The Cost of Experimentalists

As a special April Fools post, today we are going to try to discuss the cost of scientists. Specifically, this will  be about the cost of scientists in an academic setting.

Let’s start with a Post-Doc. In many fields at most universities a Post-Doc is paid based off the NIH/NRSA guidelines. This scales with the number of years you have worked as a post-doc, what field you are in, and what university you are at, but roughly speaking a Post-Doc can expect to make $50,000 a year.

But that’s not what their employer pays.

Post-Doc’s incur an Employee Benefit or Fringe Benefits rate. Which can either come in at a percentage (around 25% a year for MIT and Harvard). Both the Employee Benefits and the actual paycheck are considered “direct costs”. Direct costs requires a payment of infrastructure costs known as Facilities and Administrative (F&A). Looking this up at Harvard, that rate is 69%.¬†

As a ballpark then, a Post-Doc will cost $90,000 to $120,000 a year. Depending on there experience, and the universities policies on Employee Benefits rates and F&A rates.

The math for hiring a lab tech will be similar, but the pay range is a bit wider. Still a lab tech being paid $40,000 will cost around $80,000 – $85,000.

Graduate students are cheaper. Their salaries tend to range from $25,000-$35,000. Graduate students to not receive employee benefits because despite the taxes they pay, they are not considered employees. They still constitute a direct cost, and thus require an F&A fee. Graduate students also require tuition, which works in vastly different ways at different universities, but in general can be summarized as roughly 50k which is subsidized by roughly 50%. Tuition is not a direct cost.

The final number for a graduate student lies somewhere between $65,000 to $80,000. Except that graduate students are often required to teach. A graduate student might teach as often as every other semester, reducing their total cost by almost half.

Finally undergrads are often free, particularly if they are desperate or have federal work study. Tell one they are working for you as an “Assistant Scientific Researcher”, you can even have them build some of the stuff on this blog that you don’t have time for.

Just don’t let them touch anything valuable.