This Is How You Lose the Time War a Faculty Member

As it often happens, a few things occur simultaneously and all lead to the same place. For me, that place has been the database of salaries for my university system. One of the things that nudged me to go there was this post by the Grumpies (congrats on the promotion and associated raise to 1/2 of nicoleandmaggie!). 

On the one hand, I am objectively (as in, compared to other humans who all need to eat, have shelter, raise kids, etc.) very well paid. I really can’t complain to nonacademic civilians. On the other hand, I appear not to be well paid at all compared to my department peers. There’s always been some salary inversion, in that the salaries of assistant professors tend to rise over time at a higher rate than the salaries of tenured faculty, because hiring is most competitive at the assistant-professor level. I’ve been aware of this phenomenon since I became faculty. However, it is fucking insane that a couple of people who are a  decade behind me in seniority now make as much as me, especially because I am not and have never been a professional slouch (all my blog whinging notwithstanding). The highest paid person, who’s about a decade ahead of me, is paid twice what I am. He’s a veritable superstar, so perhaps that makes sense. The rest, however, does not. 

I have a larger group and publish and raise funds at a rate higher than my disciplinary peers pretty much anywhere, and I am on par with any similarly sized experimental group in my college. Plus, I’ve been doing more than my share of teaching for years now, and doing a smashing job by all accounts, yet that clearly doesn’t seem to matter. Had I been projecting on screen directly from the damn textbook, as I know for a fact one of my contemporaries still does, apparently it would not have mattered. 

And this, blogosphere, is how you lose a faculty member. I am not a person who likes to waste time,  either my own or other people’s, so I didn’t want to engage in sending out feelers to see who might be willing to hire me elsewhere, because I didn’t want to be interviewing, getting offers, having counteroffers, the whole dance involving a dozen people just so I’d get proper compensation at my institution. Only it looks like I need to really make peace with moving, despite how sucky that might be for the family, because I am clearly being taken for granted here. 

I actually thought the department was doing a good job preemptively making faculty happy. Only I’m apparently much easier to make happy than others, because far more money seems to have been invested in the happiness of pretty much every other full professor in the department. 

I am so fucking angry right now. 

I need to gather my toys and take them elsewhere. 

(By the way, This Is How You Lose the Time War is a sci-fi novella.)


  1. I have gotten two equity bumps for complaining about my salary in comparison to equally or less prolific (always male) colleagues. Does your school have a process for equity bumps? It helped that one of my colleagues (now department chair) was one of two people on some university equity committee. I will email you the algorithm they use to point out people in need of equity consideration across the university (which is not as fancy as one using citations etc.). You may not have all the variables you need to use it though.

    One of my colleagues complained this year and she’s getting a bump from 147K to 200K (currently it is at 165K but he promises the second step is being processed and will happen before our first paycheck, the dean says). I can’t feel jealous even though this is substantially more than my salary because she missed the last two equity bumps and isn’t getting back pay. But I will be using her as a comparison to complain that I need a raise once things are settled more! (If I’m still here…)

    So, no outside offers, but it can be done under “equity” concerns. Heck, my mom got a bump as part of a class-action thing many years ago.

  2. Arg. This is infuriating. I was in a similar position. Last year, I was on the committee that evaluated everyone for raises, realized I do WAAAAY more than most, yet still have almost the lowest full prof salary. I wrote something up and the chair bumped my salary 13% this year.
    so probably worth pursuing $$ at your current program too.
    good luck

  3. I am talking from an employer’s perspectives. Yes, unless someone asks, employers don’t give unnecessary raises. However, loosing someone productive is not good, so the key is to ask. Even if you are not in the market, tell them you will leave if they don’t give you the raise you deserve. Make a case with data why you shouldn’t leave.

  4. @nicoleandmaggie and @Ali: Many thanks!

    @RS: “Yes, unless someone asks, employers don’t give unnecessary raises.” This makes my blood boil. Seriously. If you (not you, RS, obviously; the rhetorical you) appreciate your employee, show it to them. Preempt them thinking about leaving. If they have to threaten to leave unless they get a raise they already deserve — and you know they deserve it but have simply been withholding it out of willful obliviousness and/or stinginess, making excuses like “How could we have possibly known they wanted a raise? They should’ve asked!” — then it’s already too late. Once they’ve made peace with leaving in their mind, it’s too late.

    Honestly, this reminds me in some ways of the statistic of women usually initiating divorce and men often being shocked at the news because they supposedly had no idea anything was wrong (presumably because if a problem isn’t communicated explicitly, in third-grade language and with eye-catching visuals, it doesn’t exist). People have to pay attention to the people they supposedly value. It’s not really that hard. Not paying attention is lazy and irresponsible. To paraphrase from this memorable short nonfiction piece, “The Crane Wife” in Paris Review, it’s not really that remarkable for people to figure out what other people need.

  5. Totally understand your anger, but its not stinginess. It’s more complicated. It’s business, there are always so many things pulling money in different directions and not enough money to do everything. When you ask, you bring attention to your cause. Its same when PI holds on to their most hard working student/postdoc without letting them grow since it works for their own agenda. I will be happy to talk outside of this comment section if I can provide a perspective from a different angle.

  6. @RS: “Its same when PI holds on to their most hard working student/postdoc without letting them grow since it works for their own agenda.” This is actually abusive, and people who do this for a prolonged period really have no business advising students. I understand what you’re saying (and happy to email more btw if you want), but it just reinforces that powers that be totally know a high performer is being underpaid but elect not to do anything about it and wait to see how long they can get away with it. This also creates the perverse situation in which only squeaky wheels get the grease, even if other nonsqueaky wheels are actually critical for the enterprise.

  7. @RS Another problem comes when people from underrepresented groups are systematically underpaid. At that point it IS in the large employer’s best interest to deal with equity concerns in order to avoid expensive lawsuits and bad optics (also potential loss of government funding but only if they don’t try and fix it). #Advance #DrainThePool

  8. All good points, but the implementation and outcome will vary from case-to-case. You are your best advocate, no one can champion you like you. Waiting for someone to notice and reward is again a good-girl syndrome. Play like a pro, ask for a raise with a strong case if you think you deserve it.

  9. Just here to encourage you, along with nicoleandmaggie: that is some BS, but before you go to all the trouble and angst of going on the job market and uprooting your family… ask for the raise! Our dean is lovely but flaky as heck, and I’ve had a couple of situations that I angsted about recently that were solved immediately once I worked up the nerve to just ask flat out, like a mediocre white dude. Resources came my way. We are socialized not to ask, and I know all the feelings that go along with it, but really, what do you have to lose? (Clearly they have much more to lose than you do… and it will be their loss if they don’t immediately realize it and jump on the opportunity to offer you what you’re worth.)

  10. @RS: I hear you. The old adage that women are never assertive enough in the workplace, and if only they were, all their problems would go away (sadly not true). There are also plenty of men who are serious scientists but not boastful; they are the ones whose papers don’t get retracted from flashy journals because they turn out half-baked and wrong. These men get screwed over, too. It’s perverse to reward boastfulness (also known as “assertiveness” in men and “bitchiness” in women) over actual technical merit. There has to be someone paying attention to who’s objectively actually doing what, FFS

  11. I would just caution against the “women don’t ask” narrative generally. Women don’t ask because they are sometimes punished for asking. And I don’t think the humble men actually do get screwed over to the extent women do. Only when there are literally no women around. (I’m getting this from Lise Vesterlund’s work on being asked to do service which is related, and a great paper by a Harvard phd about the hurdles women have to jump for referees that men don’t have to jump, but I bet it’s similar for money.)

    In this case, xyk is tenured and can make a good case and she can definitely leave if she is punished for asking. (It’s not clear how they could punish her anyway.)

  12. ok, good-girl was bit specific but it also meant good-boy syndrome. Both men and women can be punished for not advocating themselves. There are higher-ups who will notice and reward and there are those who are too busy to notice or don’t care. You will find all spectrum of being human. Universities are big elephants and they don’t care too much for a specific case. I know profs like to think of themselves as all too important, but they are replaceable with another one in no time. It could also be the case that your department chair knows that you won’t move because of your family so ignoring. I do not know enough about your specific situation, but would advise to ask first and if needed ready to move to get what you deserve if it is important. This is a game and those who don’t play do get punished more often than not.

  13. @RS: “I know profs like to think of themselves as all too important, but they are replaceable with another one in no time.” Why would you take a jab at literally my entire readership? If you dislike academia and think faculty are ridiculous, why engage with people on an academic blog?

  14. If you are serious about moving, what exactly would you look for in a new institution? Obviously, you can be choosy. What are the top criteria for a mid-career move?

  15. @Profdirector: Good question. I personally am not crazy about the idea of uprooting my life, to be honest, and my husband and kids aren’t either. Presently, I am looking at comparable or higher schools to see what the salary ranges for people of my seniority are (so far the finding is that my school does pay on par with peers). What I will do isn’t entirely clear, but it will surely involve some midcareer brand building, not unlike what one does right before tenure (accepting more invited talks, traveling more, making sure I’ve actually gotten nominated for all external recognitions I can, etc.). This won’t hurt, whether a move or not ends up being on the horizon.

    In general, people do move midcareer for all sorts of reasons: underpaid; not treated well by the department / harassment; outgrown the department and need to go somewhere bigger and better; nonexisting potential collaborators or other place with plenty of existing collaborators; unsolved two-body problem; medical issues and/or wanting to be closer to extended family; hating the overall living environment (e.g., the city or state) due to bad schools, remoteness of location, lack of culture, etc. Am I forgetting something?

  16. … we’ll *hopefully* be having an endowed prof search between physics/engineering soon at my institution (if it doesn’t get pushed back, again *eyeroll*). Even if you’re not “crazy” about moving, I hope it ends up on your radar (it is R1, midwest). You’re still anonymous to me, but if you have “I love quantum mechanics” in your “About” page, maybe it could relate to your work. It’d be cool if you ended up interviewed/on our campus!

  17. I’m sure there is at least an implicit assumption that senior women with families aren’t really going to want to move, so they don’t have to be actively retained unless they request it. I hope your department does show that it values you properly!

  18. My undergrad advisor sued her university over pay equity. She similarly found that she was underpaid in comparison to new hires and to people at her level. One of her arguments is that it isn’t as easy for women with kids to just uproot their lives by looking for new positions. The university’s arguments against her were ridiculous – essentially they argued that she doesn’t do the same job as other faculty bc of how different each faculty member’s job is – and so equity isn’t even an issue.


    Speaking to RS’s perspective: From non academic experience, yes, employers don’t give raises until they’re asked. But from a long time manager’s perspective: it’s ridiculously stupid. ALSO women are penalized for not asking, and ALSO penalized for asking. That policy is point blank stupid.

    Why wait for people to get disenchanted and THEN try to claw back the bad feelings? It’s bad short term thinking and contributes to unnecessary loss of good people when you could proactively reward the people you want to keep and not reward the people you don’t want to keep.

    I make it a point to ensure that my people get annual raises, and not just 2-3% piddly increases either, by making a case with HR myself on their behalf because I know I can get more traction than they can and because I think it’s incredibly unfair to only reward people who think or know to ask. (And stupid. Did I mention that forcing people ask before you give them raises is stupid?)

    I hope you get the raise and if you need to move, that the new place more than makes up the shortfall.

  20. I am late to the party because I am pretty caught up in my own career drama but I wanted to say I am sorry to hear your institution has been taking you for granted and at the same time completely not surprised because something similar is happening to me right now and I am completely cynical about the ability of most men in power to recognize talent in women.

    You should ask for the discrepancy to be fixed. But, from my experience, you should also start coming to terms with the fact that you might need to leave. It has taken me far too long to come to those terms. And if you are going to threaten to leave over this, you have to be ready to follow through or you’ll be left in a worse position than you are in now.

    In my case it is less about money and more about feeling taken for granted and like I have no room to advance. I eventually decided to tell my boss to give the company a chance to fix this – much to my husband’s annoyance. He thought I should just leave. I have a pseudo-job search underway. I basically just stopped saying “no” when people contacted me and now I have 5 potential other options I am exploring. But my boss is a long time friend and I didn’t want to blindside him.

    As for whether people get raises without asking: I am very much in agreement with you that you should not have to constantly ask to be paid what you are worth. A culture that expects that disadvantages women and people of color because as others have pointed out, we face potential negative career impacts from asking. In my experience, any company/boss worth working for will proactively give merit raises. But since industry salaries are NOT public it is hard to assess if you’re paid fairly. If I worked somewhere that was not giving me raises, I would either ask about it or just start a job search and leave. Of course, I have the advantage of being able to change jobs without moving my family so that makes it much easier to just walk away.

    This entire experience has made me think a lot about different work cultures and what sort of culture I need in order to thrive. I’ll have to blog about it once things have settled.

    Good luck on fixing the problem at your institution! Hopefully they just need a kick in the pants. But if that doesn’t work, I am sure you will find another institution that will pay you what you are worth.

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