After PhD in Biology, My Salary is Just $45,000 in USA

I (Harini) Came across this post by accident – Overall Graduate Education in India is Pathetic.

While the comparisons pretty much hit the nail on the head could you guys stop and think that there is more to this world than just engineers?

While the Govt of India spend lakhs on an IIT student and while the rest of the engineers either make it out of the country or get decent MNC jobs somewhere in India, what about the other losers like me who love science, the other science, I mean Biology.

While you don’t get a second glance in India even with a Master’s I came here to the US to pursue a PhD.

NO I am not considered brain drain and my GREEN PASTURE was just higher education.

Now after 7yrs of PhD, I am stuck as a postdoc for years now.

While an engineering Masters guy who shared an apt with 10 other similar people drives a Mercedes 3yrs later, I am stuck with a old Camry.

While the new US educations system is all gungho about science and technology there is nothing rosy about the future of science in the US too.

I don’t have a green card ( my boss makes me work 55 hr shifts for 45K and wont let me think about my future), cannot travel to India(no money) and seriously thinking of applying for WIC or any other govt assistance I can get since I am in my late thirties and with 2 kids.

They say there are jobs in the industry, but neither I nor the scores of other post docs I know how to get an interview.

However friends who have completed their PhD from India and stayed put are in decent Govt jobs which pay close to a lakh per month and ofcourse are having all the fun.

While they are celebrating Diwali today, I am sneakily typing up this post and hoping my boss does not catch me and dump another 5 hrs worth of experiments on my head.

There is no green pastures any where for us from this side of the science world. Cheers!

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    1. I was offered 46k as an adjunct.

      I left academia and got a “real job” as a financial advisor with one of the largest investment firm. Did I waste the time on the PhD? No, my client like to work with someone who proved that they are smart, hardworking, and pay attention to detail.

  1. Wow! this is a really interesting post stating my oponion abt the difference btw science and IT! well as the writer says the reality of science future its very hard for people like me to decide upon what to do?? I m one big fanatic abt biology (i m from biotechnology background) i also am a big fan of luxury and i dont mind accepting this as every human needs it!! i see my friends who are from a background are now earning a pretty good salary and on the other side my classmates have shifted their fields or got adjusted with jobs of a normal salary just meeting their domestic expenses …..!This always gets me thinking about my contribution to
    science right now and as i am now applying for MS and thinking of pursuing PhD later i am hopelessly confused! well one thing i always remember is i take proud in doing something that is understood by only some ppl and that is a million dollor feeling not even a ferrari can satisfy! Anyone have any suggestions plz let me know!!

    1. when you choose biology you should think about its future . so if you want luxury in life you should avoid biology . on the other if you want to feel the real beauty of biology then you have to avoid luxury . you cant change the whole system but can change yourself . If you are steady in you position nothing can frustrate you , all IT graduates
      are not well paid and theoretically they are frustrated . Dont be shaky , enjoy your life .

  2. HI,
    I had also encountered almost the same problem in India even. I had to left my PhD after working almost for 2.5 years to met my immediate needs. I had to wait for 6 months to get a perfect job & I am feeling better now. However I still love to do science & to get a PhD and that too from US.

  3. ok so…..not to load more shit on u. But lets do a reality check.
    Just doing a PhD wont guarantee u a good job. What PhD needs is publications. Good ones. 7 years for PhD?? Really? I’m not doubting your capability, it is possible you got a bad guide but whatever, thats another black mark. To me, your post seems like u are doing PhD just for the heck of it, to get a good job. PhD is research and u cannot progress until you think beyond jobs and really love your work. Tell me can u think up ideas for something that u dont love? Do you expect your prof to spoon-feed u? Wake up
    And yes, for PhD, the university status doesnt matter, If u are even in MIT, yet your PhD has no value, u r going nowhere. If u have to flaunt that, let me tell my story. Have u heard of the group of 8 institutes? Yes, its the Ivy League equivalent in australia. I had an admit from one of those univs, yet I gave it up to pursue my phd in a much smaller university in US. Why? Because I’m thinking of what I’ll love doing, what interests me, rather than something that I have to do as obligation.
    Buck up. Love ur work. Think of what you’re doing. The day you really understand the charm of research, nobody can stop you.

    ps: @Raghu : I’m thinking of doing another post on phd…how to choose a univ for it. May I?

  4. Why people are discouraging young researchers by saying all this? It is not a good idea. Just be proud that you have a doctorate degree . Design a project and look for agencies that can fund it. You are doing one of the world’s best jobs!!! Making your brains work isnt easy and not many people can do it. The stupid mundane job can be done by anyone and they call themselves as engineers!!! and get paid like hell. Time has come researchers should join together and do something about this not just post comments and discourage young people who are interested in this field.
    Believe me it is one of the world’s best job paid the least.. But this has to change. But not by discouraging people but by creating a gateway. Congrats that your brain thinks and made you earn a doctoral degree.

  5. I think she’s just outlining the tough side of a PhD.
    I just wanted to ask you, seeing as I’m stepping into lifesciences – would an MS graduate get a research position in an industry? How difficult would it be to shift from an industry job to research in a few years?

  6. Hi This is Harini again. Nice range of comments below.
    Its good that people are smart enough to know that doing a PhD is a saints job. But don’t everyone want everything. To those who are surprised that Phds are not saints LOL. Yes! PhD people also marry, have kids and want to settle down eventually. We did PhD for the love of Science but that does not mean we want to live like beggars too.

    1.I am comparing PhDs in India and PhD life in USA. I said those who completed PhD education in India are doing much better.
    2. For those who said I did not get a job,I am in a IVY LEAGUE School so I have done the best science. I also mentioned that there are other scores of PhD completed people looking for jobs in the USA. You may have been the smarter ones who got a job.
    4. And NO THEY DON’T DISH OUT PROFESSOR JOBS or Jobs in the Industry!!
    5. To those who are empathizing with the situation and know how research is, good luck guys.
    6. To LAYLA who wants only science and no Diwali, talk to me in 10yrs.

    The point of my post was I know people love to come to the USA to get their green pastures, whatever it may be. But no one tells you the tough life we lead out here.
    Its not all Manhattan and people in leather jackets walking about.
    It gets too hard to turn the clock around once you get here and start investing so much time. People who have been here for 2yrs and single find it hard to go back so nothing to say about other who have kids with no friends in the field back home to ask for help.
    Between visa issues, not being able to save money (again talking about a avg. post doc salary) its a vicious circle.
    I know people will say ” She has the seen the US and now does not want us to come”
    but I am only portraying the tougher reality.

    And I am all of people making wiser choices in career. I am talking to that dreamy 16yr old who loves the DNA and think who can cure cancer someday.


    1. Good job Harini on letting those young people know that its not a walk in the park.
      Just adding one last point, I am sure engineers have their own problems and for that matter any profession; their life is not perfect either. The grass is always greener on the other side.
      The takeaway is, what you want to be in life can be decided as follows, think of what you want the most (other than your profession). Then think that working in your field, you will NEVER get that thing. If you are still willing to be in that profession, go ahead and do it or else you need to give it a serious thought.
      Struggle and hard-work overcome everything. Best of luck!

  7. Most of the comment here are about the love with science over the money. Although it is true that one should pursue a PhD in science (any sub field) only if one is in love with it and financial concerns are of secondary importance and should be happy if one is earning enough to fulfill one’s domestic responsibilities without having to worry about future source of income. However, isn’t it unfair if one has to struggle every now and then just to be barely able to survive? Nobody doing PhD will ever (in my opinion) demand for a luxurious living but the income should be sufficient to, at least, sustain the basic requirements (especially the education of one’s children to ascertain their future) without worries. It is not possible to enjoy your work even when you are passionate about it if your family is facing financial crisis.

    People who are not in research may not realize this but all the technologies that you see around you, be it a toothbrush or latest high density memory device or latest more efficient way of treating cancer or some new medicine prohibiting HIV growth or any other revolutionary technology, are invented/discovered in labs with a workforce involving PhD students and faculties working on the same thing for years. Things like these which people take for granted are achieved after hours and hours of toil (there are no holidays, festival, fixed number of working hours and there are no days and nights). If some people are going through all this and asking for some financial security, I dont think its a lot to ask. If all these PhDs stop working and go for jobs at MNCs, the world would stagnate, there wont be anything new to work on.

    Just for instance, consider the existing compact/portable hard drives that are being used almost everywhere nowadays. Where do you think it came from? People who are unaware of its history should try to check it out. You’ll realize the enormous amount of time (in decades) people have devoted to materialize their ideas which benefits the whole humankind and in addition, you’ll also realize the role of these PhD students in these inventions. People may not know this but the technology used in present generation storage devices have now reached its limits, it cant be improved further. The next generation of high density storage device are going to make use of technology that it fundamentally different from what is being used now. And people have been working on this new technology for about 15 years. Though the technology has already been realized but at present it cant be mass produced. This is where PhDs come in. People are now working on ways to mass produce this technology. This is the kind of work a PhD student does. No MNC or MBA or other high pay-scale jobs can replace this.

    And this is just one example related to material science/condensed matter research. The same is true for all the sub-fields of science. The work of a PhD student is of fundamental importance. All they ask for is some sort of financial security so that they can keep doing their work. If people respond to their request by suggesting that they should drop their work for a job or keep doing their job without expecting any improvement, I think it is a kind of insult (keeping in mind the importance of their work which is never publicized).

    1. “Nobody doing PhD will ever (in my opinion) demand for a luxurious living but the income should be sufficient to, at least, sustain the basic requirements (especially the education of one’s children to ascertain their future) without worries.”

      Really? Do you think all scientists are white hair, bearded and scatter brain people? Get real and stop talking what you see in fiction.

      Then I see a Mechanical Engineer in overalls with grease on this clothes.
      A politician taking a bus and living a middle class life.

      GET REAL!! Everyone has needs. No one can stereotype anybody.
      Its nice that you have a high regard for those in science or so it seems, but to tell me I don’t need any more money than to send my kids to school is not your call! We( I say that because there are scores of other PhDs/PostDocs) are not asking to be millionaires here, but a secure job future after having invested so much time in science.

      1. Harini,

        “We( I say that because there are scores of other PhDs/PostDocs) are not asking to be millionaires here, but a secure job future after having invested so much time in science.”

        This is what I am trying to say. What I have done is outlined minimum requirements of a PhD student considering them as humans with certain minimum needs. I am from one of the IITs and right now a PhD student in one of the US universities. I know how the life is and what kind of financial crisis and mental harassment people go through here. But you seem to have the tendency of criticizing everything. Read my comment and think if I am implying that a PhD does not want to be a millionaire or trying to stereotype anybody. Thing is if you have chosen to pursue PhD, you should be aware of what you are going to face ahead. If things don’t turn out as you would have thought then deal with it, this is what you learn in a PhD : things never ever take a pre-meditated course and you have to continuously improvise.

        I do want to be a millionaire, everybody does, but I also love my job (research, in fact its my priority). So its my problem to reconcile my needs (not yours or anybody else’) with my work. I too have to look after a family. It is my job to see that I do what I want to and also get what I want. This is what being an entrepreneur means.

        Try to be optimistic and try to make the most of what you’ve got. If you don’t learn this in your PhD, then its a complete waste of time.

  8. I am really sad to see the some of the comments to this post than by the post itself. Pardon me if I sound rude but People, who say that “those who chose to do PhD and go on that path are supposed to be saint and should not have any desire for money and should only like what they do in lab” have not a damn idea about what a PhD is and why somebody is crazy enough to do it. Yes, they chose it because they love science and that’s why they DARED to dedicate 5-7 years of their lives to it and that’s it love of science or topic stops at that point. After that its just another low paying job. Please do not forget the fact that they are also human and have similar needs to run a family decently.

    Although I agree that its unfair to compare the current status of Harini to those who are doing jobs in India after their masters/bachelors/phd in India because by doing PhD/Post-Doc in US you have experience and edge which those people in India mostly don’t. You might not realize it now but the benefits of these are shown only in long term.

    Harini, I can see that you are obviously stressed from the work load and holiday season in India is just aggravating that feeling. In my opinion what you need is a balance in your work and personal life so that you can devote some time for job search. Getting a job in Industry is hard but not impossible, you just need to build a good network. Start from basics:

    – Get in touch with your University’s Career Center.
    – Connect with people in Conferences/Exhibitions. By now you should understand the value of references in academia.
    – Using social networks like LinkedIn/AfterCollege religiously won’t hurt.

    Given that there are less jobs for Bio as such but I do know that there is lot of money in Pharmaceutics in US. Depending on your background you can explore your options.

    Lastly, during a post-doc you are supposed to be equal to your adviser, you are supposed to work with him, not under him. You should be a able to discuss with him which experiments you need to do and how much time you need to devote in lab. To me it sounds like you are still working like a graduate student which is not fair to you.

    I am sure with a calm and active pursuit you can explore different opportunities available to you. And yeah, please don’t even think of comparing with guys doing job in US after doing Master’s in US that’s apple and banana. You haven’t started doing real job yet, so saying that my salary is just 45k after PhD in US is invalid.

    All the best,

    1. Living is UAS comes with its own pros and cons.

      If celebrating Diwali and being with friends, family is if more important to you then you should live in India.

    2. Kumar@ Very true. I clarified in my latest comment above why I am comparing apples and bananas. Since this is a study/career outside the USA blog I am only voicing the realities of people in research who are in a Catch 22 situation. Between long working hours, fear of being replaced by another easily available postdoc, finding a job which will also cater to your personal and visa requirements is hard. No, not all professors treat postdocs as equal.
      Most bosses hire you for a skill set and with the economic crunch on Science in the US its all about publications and nothing else.
      Raghu@ You did not get my point here. Its not about Diwali, I have’nt celebrated it in a long time while doing my Science and don’t regret it. I am giving a glimpse into the life of a postdoc.

      1. If you have the required skill, experience and ability, you need not fear a replacement. This is one of the good things in US compared to India. In India your job mostly depends on politics (and less on merit) even in institutes like IITs. If you are a PhD from a good university in US and try to find a job in top notch institutes in India, chances are that you wont get it if you are in line with other people who have done their PhDs from IITs, though you may have more skill and experience. This is why standard of research in pure sciences in IITs are not improving.

        Pressure environment is a part of US work culture. You have to remain competitive throughout your life in order to remain in office. You cant expect things to get smoother in time even if you are from an Ivy league university. You have no other option but to deal with it or quit. The sooner you realize this better it will be for you. Whining and blame here will not do any good here, being optimistic, aggressive and competitive is the best course of action you can take as a researcher. Nobody will give you what you want, you’ll have to take it.

  9. I am very glad that someone has posted about real scenario of science and research in US. By the time I completed my MS in US from NYU, I had a decent research experience in my hand and could have easily landed into top universities for PhD, but I have chosen not to go for it.

    I believe going for PhD is a big decision in your career and you should ask few questions to yourself before going for it otherwise you’ll always regret.

    1. Are you passionate enough for science that everything else is secondary to you or is it just because you think you’ll get higher salary after completing it? “Well..Think again..!!!!”

    If you are thinking by doing PhD you’ll be earning more. Well 90% of the time, the simple answer is “No”. You’ll be stuck at maximum 3500$/month for next 10 years (I am counting years for Post-docs also.) Well getting into Pharma/Biotech Industry after PhD will not be an easy task because you are overqualified for most of the jobs and mind you even after PhD its not easy to get a job here in US. So if you dont care about money and science is the only passion in your life, I’ll suggest you to go for it.

    2. Are you patient enough to spend 6 years and 6 years of postdoc with ($1500-$3500)/month?

    It’s not the matter of someone has ability to do PhD or not, Its the matter of patience. After 5-6 years of Industrial experience you’ll be earning more than 100K easily, If you choose the QA/QC, manufacturing and validation side of Biotech/Pharma Industry. I want to say that you have to choose your way very wisely taking every aspect of it into consideration.

    3. Are you going for PhD just for a higher degree?

    If you are going for PhD just for higher degree, I’ll suggest you not to do so. Doing PhD requires lot of hard work and motivation. If you’re doing it just for the sake of degree, without any interest. Mind you, you are creating very difficult situations for yourself in the upcoming years.

    4. Always keep in mind that the growth in research is very slow. It’ll not be easy for you to climb up the ladder very fast, even after your PhD.

    I dont want to discourage anyone,who is going for PhD but I want to say that everyone should ask these questions to themselves before taking such a big step in their career.


  10. this is really true that there is an overflow of PhD in US, people frm around the world go for
    phd in US due to good money available there for Phd.That’s why they do good research.But as far as job opportunity is concern, they have to come back to india for their jobs.there is a lack for phd jobs there.It is better to do it from india and settled here

  11. say your “green pasture” was “higher education” yet you feel unhappy about your current job and status..If you think your friends in India are doing better, why don’t you simply join them since your purpose of higher education has been achieved?

  12. Dear Harini,

    It was interesting to read your post. I have come across many phds in US sulking about how their engg or mba counterparts have a better life than them (just because they earn more). The one thing that i find hard to understand is when it is universally known that committing for a phd means choosing a life in the love of the subject that is so dear to you and forsaking mega salaries then how come ppl after finishing their phds suddenly start expecting to get the best of both worlds? I can understand that you are not in a vey happy place right now but i would urge you to focus on what you have rather than what you dont.

    Best wishes

  13. Adding further I would even say… that if you are really interested in research but consider yourself as a victim of wrong situation… then check for many scholarships available in Europe in PDF with stipend of around 48 lakh IRS… Your PDF might get over within 9 months… I suppose, as you explain your situation, this option might suit you only if you are willing to do research… and not just a settled job…

  14. sir.. these terms “While you don’t get a second glance in India even with a Master’s”, ” my boss makes me work”, “dump another 5 hrs worth of experiments on my head”, “and ofcourse are having all the fun” clearly show that you are doing further studies (PhD & PDF) only to earn extra money and setlled life and peace of income.. which I must say is totally not-related to PhD.. Further studies are taken by people who are interested in exploring it and are willing to go to extreme levels to achieve it.. Surely, money too is a necessity, but the language gives a hint of your mind conveying clearly that your prime priority is to earn money, and PhD & PDF would act as brand names in your curriculum to achieve that…

  15. Can I ask in what sub field of Biology have you done your PhD? What does your husband do? What is his profession?
    – Vignesh

  16. I am doing my pg in biotech n hv decided to pursue phd in nowhr else other den US… now wat i really feel is a scientist’s joy is in science itself,,,not in holi or diwali or anythng else… they sud be kindda saint in thr field… if not den better chose some professional life…now m really getting confused about wat i sud do….. :-/

    1. Dont do it, listen now, or realize yourself after 12 yrs. You may read all these comments of idealistic approach because these people are not into the juggle themselves, its easier to comment.
      Only those realize the pain of this article who have spent 15 yrs in research and biotech, rest should not comment even, as this field is so different that the imagination of anyone who has not spent atleast 12 yrs in it…nothing of other field or regular world scenarios work in biology/biotechnology…Firstly, doing PhD is not a matter of genius but rather a matter of patience if you have masters from decent college and decent thesis you can do PhD infact anyone can, the problem comes coz of attitude of other frustrated scientists…/guide/adviser who will grill you for really no reason. very few people in this field are true even to themselves, rest write the crap of idealism like nonsense saying…. not for love of money, but for many the fact of getting into Phd is they cant find decent jobs after undergrad or masters so instead think why not to get into pHD….i can keep on writing but if this much wont convince you than writing 100 more lines wont either,,,so i ve expressed my personal thoughts, rest is up to you…

      my credentials: ve few degrees inlucing 2 Masters in Biotech (different specializations) all with 4.0 GPA (from US), few publications, and hard core industry experience in research from only the multi billion MNC’s in USA and still working in the same field for my own reasons in US.

      Intention: it might help someone in need of advice, as no one told me and all lied around 20yrs ago 🙂

      thanks for reading.
      Happen to see this blog, writing comment, not sure if i will come back on this page later as opinions are one sided and many dont know what they are writing

      Inference: Despite of my writing, you will still do it, as i ve very extensive experience and if i know nything, i can bet you will do phd if you get the admission as 99% do the same 🙂
      take care

  17. Hi Harini,

    While I appreciate and understand what you are trying to say here and definitely agree about the financial aspect of a postdoc but if you love science so much then I think you should be loving your job rather than fearing your boss catching you and dumping 5 hrs worth of experiments on you. However I do understand that working ungodly hours without appreciation is not easy and does make you wonder about your past career choices.

    Regarding the low paying postdocs, I am pretty sure you too can move out into the industry and earn atleast double of what your postdoc position pays right now.

    Akshay Ray

      1. RAAGHURA, do you even have any idea about the era it takes to reach from postdoc to “professor?” And if you mean Asst Professor, by “Professor,” few universities will pay anything nearly close to 100k for Biology. Only B schools pay the salary you are talking about.

        1. suyog957;
          as mentioned by Just bored today that”Only B schools pay the salary you are talking about. “. may i know the reason for your comments above cause the ctual picture for this is much more different as you stated.

  18. Though I completely understand the problems that the writer faces here, I am a little confused with the problems that she/he is trying to convey. If the writer is so in love with science/ field of work that she chose to do and if she is continuing in the same field (I guess so after a Phd, one would definitely be in he same field!) then what exaclty is her problem. I mean you can earn millions but be stuck in a so called monotonous job, isnt it?

    You friends can drive a Merc or even fly in thier own private jets, but remember that the work you do is “significant” if not in a large or massive scale, but definately big. You may not earn a massive amount of money but arent you happy for the fact that “you are trying to work on something which ppl hardly understand?”. At the end of the day I agree that money matters, but there is something called inner conscience and isnt that happy within you?

    If not then I seriously doubt your motivation behind doing a Phd in Biology… you could have choosen a more greener field where you cld have had the job/ money/ degree of your choice.

    Please dont take this comment as a critical review, but all I am trying to say is every person in this world may not value your small contribution to the field, but as a fellow student, I definitely would respect your contribution since I know how difficult a Phd student’s life/ work is. So cheer up…You have knowledge which is richer than money… Respect in society which is valuable than gold

  19. Sorry dude, biology (any pure science or humanities for that matter) is not the field if you are looking for money. I declined an USD27k per annum PhD fellowship in a top tier public research university in 2008 to do a paid master’s in Management instead. I returned to India to work in a B school. They pay 60k INR for teaching 2 to 4 lectures a week and I make another 20-30k pm doing freelance writing. I guess that is decent money with zero work pressure. If you are not much into hardcore research, your best bet now would be joining one of the research-less IIT/central universities in India and get paid per month without peer pressure .:) If you try, you should have a chance in those institutes. Most of their academic starts are at best postdoc in low tier US/European schools with PhD (possibly part time) from research less Indian universities.

  20. Kudos to the researchers!! Keep up your spirit, one day you’ll get what you are wishing but I guess by then you will lose all your interest in pleasures. My husband is in the same boat too literally working 6days a week and 10-12hrs/day. He left his decently paying job in India for Phd in science in US and always shares his experiences he had with his friends who graduated with MS in engineering and came back after 2yrs to say “why don’t you jump to IT field instead of doing all this labor?” without understanding the fact that he is passionate about what he is doing and in fact their consolation is in turn hurting him.
    I always wish people assess others based on their qualification or interests instead of their pay check or financial status.

  21. L
    Life in general is not fair.However, there is no condition that is permanent.Hope is something we must hold tight in order to overcome every difficult circumstances.

  22. It is extremely sad to come across such a post.
    However, it is very clear why you are not able to find a job.
    One line from the post explains it all, “my boss makes me work 55 hr shifts for 45K and wont let me think about my future”
    The fact that you let your future be at the discretion of your boss is where you miss the trick. YOU have to think about your future, not your boss, he is doing his job well by grinding out every bit of work that he can from you.
    Also, decide what you want in life, if driving a Mercedes makes you happier than working in the Science field, then leave Biology and find a job in a field where there are jobs that pay higher.
    You cannot get everything in life, ask your friends in India and they will also have complaints. You have a Camry, ask them what car they have (if that is your basis of comparison). What kind of infrastructure are they working in?

    Also, you kind of contradicted yourself in this post. At one point in time you say, no one gives a second glance to Science majors and then suddenly at the end you say your friends are enjoying! What I deduce is your friends are happy being in their field and cars don’t matter to them more than science. They are happy doing Science because that is what they WANT to do, not because it will help them buy a Mercedez.
    Sorry if this all doesn’t make sense!

  23. I can understand the writer’s pain..Even though the argument that research is not for earning money holds kind of true, but it’s not very pleasant to see the engineers raking up dollars. I just hope that writer gets tenure soon or gets hired by the industry.

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