Identical twins but not identical income

Recently Beth Halford over at C&EN wrote an article on the pains and gains of the postdoc life so I thought I would expand a little on my own experiences using my twin sister as a direct comparison to me…

The odds of becoming an identical twin are around three in one thousand and I am one of those lucky three. Throughout the twenty eight years of mine and my twin sister’s life we have constantly been compared to each other in looks, personality and brain power. Abigail is a trainee general practitioner (GP) which means that she has completed her medicine degree (5 years) and subsequent foundation training (2 years). I am an organic chemistry postdoc, having completed my MChem. undergraduate degree (4 years) and PhD (3.5 years) in chemistry. Considering that the training for our respective roles has been a very similar amount of time, you may or may not be surprised to find that our lives and career prospects are very different.

The MD

Abbie has recently given birth to her first child and a year before this she got married and bought her idyllic, village-based family home. This story is very similar to many of her doctor friends, most of who are married, have a mortgage and child. Her current salary is close to £50k a year for a five day a week, 8.30 am – 6pm job[1]. On completion of her GP training (her chosen specialism), her salary will significantly increase, although her work responsibilities will also rise.

As background, In the UK, you do your degree, which is very competitive to get into, and then do two foundation years[2] in a range of specialities. If this goes well, you then apply for your, sometimes very competitive, specialism. At this point there is a relatively small risk of not getting a job, especially in larger cities and for popular specialisms, but the odds of gaining a job are in your favour.

The PhD

In comparison, I earn £28k a year and am on an eighteen month contract (1 year left) with no guarantee of employment on completion. My working hours can be very variable as research is unpredictable, with late nights or weekends not uncommon. My job is not only laboratory based, but also involves helping students, keeping the lab running smoothly, writing up publications and liaising with industrial partners. I currently live in rented accommodation with my postdoc boyfriend and we can not afford to buy a house or get married. In the last three years I have lived in three different cities and settling down is still not possible if I want a career in academia, which I am not sure that I do. My next step would require a prestigious fellowship, which are harder to come by than a clean NMR tube in a synthetic laboratory! So do I stick it out and hope that I get more publications which would give me a higher chance of a fellowship or do I head into industry?

There is also the issue of having children and, whilst my university does have decent maternity entitlement for fixed term staff, it would not necessarily be a good time in my career to have a child. There are many women that have succeeded in both becoming an academic and mother but the statistics show that only 20% of professors employed in 2011 were women[3].

To conclude…

I earn almost half what my sister earns even though we have spent the same number of years in training. My sister has deal with potentially life or death decisions every day and I applaud her ability to do this. Apart from the higher salary (and therefore larger shoe collection), her education and training allows her to be confident of getting a permanent position, having career progression options and a work-life balance. I feel my education and experience should have more value than is currently given to it, with industry and academia giving more financial incentive to stay in the research sector. I want to work hard and reach the higher echelons of my chosen profession whilst having job satisfaction and a work-life balance. These job requirements mean that it is becoming more likely that I will leave research and change career paths. For now though, I am happy as a postdoc and I will continue to work as hard as I can!


The awesome blogosphere has been joining in on the Blog Party in aid of @BRSM_Blog’s imminent departure from the UK. Here is a round-up of the posts so far. Have you written a post? If so, just share on twitter using the hashtag #brsmblogparty. If you don’t have a blog but want to offer some advice, just post in the comments section.

#BRSMBlogParty posts so far:

@Jessthechemist (me) gives BRSM a list of things to watch out for.

@azaprins implores you to keep blogging!

@Stuartcantrill kicked things off with a list of things that BRSM should know including that “bacon is somewhat limited and sausage is not sausage as you know it”. So true.

@SeeArrOh then posted a wonderful A Poste-docke Limerick with a fabulous ending line – “And never say no to some pub perks”.

@Chemtips talks language barriers and the class system. I particularly like that “all British accents are appreciated, and all can lend authority to your words”.

@MEvans86 advises BRSM to be nice to grad students…and to not be afraid to challenge your advisor.

@V_Saggiomo tells BRSM to run while you still can but since you can’t do that he does advise you to “always close the separatory funnel”.

@KarlDCollins gives some useful tips including to “quickly identify the most helpful/knowledgable PhD students and be as nice to them as possible”.

@ChemJobber tells BRSM to buy a car and explore because in “any direction you drive, there will be something different that is worth seeing”.

@_byronmiller has also joined in the party. He puts the case forward for BRSM to make videos a la Vittorio!

@Chembark has some top tips including this oh so true one: Try to be nice to—or at least respectful of—your colleagues

BRSM Blog Party: Bon Voyage BRSM

Welcome to the BRSM blog party. In a few weeks @BRSM_blog will be heading to the US of A to start his new life as a postdoc. As a goodbye gift, the chemistry blogosphere decided to give him a send off in the form of blog posts.

If you want to join in the party, then just write a blog post (either your own or using the template that I have used below) and share it on twitter using the hashtag #BRSMblogparty or give your advice in the form of comments below.

Here is my entry:

Jess (@jessthechemist), postdoc.

1. What is your message for BRSM?
Have a great time. Work hard but don’t forget to have fun. You are in a beautiful and exciting country. Explore it!

2. What is one postdoc survival tip you would give to BRSM?
Say yes to new opportunities. You never know what you will learn. I wouldn’t have predicted that I would learn how to use a 50 L vessel!

3. Do you have a fun story you could share from your postdoc and/or US academic experience?
Sometimes people give you work to proof read and it is terrible. Be nice and help them out. You were there once, remember.

4. A survival tip for living in the US?

I lived in the US for a year when I was 18. Here are some random tips I picked up along the way:

  • Meals are served in huge portions. Do not eat all your meal or you will come back to the UK obese.
  • Always say yes if you are offered s’mores. They rock.
  • Bagels taste better in NYC.
  • Hazelnut syrup does not belong in coffee.
  • Americans will not recognise where you are from in the UK so you should always just say London.
  • Right turn on red is awesome. Use it.

5. What would you like to see on BRSM blog in the future?

Keep us updated with postdoc life in the US and keep #blogsyn-ing.

6. Anything else?


BRSM Blog Party: Guest post by Freda!

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Freda (@azaprins) – PhD student, not a postdoc!

1. What is your message for BRSM?
Have fun, enjoy yourself, and don’t forget us when you’re famous 😉

2. What is one postdoc survival tip you would give to BRSM?
Have a work-life balance if you can?! Carry on mountain biking in your spare time.

3. Do you have a fun story you could share from your postdoc and/or US academic experience?
Well not really, I am not a postdoc so I thought it?d be rather nice to get some tweeps together who are/were postdocs to bestow their advice and blessing on you at this blog party!

4. A survival tip for living in the US? Share an idiom if you’re American!
Do not make any jokes at US border & customs as gaining entry is essential. After that the world is your oyster.

5. What would you like to see on BRSM blog in the future?
How postdoc life is different Stateside, and keep the Woodward Wednesdays going!

6. Anything else?
Always remember that your interest in the history of our subject (quote!) helped to solve an important synthetic problem. I also think that you’re curious, clever and encouraging enough to be a wonderful postdoc, so I wish you all the very best for the future. X

Academic Family Tree III

I thought I would post a more updated #chemistrytwittertree since it  has recently been mentioned in the Nature Chemistry blogroll. This is by no means the final tree so feel tree to offer suggestions on how to make it even bigger and better.

If you aren’t on the tree but can spot a way on, then email me (theorganicsolutionblog at gmail dot com), tweet me or leave the info in the comments section. If you want to find out more about your own academic timeline then is a great starting point. Also, if you spot any errors in the tree then please do let me know.

family tree 13-10-13