Author Topic: Calling all frugal PhD students  (Read 6985 times)

Hillcrester14

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Calling all frugal PhD students
« on: August 24, 2013, 08:25:59 AM »
Greetings everyone,

I'm a newcomer to MMM but have been a long time practitioner of frugality and have over the past few years focused on investing my savings. I am also a doctoral student living off of a stipend. I've seen a few odd posts here on the forum from folks mentioning their pursuit of a PhD and a frugal lifestyle, so I wanted to try and gather us together here on this thread to share our stories and share ideas.

I myself am a twentysomething social sciences PhD and have a stipend of $23,000 per year. I'm seeking to save $10,000-$13,000 of that per year and to do a max contribution to my Roth IRA. The rest I am putting into various index funds.

I am always tinkering with ways to save money, but mostly I stick to the basics of riding my bike to school, avoiding eating out, home brewing, and generally slaying my utilities bills. I am also seeking to start up some side hustles for a bit of extra income through using my carpentry skills as a weekend gig. This allows me to take a nice break from the taxing academic work too.

As much as I love the focus on FI on this blog, I also am a bit wary about folks over-emphasizing getting to FI as quickly as possible as opposed to pursuing something they love along the way. I realize FI is the door to doing things you love all the time. But I also love the scholarly life and cannot see myself working a desk job for five years just to get a bit ahead.

Enough about myself, however. If you are a PhD or graduate student, holler out here. I'd be curious to hear how you approach your finances and maximizing your savings from your stipend.


beltim

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #1 on: August 24, 2013, 11:57:56 AM »
As someone who's wrapping up their PhD studies, I can give you some advice.  Unfortunately, some of it is what I *should* have done rather than what I did do.

First: make sure your stipend counts as earned income.  For my first 5 years in grad school, my stipend wasn't, and so I wasn't eligible to contribute to an IRA.  A quick check on whether your stipend is earned income is whether you pay Social Security tax on it. 

Second: the biggest contributor to my cost of living was housing.  There's lots of suggestions on MMM to cut down on housing costs, most of which are straightforward (like roommates, though I've usually found that having roommates increases your non-housing costs).

Third: I completely agree with your approach to FI.  The opportunity cost of my pursuing a PhD instead of getting a high-paying job out of college is financially huge, but the ability to do what I want rather than something that pays well is crucially important to quality of life.

2527

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #2 on: August 24, 2013, 12:11:05 PM »
I observed that being in academia allows people to live and enjoy a frugal lifestyle.  Many people don't make a lot of money, those that do didn't always, and prestige comes as much from one's thoughts and published articles as from one's possessions.

Albert

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #3 on: August 24, 2013, 02:16:17 PM »
I graduated already 7 years ago so I can't give a current advice, but out of curiosity why do you wish to save so much from a meagre salary? If you do everything right with your studies you'll triple or quadruple (at least) your income in 5-7 years. It will be vastly easier to save then assuming you don't inflate your lifestyle massively.

I think I saved about 10k in my 5 1/2 years of grad school from a very similar income. I still think it was just fine...

drg

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #4 on: August 24, 2013, 05:13:26 PM »
Another PhD student chiming in, biological sciences.  My stipend is roughly £17-£18K per year ($28K), "roughly" because I am partly paid in dollars so the exchange rate factors in.  However, I only receive this amount for 3 years, but generally people here take 3.5 to 4 years to complete (UK).  To account for this, I knew I needed to save ~1/4 of my stipend each year to give me enough money for my last year, but I ended up saving closer to 35%. I live in one of the most expensive cities, probably 2nd only to London in terms of COL.

Before this, I did a 2 year MSc. on $18K/year (Canada).  I managed to save about $11K of this.  I've been super fortunate to have no student debt from my undergrad, and my grad tuition has been paid by scholarship (extra to stipends).

My approach has basically been as yours is---don't own a car, bike everywhere, keep the heat low and the lights off, eat cheap, play cheap.  Eating cheap for me is a fun challenge---I like coming up with recipes that have a low cost/serving but still taste kick ass, and I like cruising the "discount" section for perfectly good food (Tenderstem broccoli for 30 pence? Yes please!).  My hobbies are mostly riding my bike, college sports or pick-up games with friends, with exception to one STUPID EXPENSIVE one (horseback riding) that I'm hoping to reduce the costs through volunteering.  Even though I cut close to the bone with respect to expenses, I don't feel that I'm really missing out on much, although I am beginning to wish I was able to own my own home.

My "side-hustle" is applying for extra funding.  I have been pretty successful at this.  At the end of my MSc., I was awarded a travel stipend to visit a lab in Europe for several months, during which I was effectively paid double salary.  I recently received another 3K grant to supplement my savings for my 4th year, another 750 for travel, free conference attendance...  If you want to stay in academia, these are useful CV points that may be more beneficial to you than any non-related side hustle cash.  To me it seems that a lot of people don't try for these, but in my mind, you can't get one unless you apply, and they're going to give it to someone, so why not you?
« Last Edit: August 24, 2013, 05:41:47 PM by drg »

impaire

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #5 on: August 24, 2013, 05:54:22 PM »
My "side-hustle" is applying for extra funding.  I have been pretty successful at this.  At the end of my MSc., I was awarded a travel stipend to visit a lab in Europe for several months, during which I was effectively paid double salary.  I recently received another 3K grant to supplement my savings for my 4th year, another 750 for travel, free conference attendance...  If you want to stay in academia, these are useful CV points that may be more beneficial to you than any non-related side hustle cash.  To me it seems that a lot of people don't try for these, but in my mind, you can't get one unless you apply, and they're going to give it to someone, so why not you?

Nice perspective! I was going to laugh at the idea of a "side hustle" (my program overworks us cruelly in the first two years, which i am wrapping up, so the idea of another job just kills me), but I should definitely start applying for grants now that I will actually have some time and obligation to do research work. I actually do have a mini side-activity (I RA for a prof in addition to expected TA duties), but so far I have not been able to give it enough hours to make it matter financially. That's not my goal anyway.

I worked for ten years, and made a nice six-figure salary when I decided to change careers. And no, it's not going to pay off in terms of $$$, since I plan on going into teaching... Hence a decision to reduce my expenses instead. I'm not too materialistic, but used to spend a LOT on experience (food, travel, plays and concerts, etc.)--I've found it much easier to reduce these budgets now that I'm surrounded with people with less money, less fondness for material possessions, more enthusiasm for reducing their environmental impact, etc. The reduced leisure time also sure saves me money :p

So anyway, nice to see this thread, nice meeting you all.

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #6 on: August 24, 2013, 10:59:58 PM »
14 years out from completion of my Ph.D., I applaud you all for taking this approach -- it will serve you well.  I didn't start actively working on my financial situation until I read Your Money or Your Life in 1997.  At that point DH and I were thankfully free of student loan debt, but we had pretty much been living stipend check to stipend check.  In 1998 we put the maximum in IRAs for both of us.  In 1999 we graduated debt free and with a little bit of savings, and went straight into jobs that earned us a combined $100k.  That was pretty awesome!  We moved to Manhattan and had the amazing luxury of living in a shared townhouse in the middle of the Village that was owned by our employer while we looked for more permanent housing.  That took several months -- to be truthful we weren't in a huge rush to move out of such a sweet deal, and they didn't set a limit on how long we could stay so we didn't feel guilty taking advantage of it.  Ended up buying a nice coop in Queens in a gentrifying neighborhood. 

Throughout all of this, and for a long time after, we pretty much continued to live as grad students, more or less living on 1/2 our income and resisting the urge to "upgrade" our lifestyle.  Best thing we ever did.  Living costs went up dramatically when we moved to Beijing a few years ago, but at this point, 14 years into our jobs, we really are pretty much FI if we want to be.  We'd just need to sell our apartment and move back to Seattle, where we could have a very nice lifestyle working intermittent or part-time jobs.  Not a bad idea, and one I continue to throw around.  And all of this has been done while we have had decent, but not incredibly lucrative, jobs in the non-profit sector.  It isn't like we're in investment banking or high tech sectors.  I MAY be getting a significant promotion/raise in the next few months, which is what mainly has me hanging on in Beijing.  If that weren't in the offing I'd be pushing DH much harder to consider locking in our gains on our apartment and relocating/retiring. 

Anyway, just wanted to say that from this section of the road I think the path we took was definitely the wise one.  Avoid debt at all costs, and do try to save something when you are in grad school.  It gives you freedom to consider your options, and trains you to live a lifestyle that will make you very wealthy, and hopefully very happy, many years down the road, even if you stay in a profession like academia where wages are not particularly high. 
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cats

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #7 on: August 25, 2013, 11:35:12 AM »
I wrapped up a 7 year stint in grad school (masters, then PhD at a different school, both in environmental science) almost exactly one year ago, so I figure I'm still allowed to chime in with my perspective.

In terms of earned income lost, grad school (especially the PhD) is terrible, but it is a great opportunity to grow your frugality muscles.  You have a lot more freedom in how you spend your time, which helps a lot in getting started.  After grad school, I moved into industry and make 3-4x my student stipend, but by continuing to practice the same frugal habits I developed in grad school, my savings rate has really accelerated!

I graduated at age 30, having worked for 1 year before starting grad school, earning what was essentially a grad student wage ($25k/year, whoo!).  My stipend ranged from $20k-35k/year (I had a fancy ass fellowship for 3 years which was 30k, one bumper year with fellowship+some extras, then the remaining years at a more normal stipend of $20k).  When I graduated, I had a net worth a little over $50k, and I had also paid off about $12k in student loans.  I didn't closely track my savings rate for much of my time in grad school, so I'm not sure exactly how much of that is actual savings vs. investment growth (though I started seriously investing money right *before* the 2008 crash.  Oh yeah, and the PhD part of grad school was done in a rather pricey part of California--my rent was betweeng $750-850/month for 5 years, and that was considered really bargain rate.

Some stuff I was lucky with: I went to a really cheap undergrad college and got out with minimal debt.  Also, my parents sold me their old car for $2k, which spared me the hassle of a dealership and the sinkhole of a car loan (though I'm still not 100% certain this was really "luck" as I then had to insure and maintain the thing!).

Things I was actively careful about: Always going for the cheapest housing I could find (as long as the area was not totally crime-ridden and was within biking distance of school/groceries, I was not picky about location/ambience--this will save you a TON of money and it only requires the upfront investment of time to look for a good place), limiting going out (try to organize cheaper social activities like potlucks instead), use the library for entertainment, bike/walk/bus everywhere, and pretty much never going to the mall or otherwise engaging in recreational retail activities.  Camping weekends instead of going somewhere that would require a hotel.  Generally evaluating whether or not something was really going to add value to my life before plopping down money for it.

As far as whether or not you should be trying to save aggressively, my advice is to treat it like a job, don't count on having a fancier better job later.  Sure, you probably aren't going to save 75% of your income, but do as much as you can and at least try to max out the IRA.  Some people will make 3-4x their stipends right after grad school, a lot of people will wind up as postdocs or adjunct professors earning $40k/yr for a while.  Of the ~10 people who graduated in my cohort, I think only 2 are making 6 figures, most are earning in the $40-50k/yr range, and then a few others are in between those two ends.  I have another friend who just finished and as of yet has NO job lined up, which is not as uncommon as you might think (another friend did a PhD and 2 postdocs and has now been seriously underemployed for several years).

I'm not saying people should be totally depriving themselves, but just think critically about your spending and whether or not you are really getting anything out of where your money is going.  I had so many friends who did things like buy coffee on campus daily, or go out to dinner once or twice a week just because.  Or who just HAD to live downtown, even though it was more expensive (and even though you could easily drive or take the bus there on the weekends, if you needed your going out fix).  These friends wound up with credit card debt or student loans or debts to the bank of Mom and Dad.  No fun.
« Last Edit: August 25, 2013, 06:02:28 PM by cats »

Hillcrester14

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #8 on: August 25, 2013, 02:03:48 PM »
Thanks all for your replies and reflections on your own experiences thus far! I can only agree about the organic opportunity graduate school provides for exercising frugality. I also appreciate the sentiment that being a graduate student is equal to holding a real job, and that you should approach it as such and seek to maximize savings.

I wanted to make one comment on side-hustle income. I really dig the idea of seeking to maximize funding opportunities through applying to outside fellowships and grants. I just sat down yesterday and made out a detailed list of all the fellowships my university provides that may be applicable to me in the next year or so. I figure that if they are there, I absolutely should apply and see what comes of it.

My main venture right now is to turn my passions and hobbies into small income sources. I greatly enjoy woodworking and have consistently found that working with my hands is a great way to decompress and get a break from the mind-focused work of academia. I figured I could turn this passion into a income-generator through dedicating 2-3 hours per week to it. It's been a great relief from schoolwork. I began by making simple pieces for friends and family. These have led to a few commissions that I've worked on the past year or two that earned me a nice sum. I also am entertaining the idea of opening up a small store on Etsy, specializing in small gifts made out of wood. These ventures are not huge generators of income, but they help contribute to my bottom line, and with such a small salary, I figure anything I can save will be helpful.

mulescent

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #9 on: August 25, 2013, 03:23:56 PM »
Hi there,

I am six years out of a Ph.D. in chemistry, and here are my suggestions:

1) Focus, work hard and keep your eyes on the long game.  Many Ph.D. students spend time on irrelevant stuff or get distracted by their peers.  Remember why you are in graduate school and make sure that you move the ball forward each and every day.  If your side gig is primarily recreational and consumes recreation time, great.  If it cuts into time you would/could spend working on getting out of school, then I would ditch it.  Your income will rise (hopefully dramatically) when you graduate and the single biggest thing you can do to improve your financial situation is to move on.

2) You can't get (too much) blood from a stone.  Your income is very low and you probably have very significant demands on your time from school.  My advice is to be frugal and get into good habits, but also realize that you will struggle to make big financial gains until you finish your degree (see #1). 

Good luck!

Albert

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #10 on: August 25, 2013, 03:40:38 PM »
Hi there,

I am six years out of a Ph.D. in chemistry, and here are my suggestions:

1) Focus, work hard and keep your eyes on the long game.  Many Ph.D. students spend time on irrelevant stuff or get distracted by their peers.  Remember why you are in graduate school and make sure that you move the ball forward each and every day.  If your side gig is primarily recreational and consumes recreation time, great.  If it cuts into time you would/could spend working on getting out of school, then I would ditch it.  Your income will rise (hopefully dramatically) when you graduate and the single biggest thing you can do to improve your financial situation is to move on.

2) You can't get (too much) blood from a stone.  Your income is very low and you probably have very significant demands on your time from school.  My advice is to be frugal and get into good habits, but also realize that you will struggle to make big financial gains until you finish your degree (see #1). 

Good luck!

My PhD is in chemistry as well and I fully agree with you, but OP is in social sciences. Perhaps the dynamics is very different in that area?

Vanguards and Lentils

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #11 on: August 25, 2013, 04:20:14 PM »
My PhD is in chemistry as well and I fully agree with you, but OP is in social sciences. Perhaps the dynamics is very different in that area?

Uh oh... he went there!

Albert

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #12 on: August 25, 2013, 04:24:14 PM »
My comment was not meant as some kind of sophisticated putdown if that is what you are implying! I've just never met anyone doing a PhD in social sciences and don't know the conditions for grad students in those departments.

cats

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #13 on: August 25, 2013, 06:17:04 PM »
I second (third?) the advice about being careful with the time devoted to side hustles.  I have a side gig writing knitting patterns that I worked on during grad school, and occasionally I did let it eat up too much time.  I still haven't decided whether or not I *really* regret it (I really love the job I have now and it had only just come open around the time I was graduating), but there's no denying that I probably could have finished up a bit earlier if I had put my mind to it.  I wasn't as bad a some people though, who get lost in side activities and turn those into their top priorities rather than focusing on finishing up and getting out.

Hillcrester14

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #14 on: August 25, 2013, 06:55:29 PM »
It seems to me that pursuing a PhD in the Social Sciences and or Humanities is a bit different than pursuing one in a Science. This observation is just based on my own experience and the experience of my peers. While Science PhDs are spending a ton of time in lab, Social Sciences and Humanities students are primarily in the library.

I agree that a side hustle should never take the place of the primary task: getting the darn degree finished! But I also think that graduate students need healthy outlets and a change of pace from the academic work life. I also feel like pursuing a side hustle instead of, for instance, logging onto Facebook, is a much better usage of time. Ultimately I think each student needs to find his or her right balance. You can spend 60-80 hours a week working on your research, overwork yourself, and consequently put in an 80% effort, or you can spend 40-50 hours a week chipping away at it, take appropriate breaks, and approach your work with much greater concentration and focus.

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #15 on: August 25, 2013, 09:39:32 PM »
5 yrs out of a PhD in the Humanities.  Being frugal while at grad school is great, as there's always an "I'm a student" rationale for living low-cost, and lots of student discounts on everything from transit to museums, etc.  To this day, although I wasn't on the Mustachian train at the time, I am VERY proud that I graduated with little student loan debt, and managed to save enough each month to fly home to visit my SO (now DH).  My best tips were enjoying roommates, not smoking (!), keeping bar drinks to a minimum, walking everywhere, cooking lots, ... the usual stuff.

But I wanted to add that I think the biggest thing about grad school is to do what you need to do to stay sane and finish in a reasonable amount of time.  Grad school is incredibly draining and hard work no matter how great a time you have.  Don't put too much OTHER pressure on yourself.  Your income will go up when you're done, and then the biggest challenge is to stay on the grad school budget when you earning more.  5 years out we own a house, 2 cars (used), commute, and have a sailboat.  We are happy, but I sometimes wish we had stayed on the grad school standard of living! (OK not really.  But sort of. )

Also, remember that many of those awards and scholarships are taxable income, and the income tax may not be deducted before you get the cheque.  Find out ahead of time, and put aside the tax if necessary--surprise bills at the end of the school year are not fun! :)

Enjoy your program!

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #16 on: March 03, 2017, 08:02:43 PM »
Greetings everyone,

I'm a newcomer to MMM but have been a long time practitioner of frugality and have over the past few years focused on investing my savings. I am also a doctoral student living off of a stipend. I've seen a few odd posts here on the forum from folks mentioning their pursuit of a PhD and a frugal lifestyle, so I wanted to try and gather us together here on this thread to share our stories and share ideas.

I myself am a twentysomething social sciences PhD and have a stipend of $23,000 per year. I'm seeking to save $10,000-$13,000 of that per year and to do a max contribution to my Roth IRA. The rest I am putting into various index funds.

I am always tinkering with ways to save money, but mostly I stick to the basics of riding my bike to school, avoiding eating out, home brewing, and generally slaying my utilities bills. I am also seeking to start up some side hustles for a bit of extra income through using my carpentry skills as a weekend gig. This allows me to take a nice break from the taxing academic work too.

As much as I love the focus on FI on this blog, I also am a bit wary about folks over-emphasizing getting to FI as quickly as possible as opposed to pursuing something they love along the way. I realize FI is the door to doing things you love all the time. But I also love the scholarly life and cannot see myself working a desk job for five years just to get a bit ahead.

Enough about myself, however. If you are a PhD or graduate student, holler out here. I'd be curious to hear how you approach your finances and maximizing your savings from your stipend.

Man, $23k. You're a baller. I had $10k and fought for summer funding of $2-5k more. I didn't save anything until I was post comps and had a job while finishing my dissertation, but I was in an applied social science program (I/O Psych).

casserole_dish

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #17 on: March 03, 2017, 10:55:59 PM »
I finished my PhD one year ago in ecology at age 30. I only saved 20% of my stipend and used to worry about it but I agree with others who have said don't worry about it and focus on your studies, it will pay off in the end. I went from a stipend of AUD$24,000 to a post doc of $80,000 and automatically save ~65% just by avoiding lifestyle inflation.

What I've found, earning good money for the first time in my life, is that I simply can't relate to people who earn average wage or above and are constantly in debt - basically most people. I have so much freaking money left over after expenses, what the hell are people spending it on?

I'm also driven to save by a fear of unemployment and short-term postdocs - the reality in academia so I have an incentive I guess.

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #18 on: March 03, 2017, 10:57:49 PM »
Honestly, don't even bother with this. 

Do everything you can to simplify your life during graduate school.  Make things as easy/automated as possible so you can focus solely on your work.  Try to avoid all distractions and side hustles. The whole point is to finish your PhD as quickly as possible and be positioned for something 10x better.  Before you even start the PhD you should have a crystal-clear path of what is next for you (academia or industry).  Know exactly what skills you will need to add to your portfolio to make that next step, and do everything you can learn those skills (by choosing the right projects, collaborations, courses, conferences etc). 

Why waste 30% of your brain's energy to squueze out an extra 10k/year in savings?  Instead, refocus that energy into your work now so can graduate sooner, land that killer job and save an extra 10k per month!

I am 1 year out of my PhD (computational biology) ...   $28k/yr stipend as a graduate student to now earning >12k/mo with massive room for income growth.

Also - don't think that you need to pursue a post-doc as a mandatory next step.  It is absolutely not true.  (assuming of course you are pursing a phd in a in-demand field)
« Last Edit: March 04, 2017, 08:58:15 AM by bryan995 »

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #19 on: March 04, 2017, 08:47:36 AM »
Husband is about to start a PhD program in the fall on a stipend of $26k. He's much older than average, with this a third career for him, and we're only going to assume break even status for his housing and travel back home when he can. I think he'll likely be able to save enough to fund his own IRA on that (because the travel home is easy driving distance), but if not, we'll fund it from my salary. We don't know if his will be earned income or not (mine at the same grad institution was not, but that was decades in the past). But it doesn't matter for us because we can just do a spousal IRA. Unless grad students have access to a 457, in which case we will likely do that instead.


 I know grad students don't have access to a HDHP at his institution, but our insurance through my job is good enough to exempt him from the grad student health insurance, so we'll continue with a family- level contribution to a HSA and my insurance - it does have coverage where he will be.


Side hustles are strictly forbidden in his contract, and I imagine he could lose the stipend and the tuition and fee coverage if he got caught, so that probably won't happen, definitely won't until we see what the usual pattern is. Additional funding is the safe route. Check your contract and plan accordingly if you want to try a side hustle.

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #20 on: March 04, 2017, 09:34:18 AM »
6 years of grad school--way back in the 80s--was my own boot camp for frugal but fulfilling living.
When you get your kicks from ideas, learning, developing skills, you don't need much cash.

Never upgraded the material side of life all that much for the first 15 years after  grad school (started travelling then) which meant no debt, ok savings etc. And that blossomed effortlessly into FI.
But the biggest payoff was getting a huge dose of perspective on "normal"!
Normal people . . . go home at 5 pm and watch TV? Go out to movies and restaurants 3x a week? Have  . . . cars?
Don't work from 8 to 7 and 9-12, 6 days a week? And mostly enjoy doing that?

After the focus and effort and resourcefulness of grad school, "normal" life looked like an endless vacation where people get bored and spend like crazy to fill their time.
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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #21 on: March 04, 2017, 09:37:09 AM »
Holy necrothread, bathman! Still as someone who did the poor PhD student thing myself I agree with those whose advice is to keep your head down, focus on your studies, on not accumulating any debt, and graduating on time if not before. Like in most other situations, if you want to cut your living expenses, the biggest lever you can move is where you live. I managed to save some money (certainly not 50% but significant) every year except the last 18 months of my PhD where I was living alone in a studio apartment.

One of the best things my time in grad school did was teach me how happy I could be living on not very much money at all, and, when an unexpected windfall landed in my lap and I couldn't come up with anything I wanted to spend it on, nudged me down the path towards FIRE.

I am 1 year out of my PhD (computational biology) ...   $28k/yr stipend as a graduate student to now earning >12k/mo with massive room for income growth.

Both yikes and congrats bryan995! Comp bio is definitely a high demand field, but, based on the folks I know, a more than 5x bump in income your first year out is still remarkable even for that in that discipline.
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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #22 on: March 05, 2017, 01:59:39 AM »
I have a Ph.D. in Applied Social Psychology and have been out for about 6 years. I really learned to be frugal in grad school. My typical stipend was about $14,000 for a 9 month teaching stipend. I didn't have any summer funding, so I would take out about $5,000/year in student loans to get me through the summer. Although tuition was 100% paid for, I had to pay about $1500/year in "fees" and another $2,000/year in student health insurance. Once I was out of grad school I found it super easy to save money and invest.

I love my work and family balance and have zero interest in retiring early. I think it's more important to find something that you love and focus on that. Working 10 years at a job that I hate to retire early is 10 years wasted, in my opinion.

Some people argue that going to grad school is a huge loss of investment based on opportunity cost. However, this is based on the assumption that you would rather be doing something else. What if you really wanted to go to grad school because you really liked it?


DrMoney

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #23 on: March 05, 2017, 12:38:13 PM »
It took me eight years to finish my PhD because I was constantly distracted. Stay focused, get the degree, and get out. That's the best frugality advice I can give.

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #24 on: March 05, 2017, 04:42:29 PM »
get the degree, and get out

Best advice.

One academic told me this at the beginning when deciding to take on extra field work or experiments: "does it pass the finish-on-time test?"

wenchsenior

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #25 on: March 06, 2017, 08:11:15 AM »
Basic advice dating from the late 90s, when I was doing an M.Sc. and husband was doing a Ph.D. in the biological sciences. 

The best advice I can give is to not trade off energy/time/effort too much on topics other than your dissertation.  After all, the faster you get done the faster you can be employed. 

HOWEVER, some people (like me) would have gone crazy focusing only on research and school 100% of the time, so a side hustle can be useful if it doesn't take too much time and mental energy.  I did a part-time no brainer job that I liked, ~15 hours/week. My husband took temp contract biological contracts occasionally.

When we were in school, tuition and stipend were not offered as part of the program (it kind of shocks me to hear this is more the norm now).  So we had to raise our own funds for our projects to cover field research costs, tuition, and stipends.  IIRC, our stipends were ~15-20K/yr, which is part of why we both did side hustles.

The main way we kept costs down was living in a one-room studio for 8 years.  It cost about 350$/month, with utilities included.  And we drove crap vehicles, took the bus, walked a lot.  We also ate a lot of cheap food and didn't drink much. 

We weren't big spenders, but we also weren't in the frugal mindset then and we tended to fritter a lot of money.  Again, it was the fact that we kept our big-ticket costs so low that kept us from running up much debt.  If I could do it again with a better eye toward value for money spent, I'd still fritter the money on music cds, but not so much on books, clothes, and eating out.  I also wish I'd spent a little more on better quality food, generally speaking.

If I were you, I'd work on developing the right habits of mind and keeping your big ticket spending low or focusing on value-for-$, rather than focusing on saving or cutting nit-picky costs.  Then keep that mindset when you graduate and get a job, so that you don't fall into the trap we did: as soon as we had any decent 'real' income, we started spending like crazy on new car, new house, furniture, etc.

To sum up: Build the basic habits of frugality, but put most of your time and energy into finishing the degree and getting a job afterward.

Scortius

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #26 on: March 06, 2017, 09:59:19 AM »
As a recent PhD graduate, I just want to agree wholeheartedly with everyone else.  Your investment while in the program is in yourself and your future earning potential.  The best thing you can do is minimize the time you are in the program.  Stashing away an extra 5k will have such a tiny impact on your overall net worth that it's not worth even thinking about unless it comes without any effort at all.

I was fortunate enough to be a STEM PhD.  Once I graduated, my income increased by nearly a factor of 5!  Think about the impact of staying in grad school for an extra year vs. the impact of stashing away a few extra thousand dollars for one year.  For all you PhD students out there, keep grinding and don't worry about the money just yet.  You'll get there and then you'll have plenty of time to figure out the next steps!

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #27 on: March 06, 2017, 10:22:47 AM »
The original poster of this thread was last spotted in 2014.  He could have already graduated by now...

Stay focused, get the degree, and get out. That's the best frugality advice I can give.

...but I still think this is terrible advice.

I have zero regrets abut all the years I spent getting a PhD.  I traveled the world with wine women and song.   I met amazing people in amazing places and did amazing things.

Most people work an entire lifetime just to have a graduate student's lifestyle when they are old.  I did my first seven years of "retirement" in my 20s and wouldn't trade that decision for anything.  I slept late, drank too much, thought about interesting problems on my own schedule, learned a whole bunch of useless but fun skills, and spent the whole time surrounded by other like-minded adventurous young people.  It was probably the best thing I ever did.

Graduate school is a TERRIBLE idea for a person who just wants to get in and out quickly.   You will suffer if you don't love the lifestyle.

Rural

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #28 on: March 06, 2017, 03:28:16 PM »
Basic advice dating from the late 90s, when I was doing an M.Sc. and husband was doing a Ph.D. in the biological sciences. 

. . . .

When we were in school, tuition and stipend were not offered as part of the program (it kind of shocks me to hear this is more the norm now).  So we had to raise our own funds for our projects to cover field research costs, tuition, and stipends.  IIRC, our stipends were ~15-20K/yr, which is part of why we both did side hustles.


My program earlier than that included tuition and stipend. I think it probably was a function of the institution or of the field - support is much less common in biology than in the other sciences now, so that may well have been true then as well.


Scortius

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #29 on: March 06, 2017, 03:43:38 PM »
The original poster of this thread was last spotted in 2014.  He could have already graduated by now...

Stay focused, get the degree, and get out. That's the best frugality advice I can give.

...but I still think this is terrible advice.

I have zero regrets abut all the years I spent getting a PhD.  I traveled the world with wine women and song.   I met amazing people in amazing places and did amazing things.

Most people work an entire lifetime just to have a graduate student's lifestyle when they are old.  I did my first seven years of "retirement" in my 20s and wouldn't trade that decision for anything.  I slept late, drank too much, thought about interesting problems on my own schedule, learned a whole bunch of useless but fun skills, and spent the whole time surrounded by other like-minded adventurous young people.  It was probably the best thing I ever did.

Graduate school is a TERRIBLE idea for a person who just wants to get in and out quickly.   You will suffer if you don't love the lifestyle.

I agree to a point, but I think your argument is even more of a reason not to worry about putting much money away while a PhD student.  It's important to really immerse yourself in the experience.  It's also a fantastic time to train your frugal muscles.  My wife and I lived an extremely comfortable life as PhD students.  Now that we have income, we know we don't need to spend money to be happy.  Rather, having that experience showed us that what we had in graduate school was almost exactly what we wanted from that point forward. 

Now, that said, it's so incredibly easy to get lost in a PhD program and lose YEARS of time if you're not careful.  It definitely happened to me due to a number of reasons (many of them simply because I didn't have the proper focus).  An extra year of studying as a graduate student vs. taking a real wage will have more of an impact on your FI date than any kind of savings you manage while in the program (assuming you are able to significantly increase your earnings once you graduate or otherwise leave the program).

wenchsenior

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #30 on: March 07, 2017, 08:05:03 AM »
The original poster of this thread was last spotted in 2014.  He could have already graduated by now...

Stay focused, get the degree, and get out. That's the best frugality advice I can give.

...but I still think this is terrible advice.

I have zero regrets abut all the years I spent getting a PhD.  I traveled the world with wine women and song.   I met amazing people in amazing places and did amazing things.

Most people work an entire lifetime just to have a graduate student's lifestyle when they are old.  I did my first seven years of "retirement" in my 20s and wouldn't trade that decision for anything.  I slept late, drank too much, thought about interesting problems on my own schedule, learned a whole bunch of useless but fun skills, and spent the whole time surrounded by other like-minded adventurous young people.  It was probably the best thing I ever did.

Graduate school is a TERRIBLE idea for a person who just wants to get in and out quickly.   You will suffer if you don't love the lifestyle.

Ha! I didn't even see the date on this thread. 

You make a great point, Sol, about the overall approach that usually works the best (though not if your main focus is going to be frugality).  But it reminded me of how it isn't just the joy of the lifestyle for the well-suited grad student...the guy who was major advisor for my husband, several of our close friends, and me always talks nostalgically about how that was one of the best stretches of years of  his career. He had students he loved like family, and he was getting to go out in the field and hang out and do cool work with them on a regular basis.   Good times, for sure!

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #31 on: March 07, 2017, 08:59:53 AM »
The original poster of this thread was last spotted in 2014.  He could have already graduated by now...

Stay focused, get the degree, and get out. That's the best frugality advice I can give.

...but I still think this is terrible advice.

I have zero regrets abut all the years I spent getting a PhD.  I traveled the world with wine women and song.   I met amazing people in amazing places and did amazing things.

Most people work an entire lifetime just to have a graduate student's lifestyle when they are old.  I did my first seven years of "retirement" in my 20s and wouldn't trade that decision for anything.  I slept late, drank too much, thought about interesting problems on my own schedule, learned a whole bunch of useless but fun skills, and spent the whole time surrounded by other like-minded adventurous young people.  It was probably the best thing I ever did.

Graduate school is a TERRIBLE idea for a person who just wants to get in and out quickly.   You will suffer if you don't love the lifestyle.

Acknowledging that this is a wicked old thread and that you also make a good point - I need to say this in case there are any current or future PhD students that find this thread:)

 I feel like it actually really good advice for those in the liberal arts (and maybe social sciences?) who want to work in academia to push through as fast as they can. My DH's adviser told him to push through in 5 years because the job market was worse every year. I was unsure of the advice at the time and wondered if he should take extra time to work on publications. He stuck with the 5 year timeline and it was a great decision.

The first year of my DH's program 100% of the graduates ended up with Tenure lines. 5 years later, my DH's cohort was 75% teaching with full time contracts, but only 25% with a tenure line. Last year's cohort had only 25% find full time jobs.

Just for fun I looked at the job wiki for the 17-18 school year, there are less than half the positions that were available two years ago and no jobs at all in my husband's specialty.

If you want to teach and aren't a superstar at one of the top 5 programs in your field, then push through before the jobs disappear!


talltexan

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #32 on: March 07, 2017, 09:53:44 AM »
The danger with balancing over-committed financial planning and graduate study is letting finances occupy too much of your mental energy. To me, managing my finances always seemed easier than managing my research, so I spent too much time on them (creating too little value for that time). Do not let optimizing here become an excuse for distraction!

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #33 on: March 08, 2017, 09:43:01 PM »
Also speaking here from the Phd in humanities side. Go where you can get the best funding possible. Still many top schools that pay for an entire PhD in English or Humanities with generous stipends. They are hard to get into, even harder compared to when I went. But if you don't get in, that should give one pause too. It is a bitter pill to swallow, but so important to lay out for prospective PhDs the job realities, at least in the humanities. When I graduated in the early 2000s, 75% of jobs were tenure track, and 25% were contingent. Now, in 2017, those numbers have completely flipped. Even if you go to the best programs a job is not guaranteed, as some of my students have found out.  To take debt on, just doesn't make sense for this degree and this profession.

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #34 on: March 15, 2017, 08:10:22 AM »
So glad this post was resurrected! I signed up to the forum just to get in touch with my fellow nerds :)

I am currently finishing up a Master's, and I fully agree with the "stay focused and get out" advice. They are designed to get you a title, higher pay, or a leg up for a PhD, not to delve so deep into a concept or theory that it takes 4 years to graduate.

However... after designing a study on climate change and wetlands, I am currently grappling with the idea of continuing for a PhD. I worked as a biological technician prior to grad school so am familiar with the job market, and it's looking bleak for us environmental science folks at the moment. It might be nice to be out of the market for a few more years. I also consider this field my vocation, and have no desire to retire early when I would probably just keep doing the same things as I do now. The disadvantages to getting a PhD are clearly lost time and income from not working a real job, and fewer job opportunities once graduated. The advantages I see are spending my time working towards something I see as truly worthwhile, opening up higher-level job opportunities, and being guaranteed funding for at least 5 years in this uncertain market.

Luckily in STEM fields we usually get stipends, of which I have been saving as much as possible (i.e. biking, beans and rice, minimal beer). I don't have any debt but student loans from my undergrad, and it would be nice to get those out of the way and start building net worth. My parents weren't good with money and I didn't figure all this out til a couple years ago, so my main financial goal isn't early retirement, but just not being as stressed as them about house and food payments.

Any advice for/against PhD (especially in Ecology) would be greatly appreciated!

radicaledward

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #35 on: March 15, 2017, 10:49:23 AM »
However... after designing a study on climate change and wetlands, I am currently grappling with the idea of continuing for a PhD. I worked as a biological technician prior to grad school so am familiar with the job market, and it's looking bleak for us environmental science folks at the moment. It might be nice to be out of the market for a few more years. I also consider this field my vocation, and have no desire to retire early when I would probably just keep doing the same things as I do now. The disadvantages to getting a PhD are clearly lost time and income from not working a real job, and fewer job opportunities once graduated. The advantages I see are spending my time working towards something I see as truly worthwhile, opening up higher-level job opportunities, and being guaranteed funding for at least 5 years in this uncertain market.

Luckily in STEM fields we usually get stipends, of which I have been saving as much as possible (i.e. biking, beans and rice, minimal beer). I don't have any debt but student loans from my undergrad, and it would be nice to get those out of the way and start building net worth. My parents weren't good with money and I didn't figure all this out til a couple years ago, so my main financial goal isn't early retirement, but just not being as stressed as them about house and food payments.

Any advice for/against PhD (especially in Ecology) would be greatly appreciated!
To be honest, I'd have a hard time arguing against a PhD if you are going to be looking at climate change and wetlands. My own PhD research (one year left to go hopefully!) is aligned some of the climate change aspects. The impression I've been getting from talking to people in industry, government, and academia is that industry and academia are likely to be expanding a bit in terms of the need for people with a solid understanding of the impacts of climate change. There are some industry jobs out there for consultants who develop mitigation plans for communities and those companies are always on the lookout for people. Likewise, there has been increasing demand for sustainability programs (Bachelors degrees, minors, and certificates) for the industry pipeline and someone needs to train those people. If you are going to be doing wetlands ecology as well odds are you are going to be well positioned when you graduate.

I would caution you to make sure you keep an eye on industry though since government work is touch and go right now, but I've been hearing that employers are increasingly open to people with PhDs that can "speak the language of industry."

sol

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #36 on: March 15, 2017, 06:18:36 PM »
Any advice for/against PhD (especially in Ecology) would be greatly appreciated!

I usually advise against pursuing a PhD for anyone who isn't sure about it. 

Consider it like it's a marriage.  You should probably avoid it unless you're absolutely certain it is something you just desperately want to do.  Everyone else gets trapped and then hates their life.

Freedomin5

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #37 on: March 16, 2017, 12:05:19 AM »
From reading the thread, it seems like the PhDs who are willing to go into industry fare the best. Also, those who are willing to leave the country do well. I know Environmental Sciences PhDs are in high demand here in China, as well as many other social sciences/humanities disciplines.

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #38 on: March 16, 2017, 02:27:14 AM »
Any advice for/against PhD (especially in Ecology) would be greatly appreciated!

I finished my PhD in ecology (rainforest) a year ago, I got a postdoc immediately but I think many ecology phds take some time to find postdocs or jobs.

In ecology I only recommend doing a PhD if you want into academia, if you want a job then I think a masters is plenty. PhDs can make you too focused and overqualified, though in saying that, I also agree with a poster above who says a phd is about having a great experience. I don't think I earn enough to recuperate earnings lost from 4 years of grad school but the experiences I had were unbeatable. Because of my phd I've visited overseas remote rainforests and travelled a lot.

Sorry for contradictory advice but in summary I think if you want to go into academia then definitely do a PhD, but otherwise maybe not.

StarBright

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #39 on: March 16, 2017, 07:30:52 AM »
Also speaking here from the Phd in humanities side. Go where you can get the best funding possible. Still many top schools that pay for an entire PhD in English or Humanities with generous stipends. They are hard to get into, even harder compared to when I went. But if you don't get in, that should give one pause too. It is a bitter pill to swallow, but so important to lay out for prospective PhDs the job realities, at least in the humanities. When I graduated in the early 2000s, 75% of jobs were tenure track, and 25% were contingent. Now, in 2017, those numbers have completely flipped. Even if you go to the best programs a job is not guaranteed, as some of my students have found out.  To take debt on, just doesn't make sense for this degree and this profession.

+ a million.

maizeman

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #40 on: March 16, 2017, 07:40:33 AM »
Had a conversation with a visiting prof yesterday and she mentioned that at her university they are really struggling with what to tell new students. A lot of people come in after a reason experience as an undergraduate and want their PhD to be cloning a gene. There are a bunch of labs in her department which are set up to do exactly that, but these days students with that type of thesis project aren't getting industry jobs OR faculty positions. In other labs in the same department, professors refuse to list the names of their students on their lab websites because so many are getting hired away by industry in 2nd or 3rd year of PhD with six figure salaries.

TL;DR Different specific types of thesis research in the same field can drastically change your career options when you graduate.
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wenchsenior

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #41 on: March 16, 2017, 10:20:24 AM »
It's hard to say right now what is a good choice in terms of ecology PhDs.  Sol's right, you have to be SURE you want one apart from the job prospects.  Most academic jobs require a lot more of the same things as a PhD, so if you find the grind tiresome that's a huge warning sign. 

I recognized my limitation early, luckily. I certainly have the mental capacity for a doctoral degree, but I don't enjoy the entire process enough to maintain the drive. I dislike the fundraising, and don't find the publication process enjoyable either. So I'm good with a Master's, and have figured out which jobs play to my strengths.  But I've had friends that had similar limitations to mine who did not recognize it, who did PhDs, got research jobs, and then struggled to be suitably productive. 

The other problem is just the raw reality of job cuts in the biological and research sciences.  At the federal level, we've been cutting research funds for decades with a few blips of increase here and there.  During the Bush years, federal hiring was stable and federal wages actually increased over time in our field, but operating and research funds were frozen or cut.  (Brilliant, right? Keep hiring the scientists and paying them more every year, but don't give them money to do the work).  Then the recession caused a ton of state gov'ts to also cut funding to the biological sciences and academic positions.  Obama briefly increased funding at the federal level (in 2009/10? I think) but then it was frozen again.  The federal workforce shrank under Obama, mostly due to attrition, and the biological science jobs were definitely affected.

Now Trump is proposing to essentially cut science and research out of the federal budget completely, and his entire party is overtly hostile to ecological science in general and climate science in particular. I want to believe sanity will return with the mid term elections, but I no longer have any faith in this.

On the other hand, need for research is real and pressing, so maybe the states will try to take up some of the slack in terms of creating and hiring positions. I think this unlikely too, given GOP control of most state governments.

If you REALLY want a PhD, now is probably a decent time to get one since jobs are drying up. On the other hand, the situation could be even worse two years from now.  Think carefully about taking on any debt to do an ecology PhD in this political climate.  I'm risk averse, so if I had a stable job to jump into right now, I'd go for that.  I think you have to take a hard look at your own risk tolerance.
 

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #42 on: March 18, 2017, 03:46:09 PM »
I guess I am a bit further out than most I am 11 years post Ph.D. and currently teaching (I absolutely love it). My stipend was only 15k a year with some summer teaching thrown in. I think it is great that you are trying to save and potentially invest while you are in school, but the most important thing is to get through with little to no debt as possible and to finish. I mean 50% of those who start doctoral programs don't finish. So big thing is, as people have said, to simplify your life. If I were you and perhaps you have this is to have a good emergency fund in place BEFORE you even think about investing. Then go ahead and if you save 10 to 20% of what you make that would be a great accomplishment. Good luck.
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cats

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #43 on: March 18, 2017, 05:38:32 PM »

being guaranteed funding for at least 5 years in this uncertain market.


You've gotten plenty of advice on the long-term pro/con, but I really would not count on this.  When I was in grad school, the state budget was tanking and numerous programs that were funding PhD students were cut.  I had several friends who wound up losing some or all of their funding midway through their programs.  Or TA positions that had been 50% (a full stipend) were cut to 25% (half stipend).  With the current political climate, I would not consider stable funding for 5 years to be a given.

Case

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #44 on: March 18, 2017, 07:57:01 PM »
Any advice for/against PhD (especially in Ecology) would be greatly appreciated!

I usually advise against pursuing a PhD for anyone who isn't sure about it. 

Consider it like it's a marriage.  You should probably avoid it unless you're absolutely certain it is something you just desperately want to do.  Everyone else gets trapped and then hates their life.

I concur.  If I could re-do it all, I would not have gotten my PhD (chemistry).  And I would say I'm one of the more successful cases.  The average person that gets a PhD usually is over-all getting a shit-deal.  It's a lot of extra hard-work with out enough financial incentives to justify the lost years of work (climbing the ladder).  On top of that, once you get a PhD you'll probably be competing with other PhDs for the rest of your life, which means things are just going to get harder.

Only pursue a PhD if you have a true passion for the subject and that is the major driving force in you career.  This is even more true if you get a PhD in an career that doesn't make you very employable.

The main benefits of my PhD are that it made me a better scientist, and taught me more detailed knowledge in my field than I would have learned otherwise.  This gave me perspectives in life which are (at this point) part of what makes me me.  But is it worth the sacrifices?  For me, no, I think it's too much sacrifice (again, in my personal experience, could vary profession to profession).  Then again, in chemistry, if you don't have a PhD then you get stuck in technician roles (which pay way less)... so actually I advice avoid chemistry in general, maybe most sciences, and instead be an engineer.

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #45 on: March 18, 2017, 10:33:55 PM »
I was in grad school during the latter years of W and the early years of Obama, and heard lots of stories about the change between Clinton and W. So much as I hate to say it, but current political climate makes a huge difference in funding- funding of grad students and labs (speaking from a bio/med perspective), and of course it expands into the future. It took many labs years to recover from the budget cuts from W's era.

I'm probably not the best person to speak to finances as I'm still trying to get mine straight, although it is looking promising now. If I was still in academia, I would be very worried about my financial future. I didn't get hit with loans but the lack of earning power for so many years + my two main weaknesses (pets and housing) hurt me. If I could give myself advice, I would have put something, anything, into retirement savings (ie, extra income from teaching). I unfortunately learned the wonders of compound interest much later in my life. Like, 3 years ago. Oof.

I also want to throw in a plug for keeping an eye out to industry (for all you STEM folks). I went to grad school convinced I would one day have my own lab in academia. I graduated still thinking that, and it took two postdocs over 5 years for me to finally admit that having a lab would mean questionable financial stability based on the whims on whatever political party was in power and whatever topic was in vogue at the moment. While I love research, I just didn't see the environment that would allow me to thrive and do what I actually wanted. I encourage all PhD students to look into industry internships while in grad school and for postdocs- these can be key to getting a foot in the door as well as giving you a better idea of what industry is like, which is very poorly represented in PhD programs. I count myself as very very fortunate to have had a friend who somehow got in and then opened a door for me. Been in industry (peripherally) and love it. One of the best things that has come of it is job security- not that I will keep my current job but that there is a huge demand for people with my qualifications. After years and years of feeling completely insecure about the next step in my career, it's really wonderful to have that.

Also I get to work from home full time, in my pajamas, reading and writing about cutting edge science with my dog snuggled up and kitties snoozing beside me. :D

clarkfan1979

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #46 on: March 19, 2017, 11:01:38 AM »
I was in grad school during the latter years of W and the early years of Obama, and heard lots of stories about the change between Clinton and W. So much as I hate to say it, but current political climate makes a huge difference in funding- funding of grad students and labs (speaking from a bio/med perspective), and of course it expands into the future. It took many labs years to recover from the budget cuts from W's era.

I'm probably not the best person to speak to finances as I'm still trying to get mine straight, although it is looking promising now. If I was still in academia, I would be very worried about my financial future. I didn't get hit with loans but the lack of earning power for so many years + my two main weaknesses (pets and housing) hurt me. If I could give myself advice, I would have put something, anything, into retirement savings (ie, extra income from teaching). I unfortunately learned the wonders of compound interest much later in my life. Like, 3 years ago. Oof.

I also want to throw in a plug for keeping an eye out to industry (for all you STEM folks). I went to grad school convinced I would one day have my own lab in academia. I graduated still thinking that, and it took two postdocs over 5 years for me to finally admit that having a lab would mean questionable financial stability based on the whims on whatever political party was in power and whatever topic was in vogue at the moment. While I love research, I just didn't see the environment that would allow me to thrive and do what I actually wanted. I encourage all PhD students to look into industry internships while in grad school and for postdocs- these can be key to getting a foot in the door as well as giving you a better idea of what industry is like, which is very poorly represented in PhD programs. I count myself as very very fortunate to have had a friend who somehow got in and then opened a door for me. Been in industry (peripherally) and love it. One of the best things that has come of it is job security- not that I will keep my current job but that there is a huge demand for people with my qualifications. After years and years of feeling completely insecure about the next step in my career, it's really wonderful to have that.

Also I get to work from home full time, in my pajamas, reading and writing about cutting edge science with my dog snuggled up and kitties snoozing beside me. :D

George W. increased the federal rate of student loans from 2.4% to 6.8%. My first two years of grad school, I got 2.4% for my student loans. However, during the last 5 years of grad school, the rate was 6.8% for loans. I'm not complaining. I just agree that politics can sometimes have a direct impact on your life.

Getting a side hustle can be tricky. During my last 6th and 7th year, I taught at the community college for extra money. My advisor would use it against me and say that I'm not dedicated toward finishing my dissertation. She would tell me that because it's not a priority for me, it's not a priority for her. After that conversation, I tried to get a job asap, as ABD. It kind of worked because I got a job, but it took me another 4 years to finish part-time ABD.

EdgewoodDirk

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Re: Calling all frugal PhD students
« Reply #47 on: March 19, 2017, 11:36:01 AM »
I was in grad school during the latter years of W and the early years of Obama, and heard lots of stories about the change between Clinton and W. So much as I hate to say it, but current political climate makes a huge difference in funding- funding of grad students and labs (speaking from a bio/med perspective), and of course it expands into the future. It took many labs years to recover from the budget cuts from W's era.

I'm probably not the best person to speak to finances as I'm still trying to get mine straight, although it is looking promising now. If I was still in academia, I would be very worried about my financial future. I didn't get hit with loans but the lack of earning power for so many years + my two main weaknesses (pets and housing) hurt me. If I could give myself advice, I would have put something, anything, into retirement savings (ie, extra income from teaching). I unfortunately learned the wonders of compound interest much later in my life. Like, 3 years ago. Oof.

I also want to throw in a plug for keeping an eye out to industry (for all you STEM folks). I went to grad school convinced I would one day have my own lab in academia. I graduated still thinking that, and it took two postdocs over 5 years for me to finally admit that having a lab would mean questionable financial stability based on the whims on whatever political party was in power and whatever topic was in vogue at the moment. While I love research, I just didn't see the environment that would allow me to thrive and do what I actually wanted. I encourage all PhD students to look into industry internships while in grad school and for postdocs- these can be key to getting a foot in the door as well as giving you a better idea of what industry is like, which is very poorly represented in PhD programs. I count myself as very very fortunate to have had a friend who somehow got in and then opened a door for me. Been in industry (peripherally) and love it. One of the best things that has come of it is job security- not that I will keep my current job but that there is a huge demand for people with my qualifications. After years and years of feeling completely insecure about the next step in my career, it's really wonderful to have that.

Also I get to work from home full time, in my pajamas, reading and writing about cutting edge science with my dog snuggled up and kitties snoozing beside me. :D

George W. increased the federal rate of student loans from 2.4% to 6.8%. My first two years of grad school, I got 2.4% for my student loans. However, during the last 5 years of grad school, the rate was 6.8% for loans. I'm not complaining. I just agree that politics can sometimes have a direct impact on your life.

Getting a side hustle can be tricky. During my last 6th and 7th year, I taught at the community college for extra money. My advisor would use it against me and say that I'm not dedicated toward finishing my dissertation. She would tell me that because it's not a priority for me, it's not a priority for her. After that conversation, I tried to get a job asap, as ABD. It kind of worked because I got a job, but it took me another 4 years to finish part-time ABD.

I speak only from a federally funded grant perspective (NIH, in my case). Our labs and stipends depend (and still do) on these grants for the vast majority of funding. I can't speak to loans as I was one of the fortunate ones who had an advisor with funding until I got my own (fortunate in getting my own at that time as well). Not arguing, just clarifying where my perspective comes from.

Interestingly, teaching was a requirement in my program (unless you knew a foreign language or how to code... somehow these all fulfilled the same requirement). Unless you have your own grant, they actually reduced your stipend the amount that you got paid for teaching, which was kind of crappy of them as it was extra work and it was taxed differently. Some PIs lost funding for stipends entirely and those poor students had to take on even more teaching to pay themselves, but at least there was a backup opportunity readily available. Some people took out loans but I actually had no idea that you could use student loans for anything other than directly tuition, so I never did. Blessing in disguise, I suppose.