How I Raised My Biotechnology Salary Throughout My Career

  • Welcome to “Salary Journeys,” a series that discusses how much people have made over their careers.
  • In this journey, a 37-year-old lab manager moves from academia to the pharma and biotech industry.
  • He says he never changed his financial goals, just his plans for reaching them.

I’m a 37-year-old Hispanic man working in biotechnology in the Boston area. In the 12 years I’ve been working in science, I have gone from earning about $32,000 annually to $160,000.

I tell students from my alma maters that it’s OK if they’re not where they thought they would be in their career because I wasn’t where I wanted to be at 25. You’re going to have roadblocks. Swallow that pride, take it in, and come up with a plan. Don’t change your goal; change your plan. I never changed my goal of reaching a higher salary. I just changed how I was going to get there. 

My journey started when I was 25 years old, and if I knew where I was going to be at 37, I probably wouldn’t have stressed out so much. Here’s my salary journey over the past decade.

Editor’s note: Insider has verified the source’s pay and identity with documents for their current or most recent job. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Laboratory technician, $15 an hour

My first role was as a laboratory technician in North Carolina. In 2010, I was making $15 an hour at that level. That’s pretty common for assistance-level academic and research work.

About six months into that job, I saw an opportunity for a postbaccalaureate program. Since I wanted to earn a Ph.D., I decided to leave my technician role. 

Postbaccalaureate-program fellow, $21,000 stipend

I received a $21,000 annual stipend for my postbaccalaureate program in 2011. I did that for about a year, and I was invited to do it again because my research was going so well.

But I needed to make more money. Even with the low cost of living in the area of North Carolina I was in, it was very tough for me.

Research assistant, $27,000

I moved to Virginia in 2012 and started working in Norfolk at an academic institution and hospital. I was hired as a research assistant and made $27,000 annually. That meant I wasn’t even making as much as I had as a laboratory technician, but I wanted the better title.

Lab-operations manager, $37,000

After working there for 18 months, I decided to move to Boston in 2013. The initial offer I received was from a university, and it was for a research-study-technician position with a salary of $34,000. I was able to negotiate to $37,000. After about 3 1/2 years at the job, I advocated for a title change to lab-operations manager.

During my time there, I was able to get a master’s degree while I was working by leveraging the fact that I was an employee of the university. The school paid about 90% of the fees associated with my master’s degree. 

Lab manager, $70,000 

I had the opportunity to get a Ph.D., but after seeing the salary and length of the program, I decided there was no way I could do it. I would’ve made about $27,000 as a student, and I wouldn’t have finished the program until I was about 37. I thought, “I can’t afford to push my life off just because I want to get that Ph.D.”

I wanted to have a home. I wanted to have a family. I knew that it would be very difficult, not impossible, to do that with the modest salary of an academic.

As a result, I started applying to pharmaceutical positions at companies. I landed a lab-manager position in a clinical-stage pharma company in Boston in 2016, and my starting salary was $70,000. I was also getting stock options and an annual 10% bonus.

Making that jump from about $37,000 to $70,000 was a game changer for me, especially because I was living in the Boston area. I was able to pay down the debt I had accrued over the past couple of years from school. 

Program manager, $85,000

When I started as a lab manager, I went in with a specific mentality: I was going to make sure that I could do my 40 hours of work in 30 hours. I was going to take those other 10 hours, check around to see what everybody was doing, and find out whether I could use my other skills — such as working in Excel, planning a project, and building a workflow — and show everyone what I was capable of.

I wanted to learn more so that I could do more and show more. People started to notice: Five months after I started as a lab manager, I was promoted to program manager within clinical operations. My new salary was $85,000.

Senior program manager, $120,000

The following year, I was promoted again to senior program manager, with a base salary of $100,000. I received a company award for my efforts, and the following year, I received another base-salary jump to $120,000.

Senior project manager, $160,000

The money is secondary to learning for me. If I feel I’m not using my full potential, I won’t be satisfied in my job, no matter how much money I’m making.

When I started to feel that way in my previous job, I began looking for new roles. I applied for a senior-project-manager position at an early-stage biotech company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The starting salary was $145,000 with a 12.5% bonus and stock options. This was a $25,000 jump with the same title at a new company.

Then, six months after I started in 2020, I received an about 5% salary increase. Six months after that, I received another 5% increase. I still have the same title of senior project manager, and my salary is $160,000, with a 12.5% bonus. 

I recently started my own LLC, and this next week is going to be my last with the company. I will be working for myself. The salary for that is whatever I want to give myself, but we’ll probably start with a modest salary.

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