Grad student and postdoc pay

When I started as a PhD student at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1977, my stipend as an NIH trainee was $3900/year (ca. $20K in today’s dollars). When I started as a postdoc at Washington University in 1982, my salary was $12,800 (ca. $41K in today’s dollars). At the time, I regarded this as the opportunity cost of PhD and postdoc training. 2023 me is satisfied that I was able to make up that opportunity cost on the spreadsheet, not to mention job satisfaction that cannot be monetized.

Times change. The job market for STEM PhDs in America has changed dramatically. Add to that, the cost of living in Chapel Hill NC and St. Louis MO is lower than on the east and west coast.

I’ve been on both sides. Before I closed my lab and went on phased retirement, I had to figure out how to pay my staff for over 30 years. If you don’t pay enough, your talent gets poached. If you go low, you end up with someone who can’t/won’t do the work you need to renew your grant.
I’m not surprised that today’s grad students and postdocs have unionized and are seeing their demands for salary and benefits met. The business model for academic research is overdue for a re-assessment.

Student and postdoc unions proliferate