Organisatie - 28 maart 2019

Opinion: 'Salary gap among PhD students is very unfair'

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Antonella Petruzzella, a PhD candidate at NIOO-KNAW, would definitely come again for a PhD in Wageningen. Nevertheless, the big salary differences give her an unfair feeling. ‘Every Christmas again, I feel barely appreciated.’

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I had never thought that I would talk about salary disparity. I’m this kind of person who became a biologist because of my passion for the subject but I think it is time to start discussing what is fair. Academia is already so unfair.

Although I work in Wageningen, I am not an employee. Like a growing number of PhD students, I work in Wageningen with my own research grant money. I think it is great to give an opportunity to so many talented people to develop their own research and careers at one of the best universities and research institutes in Europe. But, at the same time, it is also very convenient for the university itself.

Huge difference
We do the same job as the PhD students that are real employees. Sometimes we work even harder. However, the institute here does not need to pay us anything. We have our own grants, often from our own government.

We do the same job as the PhD students that are real employees. Sometimes we work even harder.

Even though these grants are enough to live on, there is a huge difference compared with the amount that a PhD student employed at a Dutch research institute or university will get. To give one example: the Christmas bonus plus month salary of a fourth-year employed PhD student is approximately four times my total month salary. Every Christmas again, that gives me a very unfair feeling. I think this feeling is shared by other PhD students.

Antonella Petruzella is a PhD-student at NIOO-KNAW. The PhD-programme of this institute are supervised by one of the WUR graduate schools.
Antonella Petruzella is a PhD-student at NIOO-KNAW. The PhD-programme of this institute are supervised by one of the WUR graduate schools.

Cheap labour
And I can even say that I’m really lucky because I consider the Brazilian full PhD grant relatively good. My salary is low, but at least I got extra money that I can use to pay my health insurance, to run my big experiments and to go to international conferences. My Chinese colleagues do not have the same luck. They only get a little salary from which they also have to pay their health insurance.

I think something needs to be done to reduce such huge differences. As we are growing in numbers it is time to recognize our importance. Are we just cheap labour or are we more than that?

I’m far from saying that international PhD students will stop coming due to these payment differences. They will keep coming. I would also come again. Nevertheless I think we should appreciate people’s talent and hard work, and start the discussion on how to reduce such big salary differences within one research institute or university. I think, in my humble opinion, this is the right thing to do.

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