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Salaries - What Researchers and Developers Earn

By Heike Friedrichsen

A career at university is risky, public research institutions often only offer temporary contracts. Industry on the other hand beckons with attractive salaries. The current salary report shows how much researchers and developers can earn - and which industries pay particularly well.

Salaries - What Researchers and Developers Earn© Kutaytanir - iStockphoto.comResearchers and developers have excellent salary opportunities in industry
Dr. Thomas Menzel* works in a medical engineering company. Currently, the computer scientist is conducting research into software for visualising organs; the software is intended for future use in hospitals and x-ray centres. After completing his doctorate, Menzel went directly into industry and began a specialised career there. "What persuaded me were the excellent working conditions, the freedom - and the salary", says the scientist.

Researchers and developers can indeed earn very well in industry. According to an analysis by salary consultants PersonalMarkt, researchers and developers in industry start with salaries of approximately 45,000 euros per year, while their colleagues at research institutions earn an average annual salary of 36,700 euros. The analysis comprised a total of over 6,000 datasets.

A lack of well-paid positions

That young scientists choose to go into industry is also due to rocky qualification paths, uncertain career prospects and the often temporary contracts in public research institutions. "Only a handful manage to gain one of the few professorships or rise to the top of a research institution; the others simply remain research assistants for a very long time", says Menzel.

Sarah Müller* also felt like a "research assistant": the biology graduate initially conducted her research at a higher education institution on a temporary contract she was constantly worried would not be renewed. And on a salary that was comparatively low. Her move to the pharmaceutical industry had a very positive effect on her income: she now earns almost twice as much. "Biologists, chemists, biochemists or medical scientists - they almost all switch to industry at some point", concludes Müller.

Chemical industry pays high salaries

The industry beckons not only with high starting salaries, but also with interesting salary perspectives. Particularly the so-called key industries have been known for years for their high salary levels. Unsurprisingly, salary negotiations tend to go more smoothly where businesses are doing well. Young researchers in the chemical industry earn the highest incomes: career starters make around 50,000 euros here, while top earners may even reach annual salaries of over 56,000 euros. Above-average salaries are also paid in the aviation industry (49,400 euros), in the semi-conductor industry (47,850 euros), in the automotive sector (46,700 euros) and at software companies (44,400 euros).

But not all industries pay equally well, as the analysis also shows. Industries with lower pay include research institutes, but also the food industry (39,600 euros), the healthcare sector (38,800 euros) and biotechnology (37,800 euros).

A doctorate pays off

Graduates in science subjects often follow up their degree with a doctorate. That may cost time and create stress, but it also brings a significantly higher salary: career starters with a doctorate can already earn an annual salary of almost 48,000 euros at the beginning of their career. By comparison, a Master's degree brings in just under 43,000 euros, a university Diplom 42,400 euros and a degree from a university of applied sciences 42,000 euros.

Have you negotiated well?

Or is there upward potential? If you are interested in a precise assessment of your market value, PersonalMarkt» will create a comprehensive and individual salary analysis for you.

More experience, more money

Salaries rise with increasing professional experience. The differences in pay however vary very little: researchers with up to five years of experience earn on average 44,200 euros a year at research institutions, while their colleagues in companies in the chemical industry already earn an average of 62,800 euros a year and top earners achieve annual incomes of over 70,000 euros.

There are many good reasons to embark on a career in academia. Compared to a similar role in industry however, the annual salaries even of German professors are on average significantly lower. So for those to whom money is the most important factor, the research industry is the place to be.

* Name has been changed