In the previous part (of a now, 3-part series), I highlighted a general procedure of obtaining research grant awards. In this part, I’ll write a little about hiring research staff. Research staff usually encompasses project or research officers, research associates or research fellows. Sometimes, a post-doctoral fellowship may also be available. However, I am not familiar with the actual criteria that is being spelt out in deciding this.

In a proposal, the estimated man-days is given, along with the estimated cost of hiring the staff. Primarily, the Principal Investigators/co-PIs/collaborators do not get paid from the grant. Rather, the awarded grant is used to pay for equipment, staff and all other miscellaneous cost involved in the project.

The proposal may suggest the number of staff to be involved in the project and usually, this is not contested – in the event that the grant is given. However, the actual amount awarded may be reduced because of various reasons, which may result in having insufficient funds to hire the full team that is proposed.

At this juncture, the PI may begin to recruit team members for the project, concentrating on the suitability of the candidate and leaving most pay matters under the care of the Human Resource department (I heard that HR is not a politically correct term to use).

Once a candidate is deemed suitable, the HR department will make an offer to the job candidate. The pay that is available to the candidate has various components deducted from the actual grant amount that is made available:

  • deduction of an administrative fee (of about 10%) by the university or research institute – this is thought to be equivalent to the "management fee" of the grant
  • deduction of employer CPF contribution – the grant supposedly incorporates the employer CPF contribution component such that the university or research institute do not contribute technically
  • deduction of medical benefits – some universities or research institutes may provide a minimal heath insurance coverage – the premium that is used to pay for that is deducted here
  • deduction of annual wage supplement (or 13th month "bonus" – technically, the AWS is not really a bonus, I heard; can someone elaborate?)
  • deduction of any bonus that may be award in due time (e.g. performance bonus, 1/4-yearly bonus, 1/2-yearly bonus, yearly bonus, etc.)

After all these had been deducted, the final sum is divided by the maximum number of months that the contract is made available to the candidate – this amount is then made to the candidate and is usually non-negotiable. In addition, because the total sum available is fixed, any increment arising during the contract prior to contract renewal may result in an overall shorter contract duration.

Depending on the number of grants a PI has, he may be able to offer a job based on joint of grants, i.e. a research position that is paid for by 2 or more grants. Since the grant amount is variable, this results in a wide pay range for any research position. A guide (based on a survey) on this (+/- S$200) would be:

  • S$1500-S$2300 for a research assistant (usually an non graduate or a current part time undergraduate)
  • S$2200-S$2800 for a research officer / project officer (usually a graduate)
  • S$2500-S$3400 for a research associate (usually a postgraduate with a Masters)
  • S$3100-S$3900 for a research fellow (usually a Ph.D graduate)
  • S$3400-S$4500 for a post-doctoral fellow (usually a Ph.D graduate)

However, this is a rough estimate and the actual pay is a reflection of various factors including but not limited to:

  • complexity of project
  • type and level of expertise/speciality required
  • working hours per day
  • regularity of work (weekends required?)
  • impact factor of project
  • commercial viability of project
  • amount of grant available

When you are considering for a research position, you may wish to consider the following factors:

  • career path – once a project is completed/grant has depleted, there will not be continuity of work for the staff
  • remuneration – there is very little bonuses in terms of the monetary aspect; however, if you are working on a project with high impact factor, this may help in future job seeking
  • project team – you may work with researchers from all over the world, including but not limited to India, China, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Russia, Germany, France, Korea, Vietnam, UK, USA; this basically gives a rough coverage of the nationality of researchers in a particular lab in Singapore, and there may be cultural differences; thus if you are adverse to cultural changes, this may not be an option for you
  • exposure – there may not be much exposure besides the confines of your lab, unless you are actively publishing papers and have been selected to present it at a conference
  • fringe benefits – there may not be full reimbursement for conference paper submission, conference registration, travel, expenditure – all of which, you would have to foot out of your own pocket; however, in some cases, travel is optional, but you may lose out on exposure
  • opportunities for graduate studies – if you are not already a post-graduate, working as a research staff may provide you the opportunity to witness for yourself how postgraduate studies (usually) in the sciences is like; if you choose to do your (part-time) postgraduate studies while working on your research work, you may be given an opportunity to do your studies in a related field that supplements your research work

At the end of the day, it’s all about the entire package. It may be difficult to find a research job that satisfies all aspects of what you are looking for, and there’s usually a fair bit of give-and-take involved.

Ideally, a research staff should be passionate about the job because, at the end of the day, when there job’s done and the contract is finished, the now ex-staff is left to fend on his own; although if he is really good, there will be other offers awaiting.

One last word from a PI that I know – in research, they don’t pay to prosper you, they pay so that you’d have just enough to survive.

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