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January/February 2020

Scientist employment and remuneration: 2019 survey results

Professionals Australia, Professional Scientists Australia and Science & Technology Australia asked national solution-makers and knowledge-creators about their daily conditions of work and what they need to be primed for success.

Over the past year, remuneration for scientists has increased by 2.0%, extending beyond the cost of living increase for the year (1.6%). However, this is less than the rate of wage growth across Australian workplaces more generally with the Wage Price Index to the June quarter sitting at 2.3%. There is still work to do.

More than one-third (35.2%) of respondents reported being dissatisfied with their current level of remuneration, and 37.5% said they were considering leaving their current employer. For those who were considering leaving, a pay increase, greater professional development opportunities and better management were the most frequently cited contributing factors. 41.2% said their package did not reflect the level of responsibility they undertook in their day-to-day work.

Of particular ongoing concern is the gender pay gap. According to the survey, women in science are paid 13.8% less than their male colleagues. This is an improvement on results from last year’s survey, but it is still equivalent to the national average of 14.1% and warrants urgent attention. The gap emerges at mid-career stage and becomes particularly obvious at senior levels.

When asked to reflect on their sector, respondents reported broad concern about Australia’s ability to maintain its scientific capability. Almost two-thirds said cost-cutting was affecting their organisation and more  than one-quarter reported a decline in service quality at their workplace. 26.9% said a decline in the number of scientists in decision-maker roles was evident in their organisation. Alarmingly, 72.3% of respondents said Australia was not well prepared to meet emerging challenges. 71.4% of respondents agreed that attracting, developing and retaining the next generation of scientists is one of the most important priorities for developing a sustainable STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workforce in Australia.

These findings sit alongside the latest figures showing that Australia invests 1.88% of GDP in research and development – well below the OECD average of 2.38%. OECD records also show a decline in business investment in R&D for the first time since records have been maintained.*

Wages growth

Base salaries paid to professional scientists grew by an average 2.0% over the last 12 months. 27.1% of respondents reported that they had not received any pay increase over the previous 12 months.

Increases paid to professional scientists across all sectors were at or above increases to the cost of living at 1.6% (to June 2018) as measured by the ABS Consumer Price Index (6401.0). Notably, however, the average increase in Research Agencies was at CPI level of 1.6% and the average increase in the State Public Service salaries was 1.7%, only marginally beyond CPI. The earnings increase across the Australian economy (to June 2018) as measured by the Wage Price Index (6345.0) sat at 2.3% to the June quarter. Average increases only in the Hospital and Government business enterprise sectors exceeded this level of growth.

Average annual base salaries and total packages were highest in the Physics, Geology and Botany fields. Annual salary movements were greatest in the Food Science/Technology, Botany, Physics and Geology fields with increases of 3.0, 2.8, 2.5 and 2.3% respectively. Movements were lowest in Marine Science and Materials/Metallurgy with increases of 0.7 and 1.0% respectively.

Average salaries

Across all sectors employing scientists, a full-time professional scientist took home an average annual base salary of $112 151 and received a total package worth $129 910. The average annual base salary was greatest in the Education sector at $125 328, compared with $114 646 in the Australian Public Service (APS) and $105 525 in the Private sector. The highest average total package was in the Education sector at $144 981, compared with $132 493 in the APS and $123 714 in the Private sector.

Satisfaction with remuneration

46.9% of scientists surveyed reported being satisfied or very satisfied with their current level of remuneration – up on last year’s figure of 42.5%. 35.2% were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied – barely changed from 35.5% in 2017. The highest levels of satisfaction with remuneration were found in the Mathematics, Computer Science and Physics fields.

44.6% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their remuneration was falling behind market rates. 41.2% said their remuneration did not reflect the level of responsibility they undertook in their day-to-day work.

Employment intentions

12.0% of respondents had changed jobs in the previous 12 months and, of those, 40.9% had moved for a pay increase, 47.0% had moved for greater job security and 50.0% had moved for greater professional development opportunities. 21.2% had moved for promotion and 50.0% had moved to get away from an unhealthy workplace culture. 36.4% had moved to seek better management.

37.5% of respondents reported that they were considering leaving their current job – down on 39.8% in last year’s survey. Respondents reported that the factors that would alter their intention were a pay increase (61.3%), greater professional development opportunities (49.8%) and better management (44.3%).

Gender pay gap

Female respondents earned on average 86.2% of male respondents’ earnings – a gender pay gap of 13.8%. The survey found evidence of a gender pay gap arising from a combination of factors including concentration of female respondents in less senior roles, in roles requiring fewer years of experience and fewer females aged over 40.

Work priorities, morale and fatigue

Job security ranked highest in respondents’ work priorities, followed by remuneration, positive workplace culture and work–life balance. 50.0% of respondents said that staff morale had declined in their organisation over the previous 12 months. 57.5% reported that worker fatigue had increased.

Value of postgraduate qualifications

The average base salaries by highest qualification ranged from $125 697 for those with a PhD, through to $114 004 for those with a Masters, $107 893 for those with a Graduate diploma and $96 871 for those with a Bachelor degree.

The completion of postgraduate qualifications – Graduate Diploma, Masters and PhD – delivered average earnings premiums (total package figures) of 14.4, 20.6 and 29.7% respectively over holding a Bachelor degree alone.

Working hours

Respondents worked on average 43.6 hours per week including 5.4 hours of overtime. Only 10.5% received monetary payment in recognition of their additional hours, a significant issue in view of the 11.4% of respondents reporting that they were expected to work longer hours in the past year compared to the previous one.

The average number of hours worked per week was greatest for those working in Teaching or training and Management roles, and respondents were most frequently compensated for additional hours in the Hospital sector, Local Government, and the Australian Public Service.

Skills development

42.8% of respondents said there was insufficient skills development in their workplace over the previous 12 months. Of those that had changed jobs in the previous 12 months, 50.0% had moved for further professional development opportunities.

Deprofessionalisation, professional standards and cost-cutting

Deprofessionalisation – defined as the diminution of science capability across responsibility levels, industries and/or job functions – was seen as a concern with 26.9% of respondents noting a reduction in the number of scientists in decision-maker roles over the previous 12 months.

16.8 and 26.2% of respondents respectively said reduced adherence to professional standards and reduced service quality were evident in their organisation over the last 12 months. 59.2% of respondents reported that cost-cutting was an issue in their organisation.

Science capability, STEM priorities and workforce challenges

61.8% of respondents reported that scientific capability was seen as a source of innovation in their workplace. 16.8% said that scientific capability was not seen as a source of innovation in their workplace. 72.3% of respondents said Australia was not well prepared to meet emerging challenges.

Attracting, developing and retaining the next generation of scientists was seen as one of the most important priorities for developing a sustainable STEM workforce by 71.4% of respondents.

Diversity and discrimination

38.2% of female respondents said they had experienced bias or discrimination on the basis of gender in the previous three years. 19.5% of respondents had experienced sexual harassment at least once in the course of their employment compared to 4.9% of males.

Respondents reported 3.9% of employers had formal policies in place to promote diversity and 67.2% had policies to deal with discrimination. 25.7% of respondents said their employer did not have strategies in place to actually implement policies relating to diversity and discrimination.

* Australian Bureau of Statistics (July 2018). Research and experimental development, government and private non-profit organisations, Australia, 2016–17 (8109.0).

This is a modified exerpt of key results from the Professional scientists employment and remuneration summary report 2019. The summary and full reports are available at

More training is needed for young/new medical scientists and full payment for their qualifications … (Survey respondent)
There should be more recognition that STEM degrees are generalist and STEM graduates should be hired across an array of industries. (Survey respondent)

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