What PhDs make in their first non-academic job: Results from a very unofficial Twitter poll

Yesterday I launched a Twitter poll asking people, if they’ve worked outside of academia with their PhD, what their first salary was. According to the Twitter poll, here’s what PhDs make.

Now before you start yelling at me, I know there are all sorts of problems with this data and the methods of collection.

Here are the obvious challenges:

Options too high

First of all, I chose not to include anything under $40,000–which some of the readers took offense to, noting that they would be in that category. I get it. My rationale when I created the poll was that I wanted the windows to be useful. Since there are only four options with Twitter polls, I felt that $0-25K; $25-50k; $50-75k; and $75-100k were just way too broad to be useful.

However, the fact that the largest portion of respondents were in the $40,000 to $60,000 range DOES suggest that I need to add a lower option–which I will do when I run the poll again.


We’re working across multiple currencies. I’m in Canada, and we’re on the dollar, but $50,000 Canadian is about $38,000 USD. Likewise, people from Britain were trying to make a change over to the pound. This limits the study.

No option to “See Results”

Since this was my first real Twitter poll, it was totally lost on me that there was no option to see the results without clicking something. It’s possible that people clicked a result just to see where the poll was at, which is a serious shortcoming. When I do the poll again, I’ll fix this.

Discrepancies in working arrangements

When I created the poll I was thinking of only full-time, non-academic jobs. I specifically wanted people working in a position for a company, since self-employment isn’t necessarily a good indicator of what PhD jobs pay (whether income is low or high). Likewise, some may have had part-time options, and chosen to extrapolate what their salary would be full-time for the poll.


Some of the people responding had their first job years ago. Obviously, the salaries are not necessarily current.

What can we say–cautiously about what PhDs make?

Some PhDs find well-paying work outside of academia

Okay, I’ll be honest. The reason I created this poll was to try to give people an idea of what a starting salary MIGHT be in a non-academic job with a PhD.

When I was leaving my PhD, I had no idea what was reasonable to expect. I thought $40,000-50,000 was probably what I would be making. And I didn’t know that PhDs could get serious jobs.

My first post-PhD job paid $70,000. STEM PhDs often go higher, but I think the transition looks different for, say, Humanities and Social Science students (my PhD was Religious Studies). We have to pay our dues a bit more sometimes while we create a skill set. But even paying our dues, we can get paid pretty well.

Of the 941 people who responded to the poll, 565 made more than $60,000 in their first post-PhD job. HigherEdJobs estimates that the average assistant professor in the U.S. starts around $67,750. 60% of poll respondents are making approximately what starting assistant professor salaries are, while at least 33% were making more. (This does not hold true in Canada where assistant professors start higher on average–usually closer to $85,000.)

Finally, it blows me away that 141 of the respondents started at over $100,000. This number is a bit arbitrary, but it would have knocked me over when I was a student. I want to redo the poll with slightly better design to confirm this. (See the related post–How to Be Worth $100k With Your PhD)

Is this type of poll useful?

Short answer, it depends.

I wish I’d known what the potential was when I was looking at leaving academia. Since my other option was hanging around for $35,000-$40,000 post docs, it’s useful to know how many graduates make more than that.

These numbers are flawed in many ways, but I hope that at least they get us talking about something that–in my experience–is almost never talked about. What really happens after you take the leap out.

What do you think? Stay tuned for another poll in the coming weeks.

Disclaimer: This data was collected very informally through a flawed Twitter poll. I’m not trying to pass it off as remarkably accurate, but hoping to start a broader conversation with this exercise.



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