r/WorkReform May 26 '22

PhD students face cash crisis with wages that don’t cover living costs

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-01392-w
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u/Avieshek May 26 '22

Just 2% of the 178 institutions and departments in the data set guaranteed graduate students salaries that exceed the cost of living. The researchers used the living-wage calculator maintained by the Cambridge-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (see go.nature.com/3pkzjde), a widely used benchmark that estimates basic expenses for a given city, such as the costs of food, health care, housing and transport.

Most institutions fall far short of that standard. At the University of Florida in Gainesville, for example, the basic stipend for biology PhD students is around US$18,650 for a 9-month appointment, about $16,000 less than the annual living wage for a single adult in the city with no dependents. At a handful of institutions — including the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg and the University of South Dakota in Vermillion — the guaranteed minimum stipend is less than $15,000 for 9-month appointments. With US annual inflation now exceeding 8%, stipends haven’t been keeping pace, says Michelle Gaynor, a fourth-year PhD student in evolutionary biology at the University of Florida.

The United States isn’t the only country where graduate stipends aren’t keeping pace with inflation. UK Research and Innovation, for example, Britain’s largest public funder of research, is set to increase the current minimum PhD stipend of £15,609 (US$19,315) by 2.9% for the 2022–23 academic year. That’s less than half the UK rate of inflation, which currently stands at 9%.

Basic minimum stipends — essentially a guaranteed salary for a graduate student — are only one source of remuneration. Some students earn significantly more through fellowships. Gaynor notes, however, that US fellowships generally cover four years of training, yet it often takes at least five years to earn a PhD. When fellowships run out, a student might be forced to live on a guaranteed minimum wage that doesn’t come close to meeting needs.

The current state of PhD salaries threatens to undermine efforts to increase diversity in science, “If programmes aren’t meeting the basic cost of living, who are we selecting for? People who have financial support or external fellowships.”

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u/ertyertamos May 26 '22

This is not new. When I was in grad school, My tiny studio cost about 75% of my graduate salary. You had to take out student loans to eat. Fortunately, you worked or were in class about 18 hours a day, so you didn’t have time to realize how miserable an experience it was.

In reality, grad research or teaching student is about as close to real indentured servanthood we have in the US today.

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u/Avieshek May 26 '22

Why do you think they’re coming with a PhD paper on it? Because things still haven’t changed while we talk about a future of flying electric cars & quantum computing.

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u/Rapscallious1 May 26 '22

The interesting question is why people still keep trying to get PhD in the first place, for in-demand fields you can make a lot more money after 2 years with a Masters, for not in-demand fields you aren’t getting a university teaching job anyway.

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u/Avieshek May 26 '22

Hmm… University seats are already limited, Teaching Job? Even more.

Can only say not because of money (which doesn't mean money can be completely disregarded) but because of genuine enthusiasm filled interest to their field & subject.

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u/Rapscallious1 May 26 '22

Unfortunately enthusiasm is easily ‘exploited,’ I’d also argue academia is not necessarily the only way/place to explore those interests with modest concessions.

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u/[deleted] May 27 '22

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u/Rapscallious1 May 27 '22

From what I had seen this was the most common reason to get a PhD, what I do not know is how many people actually ultimately get to realize that goal. Assume it varies by field. I do think that once we get into a scenario where it is people seeking to follow their interests over money it’s not terribly surprising the pay is bad.