PhD Problems: You’ve Never Had to Negotiate
When you get into graduate school to do a doctorate, if you’re lucky they send you a letter that tells you how much you are going to be given as an annual stipend. The pittance that most students are offered is handed down by fiat and intended only to cover the most basic costs of living so that you can stay reasonably alive to conduct your studies — and that’s for programs that offer funding at all.
At no point is there a conversation about what you as a worker are worth to the school where you are doing your research. There is no phase where different entities compete over you and you have the chance to get a little more money from an organization that really needs you. There is no negotiation.
This has after effects. I know quite a few postdocs and ex-academics who internalized the thinking that you get told how much you will be paid, and it is not be questioned. These folks did not negotiate their salary offers after grad school, and they should have — but no one taught them that.
Academia has a really distorted, unhealthy view of compensation. Often, in academic circles, career advancement and stability of a position are prioritized over salary and benefits. The end result is a world where a PhD and subsequent postdoctoral “training” come with a serious disadvantage in marginal wage differences when compared to just getting a job in industry. A few years ago, my own back of the envelope calculation estimated about $250,000 in lost wages over the course of an academic career versus what the hypothetical earnings in industry would be. A little while later, some more rigorous research essentially confirmed that estimate. The verdict is pretty clear: academia hurts your lifetime earnings if you remain in it.
Unfortunately, the culture of academia instills a mindset that continues to hurt the earnings of some former academics who have escaped the subsistence wages of the ivory tower. We don’t leave with a clear sense of the actual monetary value of our labor, and worse, we are often taught that seeking our full value is crass or unreasonable.