How much are professors paid?

The Washington State employee salary archive that I featured in my last post is a fascinating dataset to explore... including 432k entries for more than 244k people (actually unique names, so likely many more!). There is much you could do with this data, e.g. exploring gender distributions, infer the age distribution by matching the names to the US "Baby Names" data, comparing salaries for similar jobs around the state...

Last time we were looking at salaries for people with the job I have, and comparing them to expectations one might reasonably infer from reading the University's HR website.

Today I'm going to look at the job (notionally) I want: University Professor.

There are 5 publicly funded universities in Washington State. Here is how the 2017 salaries for people whose job contains the word "Professor" compare:
There's a lot to unpack in this graph, even with just 5 curves...
  1. UW is the clear "winner", with a median salary (vertical bar) far above any of its "peers"
  2. UW has a TON of faculty (and/or their faculty have more line-items in the budget - i.e. a single Prof having multiple entries)
  3. The 4 other schools are quite closely clustered around $80k-ish
  4. The 3 schools located east of the Cascade mountains (i.e Eastern, Central, and Washington State) all have very similar primary colors listed on their websites. Coincidentally, these schools all reside in "red" districts. This color proximity drove several design choices for the viz.

But comparing average salaries does not tell the whole story...

These schools are located in vastly different regions of our state: a major city, a rural farming community, a ground transportation hub, an international boarder... and life in each of these cities/towns is equally unique. So for your consideration, here is the same data as above, but normalized by the median home price for each city:

  1. Given the (ridiculous) cost of living in Seattle, it is no wonder so many faculty now have to live outside the city. For example, I live ~12 miles north of Seattle where home prices are ~27% cheaper.
  2. Bellingham has gotten expensive!
  3. Faculty in eastern Washington are doing substantially better than their western counterparts...  probably much closer to what being a Professor in most cities used to be like (i.e. buying a reasonable house near the University on a faculty salary)
This is an age-old debate when considering the job market for faculty... should one chase the cosmopolitan lifestyle of a big city, or be in the upper echelon of a small town? Clearly you shouldn't just look at top-line salary when considering which university to work at. While there's no "right" answer, I for one find the high earning power of rural faculty quite promising. Small towns can be wonderful places to live, and competitive salaries can bring top talent to these schools. 

One more thing...

Washington state has 30 public colleges (mostly community colleges). Here is the data for jobs listed as "Professor" or "Faculty", with medians shown as heavy circles....
Most of these curves are very skewed towards low salaries, endemic of the state of college faculty hiring and the reliance on part-time labor...

Of course, all the Python code to do this analysis (mostly just bread/butter Pandas) and make these figures (matplotlib) is available on my GitHub profile.

How much should you be paid?

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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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Do as I say, not as I do.... *assuming you're privileged enough to be able to afford a summer off, etc... MUSIC: David Miner VLOG GEAR: Nikon D7500 Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 Nikon 70-300mm AF-P VR Takstar SGC-598 Twitter: Academic: Code/Research: Blog: IG:

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Video: Emerald City Comic Con 2019 vlog

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My friend (and AAS coffee buddy), Dr. Natalie Hinkle, invited me to speak at a panel at #ECCC2019 for a live recording of the Science Bar Podcast. This was my first time at a comic-con event, and it was an awesome experience! I'm not a huge comic buff, but I recognized a ton of characters. I was SUPER impressed by the Pacific Northwest R2 Builders club, showing off their incredibly detailed (and cheeky) droids! Tell me what you all think: should we have a Vlogging panel/meetup next year at ECCC 2020? You can listen to the Science Bar Podcast here: My fellow panelists: MUSIC: David Miner VLOG GEAR: Nikon D7500 Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 Nikon 70-300mm AF-P VR Takstar SGC-598 Twitter: Academic: Code/Research: Blog: IG:

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