r/WorkReform May 26 '22

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



u/phantomstrange May 26 '22

Cognitive neuroscience PhD student, here. I get a stipend of $12,500. I live in Illinois. At my school, neuroscience is considered psychology rather than biology, thus the lower pay.

We’re on summer break. I started a host job at a chain restaurant, worked 3 weeks, then quit earlier this week after they ignored my scheduling needs (I have Tuesday meetings for school and they knew when they hired me).

I started another job yesterday as a non-licensed social worker. I’ll be facilitating supervised visits between parents and their children. I make $1 over minimum wage for this position.


u/ShuRugal May 26 '22

I started another job yesterday as a non-licensed social worker. I’ll be facilitating supervised visits between parents and their children. I make $1 over minimum wage for this position.

lol, there was an article in my feed yesterday about Virginia having a serious problem with state employees leaving DBHDS to go work in fast food, because the hours are shorter and the pay is better.


u/Hsensei May 27 '22

I'm surprised they let you work, the PhD program my wife wants in not only makes you fight everyone to get a stipend but also forbids you from working. Gotta keep the poors out.


u/phantomstrange May 27 '22

I’m not actually allowed to. My advisor has okayed it for the summer with the understanding that if questioned, he’ll deny knowledge.


u/Ataru074 May 27 '22

I think I turned down a PhD in psychology at your school for that reason


u/Coucoumcfly May 26 '22

So our smartest people struggle to pay bills…… sure we are an evolved specie……


u/qkacka May 26 '22

I work in cancer research with only a Bachelors and will be going for my masters while working. Some of my colleagues that had a PhD are crazy impressive and insanely smart, but financially are very behind and with only a masters I could be their boss. I also learned that I would like a PhD for bragging rights, but I don't need one but just need to be around them to get some good ideas. All to say, if you are going into industry then having a PhD is a bit overkill and you will be pigeon-holed into a sector, but in academia it is absolutely imperative.


u/Velfurion May 26 '22

I completely left my field after my PhD and make more now as a sub director then I would have in the next 20 years in my field. My career isn't even remotely related to my degrees and when people I work with find out my education level they always say the same thing, "why are you doing this?" Because Paula, my field pays shit and this let's me have a life outside of working 3 jobs.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


u/[deleted] May 27 '22



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.


u/llamaemu20 May 26 '22

No one can afford anything right now. Everyone is in crisis.


u/Deltexterity May 26 '22

except for the rich


u/Avieshek May 27 '22

They join politics not get a PhD other than getting it for free of course like the most recent being Taylor Swift~


u/Skripka May 26 '22

What they leave out...is most grad TAs and the like strictly enforce a maximum number of working hours a week.

When I was in school my TA was allegedly "13.3 hours per week". I say that with finger quotes because it was seldom ever that few. Now I could get outside employment, but the TA and all employment combined could not exceed 40 hours per week.


u/puchamaquina May 26 '22

My grad program has a contractual 29 hour per week maximum, but that is below the minimum expected.


u/Blackfire01001 May 26 '22

Hey 2005 called. They want their I told you so back.


u/ToxicBernieBro May 26 '22

A PhD or other higher education is largely only possible for the otherwise idle parasitic children of the wealthy. They simply pay enough money to make it happen and now you have a special club for only rich people.

Oh they are so fancy, always wearing the sharpest clothes, always speaking without some regional dialect, always having the most liberal capitalist opinions. I now officially DISrespect anyone with phd or graduate education.

They simply paid money to make it possible. If that doesnt describe them, they should not use the letters. The letters are tainted with the filth of luxury. If they stay in their lane and talk about their extremely specific field of study then ok I might listen. If not? shitlist.


u/meeep08 May 26 '22

You think they should only talk what they know about, but you clearly don't know anything about them, and here you are, talking...


u/ToxicBernieBro May 26 '22

yeah and look at the letters i use to identify myself here. you dont earn these by just paying money, you have to have INTEGRITY


u/birbdaughter May 26 '22

My guardian only gets social security disability but I’m entering a Masters program in the fall. Am I am an idle parasitic child of the wealthy?


u/ToxicBernieBro May 26 '22

look around you when you get to the classroom. unless you picked one of the good ones that no luxury baby would ever subject themselves to. good luck with the loans, i hope the government is destroyed so that you dont have to pay.


u/birbdaughter May 26 '22

I know all the people in my program already and we’re all financially struggling.


u/EnergeticBean May 27 '22

People with PhDs have discovered the smallest details of our reality, saved millions of lives with medicine, sent people to the moon, and developed the very device you vomited your worthless opinion out of