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From PhD to Life

Salaries, benefits and performance evaluations in a non-academic work environment

Read part 3 in our series on what to expect when working beyond the professoriate.


In part 3 in this series on workplace norms and culture outside academia our PhDs answer questions about salary, benefits, and performance evaluation. Read parts 1 and 2 of this series.

  • Raj Dhiman, PhD (chemistry, University of Toronto), is an inside sales manager (small business) at Rogers Communication.
  • Monica A. Evans, PhD (educational policy, Michigan State University), is a workforce analyst at the U.S. department of labor.
  • Niem Huynh, PhD (geography, Wilfrid Laurier University), is manager of graduate student recruitment at Concordia University.
  • Brad King, PhD (history, University of Toronto), is a vice president (organization and strategy, museum learning) at Lord Cultural Resources.
  • Rachel Leventhal-Weiner, PhD (sociology, University of Connecticut) is the data engagement specialist at the Connecticut Data Collaborative.
  • Josh Magsam, PhD (English, University of Oregon), is director of community success at

What is a starting salary in your field? Does that increase? How often do you get a raise?

Raj: A base salary range for an inside sales rep with little-to-no experience would be $30,000 CDN to $40,000 CDN. You’re entitled to commission as part of your compensation package. In my organisation, you would be entitled to make $65,000 CDN if you achieved 100 percent of your sales targets. There are bonuses available if you exceed 100 percent and that varies between companies, but you would need to do your homework to figure out those specific numbers.

Monica: It depends on your education and experience. Most PhDs can start at a GS 9 or 11. The salary depends on your location.

Niem: The salary range depends on experience, years in a similar position, location etc. I’ve worked in a department located in a state without tax and a low cost of living, which resulted in a lower salary than someone working elsewhere. The salary may increase annually according to the inflation rate, but I’ve also worked for two years without a raise due to austerity measures. The salary raise may also be based on performance or at the discretion of the unit head.

Brad: A starting salary is about $40,000 CDN to $45,000 CDN per year. It tends to increase with experience and demonstrated value (e.g. you begin to generate business for the company). The frequency of cost-of-living and merit increases depends on the company’s annual financial results – when the company does better, the staff does better as well. When the company has a low-margin, a break-even, or a loss year, salary increases tend to be small or static.

Rachel: This question is a tough one – I actually don’t know because I work in a specialized non-profit. I don’t have a good comparison organization. I did some research about salary ranges for research analyst positions with a PhD, and it depends – the range could be anything from $50,000 USD closer to $75,000 USD or more. The credential doesn’t always afford you a higher salary – in some cases I’ve worried that having the PhD would be a liability because employers might think I was looking for a higher salary.

Josh: $40,000 to $50,000 USD, depending on background and experience. Raises happen in two ways:

  1. Cost of living review every-other-year, and
  2. Growth or promotion. At this company, people grow fast – it’s not unusual to see people moving up five to 10 percent (or more) approximately every 18 months. Once you reach management, there’s usually going to be a significant step up in both base salary and any bonus structures.

What kind of benefits are standard?

Raj: In my job, health and dental, wealth accumulation plans (stock matching plans, pension plans, RRSP/TFSAs) were standard. Plenty of third party offers are also available to employees, like transit passes discounts, gym memberships, etc.

Monica: Thirteen paid holidays, sick leave, vacation leave, transit subsidies, and retirement account contributions are all standard.

Niem: In my experience working in institutions in Canada and the U.S., health, dental, and some form of retirement plan are standard options. Depending on the insurance plan and employer, the amount of coverage and employer / employee contribution differs.

Brad: I receive the full range of benefits as required by Ontario law.

Rachel: Health insurance, vacation / personal / sick time should be standard. I always negotiate for professional development support because I want the opportunity to attend conferences and network. Some employers offer wellness benefits or on-site benefits like meals, parking, or transportation subsidies.

Josh: At least some form of health care and retirement plan, usually 401k. Definitely commuting expenses, and food / snacks provided on-site. My company is very generous – health care is compensated 100 percent, which means there’s no monthly expense for me or my family. There’s a generous life insurance option, a 401k with company-matching contribution and a profit-share bonus every year. Additionally, we get a health and wellness stipend or gym membership (your preference), matching donations for charitable giving, available time-off for volunteer work, and $2,000 USD a year towards ongoing education (classes, books and materials, conference fees, etc.).

Will I be able to negotiate job offers? How do I ask for a raise?

Raj: Initial offers won’t be very flexible especially if you don’t have much experience. Getting a raise on your base salary will also be difficult outside the normal annual merit increases. Again, it’s pay for performance; if you consistently hit your sales numbers, you will always have leverage to ask for the things you would like.

Monica: Small raises happen yearly. Negotiation is difficult, because everything is standardized, but not impossible.

Niem: Negotiate for the things that matter to you. Negotiations should benefit you and the employer. There may be some things the employer may simply not be able to do. Here are some things to consider asking for: increase in salary, start / end time of the day, start date, and professional funds for conferences.

Brad: Demand to work in our company is high, so new employees need to clearly demonstrate their potential value in order to maximize their bargaining leverage. Nothing succeeds in salary negotiations like demonstrated results (in terms of new business generated).

Rachel: I’ve written a whole piece on this and I recommend you make a list of items you’d like to address. Salary is usually at the top of this list and the employer may not be able to meet your demands. If the organization is smart, they will either ask for your expected salary or for a range, and if you’re out of sync with what they can offer, they will be honest about that. If they can’t budge on salary, then think about intangibles that have value, including flexible work schedule, professional development (which costs money), or more paid time off. Also, if the salary offer is firm, ask them about the performance evaluation process and how they provide employees with feedback / compensation. In the case of my current job, I provided a salary range while I was interviewing and was offered a figure at the lower end of the salary range (which was still a raise over my last job). In the course of negotiation, I asked them for a six month compensation review, rather than annually, so I could receive feedback sooner and possibly get a raise earlier. It worked! After six months, things were going really well and I got a 2 percent raise.

Josh: Do your research – when you apply, know what the typical market is for this position, and what you need or are willing to work with financially. If the initial offer is close but you think it should be a little higher, then absolutely come back with a counter offer. If those numbers are very far apart, you can certainly counter that as well, but it’s less likely that they’ll compromise – they are probably up against a strict budget if that’s the case. When it comes to money – be patient, be firm, but be open to feedback. You should probably be in the position a minimum of six months and ideally 12 before you look for that raise, and it’s best to be direct with your manager about it. For example, “I’ve been really enjoying the work here, and I think I’ve grown a lot since I started. I think I’ve proven my value, and I’d like to discuss where my compensation might go from here. What do you think – do you have any feedback for me?”

If you are salaried, how many hours a week am I going to have to put-in?

Raj: 37.5 hours as a minimum.
Monica: I typically work around 45 hours a week, but I get credit hours for anything over 40 (so 5 hours of “vacation” that I can use anytime).

Niem: Eight to nine hours are common, in my experience. There are occasions when more time is required to meet a deadline or to resolve unexpected issues. Those are great learning experiences and the time to take initiative. I would focus on counting what’s learned, rather than focusing on the minute-hand of the clock.

Brad: Minimum is 40 hours per week, but that’s the bare minimum. Almost everyone puts in more than that.

Rachel: Typically, employers expect you’ll work 40 or 37.5 hours. I typically log close to 40 hours but some weeks I’ll work longer days and then flex my time, especially if my days require a longer than usual commute or cut into my family time.

Josh: It varies widely. During annual or quarterly planning sessions, I’m going to put in over 40 hours very easily. During our slow season, when projects are reduced while the developers take more trips and our orders decrease, I can dial back to 30 hours on occasion. But with flexibility, it’s a lot easier to manage even a busy week, vs having to be in an office 9-5.

How will my performance be evaluated? What kind of feedback will I get?

Raj: In my environment, you’ll get instant feedback since your manager sits within arms reach of you as you’re working. You’ll have weekly one-on-one meetings to review your performance in addition to a standard annual performance review. In a sales job, it’s best for you to be proactive and “raise your hand” anytime you have a question. Bring issues to your manager when you feel like you’re struggling, and get the help you need.

Monica: I get performance measures yearly, a six-month informal review, and a yearly review. I provide my manager with a list of my accomplishments and she uses that to help her write narratives about what I’ve done in the past year. We discuss successes and areas for improvement during the reviews.

Niem: There might be different forms of assessment, depending on the work. In my role where I gave presentations and met with students, I was observed in-action while doing these tasks by the director and senior colleagues. In another position where it was more desk work, the feedback was informal and throughout the probation period (three months). In yet another position, staff were asked to submit a monthly report of their assignments and the amount of time they spent working on each task. These were reviewed a couple of times a year, and my supervisor and I met to review progress in the last six months or quarter.

Brad: Feedback is constructive and designed to help each employee grow in their jobs.

Rachel: Typically organizations have an annual performance evaluation process. I find that nonprofit organizations are not great at performance evaluations. In my last nonprofit organization, I was asked to write a self-evaluation and discussed it with my direct supervisor. I didn’t get much helpful or actionable feedback. Some places may be more formal / bureaucratic and others might be less.

Josh: We use a 360 feedback system. Prior to a promotion, your manager will select a group of your peers and other managers to review your recent work and team contributions, then sit down and review it with you afterward. On a more routine basis, a similar process will take place every six to 12 months, depending on your position. But feedback is increasingly more team-focused and continual. In our company, there tends to be more dialogue between team members about what is working or not working, what’s holding a project up, etc. It’s very outcome-oriented, and less geared towards personal critique.

Jennifer Polk
Jennifer Polk is a career coach and entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Toronto in 2012. For more information and resources, check out her website:
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  1. James / April 17, 2018 at 11:54

    If you have 10+ years of post-secondary education, and assuming you don’t have pressing family or other obligations tying you down geographically, you should consider the global job market and be willing to move anywhere vs. taking a $40-65k position outside your field. Then position yourself to return to Canada with experience under your belt.

    Just another reason why potential grad students should genuinely consider the opportunity cost and employment potential of this career path.