You can make very decent money in this biz, especially if you're working on creating the next big drug. If you're an employee of a big corporation and you, let's say, discover a cure for a terminal illness, you'll probably get a nice plastic trophy and a bonus (and obviously you'll feel great about having done it), but if you'd done this as an entrepreneur with venture capital backing, you’d be a multi-billionaire in virtually no time. But then there'd be no one to give you the trophy. Six of one.
On the whole, you will probably be making somewhere between $40-45k with anything less than a PhD, more in the $70-75k range with one. Those working for the federal government tend to bring home the most bacon, followed by scientific research and development sevices, then pharmaceutical manufacturing, and finally architectural or engineering services.
As an employee, the potential is there to make well over $100k, but like we said, if you want to retire before the age of 50, what you really want to do is get some backing and go it alone. It can be scary to do so because there is less job security and no guarantee of financial success, but we’re sure your wife and eight kids will understand and support your decision.