Academic & Student Life

While completing the dissertation and making that last tuition payment can feel like the final financial component  of the long journey to PhD, there are actually a number of costs associated with being on the academic job market. This post outlines what they are and how you can prepare for them in advance so you can focus on the important part—getting the job. 

It’s campus interview time, which means PhD candidates, postdocs, and other aspiring academics are visiting campuses in hopes of landing one of those illusive and oh-so-coveted tenure-track jobs. If you’re going through this process–or have been through it already–you won’t need me to tell you that it’s time-consuming and exhausting, but also pretty exciting too. But if you’ve already been through this process, this post isn’t so much for you. This article is for any grad student or postdoc who expects to go on the academic job market in the future and wants some insights on how to handle the financial aspects of the job search.

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In this post, I outline some of the potential hidden costs of taking a postdoc position after grad school. My goal is help readers make a calculated and informed decision about whether to pursue—and accept—a postdoc gig.

When you’ve been living on a teensy graduate stipend for years, the allure of a real salary from a postdoc position can be strong. After all, you’ve managed to live on a fraction of what some of your friends have been making. Some might even have bought homes while you were pouring over manuscripts for the 43rd night in a row in the library or running just one more experiment (for the 6th time) to get that last bit of data you needed for your dissertation. How dare they have the financial means to buy a house?!

When you finally complete your PhD and go on the job market, you might find a university offering to pay you an actual reasonable salary as a postdoc. It sounds too good to be true. The good news is that it probably is true. The salary for postdoc positions vary widely by university and by field. But overall, shifting from grad student life to a full-time postdoc gig comes with a pretty reasonable raise. For most, it’s probably actually a living wage. Progress!

Shifting from life as a graduate student to life has a postdoc has mostly been pretty good for me. However, there were several factors that have had an impact on my financial life that I failed to consider before making my choice. In sharing about what took me by surprise, I hope you will be able to carefully weigh your own situation and make a well-calculated and informed decision. And with that, here are four things you should consider before accepting a position as a postdoc:

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In this last post in the Make Money in Grad School series, I outline a different kind of option for making money in grad school—doing something totally and completely unrelated to grad school. Something that enriches your life and makes you happy.

So far in the series we’ve covered several approaches for funding yourself through grad school:

1.) Scholarships, Fellowships, and Grants
2.) Research and Teaching Assistant Positions
3.) Applying Your Academic Skills to Tutoring and Freelancing

Each of these can be great for leveraging your existing abilities and past accomplishments, as well as building experience and investing in new skills. And there are many professional and financial benefits to using a combination of these approaches. Don’t let fear of failure or rejection prevent you from pursuing a great opportunity. Whether it’s going for a fellowship to fund your dream research project or applying for a teaching assistant position that will give you experience with a class you’d have a blast with, you have little to lose and a lot to gain by pursuing new opportunities.

Before I wrap up this series, there’s one more option for making money in grad school, and I think it’s important enough to warrant its own post.

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In the last part of the series Make Money in Grad School, I outlined the benefits of seeking work as a graduate research assistant or teaching assistant. In this post, I cover some alternative ways to put your skills to work in your local community and beyond.

Many grad students work on their university campuses as research and teaching assistants as a way to fund themselves through grad school. But these positions aren’t available—or attractive—to everyone. Some academic fields, particularly those where the research is not typically funded by large grants, might not have as many funding opportunities. For other grad students, the stipend from one of these positions might not be enough to cover all expenses. Finally, some grad students prefer to keep their work and studies separate, finding work that is unconnected to their advisor, program, and fellow students. Regardless of your reasons, alternative income streams can help mitigate the need for taking out interest-accruing loans. It’s hard work now, but your future self will thank you for the lighter loan payments later.

The good news is that there are numerous options. In this article, I focus on three possible income streams that overlap with your graduate skills, but get you beyond the university—tutoring, freelance writing and editing, and freelance coding and technical work. 

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In this post, I outline my favorite alternative to taking out loans for graduate school–finding work as a research or teaching assistant. This post is part 3 of the Make Money in Graduate School Series about options for funding your way through grad school.

When I began grad school in 2010, I took out loans to pay for my first year. Soon, I learned about an incredibly powerful way to fund a graduate education–working as a research or teaching assistant. Especially if you are attending a large research university, this is arguably the best way to fund your way through grad school. You might be guaranteed a position as part of your initial offer from your university, or you might have to seek out opportunities from your advisor and other faculty in your department. Be persistent and get creative, because the benefits are fantastic, both professionally and financially.

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In this post, I strip you of the BS excuses you’re using to avoid applying for grants, scholarships, and fellowships to help you pay for graduate school. Then I share some ideas and resources for where to identify funding that’s a good fit for you. This is part 2 of the series Make Money in Graduate School.

Last week, I wrote about embracing your options for making money during graduate school. I outlined broad categories of options, including finding funding from your institution, applying your academic skills outside of the university, and doing something totally unrelated to keep up connections to the non-academic world. Over the next few weeks, I’ll dig deeper into each of those options. First, let’s start with grants, scholarships, fellowships–the free money.

But before we talk about where you’ll find those funds, let’s address the excuses you may be using to justify why you don’t think you should apply for scholarship or grant funding.

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This is the first post in a series titled Make Money in Graduate School, where I explain the importance of realizing you have options for how to sustain yourself—financially and emotionally—in graduate school. This post introduces three pathways graduate students can take to making money by doing personally rewarding and meaningful work. In the following posts in the series I outline each of these in more detail.

The years you spend in graduate school can be among the most incredible and rewarding in your life. Being able to engage in a sustained period of intense learning and rapid growth is an incredible luxury that many people will never experience. Additionally, I made lifelong friends in graduate school who will forever enrich my life no matter where life takes me. I feel an incredible sense of gratitude for having had the privilege and opportunity to get a PhD.

The reality is that graduate school can also be brutally hard. The journey to a PhD offers up many rewards, but also innumerable challenges. For many, that journey brings about occasional feelings of helplessness and self-doubt. At any given time you might feel stuck in a cycle of being perpetually broke. Or feel trapped by your department or advisor’s expectations. On that long road, some people feel like they’ve lost track of themselves, that they have lost sight of their initial purpose for being there, or become unable to see the finish line. And that’s okay. There are twists and turns in every great journey. Stories without conflict are boring.

For those experiencing graduate school’s twists and turns, there’s good news. First off, you are not alone. Many—even most—people end up experiencing these things somewhere along the way. Secondly, there are things you can do to help yourself grapple with these feelings, and you might be able to make some money in the process. In this post, I outline some of the ways you can make money in graduate school and describe how some of these money-making ventures can help your professional and emotional life as much as your flailing financial accounts. The key is in understanding that you have options about how you use your time.

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In this post I explain how I took out almost $15,000 in loans that I didn’t need during my first year of graduate school. Here’s my story and three things you can learn from it.

I pursued a PhD because I’ve always been successful in school, because I love to learn, and because I was deeply interested in a field of study. But having attended a small, public liberal arts university as an undergraduate, there was a lot I didn’t know about the PhD trajectory at a large research institution. This post outlines some of the financial mistakes I made because I wasn’t fully aware of the academic norms and options available to me as a PhD student. In sharing my story I hope others can learn from my experiences and make more informed choices for themselves. To my fellow graduate students, my advice is this: do research, forgive yourself, and develop a plan. Let’s take those one-by-one…

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This post describes my belief that all young people—even graduate students and early career academics—can put smart financial strategies into place to improve their well-being now and in the future.

As a graduate student, you commit to making a sustained, but smart investment in your future well-being. At the very least, it probably started out that way, right? Whether you have set off in pursuit of one of those treasured tenure lines in the ivory tower, are seeking a lucrative job in industry, or simply want to pursue a deep passion for a particular topic, you likely committed to graduate school with an investment mindset. The time you are taking to get your degree(s) is a worthwhile investment and the future payoffs will be great enough to justify putting off your financial planning.

But as the months drag on and your pockets remain habitually empty, you may start to experience doubts. Your friends might be purchasing houses for themselves or as investment properties. Your younger siblings and relatives are investing in their 401(k)s. And you feel increasingly frustrated by your paltry stipend and lean budget.

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