How much should you be paid?

This is a basic question that many people struggle with, from academics to freelancers, office workers to people in the "trades".

Openly discussing pay, and transparency about how pay rates are set, are never in the best interest of your employer. This is just as true in academia as in the private sector, which is ironic since public employee salaries (e.g. university researchers) are a matter of public record!

So a tension naturally is present: faculty/administrators who are hiring staff or researchers have an incentive to pay them as low as possible (often for sensible reasons like stretching grant dollars), and prospective employees... need to pay their bills.

As a Research Scientist, I have struggled both to know what an appropriate pay for my job is, and to receive compensation at such a level.
(At UW, Research Scientist serves as a stop-gap position, bridging the postdoc and faculty academic jobs with a "staff" position, which is not protected by any unions, and has a decidedly ambiguous role within departments.)

My University claims that pay scales are based on "market rates", and that on the whole these are within acceptable ranges. They also make (though a bit tedious to find) the pay scales openly available, though the "market rate" data is not so far as I can tell. For transparency: I am a Research Scientist level 3 (though I requested to be level 4...), Pay Grade 8.

Here is my beef...

The University suggests  that people should, on average, be paid in the middle of these market pay grades.

However, this is not true.
This figure shows the distribution of salaries for Research Scientists, based on publicly available data.   Level 1 is bottom, Level 4 is top. The grey bars show the 2018 published UW pay grade min/max limits, red dots are the median (50th %) for each grade in the data, blue dots are simply the range middle – i.e. the average you might reasonably expect if pay reflected the supposed market rate. Note: this data is annual salaries, including people who didn't work an entire year (i.e. can be reported below the minimum pay)

My Takeaways

  1. Research Scientists at all levels are being paid systematically near the bottom of their pay scales. In other words: Managers are paying people as little as possible
  2. It much better to be a Level 3 than a Level 2, the mean pay goes from 43% below the range average to 34%.
  3. The lowest paid Research Scientists (as always) are getting the worst deal. The median pay is basically the  minimum allowed for Level 1 researchers, and is highly skewed towards that limit. The distributions broaden for higher Levels.

For "fun", here is one other plot I quickly made:
Take from that what you will...

The code for all this analysis can, of course, be found openly on my GitHub page

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