Top 10 States with the Highest-Paying Post-Docs in Life Science

Published: Mar 21, 2013

Top 10 States with the Highest-Paying Post-Docs in Life Science By

Life science post-doctoral work isn't something many people pursue for the money: at that level of education, many post-docs could earn more in an industry capacity than in a university or government research fellowship. Nevertheless, a post-doc can pay extremely well, depending on the location. So what locations pay well?

That's a difficult question, since some of the highest-paying fellowships aren't state-specific, but rather national grants. It's difficult to analyze all the private and public post-doc positions out there when one state might have simultaneously some of the lowest-paying and highest-paying programs available. To make a top ten list of highest-paying post-doc states, let's begin with some rough information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not categorize life scientists together: instead, the BLS lists a few select life sciences research fields, lumps the rest of "life scientists" in an "other" category, and then analyzes all Life, Physical, and Social Science researchers in one classification. This means the BLS results may not perfectly reflect life science post-doc wages--but they're at least an indicator of what states pay more for researchers. According to these metrics, the top ten highest-paying states for Life Science, etc, researchers are:

10. Washington State

9. California

8. Massachusetts

7. Delaware

6. New Mexico

The BLS shows these four states in the same pay bracket for researchers, without providing detailed information for ranking them. Of these, Massachusetts notably makes the top ten list twice for best postdocs in a survey by The Scientist quoted on the US government's cancer research site. The Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Cambridge ranked #9 in 2012 for good facilities and infrastructure with space for family and personal life, with annual salary around $55,000; the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, also in Cambridge, ranked #1 in 2012 for its facilities, infrastructure, pay and benefits, where post-docs can earn up to $53,300 a year. Suffice it to say postdocs in Massachusetts have it made.

California also makes the Scientist's top post-doc list: the J.David Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco rate #2 out of the whole country because of good funding, pay, and benefits, with some post-docs earning $75,000 a year. In La Jolla, CA, at the Institute for Allergy and Immunology, post-docs may make as much as $60,000 a year.

5. Connecticut

4. Virginia

3. New Jersey

2. Maryland

1. District of Columbia

D.C.'s willing to pay a lot for science, with an annual mean wage for science researchers across the board at $95,480 per year, or $45.90 an hour: if that trend holds true for post-docs, D.C. life science post-docs should make more than any others in the nation. Again, it's important to understand that the BLS includes researchers with education exceeding postdoc, so the actual BLS pay may far exceed what a post-doc can expect to make--but the BLS results do helpfully show roughly which states generally pay more for science. A D.C. post-doc probably won't find a ninety-grand fellowship, but it's not unreasonable for job applicants to dream: the BLS itself actually has offered a postdoc fellowship with salaries between $70,000 and $89,000 a year for life scientists focusing on epidemiology, behavioral sciences, and health statistics. Like the BLS, other government agencies usually offer stipends and salaries based on years of experience: the NIH starts post-docs off at $39,264, but may give an extremely experienced post-doc as much as $54,180 a year. Life Sciences Research Foundation starts first-year post-docs at $43,000 a year, with $47,000 for post-docs with over 3 years of experience. These large national organizations often support projects all over the country, making it more difficult to sort highest-paying postdocs by state.

Two other states worth mentioning for their post-doc salaries: Illinois and Missouri. Illinois is home to the Argonne National Laboratory, which may pay its post-docs as much as $91,700 a year, according to The Scientist, and Missouri houses both the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (DDPSC) and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research. DDPSC offers an average of $45,096, but Stowers may offer as much as $62,000 a year. All three of these institutes made The Scientist's list for top all-around post-doc programs.

In the end, it seems the highest-paying life sciences post-docs in the nation may be in Illinois, with a close second at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in D.C. Does this mean those states have higher paying life sciences post-docs across the board? No, but it's a rough indicator of areas open to giving post-docs good money--and that's something any job applicant can get behind.

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