Day 1: What Are You Worth?

What are you worth?  At SciPhD we have been doing workshops for over 9 years and we always ask, “What are your major concerns in leaving academia and transitioning to business (which we define as everything non-academic).”  The one answer we seldom get from new PhDs and Postdocs is the simple question “What am I worth?” Just as there is no standardization in job titles such as Scientist II, Associate Scientist or Senior Research Investigator, there is no standardization in compensation in either Base Salary (your take home check) or Total Compensation (your benefits, profit sharing – performance and incentive based dollars).  Compensation is complicated and you learn most of it once you are with an organization.

For the purpose of today’s article, we will take the tact of exercising your thinking about what you are “worth” from a career and job choice perspective.  For example, you have spent a major part of your life becoming a highly skilled scientific/technical researcher.  We will first assume that you want to stay in research with a goal of eventually working as the Laboratory Director: what are you worth over your first 5 years?  Then we will assume that you want to stay in research and develop the business competency of Six Sigma with a goal of working as the Director of Quality: what are you worth over your first 5 years?  The purpose of this exercise to learn about the many options you have as a PhD as you develop your career.

Starting as a Research Scientist I (entry level for our purpose), your job opportunities are most likely in industry, government, Non-Governmental Organization (NGO’s such as Red Cross) and nonprofits (such as Gates Foundation). Your base salary for the first year on average might range from $85K to $105K for industry and government jobs and in the $70K to $85K range for NGO’s and nonprofits.  In your fifth year we will assume you are at midrange for a Scientist II with a base salary in the $130K range for industry and government and approaching $100K for NGO’s and non-profits.   Your pay increases and promotions are based on your performance, budgets, and availability of the next higher position with very limited flexibility.  You may have to change organizations to find a Laboratory Director position (salary in $150K range).

Let us explore the second job choice of starting in research and developing a second competency in Six Sigma with the goal of working in research and quality improvement. During your job offer negotiations, you negotiated the opportunity to enter the company-sponsored Six Sigma program. Six Sigma is a quality management methodology to help businesses improve current work processes, products, and services through data analytics resulting in eliminating defects and increasing stakeholder value. You will attend training provided by the American Society of Quality ( and progress through the 5 levels of certification in Six Sigma. Your starting salary will be in the same range as a Scientist I.  You could spend 30% of your job time learning, supporting, and participating in Six Sigma activities. By your 3rd year, you should be working on the 4th certification level titled the Black Belt.  You are now managing Six Sigma projects across the organization and with suppliers. ASQ data indicates that Black Belt certification brings an additional $10K salary differential.  By year 5, as a PhD with Six Sigma certifications in process improvement you are highly sought after by both your technical field and the Quality field. You are not limited to working in only research organizations as Six Sigma is industry transparent. Starting salaries for Master Black Belts (5th level certification) start around $150K.  Director of Quality averages $199K and that is before we negotiate that PhD!

While we used Six Sigma and Quality in our example, the same basic process applies to many other secondary competencies to your PhD that will be available to you in larger companies.  Start thinking about that law degree, or certifications in project management, data analytics, business analysis professional and more.  ASQ for example, has 18 different certifications.  What am I worth is a great question for you to explore.

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