doi:10.1038/nindia.2010.98 Published online 21 July 2010

Happy with their jobs

Megha Prakash sifts through data from the Nature jobs international salary survey to find out what it means to the Indian scientist.

Indian scientists have got a boost with the recent salary hike.

Salary isn't the foremost of most Indian scientists' concerns. Like other professionals, they love their holiday entitlements, healthcare benefits, promotions, perks and increments. This is what an international survey on salary and job satisfaction among scientists concluded.

The first of its kind survey found that scientists in India and Switzerland were 'somewhat satisfied' with the total number of hours they put in every week. In India owing to shortage of trained manpower both in academia and industry, work hours get stretched. On an average a lecturer contributes 15-20 hours a week and a professor 10-15 hours a week.

Unlike Australia, Japan, Canada, the United States and Germany, India has almost no gap in salaries of men and women researchers. India allows similar pay pattern and career opportunities to both male and female researchers.

"Family ties often slow down efficiency but there is no gender bias. Most labs in India have more women researchers than men," says T. N. Sathyaprabha, an associate professor at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bangalore. Moreover, female scholars are preferred in research labs because they are sincere and dedicated, adds A. K. Srivastava, a senior professor at Choudhary Charan Singh University in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh.

In rest of the world, men's salaries are 18 per cent to 40 per cent higher than women's. Despite such discrepancies, overall job satisfaction levels among male and female researchers are remarkably similar.

India, not fairing so well on most job attributes, has still reported an increase in salary in the past one year. With the sixth pay scale revision by the Indian government, Indian researchers seem content. "The pay scale is better now, I am happy with the present salary," says Sathyaprabha.

Anila Negi, a research fellow at Himachal Pradesh University says her stipend is satisfactory. "But the contingency provided by University Grant Commission is less compared to that offered by Department of Biotechnology. It only allows us to buy two or three chemicals in a year as they are costly," she says.

Salary increases as the researchers go up the career ladder from post-docs to assistant professors or lecturers to associate professors and then professors. Entry level jobs pay more or less the same in all countries but North American entry-level scientists take more money home than Europeans. "A senior professor in India with more than 40 years of experience draws Rs 92,000 a month," says Srivastava.

Starting salary for a post doc in India is between Rs 14, 000 and Rs 25,000. "That is not sufficient to run a family of two. It is equivalent to the starting salary of a software professional", says postdoctoral fellow Arun Sikarvar. Such dissatisfaction is pushing young post-docs towards the lure of international universities. (See Nowhere Man )

To sustain good research practices, guidance received from superiors or co-workers becomes important. Out of 16 countries included in the survey, Netherlands nears satisfaction whereas for other countries this index is fairly low. On another related issue, less than 60 per cent of those surveyed in India, China and Japan were 'satisfied' or 'somewhat satisfied' with the degree of independence they enjoyed in their workplace.

"India lags behind because of the prevailing work culture. Political pressure invades state universities. Bureaucracy runs Indian science. It is difficult to get funds sanctioned. And to make matters worse, the labs are inadequately equipped," says Srivastava.

Not limiting job satisfaction to salary, another index - purchasing power parity - which takes into account cost of living, shows that the relative salaries in India have got a huge boost. Average industry salaries exceed average academic salaries by 50 per cent in Asia and by 40 per cent in North America and Europe.

The survey reinforces the widely-held belief that money alone does not bring job satisfaction.