Crystal Lee (she/她)

How much have I been paid in academic (or ac-adjacent) jobs?

It's officially my first day as a faculty member!

I've long ranted about how little salary transparency there is in academia, so to celebrate, I'll outline how much I've been paid or negotiated in the last decade or so in academic (and academic-adjacent) jobs. I hope that this inspires you to negotiate for more as a worker, and for employers (universities, and also profs hiring research assistants) to pay their workers fairly. All of the previous caveats from my previous job-related posts apply, and I have tried to recollect these numbers as faithfully as possible.

I know that discussing salary has long been seen as distasteful. If you find this post in poor taste, I hope you consider how sharing numbers actually helps folks be able to more accurately "know their worth" -- a phrase we see a lot when it comes to asking for more, particularly as it applies to minoritized groups both inside and outside of academia. Salary transparency is one really crucial component to meaningfully bridging inequities across axes of marginalization in work, as pay gaps are only a symptom of larger issues of inequity like promotion and retention. Particularly if you are currently a faculty member, I hope this pushes you to use your social capital to materially support (and / or caution) others who are joining the academy. Erin Bartram has a fantastic resource from AY2019–20 and AY2020–21 that collects salaries across grad students, adjuncts, and TT folks, and every public university salary is available online (see, for example, the UC salary database).

Anyways, without further adieu...

As a student: research assistantships and odd jobs

  • Research assistant, 2011–2015: in my first research job at Stanford, I was paid $15/hour. I don't remember when I got a raise, but around a couple years in, I got boosted to $20/hour (I didn't ask for it, and as far as I know, everyone in the department I was in got it at the same time -- it was a broader institutional push).
  • Consulting intern, 2012–2016: in the summers, I worked as an intern on a 1099 and made $30/hour. I was scared to negotiate, but I did it from $25/hour. In retrospect, I should have asked for MUCH more and been more strident. I never found out exactly what my male colleagues made, but I knew it was >$30 from the few conversations we had around it which danced around the issues. I was generally anxious about money and paying for Stanford so I worked a lot. I was doing ~50 hours/wk -- not crazy summer associate hours, but enough that I usually made around $15-17k per summer from this.
  • Freelance design, 2011–2016: I did some freelance design on the side. Most of it I charged by project (~$1k for a package that included fully designed + image sourced brochures, booklets, and poster for an event). In retrospect, I way, way undercharged and didn't do a good job negotiating boundaries (e.g., how many rounds of edits a client got). I also got burned by one huge project and they ended up not paying me at all.
  • Tutoring, 2011–2016: I did get more confident in my abilities, though. I also tutored for families who gave me a starting rate of $80/hr which I negotiated up to $100/hr. I did a couple hours a week. I remember thinking at the time that it was simultaneously extremely easy and extremely difficult money to make: they were pretty hands off when it came to what and how I taught, but very demanding when it came to when they wanted me to be there. 9 pm calls were not uncommon.

Graduate school stipend

  • MIT PhD stipend, 2016–2022: starting the PhD was a different ball game! When I started, we were only guaranteed 9 months of funding/year, but we did end up getting 2 months of summer funding somewhere around my second/third year. For what it's worth, health insurance was 100% covered so I didn't have to pay that on top. Dental is extra, though, at $544.56 per year.
    • I started at $25,866/AY for my first year and got a summer fellowship. The first year summer fellowship from MIT (not department) paid a little better, with a monthly salary of $3,124 over 3 months = $9,372. Total salary for year one: $35,238.
    • When I TA'd during my second year, I made $3,214/month. Total AY salary: $28,926 (about 3k more than on fellowship). I got a super plush RAship and fellowship for the summer ($9,561). Total salary for year two: $38,487.
  • Over the next couple years, I would alternate between these different positions (HASTS doesn't really do RAships unless it's hourly):
    • On MIT fellowship: $1,796.32 biweekly
    • On department TAship: $1,422.04
    • On department fellowship: $1,689.00
    • Every hourly RAship I've gotten / been offered from profs and other MIT programs has been the same rate, $30/hour.
    • The summer fellowship amounts varied a little, but we were guaranteed 2 months out of 3. This meant that my annual income was around $35-38k (and maybe a few hundred dollars here and there from random consulting stuff). A big difference between fellowship and TAship (which all my grad student friends likely know) is that taxes are automatically deducted for TAships but NOT fellowships, so that's money you have to set aside yourself, even if the take-home pay looks higher.

Honoraria and consulting

In the last two years, I've been lucky enough to be invited to speak where folks also offered honoraria (and travel, but I haven't really taken people up on it since I've done most things remotely) or do some more specialized consulting. The consulting stuff has been nice in that I haven't intentionally sought it out; it's mostly from people who've been kind enough to read my work, reach out, and ask for a set appointment that required no prep or follow-up from me (I declined everything that wasn't this model). Some of these opportunities have been truly mind-boggling -- I once did a 30 min consult with a huge consulting firm which paid $1k. I don't really keep a fee sheet (mostly bc I try not to do too much of this kind of work) but I haven't really done too much that's <$250-300/hour. (I think it's useful to think not just about HOW much you're being paid, but also how much effort it'll take for you to actually see the money -- I've definitely spent enough time chasing down invoices that I drastically diminished how much my time is actually worth).

Honestly, it's not that I only select things based on how much they pay -- there are other factors too, like how much I like the person / project / how much I think I can actually help -- but that people usually haven't offered me anything less for paid consulting work. (I have also done a lot of work for free, but when there is money involved, this is traditionally how much I've charged.) When it comes to consulting for companies / private orgs, I have no problem being quite restrictive in terms of what my time is worth. The amounts for honoraria vary pretty widely, however, and partially that's because it was a mix of non-profits, academic departments, conferences, invited workshops, etc -- all with varying budgets, which is useful to keep in mind as both a speaker and event organizer.

This will probably come to a surprise to no one, though, that I've never really been paid by the most elite and wealthy institutions, but almost ALWAYS been paid by places that comparatively have the least resources. (Like all of my colleagues, I have also done a lot of talks for free.) For multi-day invited workshops, the payment band has been around $400–600 (not including travel). For presentations, anywhere from $100–1k, median around $400. Nonprofits and conferences have tended to pay better and more quickly -- getting all the finances ironed out with the check in the account usually ends up being really slow with a university. For long-term participation with monthly meetings (light advisory / mentoring / retainer-y things generally not in academia), I've usually been paid $1k for a 6-8 month commitment. $1k / 8 meetings = $125/hr. Also, just for full transparency, this is what I've been privileged to get as a grad student! My grad student comrades, know your worth -- use these numbers to anchor your consulting conversations with industry. You are an EXPERT and people should pay you as such.

Senior fellowship and faculty job

Okay, for the last two examples I have: the Mozilla fellowship and my tenure-track job at MIT. For 75% time at Mozilla, I made $120k/year. The original offer was $90k (which I knew to be on the lower based on the salary band that other folks had gave me). I didn't have to do much "negotiating" in the way that I think of the term: I talked to HR and asked them what the number for the fellowship was based on...and then magically, a new offer letter arrived with $120k. I didn't have convos about what I brought to the table. A SINGLE QUESTION asked in a <30 min meeting resulted in a raise that was roughly equal to what I had been making IN A YEAR. As far as I know, this is on the higher end of Mozilla fellowships, and definitely the tip top of any fellowship I've ever seen (especially given that so many in academia pay $0 or just about what you'd make as a grad student).

For the MIT job, I had a little more leverage re: salary because I could use my Mozilla offer letter to try and increase the base. During my 1:1 with my department chair, I had a really long conversation that was centered around the kind of scholarship I wanted to do / how I could best position myself + the department to succeed. I had a lot of help here from other junior colleagues who helpfully shared their offer letters and senior colleagues who walked me through arguments that were more persuasive to a department (e.g., not asking for a $10k signing bonus but for $10k on a down payment so you can set down roots). While I did not ultimately get said down payment contribution, I think the framing of talking about shared success is really helpful -- I also took this approach with other things like teaching releases and publishing subventions. As I've written about elsewhere, it's less about demanding X because you have leverage and more about telling a story about what you need to flourish alongside the department. It's a collaborative conversation, not a confrontational one. For more on stuff like this, see this thread. For more on what you can negotiate for in a job offer, see this post.

This is not to say that you're negotiating with a completely well-intentioned equal -- you're not -- but framing the conversation to highlight shared incentives and goals helps make things move a little more smoothly. It wasn't until after I did my round of negotiations that other folks told me about all the other things that they asked for! There are so many things that never occurred to me, but folks asked for guaranteed spots in the university daycare, child education subsidies, better offices...

For many reasons (both within and outside my control), I think the negotiations were flexible and pleasant. For what it's worth, I genuinely felt like the department was trying to meet me where they could -- when they couldn't budge on one thing, they tried to move something else (like teaching release). Anyways, all this to say: I have been tremendously lucky and have won the professional lottery in so many ways. I have also benefited enormously from others who have shared knowledge like this with me, which has improved my already-stellar circumstances by an order of magnitude.

I hope this post helps you think through how much you're being paid (or paying others) -- and if you found this helpful, I hope you consider being public about your salary, too.

Happy negotiating!

Job Year(s) Salary or rate Negotiated?
Research assistant 2011–15 $15/hr → $25/hr No, raise given collectively across students (AFAIK)
Consulting intern 2012-2016 $30/hr in summer Negotiated up from $25, about $15-17k total per summer
Freelance design 2011–2016 Mostly charged by project, ~$1k I set the price and no one negotiated from there; in retrospect, I charged way too little
Tutoring 2011-2016 $80/hr → $100/hr I asked around others to see how much they made, and my opening ask was accepted
PhD stipend 2016–2022 Varied: ~$35–38k per year No
RAships 2016–2022 $30/hour No
Workshop honoraria 2020– $400–600 per engagement No
Speaking honoraria 2020– $100–1k, median $400 No (except once)
Advisory board / mentorship 2020– $1k for 6–8 months of monthly meetings No
Mozilla senior fellowship 2022– $120k/year for 75% effort Yes, from $90k
MIT job 2022– $70k/year postdoc, $110k/year asst prof Yes, from $105k