I am working as an entry-level data scientist at a startup in New York City and I am also a phd student (few more years to graduate).

They started me on an 'intern' rate at $25/hour a couple months ago. We are negotiating the next 3 month contract, and they are only offering $30/hour. I believe even for an entry level data scientist $30 is way too low. The company is very small (3-4 people), they don't have clients yet, they are hoping to get a client by the end of the year and move to their series A funding round. The CEO offers the potential of gaining seniority at the company through time and perhaps in about a year owning equity as a counter-argument to the low pay. However, none of that is in the contract, so I can't reasonably factor it in my decision.

However, I am young in this field, I don't know how likely a startup is to succeed. What are the success rates for these startups, are there any sources of information where I can reasonably estimate the chances of this company actually succeeding?

Do you think that being part of a startup with low pay and a small chance of owning equity for a company with a small chance of making it, actually justify wasting another three, maybe six months betting on it and gaining professional experience? It was very difficult getting this first job, even with a masters in numerical analysis and published research in applied fields. Does this sound like a bad deal to you, would you need more information to judge?

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    This is the nature of startups and also the reason I've left behind ever considering working for one ever again. It is risky and loyalty often doesn't exist. Money changes people and there is no way to predict what they will do if they ever get it. Of course it could go the other way, you could do great, the company could do great and everyone could profit greatly from it. In any case this is a "asking for a specific choice" and so I'm voting the close it as it is off topic for this site. see this link Good luck tho... – solarflare Apr 30 '19 at 22:49
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    If these "promises" don't exist in a legally binding employment contract then they don't exist and are not likely to ever exist. – joeqwerty May 1 '19 at 2:24
  • If it is not written in a legally enforceable form then it doesn't exist. Other than that its your choice. It can go both ways. Startups usually do not let the employees grow with them. – amar May 1 '19 at 6:09
  • “What are the success rates for these startups” - Extremely low. Most companies fail within 5 years. Only you can decide if the potential for equity in the future is worth it – Donald May 1 '19 at 11:10

Speaking from similar experience, but with less schooling. I'm wrapping up a Bachelors in Applied Mathematics, starting my Masters after I finish. My first few years in college I was a partner in a Startup that I helped run for 2 years, and we eventually did half a million in sales (pretty good for a few college kids) before we ultimately had to close our doors.

What I think you need to consider is what you really want, is it the experience and highs and lows that come from building a company, or is it the potential of a senior/founder salary? As a PhD student in Data Science you will not have a problem finding a job, and you are 100% correct that you are being underpaid currently at $30 an hour (I make $30-50 doing consulting in a much smaller town). However if what you're looking for is the experience of starting a business, potential to build a company, then this seems to be a wonderful opportunity that would have me excited. If the only reason you are staying on is for the hope of a high level salary early on, it's best you leave, because no doubt you could find a high salary elsewhere.

Additionally, if you are not invested in the work and company, you are likely to not enjoy the work anyway. At my company I spent the majority of my time balancing the books, closing sales, making hires, putting out fires, and probably only 20% of my time doing actual data science.

If your only passion is data science and making big bucks while doing it, by all means I'd recommend looking elsewhere, and you shouldn't have to look hard. Otherwise if you feel personally vested in the mission of the company and legitimately want to see where it goes (with the opportunity cost of a PhD data science salary), then I'd recommend keeping the job.

Regardless you seem like a smart individual, so best of luck to you!

  • I'd also add to write the seniority/equity part down. He should agree on what he has to do in order to earn it, when he earns it on which conditions. This way, the CEO can't forget and can't move the goalposts. – Benjamin Apr 30 '19 at 23:03
  • Thanks, Tyler. At this stage I am interested in maximizing my immediate income. I am a very technically oriented person and in these initial stages of my career I care little about the business side. I am aspiring to stay in a more quantitative role or move to finance. However the finance people work more than full time, I can't compete in that environment while I do my PhD. But for start up and tech people full time is usually enough. – John May 1 '19 at 15:33

Please note you are a student, you don't have a PhD title. Your qualification is no different to a fresh undergraduate graduate. Your argument that you're doing PhD is not very strong.

As a PhD student, your university has rules on how much you can earn. How many hours you can work is also limited. You just can't work full-time. Your limitation should be reflected in your payment. You are not a professional data science consultant, but a student offering part-time data science service. Data science is not your profession because you are still doing your PhD.

Being paid $30 an hour part-time as an amateur is more than reasonable, especially it comes with equity. I believe your offer is better than expectation.

  • While I agree with this answer since it attempts to set realistic expectations for the author, the author should still if they are interested in the future of the company, get the equity terms written down. So they can make an educated decision in the future once they get their PhD. – Donald May 1 '19 at 11:13
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    I think you read a little too much into my situation, I should have provided further details: My school has no such rules as you mention. Also, I am already working full time, you may have assumed this is part time work because I am a student, but this contract is for full time. I am aware there are tiers of professionals, but they are certainly not calling me their 'amateur data scientist', for this money they are hiring a full time data scientist, their expectations are set accordingly. Also, I have a masters, 3 years of academic experience & 1 year professional research experience. – John May 1 '19 at 15:30

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