Back To Career News

Low Starting Pay: High Profile Careers


We’re often taught that putting in long hours and acquiring advanced degrees will result in a big paycheck. Sometimes that’s true, but there are some vocations where extra effort may not result in a large salary, even after all that time and studying.

If you dream of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and having a glamorous architect salary, remember that budding architects have to give up around seven years of their lives to complete undergraduate and master’s degrees. After getting your degree, you still won’t be earning a typical architect salary. You have to take a licensing exam and work as an intern at architectural firms for three years.

According to the American Institute of Architects’ 2005 compensation survey and the PayScale salary database, first-year interns (armed with a master’s degree) usually make a starting pay of about $34,000 and often carry $50,000 to $80,000 in debt – thanks to student loans. If you hang in there and pursue your dream of becoming an architect, with 10 years of experience or more you can earn a median architect salary of $70,300 in the US.

What does your job draw compared to the typical architect career? Find out with our salary calculator.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Of course, a big appeal of architecture is that your create something of lasting value. The pay for a software architect may be higher – average salary of $114,000 with 10 years of experience – but I know from experience the software just doesn’t last like a building.

Here are some more jobs that require you to give up years of your life to get the same paycheck that your buddies can be making a decade earlier.

Chef Salary, Big Paycheck?

There’s a great saying, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Believe it or not, there’s actually some truth to that culinary adage. According to Stephan Hengst, spokesman for the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), most restaurant kitchens are not air-conditioned and can push the mercury over 100 degrees during summer months.

If you’re thinking of being the next Wolfgang Puck, landing executive chef jobs and cooking up a big paycheck, you might also want to consider a few more factors before you put on that chef’s hat.

Required Skills for being a Chef

After graduating culinary school (2-4 years), earning your degree and spending tens of thousands to get your degree, you may begin your career in a lowly kitchen line cook gig with a starting pay of $32,000. Stephan Hengst says after three or four years of working your way up to “Sous-Chef,” you might be pulling in around $55,000. However, a quick check of the PayScale says this may be optimistic: line cooks in Seattle with 1-4 years of experience are pulling down more like $25,000/year, and Sous Chef’s with 5-9 years of experience are earning $35,000.

Hengst also adds that you’ll probably only get benefits if you work for a restaurant chain; you may need those health benefits to see a podiatrist. You’ll be on your feet an average of 12 hours a day, and possibly work 80 to 100 hours a week; that’s not exactly the pampered chef! To add insult to injury, the people you’re working for, your customers, will probably never see you; so don’t expect a pat on the back.

Research Scientist Resume

Working as an academic research scientist sounds like a high status gig, but first you’ll need to complete a PH.D. and a dissertation; that’s 6-8 years of your life. After getting your degree, add on a few more years for that postdoctoral “phase” as you try to attain one of those sweet tenure-track gigs. And what will that “phase” entail?

Most likely, you’ll be teaching, working in a lab during all hours of the night and/or day, writing grants, publishing research (from your lab work); all for a starting pay of about $43,000. According to Phil Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, the average span of a post-doc career has doubled over the past decade.

A bright spot: female PhD Physicists (not professors), earn the same as the men, for the uncorrected sample in PayScale’s database, anyway.

Competing for Starting Pay

On top of that, there are not enough tenure track positions (in many disciplines) for all of the candidates; so add “competition” to that academic mountain you’ll have to climb. My favorite Ph.D. fact: every professor only needs to have one graduate student during his/her career, this student will replace him/her at retirement. Professors usually, each, have dozens of graduate students during their careers. Talk about oversupply! I did my part: I got out of academia after training one Ph.D. to replace me. 🙂

All of this makes spending two years of your life in an MBA program look like a vacation, and quite a lovely one, especially if you snag a position with starting pay in the six-figure range. How does your paycheck compare to these all work and no play careers? Find out with our salary calculator.

Leave a Reply

Notify of
What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.