There is very little information available on how much postdocs are actually paid in the U.S., beyond data on institutional salary policies gathered by the National Postdoctoral Association. Following on from recent discussions about postdoc salaries changing as a result of proposed updates to U.S. Federal labor law, we have gathered data from a selection of institutions through Freedom of Information Requests, asking only for titles and salaries of postdocs, to see if we can identify actual postdoctoral salaries. The aggregate data, and more information, can be found at out “Investigating Postdoc Salaries” Resource. Every day, we will be releasing a discussion of each individual institution or system from which we received data. Today: the University of California system.
Cost for FOIA Request: N/A; request refused
Additional notes: Data only received for UC Santa Barbara
The University of California employs around 6,000 postdocs and potentially would have made up a third of our dataset alone. However, the only data we have that is of any use is from the University of California’s Santa Barbara campus.
FOIA requests were made to each individual campus in the UC system for postdoc data, but were shut down centrally by the Public Records Office:
“UCOP Public Records Office is responding on behalf of all UC campuses in response to your recent California Public Records Act (CPRA) requests for “annual salaries, on December 1st 2016, of all full-time PhD or MD-holding postdoctoral employees and fellows, and employees under any other titles that encompass postdoctoral research roles” at UC campuses. As you may know, UC entered into a new collective bargaining agreement with the Postdoctoral Scholars unit on October 17, 2016. Existing salaries were changed to new scale on December 1, 2016 (https://postdoc.ucsd.edu/px-contract/index.html).
Attached is an Excel version of the most recent UC Annual Wage Report data, which covers the 2015 calendar year. The 2016 Annual Wage Report data will not be published until late summer 2017; feel free to direct another CPRA request to the UCOP Public Records Office at that time. At this time, we consider your requests sent to all campuses fulfilled and your files will be closed.”
A reply was sent, requesting they reconsider, because the data sent was not suitable for use. The “salaries” given for postdocs ranged from $15 to $135,291. It was pointed out that UCSB had already been able to send the data, and so a custom report seemed within the abilities of the offices. Again, all that was requested were individual salaries as of Dec 1st 2016, and the job title.
A second response was received:
“This response is on behalf of all campuses except UC Santa Barbara, which has already provided you with an existing report. The University does not have any additional records responsive to your April 11, 2017 California Public Records Act request.
Please note that in the past, the University has, on occasion and as a courtesy, elected to create custom reports when the requested data was not available in an off-the-shelf report and/or could not be created via a simple data query.
Due to limited staff/resources, the University does not currently have capacity to provide the programming required to create the custom data report that you have requested. Public entities have no duty to create a record that does not exist at the time of the request (Gov. Code § 6252, subd. (e); Haynie v. Superior Court (2001) 26 Cal.4th 1061.).
At this time, we consider this request closed.”
The University of California apparently does not keep annual salary records of its postdoctoral employees; as they state, the records that were requested do not exist. The public records office also told Nature recently, “that it lacks the capacity to do “the programming required to create the custom data report that Mr McDowell requested”.” This is the only institution to have resisted efforts to provide this data (the University of Utah also initially refused to provide the data but was compelled to do so on appeal to the university’s General Counsel).
It was surprising to encounter this resistance. The UC system has raised salaries as part of a contract negotiation with the postdoc union (UAW 5810) to a minimum of $48,216 and use of the NIH’s NRSA levels accordingly (the minimimum is equivalent to the Year 2 salary on the NRSA scale), and it was anticipated that our entire aggregate dataset would be skewed due to the UC system data. This is, in fact, a phenomenon that has occurred in the national aggregate data on the number of postdocs – one year’s change in the number of postdocs was largely affected by administrative rearrangements at UCSF.
Looking at the UCSB data, there were 4 salaries reported below this minimum; and while there are a large number of salaries on the NRSA stipends, interestingly there are some salaries inbetween these levels; and a considerable number which are higher. This would suggest that the anchoring of salaries negotiated with the union is not strictly adhered toas an absolute salary in all cases, but may be used as a minimum. It is not clear how many years of postdoctoral experience each postdoc has from our data; however the levels used suggest that unlike most of our other datasets, the proposed FLSA minimum is not such a major factor; that is to say, in most other datasets, often most salaries are at that level. Here we can see more of a spread of postdocs over a range of salaries, rather than clustering around a minimum. Only 5 postdocs are designated “Fellow”; the rest are “Employee”.