2006 Salary Survey: Salary Changes and Job Satisfaction in the Spectroscopy Community

March 1, 2006


Volume 21, Issue 3

This year's survey of salaries and job attitudes reveals that the market seems stable, but many spectroscopists are feeling the pressure of the economy at work.

Editor's note:The 2006 Spectroscopy Salary and Employment survey was conducted by research analysts at Advanstar Communications, as opposed to past years, when we contracted an independent research firm. This year's survey is more comprehensive and the samples are larger. As a result, you may notice a sharp variation in figures compared to last year.

With increasing demands from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, the promise of more science and security spending, rising process-control applications, and the looming July 1 deadline of the European Union's RoHS and WEEE directives, growth in the spectroscopy industry is unlikely to slow down anytime soon.

At the same time, the market isn't growing like faster paced businesses such as information technology and communications. The multi-billion dollar spectroscopy market remains constant. "Process analytical technologies [PAT] that are used in the pharmaceutical industry are doing well but overall the chemical industry is pretty flat as is the food industry and polymers," says Emil Ciurczak, chief technical officer at Cadrai Technology Group in Bel Air, Maryland.

The 2006 Spectroscopy Salary and Employment Survey reflects this steadiness. This year, a total of 593 spectroscopists responded to the survey. Of these, about 20% were female, and a little more than a third were between the ages of 46 and 55, forming the largest age group. A large fraction of the respondents hold higher degrees, with about 40% holding Ph.D.s and 20% holding master's degrees.

The unemployment rate among this year's participants went down to 1.5%, as opposed to 2.4% last year. Most of those employed, about 60%, work in private industry, with academia forming the next biggest group.

As opposed to previous years, the Spectroscopy salary survey was done in-house this year. For this reason, readers may notice that numbers vary somewhat.

Salaries Go Up for Most

Out of a total of 585 people who chose to divulge their salaries, the average annual salary this year is approximately $77,980, a jump up from last year's average of $72,920. While last year's increase of $780 was the lowest increase in five years, this year's increase of more than $5000 is the largest in the past five years.

The reason for this sharp increase could be that younger workers are being laid off, says Ciurczak. "This goes back somewhere into early 80s," he says, "If you've got two people doing the same job and you are trying to save money, if one is making 25,000 and one is making 50,000, which one would you fire? [Companies] got rid of the one making the most money." This resulted in age discrimination lawsuits worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Currently, many companies go the other way—they fire younger, less experienced employees. "They're making less, but now the average salary is higher because the people with lower salaries have been let go."

According to David Ball, professor of chemistry at Cleveland State University in Ohio, the reason for the spike in average salary could be a shortage of viable candidates for specialist positions in spectroscopy. "If less people are going around to fill these positions that need certain qualifications, people with experience in the field could command greater pay," he says.

Most of the respondents (15.2%) earned between $46,000 and $55,000 this year. This is a noticeable decrease in the most frequent salary range last year, when 8.7% of the respondents earned between $60,000 and $65,000. The second largest group this year (14.2%) follows closely behind the largest group, but their salary range is nearly double at a range between $86,000 and $100,000.

The number of people reporting an annual salary of less than $25,000 has gone down to 2.9% from last year's 4.5%. On the other hand, 4% are earning more than $150,000 a year, a slight increase from 3% in 2005.

Military Sector Takes Top Spot; Salary Gains Across the Board

This year, the survey includes the military as a separate employment category. Military employees formed the smallest group of spectroscopists in the survey, with just five people, but at $84,000, their average annual salary was the highest among all the respondents. Most of these respondents make between $86,000 and $100,000 per year.

Spectroscopists working for the private industry sector—the largest group of respondents (61%)—are the second highest paid on average, with a salary of $81,880. This is an increase of $3710 from last year's salary of $78,170, and a $10,000 increase since 2003, when the average was $71,770. But industrial spectroscopists most frequently earn within a lower salary range ($46,000–$55,000), closely followed by those earning between $86,000–$100,000 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Salary summary by job sector, 2004–2006 (Government and Military jobs are grouped together; in the survey they were listed as separate categories).

Government-employed spectroscopists' (15% of all participants) average salary jumps up to $75,750 this year from a figure of $68,700 last year. With this gain of more than $7000, their salary surpasses that of academic spectroscopists. Most often, those working in national laboratories or for other government institutions make between $66,000 and $75,000 annually.

Ciurczak believes that these high numbers could be a result of the long time spectroscopists retain their government or military positions. "If you're in there you're going to keep getting promotions," he says. The average rank of employees is very high when they leave and higher levels mean more money. This has nothing to do with robustness of the economy."

For the first time in three years, the average salary of academic spetroscopists increased. Not only that, at nearly $69,250, their pay is significantly more higher than 2003 ($62,130), after which it had fallen to $59,850 in 2004 and then again to $54,640 last year.

Spectroscopy Veterans Earn More

The survey indicates that in general, spectroscopists make more as their age increases (see Figure 2). Those over 55 years of age make about $88,200 on average, while most of them (29%) make between $101,000 and $125,000.

Figure 2: Salary summary by age, 2004–2006.

People in the age group of 46–55, which is the largest among this year's participants, make on average about $83,300 a year. For most of these people, salaries are spread out pretty consistently between $46,000 and $125,000, with the largest group earning in the highest range.

For the age group of 36–45, the average annual pay is approximately $71,000. Thirty% of the people in this age group make between $86,000 and $100,000. Respondents between the ages of 26 and 35 earn an average of $55,600 a year, but most frequently making a figure lower than that.

The youngest age group of 21–25 years, which is also quite significantly the smallest group of respondents, seems to defy the more money with more age rule. They get $63,300 on average, and a few among them make more than $150,000.

Higher Degrees Worth More

The salary survey shows that higher degrees matter for spectroscopists just as much as age does. Those with higher degrees earn more overall.

Multiple Ph.D. holders have the highest average salary of $95,600 per year, while respondents with one Ph.D. (40%) earn a yearly average of $91,850. In addition, most Ph.D.'s make between $101,000 and $125,000, and an overwhelming majority (approximately 83%) of those earning $126,000–$150,000 hold the degree. The salary for Ph.D.'s has gone up consistently in the past three years. Last year, the average salary was $85,400, in 2004 it was $83,690, and in 2002 it was $81,900.

The average salaries for people with master's degrees—the next highest earners on average, with a salary of $75,050—also show an upward trend in the past three years. This year's figure is an increase over last year's average of $71,450. In 2004 and 2003, the figures were $69,680 and $65,510 respectively. Most master's degree holders make $86,000–$100,000 per year.

Last year, respondents with bachelor's degrees saw a decrease of $3100 in their average salary, going from $62,130 in 2004 to $59,030 last year. But this year, they did not just make up for that decrease, they almost doubled it, making an average of $64,560. Most respondents with B.S. degrees, about a quarter, made between $46,000 and $55,000.

No Surprises on the Gender Front

Once again this year, the average salary of female spectroscopists lags behind their male counterparts. While the salary for both males and females increased this year, the increase in female spectroscopists' salary was less than that of males (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Salary summary by gender, 2004–2006.

The average salary of a male spectroscopist will be about $80,660 in 2006. A female spectroscopist, on the other hand, earns $68,300. This salary gap of more than $12,000 across genders is an increase over last year's gap of $10,000.

The annual pay for a male spectroscopist increased by a small amount between 2004 and 2005, going from $75,350 to $75,640. As opposed to this, the increase from 2005 to this year is $5020.

The situation is reversed for female spectroscopists. Between 2004 and 2005, they saw an average salary increase of $6770. But from 2005's figure of $65,450 to this year, their salary has increased by $2850.

"It is unfortunate that female salaries are lagging behind if that's the only difference," says Ball. "Of course, there may be other reasons for this difference...it's going to take time for gender inequities to completely erase themselves. But I hope things are changing and that they are changing for the better."

Coastal Salaries Remain Highest, Midwest Salaries Rise

As was the case last year, the Pacific/Pacific Northwest is the highest paying region according to this year's survey. On average, spectroscopists working on the West Coast earn $78,590 a year. This is a $3000 decrease from last year's $81,590, and it marks the first decrease in three years (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Salary summary by geographical location, 2004–2006.

Once again, spectroscopists in the Northeast/Middle Atlantic region follow the Pacific in terms of highest pay. Their average salary is $76,880, which is a very slight increase over last year's figure of $76,830.

The Western-Central region made a big comeback this year after a $3650 salary decrease from 2003 to 2005, jumping up two places from last year's fifth to this year's third highest paying region. Average salary in the region increased by $12,070 from an average of $64,590 last year to $76,660 this year.

In the Midwest/Great Lakes region, salary went down from an average of $72,540 in 2005 to this year's figure of $68,350. The Southern/South Atlantic region got bumped down to last place with spectroscopists earning $67,960, a decrease of $1000 since last year.

Figure 5: Satisfaction levels.

Workload Increases, Along with Stress

Increased business on the one hand and tough competition on the other create some interesting dynamics in the workplace for spectroscopists.

The 2006 salary survey shows that for 60% of the respondents, workloads have increased, while 30% say that workloads have stayed the same for them over the past year.

Why has workload increased in these stressful economic times? Interestingly, most of the respondents (about 30%) attribute the increase in their workload to an increase in business.

A quarter of spectroscopists say that their work levels have increased due to staffing cuts. "Companies are losing workers but the work is still there," Ball says. "So the same amount of work still has to get done but there are less people doing it."

New equipment and new handling techniques are other reasons for increased work for two responding groups, each forming 16% of the total respondents.

As work levels increase, the stress level for spectroscopists increases too, albeit not at the same rate, according to the survey. Forty eight percent of the respondents say that their stress levels have increased within the past year, whereas 43% say that it has stayed the same. A small 5% even say that their stress levels have decreased.

A majority (20%) of survey respondents say that their stress at work has increased due to uncertainty in staff management, while another 18% say it is due to business uncertainty, "Companies are not hiring people so employees have more work to do," says Ciurczak. "At the same time, these employees are looking over their shoulders to see if they're next [to be laid off]. Stress naturally increases because of this."

Seventeen percent of respondents attribute increased stress to "negative workplace attitudes." Interesting enough, a 41% majority of respondents attribute decreased stress levels at work to "improved workplace attitudes."

Satisfaction Levels

On the whole, a third of the respondents say they are "satisfied" with their current job positions. Next after this group, 30% say they are more than satisfied, while 20% say they are "very satisfied." About 13% are less than satisfied with their positions, while 4% are "dissatisfied."

Most of those who are very satisfied (approximately 22%) with their jobs earn between $101,000 and $125,000 a year. Of those who report satisfaction with their current positions, a majority have a yearly salary of $86,000–$100,000. And lastly, most spectroscopists who are dissatisfied with their jobs earn between $26,000 and $35,000 a year.

Like last year, these numbers might signify a direct correlation between job satisfaction and higher pay.

Along with current job positions, the results for satisfaction regarding other work-related factors are also generally positive. A majority of the respondents indicate satisfaction with their workplace environment and the technology needed to perform. About 40% say they are happy with the education they have to stay current in the field, while about 38% are satisfied with the staffing levels in their laboratories. Finally, 48% of respondents are satisfied with their laboratory's procedures and policies.

Consistent with high levels of job and workplace satisfaction, a small percentage (21%) of the respondents are considering a job change within the next year. While a same number are not sure, most respondents (about 56%) say they will not be looking for another job.

For those seeking a change, professional advancement is the biggest driving factor (24.5%). Other big reasons are income (20.9%), their job environment (15.4%), and intellectual challenge (12.8%).

Private industry is attractive to a big majority (61.2%) of all respondents who intend to change seek a job change. About 17% seek a job change to the government sector, while a slightly smaller number of 16.3% say they would prefer to work in academics.

The data presented in this article are a small sampling of the spectroscopy community as a whole. If you would like to share your thoughts on this article and its data, and how it relates to your career, please e-mail us at: spectroscopyedit@advanstar.com