I REMEMBER TALKING to a guidance counselor in high school. The meeting was supposed to help me decide which career path I might follow after graduation. As part of my assessment, I’d taken a skills inventory test designed to narrow down jobs I was potentially suited for. Nearly 40 years later, I still remember three of the suggested occupations: tour bus driver, police officer and veterinarian.
In the end, I didn’t choose any of those careers. Instead, I’ve spent more than 30 years working in laboratories. For the past 24 years, my official job title has been “Biology Laboratory and Stockroom Manager.”
Working as a departmental manager at a small liberal arts college isn’t an exciting or glamorous job. It is, however, a job well-matched to both my skill set and my personality. As an introvert, I enjoy the fact that I work independently, with little direct supervision. My job also requires a high degree of attention to detail, as well as organizational and planning expertise. As a perfectionist, I’ve got those skills in spades.
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my career choice. I certainly don’t feel passionate about what I do. With so much talk about the Great Resignation, I wonder if the time is right to move on to something different.
As part of my career exploration, I decided to see how my salary stacked up against my peers. What I discovered was—depending on the statistics examined—I’m either grossly underpaid or generously overcompensated.
My current salary of $78,000 a year appears to be well below the average wages for a laboratory manager. I do, however, receive a generous benefits package and I’ll have access to an early retiree health insurance plan when I retire.
If I compare my salary to women of the same age, I’m definitely ahead of the game. At age 54, the average American woman makes just over $52,000 a year. I suspect my higher wages are due, in part, to my work history. In 30 years, I’ve never taken an extended leave to care for a child or parent.
As a final method of comparison, I looked at the average salaries of workers who hold master’s degrees in biology. Here, too, I find my salary is higher than the national average. But how does one accurately compare the value of two workers with similar educational backgrounds but vastly different work histories? Someone in their mid-50s, with 30 years of experience, should expect to earn far more than a 20-something recent graduate.