2014 Spectroscopy Salary Survey: Change is Afoot

Mar 14, 2014

Our annual salary survey took a look at the employment markets faced by spectroscopists in 2014, and the results were surprising. The average salary has decreased for the first time since 2008, with government and nationally funded laboratory employees experiencing the biggest drop in average salary.

The Spectroscopy editorial team has taken a snapshot of the employment market for spectroscopists for more than 11 years. Over this time, the market has remained stable with some fluctuations here and there. This year, however, we report a drop in average salary of 7% from $88,018 in 2013 to $81,990 in 2014. This is a very different picture from the brighter one presented in 2013 and the factors contributing to it will be highlighted and examined here.

Figure 1: The six biggest areas of expertise: (a) Inside chart: Proportion of respondents in 2013; (b) Outside chart: Proportion of respondents in 2014.
The survey was released to subscribers over the months of October and November 2013. A total of 572 respondents began the survey and 87.6% completed it. The format and questions of the survey were identical to those formulated in 2013 with the option to skip questions enabled. That meant that differing numbers of responses were collected for each question. The data collected are presented as percentages rather than raw numbers and should be considered when making comparisons between figures. Here are some overall statistics from the data:
  • Age range: 20% <40 years; 26% 40–50 years; 33% 50–60 years; and 22% 60+ years.
  • Gender: 25% female and 75% male.
  • Employment status: 90% in full-time employment.
  • Primary field of analysis: 57% analytical chemistry; 9% environmental, 7% pharmaceuticals; 4% agriculture/food; 3% biotechnology; 2% electronics/semiconductors; 2% energy and petroleum; 2% forensics and narcotics; 5% instrumental design/development; 2% medical biology; 2% metallurgy; 3% organic chemicals; <2% plastics/polymers/rubber, <2% ceramics; and <2% inorganic chemicals. (See Figure 1 for comparison to 2013).
  • Area of employment: 56% commercial; 28% academic; and 16% government or nationally funded laboratory.
  • Education level: 44% doctoral degree; 23% master's degree; 29% bachelor's degree; and 4% associate degree.

As shown in Figure 1, the six biggest specialty areas reported have remained the same as in 2013. Two interesting points to note are that the proportion of respondents who said their primary field of expertise is in the pharmaceutical industry has decreased from 11% in 2013 to 7% in 2014, whereas the proportion of respondents who said their primary field of expertise is analytical chemistry has increased from 49% in 2013 to 57% in 2014. Furthermore, the proportion of respondents focused on agriculture/food analysis increased from 2% in 2013 to 4% in 2014.

Before looking at the data in greater detail, one important event in 2013 to acknowledge is the change to funding of scientific research in the United States (U.S.). In 2011 the U.S. government passed the Budget Control Act, seeking to cut $38 billion in nondefense spending (1). The law took effect in March 2013 and led to the automatic across-the-board government spending cuts popularly known as the "sequester." According to a survey of more than 3700 scientists performed by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the effects of the cuts have been far-reaching in scientific fields (2). The survey documented that "55% of respondents had a colleague who had lost a job or expected to in the near future."

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