A little over a week ago I ran two panels at a conference called Beyond Academia organized by a group of UC Berkeley PhD students and post-docs.
This was a great conference particularly because this is the right time, and the Bay Area is the right place, for people with strong quantitative skills looking for other opportunities outside of academia. The startup-up culture, the high-density of exciting technical work, and the density of a highly educated populous offer a lot of options for people looking.
The desire to “jump ship” is further compounded by the terribly poor pay for post-docs and grad students. Most of our pay is set nationally by the NIH and is not adjusted for cost-of-living differences, which means that NIH-funded post-docs in San Francisco (with a median rent of $1363/mo) get paid the same as post-docs in Iowa City (with a median rent of $734/mo).
After however many years of education for a PhD my UCSF take-home pay after federal and state taxes, etc. is about $2800/mo. I’m a father; if I wanted to use UCSF daycare and live in UCSF post-doc housing I would be paying $1998/mo for daycare and at least $1099/mo for a studio. Imagine if I was a single parent? This would make my net take-home pay negative $297/mo.
Ivory Towers indeed.