Postdoctoral Stipends, Picking a Lab and the Importance of Good Grades

Dear Dora: Postdoctoral stipends, picking a lab, and the importance of good gradesThanks for all of the great questions!  We’re addressing three questions each month, so If you don’t see your question this time, keep an eye out for our future issues where it will likely show up!  Send your questions to [email protected]


Dora Farkas is the author “The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.:200 Secrets from 100 Graduates,” and the founder of PhDNet, an online community for graduate students and PhDs. You will find links to her book, monthly newsletters, and discussion board on her site.


Dear Dora,

My boss has not given me a raise since I started over two years ago. Although I work very hard, my project has not gone as well as I’d like, so I’m a little nervous about asking for more money without a paper on the horizon – but I could really use a little extra cash.  Should I just talk to him about it or wait until things are going better?

Justin, Postdoctoral Fellow

Dear Justin,

Postdoctoral stipends are usually based on years of experience, not scientific results. In fact, most employees get a raise every year (2-4%) to keep up with inflation. So in effect, if you did not get a raise in 2 years, your salary has actually been decreasing.

I listed a few websites below to give you a range of postdoctoral stipends and as you will see the pay rate depends on seniority. Of course, these websites should only serve as a general guideline to give you an idea of postdoctoral stipends. It is best to look into your university’s policy on postdoctoral fellowships and employee raises.

If you are intimidated by the thought of asking for a raise, it best to wait for a moment when your supervisor is not too busy. For example, you can approach him when you have some research results to share with him, and you could bring up the issue of pay raise at the same time. Simply let him know that you have not received a raise in two years, and you would like to get one now. Do not be disheartened if he does not give you a raise immediately. His answer will probably be a reflection of his funding situation, rather than your work. If your university has specific policies on postdoctoral stipends and raises, you can let him know about that. It might be possible for the department to supplement your stipend if he is not able to.

The reality is that many employers do not give raises automatically, so this will be good practice for the future, even if your PI does not grant you a raise. Also, do not let research results hold you back from asking for a raise. Your PI probably knows that you work hard, so be confident and focus on what you have accomplished.

Websites with information about postdoctoral stipends:


Dear Dora,

I’ll have to pick a lab in the next couple of months, and I’m debating between two.  Well-known PI who spends a little time with each person, or a recently tenured PI who is still very active and involved. Any advice?

Sean, Grad student

Dear Sean,

The decision about the group you will join should depend on your needs as a student, rather than the reputation of your PI. A recently tenured PI has already earned respect in the scientific community, and probably has a good network of professional contacts. What you need ask yourself, is how much interaction you would like with your PI.  Some students need a lot of guidance, because they lack either motivation or experience, while others prefer to work independently. If you have a lot of research experience and do not want to interact with your supervisor frequently, you might do better with a senior, hands-off PI. If you prefer a PI who gives their students a lot of guidance (and has tenure already), then you will probably be happier and more productive in the more junior PI’s group.


Dear Dora,

How important is it to get good grades in grad school?

JT, Grad student

Dear JT,

Your graduate school GPA matters for several reasons. First, striving to get good grades will probably help you to learn your coursework well, so you can pass your qualifying exam. Second, you might need to provide GPA when you search for jobs. Not everyone lists their GPA on their resume, but most web-based job applications do ask you enter it.

The reason that some might argue that your graduate school GPA does not matter, is that most employers value your research experience and publication record more than your GPA. In fact, once you are a mid-career professional, your GPA will probably not matter much. However, when you look for entry level jobs (including academic positions), your GPA will serve as a reflection of how well you mastered your coursework, and how knowledgeable you are in your field. Remember that earning a good GPA will not only help you pass your exams, but will also give you the foundation to design and complete your research project!


Stay tuned for the next Dear Dora in two weeks!  In the meantime, check a few of Dora’s recent posts:


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10 comments so far. Join The Discussion

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  9. Darya

    wrote on March 4, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Hi Dora,

    I started my postdoc in November. As much as I would like to say that it is going great, that is not the case. I have tried to work it out so far but I am thinking of changing the lab to find another postdoc or more ideally, a job in an industry. I will be quite obviously asked the reason of having such a short time in my postdoc. I am wondering what is the exact way of saying that without sounding like someone who is difficult to work with. I do not wish to personally attack my mentor. Also, does having a postdoc usually impact the process of getting a new job? My Ph.D. advisors and committee members can give a great recommendation for me but that will not be the case with my current advisor. Please help! and thank you!

  10. [email protected]

    wrote on March 5, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Unfortunately, you're not alone in this experience. While Dora will address your question in an upcoming article, here's one postdoc's story of a similar situation to what you're going through:

    Hang in there!

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