which is when you negotiate the contract. No matter how valid your reasons for wanting the money, you should spend 99% of your time talking about what you will offer, not how much you will cost :)

Also, two more things I just want to get off my chest because this post really highlights the issue well:

1) You know why Medical Doctors get paid so much more than Scientists? Because they value themselves higher (rightly or wrongly) and wouldn't settle for anything less than what they're worth. If this employer can get you for a price significantly lower than your actual value, you don't just hurt yourself, you also harm the rest of us by devaluing the job.

2) It pains me to hear of highly educated, highly dedicated people, worrying if they "break even" for a deal where they take most of the risk. What an awful situation we got ourselves in to. I don't know what your situation is with you family, expenses, etc - but I would say that it's really not a crime to leave academia if it can't pay the bills. At least do your due diligence and look into other jobs that will pay you 50k+ a year, and see what that work would entail. You don't have to do it, but you give yourself more options, which will help you out immensely when negotiating the contract at the aforementioned UK institution.

EDIT for Moriarty:

enter image description here enter image description here . Not to mention better job security, working hours, paid vacation time, etc. I'm not trying to convince anyone to be a medical doctor here - rather, as someone who has both been to Med school (in the UK) and has done a PhD in basic research, the discrepancy in pay is more to do with how we value ourselves rather than, say our actual value to society (and what it would be willing to pay).

  • "medical doctors get paid so much more than scientists" – ha, not in the UK they don't. Socialized healthcare systems generally pay doctors much, much less than privatized healthcare systems.
    – Moriarty
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 15:54
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    A GP has done many years training AFTER their degree, unlike a PostDoc. A GP should be compared with a senior lecturer.
    – Ian
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 17:17
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    Thank you for your input on this. After my PhD I worked in the industry before going back to academia so in general my experience is not directly compared with a post-doc my age, this is a bit of a double-edged sword. Thanks again. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 18:02
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    What if you compare Physician / Doctor salary with the one of Professor / Reader? Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 20:21
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    That's a terrible misleading chart. The doctors' chart covers the whole career, from qualification through retirement; the scientist chart covers a few years post PhD. I work in a University Department where the non medically qualified professor earns substantially more than any of the medically qualified staff.
    – rhialto
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 21:17

Another take on this old post. I would get the offer and THEN have the negotation (up). Always keep mum and make them give a number first AND make a formal offer (send a letter). Once they've made the offer, they are psychologically committed and interested in settling the deal. So you have some traction to negotiate up.

Absolutely don't get into money before they make the offer. You want that fish on the hook. Getting into money before the offer only scares them away.

Obviously what you can command, depends on what you bring to the table. But these places are also not hedge funds paying super traders whatever they merit either. Can be issues of fairness, etc.

I would mention first your capabilities. But then also mention, SECOND, your CURRENT pay. This has a lot of strength with employers--it shouldn't (they should care about performance) but it does. If you're used to getting "X", most places will assume they need to match that. Third, I would mention that you are a served post-doc, so not a junior type. Only fourth, you can mention the family. I would not do this in the sense of them expecting to take care of you, but more to show why you won't budge down.

I would try to blissfully ignore the "first year" criteria. Get what you need to make the move. Try for 40. If they won't give you what you need, than just pass. I hope you have other offers to pursue also.

Check on benefits also. Things can be sticky for Americans overseas for health care.

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    All UK residents get free health care. This is based only on having a UK address, and is not related to job benefits. If moving as a family, everybody legally residing in the UK gets health coverage, even if some family members are unemployed or underage. Eyes and teeth are not well covered in the UK, for everybody independent of employment status. I have a feeling this is actually far less sticky than the healthcare for US citizens in the USA.
    – penelope
    Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 15:59
  • Thanks for the scoop.
    – guest
    Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 16:49

This is an old post so probably noone will see this reply... but...

I would not give someone a salary rise to someone just because they have a family. Why? This is discrimination against people who don't have families. What you're saying is that two people can work equally hard, produce equally valid science, but the one who has a spouse and kids is entitled to more money. This (among others) is the reason why many academic institutions have fixed pay scales with fixed criteria determined by HR and not the PI.

Now on the other hand, if the applicant can demonstrate that they have the skills and experience to be paid more than the basic rate, that's another story. Then there is the possibility to go to a different level on the pay scale. But personal circumstances cannot be used because it is unfair on all the other employees. People without families can have expenses and difficulties for other reasons. Postdocs are in general poorly paid and when the salary is too low to support one's personal circumstances, one has to consider other options.

I am writing this as someone who was a postdoc for many years, now hiring my own staff.

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    You seem to be writing this answer as somebody who feels like ranting, but with no understanding of the UK postdoc system which is fairly strictly defined. While I agree with your opinions, they don't have much relevance in this context, as this was not a question about opinions but rather a system which you do not seem to be familiar with. Sorry
    – penelope
    Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 15:14

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