How much will I earn in science?
You can expect to earn enough money as a scientist to live comfortably. Science Recruitment Group (SRG)’s 2019 salary survey, completed in association with New Scientist, found that the average salary, excluding benefits, for full-time workers in the science industry is £40,925. Some employers may also give you a bonus on top of your wage.
The most traditional route into a career in science is an undergraduate degree and sometimes postgraduate study, especially if you want a career in research. However, there are a number of apprenticeships available to school leavers with A levels or equivalent. Some of these apprenticeships involve working towards a degree.
Apprentices start earning much sooner than graduates. Graduates typically start on a higher wage than apprentices, although they will have to pay back their student loans.
Your income will also depend on which organisation you work for, which industry you work in and what professional qualifications you have.
How much will I get paid as an apprentice in science?
An apprenticeship salary will depend on the employer. The minimum wage for an apprentice is £3.90 an hour. This rate applies to apprentices aged 16 to 18 and apprentices aged 19 or above who are in the first year of their apprenticeship. After this you will be entitled to the minimum wage for your age.
However, employers often pay more than the minimum wage. You can typically expect larger companies to offer higher salaries than smaller employers.
The following apprenticeships require A levels or equivalent.
- the National Nuclear Laboratory: pays more than the minimum wage and states that you'll earn £45,000 to £50,000 in total over the course of a degree apprenticeship
- Rolls-Royce: offers a starting salary of £13,125 a year
- the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory: pays its apprentices at least £10,500 in the first year, which rises to £14,251 in the second year.
How much can I earn as a graduate in science?
Starting salaries for science graduate roles tend to be advertised at between £20,000 and £30,000. However, this can vary depending on the type of science you practise and the industry you work in. The Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey asks former students what they’re doing six months after graduation. The 2016 survey covered those who graduated in 2015 and found that the lowest starting salaries across the sciences ranged from £17,200 and £20,500. The highest salaries were seen for chemistry graduates at £27,500 and physics graduates at £30,500.
NB: the survey also covers science graduates working in non-scientific jobs. The survey notes that a high percentage of graduates had not established professional science careers six months after graduating and were working in lower paid positions to gain the experience they require to progress in their chosen careers, hence the lower salary range.
Graduates on the NHS scientist training programme (STP) start on around £26,000.
Average starting salaries for graduate roles (source: National Careers Service):
- biologist: £14,000
- biochemist: £26,500
- botanist: £22,000
- chemist: £18,000
- clinical scientist: £30,401
- ecologist: £19,000
- food scientist: £20,000
- forensic scientist: £20,000
- geoscientist: £22,000
- laboratory technician: £15,000
- materials engineer: £20,000
- medical physicist: £30,401
- meteorologist: £20,000
- microbiologist: £27,146
- pharmacologist: £25,000
- physicist: £14,000
- research scientist: £15,000
- vet: £30,000
- zoologist: £21,000.
What about graduate jobs in science that require a postgraduate qualification?
While some employers will just require a degree, others may want you to have a masters degree. Many science degrees are offered as four-year courses that include a masters degree for this reason.
Some employers, particularly within the field of research, will also want you to have completed or be working towards a PhD. The good news is that you won’t necessarily have to pay for it out of your own pocket. Students can often find funding through research councils. Funded PhD students will usually be awarded between £14,000 and £16,000 a year. Alternatively, you could find an employer to sponsor your PhD. They may offer to cover some of the costs or even pay the full amount.
Having a PhD does not guarantee that you will earn more than somebody who doesn’t have a PhD. It will, however, open up career options with good pay cheques. Postdoctoral researchers, for example, can earn between £29,000 and £36,000 a year. Lecturers, professors and senior staff in research institutions can earn up to and above £60,000.
Certain careers in science have strict entry requirements but offer the incentive of a big salary. To become a veterinary surgeon you will be studying for five to six years. A newly qualified vet will earn around £30,000, but with experience this can rise to around £44,000. A senior partner in a practice can take home over £50,000. To be an astronaut you need a postgraduate science qualification and must be between 27 and 37 years old. The starting salary, £40,000, is unsurprisingly higher than other starting salaries in science. After basic training this can rise to £62,000 and with more experience you could be earning £80,000 a year or more.
What is the earning potential of a graduate v. an apprentice in science?
In the time that a graduate has been studying for their degree an apprentice may have gained enough experience to be promoted.
However, to match the earning potential of a graduate, an apprentice may need to consider further study towards a degree after finishing their apprenticeship. Further study may involve studying part time while working for your employer or going to university full time after completing your apprenticeship. This might not be necessary if your apprenticeship involves studying towards a degree or an equivalent qualification.
What other factors affect science salaries?
You can expect to earn more if you work in London and the south-east. However, the cost of living in London is higher. While you may earn a little less in other parts of the country, you will find that things such as house prices, rent and restaurant bills will be cheaper.
You can often further your career in science by achieving chartered status. Chartered status is a benchmark of professionalism and competence in science; you work towards this on the job. Those with chartered status tend to earn a higher salary than those without chartership.