What happened when I complained about my low salary

And by low, I mean low compared to similar and some worse-published (men) in my department and field. (I am making more than the non-research active people in my dept).  I am still incredibly privileged and my salary still leaves me a little shocked.

Still, even if I’m making more money than I ever dreamed of as a child, I should still be paid fairly.

And I wasn’t.  So I complained up and down in my annual review.  I talked about my cv and the work I do for the dept and the fact that although I have never gone on the market, people ask me to apply to schools.  I complained about how my (male) colleague who used to have the same salary that I did whose cv is similar to mine (but not quite as good) is making quite a bit more than I am despite his never having gotten an outside offer.  I mentioned the fact that I’m making less than our new hires straight out of grad school, even though all the male associate profs are making quite a bit more.

So my chair and dean talked and they agreed.  They noted that although I didn’t have the lowest salary in the dept, I’m in the bottom 20%, and I noted that of the people making less than me, none of them are research active.

They can’t give more than 10% raises a year without something extraordinary happening.  So they said I get 10% this year and if I complain again they will do their best to give me 10% next year.  If I want more I would need to go on the market because they are allowed to match outside offers.  He also mentioned that I was one of two women in the dept with this complaint and she would also be getting the same deal (pretty sure the other one makes just a little more than I do and also has an obviously better cv than the above-mentioned guy).

So where does this put me?  After the first raise I’ll *still* be making about 7K less than the male colleague mentioned above is making this year.  Presumably he’ll get a raise this year as well.  So I’ll still be behind.  But 10% is better than 3% (is better than 2% is better than 0%).

I probably should go on the market, but I’d prefer not to.  Still, I’ll probably actually look at the listings this year even though I usually don’t.

So… is there a moral?  Well, sometimes complaining works.  If it doesn’t work, then it might not be a place worth staying.

Help us decide our future financial paths: A guest post

#2 is on a two-week honeymoon in Italy so we’ve solicited guest posts from readers and will be running them along with random kitten pictures and hopefully(!) food pics from Italy.

Anandar is kicking us off with a money Monday question about long-term financial planing.  Help her think through her options!

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Anandar writes:

For the first time in a loooong time, we have what feel like real choices in our financial life, and so I took the opportunity to write up a guest post in hoping of thinking things through (and getting feedback if you feel like commenting!).  My spouse and I are both professionals around age 40.  In our 20s, we were in grad school and/or making peanuts.  In our 30s, we were still (!) in grad school, and generally felt urgent about working to pay off the school loans/get established in our careers while paying daycare bills/afford a downpayment in our crazy-high cost-of-living area.  Now, we own a house, just paid off law school loans, our youngest is starting public kindergarten, and we generally feel less strapped.

Additional background:  We both have the sort of jobs (teacher and legal aid lawyer) that are meaningful but also very time consuming and stressful for conscientious types.   We live in a very high cost of living area, and while our fixed expenses are lower than many people of similar age and socioeconomic status—we are debt free except for an affordable mortgage, with no expensive habits–the whole working-parent-modern-life thing leaves us susceptible to throwing money at problems and “treating” ourselves in ways that we suspect we wouldn’t if we worked less.  While I wouldn’t say we live in Paradise, it is definitely a place where spending a lot of money can be fun, interesting and/or delicious.  We’re not interested in easing our finances by moving to a cheaper area, because we don’t want to reboot our community from scratch.  Our savings are on track for retirement at a typical age (we’re steady savers when working but also spend many years in grad school, including a spare PhD, not contributing to IRAs or 401(k)s).  Our savings for kids’ college are relatively modest, but we are taking a “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” and “you can borrow for college but not retirement” approach (our privileged kids’ grandparents have also started 529 plans).

Here are our four options for the future, ranked from least to most expensive, and I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on how you’d evaluate them:

1)      Save up for a sabbatical year of living in another country with kids (the teacher could do this easily; the lawyer would probably have to quit current job).  This is on our “bucket list” of things to do with our children before they old enough to prefer international adventures sans parents.

2)     Save up for major house renovations to make our small home more liveable long term, including separate rooms for each child; a second bathroom; a real guest bedroom for visiting grandparents (who may in the far future want to live with us, so heck, let’s call it an in-law unit); a deck for eating al fresco.

3)    Same as #2, except borrow the money in order to enjoy the benefits of renovation much sooner, while locking ourselves in to higher fixed monthly expenses due to debt.

4)    Save like crazy in order to achieve financial independence (FI) before standard retirement ages.  Neither of us has any desire to stop working entirely, but working on a very part-time or volunteer basis would allow for more flexibility and creativity in our professional and personal lives.  Once we hit FI, we could dramatically increase our charitable donations, which we would really like to do.  I am not sure exactly how long this would take, because I am not sure how frugal we can really be and still preserve our equilibrium.

I can already hear you all saying:  since all of these options cost money, and you seem not to know what you want, why not just save as much as you can and decide later!  And for goodness sakes, these options aren’t all mutually exclusive—if you were financially independent, you could drag the kids on an international sabbatical every year!

There are a several reasons why I’d prefer to have a plan.  First, we are thinker-aheaders (if one were taking a deficit approach, we’d have anxiety issues).  Second, there are practical differences in how we would be spending our scarce free time today depending on which option is our top priority for the future (language learning! home cooking all meals!).  Third, to my mind, these options involve different mentalities with respect to our jobs and our finances, as well as our underlying value sets.  Trying to achieve FI early requires a substantial commitment to frugality.  Saving or borrowing money for home renovations entails a certain amount of doubling down on our paid work, while planning for a sabbatical involves thinking about detaching from our jobs.  And so forth.

So, thoughtful readers, how would you prioritize these options in our circumstances?  What additional questions would you ask yourself? 

Finding what interests me in a new career

One of us is job-hunting after quitting academia and moving to paradise.  I have been looking for jobs I want, but I haven’t been finding that many to apply to–I still have enough resources at this point to be able to focus my search on jobs I would like rather than taking any job.  I have applied for about 20 things and gotten 1 phone interview and no in-person interviews or offers.

What do I want?  I want something sciency and researchy, in the social sciences.  I am not a clinician and not a certified CRA.  I am not a biologist or pharmacist or engineer and I do not use Hadoop (I could learn if I had to but it doesn’t seem necessary now).  I don’t program (other than several standard social science statistics softwares and some dabbling in things like .html etc., but not like C++ kind of programming) and I don’t want to.

I have [#2: excellent] skills in data analysis, writing, editing, literature review, and many things about the research process [#2:  I fully vouch for these– she reads every paper of mine before I send it out and she’s helped me a ton when stat-transfer fails me, and more than once she’s saved my rear end doing last second RA work when I was up against a deadline and I found a SNAFU.  I’ve also shamelessly stolen a lot of her teaching stuff, but that’s probably irrelevant since she doesn’t want to adjunct or lecture.]!  (See the second table below)  I can do tons of research.

I am not an extrovert and interacting with people most of the time drains me, but I interact quite successfully in teams and research groups.  I’m not interested in being a manager of people in a pure managerial sense, though I can do some and I am experienced supervising teams of research assistants.

Ever since I was a little kid, every “career interest” test I have ever taken has always come out that I should be a professor, and it still does.  However, nope nope nope!

I played with this online thing for scientists and it was kinda enlightening.  It tells you, among other things, about what your values, skills, and interests are in a career.  Here are mine.

First, here are my values of things that are unimportant and important to me in a new career:  (for these big tables, click to embiggen).  I know this is a lot to ask for, but it represents the ideal.

My Values in a job image

Second, here are my scientific skills, what I think I am good and bad at:

Science Skills Summary image

Third, here are my interests:

Interests Summary image

The jobs it suggests for me include faculty at a research university (nopenopenope) and the things I am already applying for, such as research manager stuff.  I would be happy to manage someone’s lab, although I can’t put up with a job where the ONLY thing I do is make other people’s travel arrangements.  I could do quite a good job in something like research administration, if it focused on compliance and not budgets (though I can and will do budgets so long as it isn’t the *only* thing). I am good at teaching but I will never do it ever again.  I love collaborating with other scientists but am not crazy about managing people.

I would like to work for a nonprofit or the VA (which keeps failing to hire me over and over).  I’m not against working at a for-profit company though, especially if the pay is good and the work is interesting.  Program-analyst type stuff seems to be a title I come across a lot for job postings.  The site also suggests that I be an epidemiologist (interesting but I’m not trained for it), a clinical diagnostician (not trained for it and don’t want to be), and a teaching faculty (NOPE NOPE NOPE).  I would be fine as non-academic staff at a university.  I do not do drug testing, nor do I have any wet-lab skills.

You can be sure that my cover letter and resume are shiny, personalized, revised, and proofread by #2 [and, #2 notes, more importantly, the career office at her former grad school went over her resume when she did the change from cv to resume].

I’m not expecting to go in at the highest level, and I don’t really want to. I am definitely willing to work my way up to some extent, but not all the way from the proverbial mailroom. My retirement funds are anemic and if the job is really poorly paid, it might be more profitable to spend that time searching for a better job, rather than being tied to a job that’s both low-paying *and* boring.

Mostly I’ve been applying for jobs that I find on Indeed.com.  But I need to expand.  And yes, I know I should be networking more (and I swear I am networking!)– this post is part of that effort.  ;)

I promise I’m not as much of a special snowflake as I sound like here; I have skills that would really help an employer if only I could convince them of that [and, #2 notes, if she could find more job openings, preferably before they’re advertised…].  Help!

Grumpeteers, what say you?  How can I get a job that pays decently and is also suited to my skills, interests, knowledge, and background?  

How do raises work where you work?

I work at a university.  Every year, the university decides what % raises each department will be able to give on average (usually ranging from 0% to 3%).  The department decides whether or not to top up.  Sometime in the summer raises are determined (initially we all got COL raises that exactly matched inflation, then we got 0 raises because recession, now there’s a seriously awful “merit” formula that makes no sense).  In any case, raises are determined at exactly the same time each year and we know when to expect them.  We don’t have to talk to anybody to get them, they just happen.  (Though complaining about equity at step increases such as promotions might help.)

We can get out of cycle raises by getting outside job offers.

My DH is working a real job right now.  We have no idea how raises are supposed to work.  He was going to ask at his annual review, but unfortunately his annual review got cut short (to about 10 min) because there were delays and it got pushed up right to his flight time.

He doesn’t know, is he supposed to ask?  Is he supposed to make a case?  Is there an automatic COL increase?  Does he only get raises when there’s an outside offer?  We don’t know.  So he’s asking.  He doesn’t want to ask, but he will at some point because without cost-of-living increases, one’s real salary erodes.  (Plus the company is doing well, partly because of his efforts!)

In the mean time, that got me curious, how does it work most places?

How does it work for our readers?  Are raises automatic?  Are they tied to something?  Do you have to ask about them?  Do they happen annually?

How do you get your raises?

 

My New Mantra

There are many reasons why I quit my previous job.  Among them: teaching was eating at my soul.  Eventually, the job made me physically sick and I hated it, and it made me be a mean person.  Even now I am still purging toxicity from my soul and come off as angry when I talk about that place.  (gotta work on that!)

There was nothing wrong with GrumpyMe 1.0, but it’s time for patches and upgrades.  One reason that I put off leaving for so long was that there are things I love about academia and didn’t want to give up.  My wonderful partner, though, pointed out that I could actually improve on the job situation by finding a job with more of the things I like and less of the stuff I don’t like.  He pointed out that, instead of giving up my academic identity, I could actually become the thing that is now my new mantra:

A BETTER VERSION OF MY WORKING SELF.

Some of the ideas about how to be a better working Me come from when I thought about my ideal workday.  (Awesome side note: in that post I said that at last year’s conference I had met a new friend/collaborator and talked with her about what we could do together.  At this year’s conference, we presented that research!  Our paper is under review.  Hurrah.)

I don’t know yet what kind of bug patches and upgrades I will eventually find.  (I do know that it involves never ever teaching ever again.)  I do know the things that give me energy, those that make me lose track of time (learning something new!  reading books!).  I know that I can’t stand cubicles.  I have optimism about finding something decent.

In working towards a new, research-based career, I have been networking pretty hard.  Recently I had the pleasant surprise that, when asked to list up to 5 references in a web application, I found myself with 9 or 10 people I could list as references who would all say excitedly good things about me, and I could choose among them.  Go me.  Only … uh… 9 years post-PhD and I’m getting good at my career!

Do you have a work-related mantra?

What motivates me after tenure

I was just at a conference where I get to hang out with lots of my friends.  Some of us got to talking.  They’re generally at better schools than I am and have longer and better CVs than I do.  But I’ve got tenure and they don’t have it yet.  And we were talking about trying to get stuff published and trying to find time for work… and they asked me why I care where I publish or about how much work I do because I’ve got tenure.  My school doesn’t expect as much as theirs does.  (And I have a higher teaching load and more service and a smaller salary…)

But I was never really motivated by the tenure expectations in my department.  I placed lower on the job market than most folks in my cohort, and I’ve always thought that if I did what I want and then didn’t get tenure then I’d finally be able to move to Northern California and at least live someplace nice.  I’ve always figured that if I stopped liking it, I could just leave.  If I’d gotten an offer at one of these better schools maybe I would have been more nervous, I don’t know.  (And, since getting here, the school has made a lot of really good hires, including mid-level hires with amazing CVs, and I am no longer under-placed.  I’m placed!)

What motivates me:

1.  I want to do good work.  I answer interesting (to me) questions.  I tell good (theoretical) stories with (empirical) evidence.  My work is important and it’s fascinating.

2.  People are doing things wrong and I want the profession to do things right!  Efficiently!

3.  It is a crime that nobody is answering these important questions.

4.  I kinda do like the fame and fortune aspect.  Gotta admit it.  And they give me just enough of a taste of it to make me crave more.  More.

5.  I like to watch things grow.  I want my department to do well, my school to do well, my little corner of academic research to do well.

6.  Ambition.

7.  And maybe just a bit the fact that I may need to be mobile some day, for example, if DH’s job situation changes.  And I kind of like being able to occasionally get grants to pay for RA work and summer salary.  And if they ever cross a line, I can walk and I’ll be in demand somewhere.

I used to be more motivated by being under-placed.  Sort of an, “I’ll show them!”  But I’ve kind of shown them, and, like I said, I’m no longer underplaced.  So #4 has replaced that entirely.  I probably worked a little harder when I was rage-researching, but it’s much more fulfilling to be love-researching instead.

#2 and #3 above bring me more self-confidence.  They help me talk up my work in ways that #1 doesn’t.  More of that contrarian aspect to my personality showing through.  #4 and #6 sometimes give me less self-confidence.

 

The answers of #2 revolve around research.  And then quitting.

What motivates you to work hard?

Ask the grumpies: Do I stay or do I go now, and if I go… then what?

Tired of being grumpy all the time asks:

I’m an assistant professor.  I found your blog when looking for advice on dealing with horrible departments.  I don’t like my job and have become a big ball of stress and unhappiness.  I had been looking forward to escaping during my unpaid summer months, but have been given a pile of service and administrative deadlines to deal with (still unpaid).  I’ve tried to find another job without any luck.  I may or may not get tenure.

When I read the post on one of the Grumpies quitting, I, quite literally, had the breath knocked out of me.  It had never occurred to me that quitting without a new job was something that people actually did. My husband is on board with my quitting; he even suggested it earlier this year.

I am hesitant to discuss this with anyone I know– if my department hears, I fear they will choose not to renew my contract.  I’d rather choose to leave than be forced to.  Do you have any advice, thoughts, questions I should consider as I contemplate this new plan?

We both actually have experience with this.  Not only did #1 quit recently, but #2’s husband quit a year ago (pre-tenure) without having any other employment lined up.

Neither quit happened overnight.  It’s hard to quit something that allows a lot of freedom and can’t fire you on only two weeks’ notice.  It’s even harder to give up the potential for complete job security.  Add to that the weird culture of academia where, at least when you’re new, leaving the academic track seems like failure (it isn’t!), and you get people sticking around probably longer than they should.

Sometimes sticking around works out– you can change things or go on to other jobs.  Sometimes you just need a year of leave (and you can often get a year of unpaid leave off the tenure clock to try things out– #2’s DH did that just by asking).  Sometimes it’s just delaying the inevitable.

We both know many other people who have made the jump.  All are happier for it.  We know people who were considering making the jump but with one thing or another they decided they could make it work where they were or they got a job offer at a different place and everything worked out.  They’re happier than they were too.  And we know people who are still working on making the decision.

#1’s experience of quitting was that, somewhat thankfully, it got bad enough that I felt good about leaving.  If it had been less bad, I might still be there.  Perhaps that’s where you are.  It took me a year to decide to quit.  Other people in my department also have exit plans (and every year we’ve been hiring to replace recent exits), which tells you how bad it is there.  My experience has been that quitting my job makes me feel amazingly good, but I don’t think I would have felt that way if I’d left pre-tenure.  I also have financial luxury to faff about until I figure out a new career.  And I might hate my next job, too!  (But at least it will PAY MORE.)

Also, consider this:  it’s likely you can outlast administrators.  However, consider the direction your school as a whole is going in (your department, college, university as a whole).  That was one among many clues that I didn’t belong in that particular place.  It was hard, hard, hard for me to give up an academic career– that is, until I was ready to do it.  Everyone has a different breaking point.  While you’re finding yours, save money like a fiend.  Try to stay sane.  Maybe start consulting on the side if you want to turn that into a new career.  This could be an opportunity to move to where you really want to be!  (Better work environment for husband, closer to family or the beach, lower cost of living, whatever.)

There must be something you love about academia to even go into it.  There are also things you hate.  Are they things you hate about the career, or this particular job, or some of both?  If you can figure out the particular *aspects* that are turning you into a ball of stress, you can look at adjusting them within this job or in a new job.

Things to consider:

Academia is just a job

Pre-tenure angst *read this book*.  If you feel trapped, this book will help you feel untrapped and will give you the tools you need to get to freedom, whether that includes staying where you are with an exit plan or making a big jump.  It will help you turn the risk of losing/leaving your job into a calculated risk, increasing the upside and decreasing the downside.

For the past three years or so, #2 has been talking about getting ready financially for her DH to quit, dealing with him being out of work, and adjusting to his new income, off and on in her monthly mortgage posts.   Savings and lowering monthly expenses create the luxury of being able to make a measured risk.

Are you a scanner?  As #1 says, think about what aspects of work make you happy and read up on what kinds of jobs fit those aspects.  For example, like Cloud, my husband is a scanner, so he likes shorter projects.  He likes working in groups.  He likes figuring out problems.  He needs mental stimulation.  He needs regular validation.  He’s currently getting all of these things in his current job, but wasn’t getting them in academia.

From a practical standpoint, it took #2’s husband several months to get consulting contracts and job interviews, but they all kind of hit at once, probably because of the way hiring cycles and budgets work.  He started lazily networking in May, then more seriously in September, and by November he was working in his new job.  (He did get an unsolicited offer to continue teaching off the tenure track at the university, but had no problem turning that down.)

If you quit, you’re not alone.  If you decide to stick it out, you’re not alone there either.  If you decide to stay for a while and work on a gradual exit plan, that actually seems pretty common.  You can make any choice into the right one, if you can find what fits well for you and your life.

Does that help?

And now, check the comments for thoughts from the Grumpy Nation.