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Funding in graduate school

  1. Mar 5, 2014 #1
    Hello, I would like to ask a few questions regarding funding in grad school for physics (and maybe for other fields).

    I know that tuition fees are quite large in grad school, but most of the time (if not always) they are being covered by the school. People who receive funding from school has to do duties like TA, RA including grading papers and so on.

    My main question is: can graduate student live (pay for rent, buy food) only using money received from the university due to their duties and without having external source of income?

    I am primarily interested in physics, but it would be nice to know about non-science fields too.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 5, 2014 #2


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    When I was a grad student in physics in the US (U of Michigan at Ann Arbor), my stipend was adequate for living expenses. It helped that I always shared an apartment with someone else so I never had to pay the full rent. I also did not own a car until my last year there. I had enough money left over to travel occasionally.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2014
  4. Mar 5, 2014 #3
    I get $29 k/year after all tuition and health is paid. I can live off it easily. Engineering tends to pay a lot better than pure sciences though. I couldn't imagine living off of less than $20k in a city, which is what some programs pay for basic sciences. You'd either need student loans to make ends meet or apply for more funding.
  5. Mar 5, 2014 #4
    In physics, I've seen average 9-month stipends go as low as 14.9k, but never have I seen them outside of college-centered towns (population<50k). Schools like OSU (Columbus, 800k population) and U Chicago pay stipends of around 24-32k excluding fellowships afaik.

    I've visited one school so far that offers a 9-month stipend around that much (15k) and am going to another in a few days. What I've seen so far is if you go for grad student apartments, you spend around 45% of your monthly stipend on rent + all utilities, which is IMO not bad at all provided you can responsibly manage your spending on food and recreation. This can get tight if you want to have a car, but I met a grad student who manages to do so into her 2nd year.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2014
  6. Mar 6, 2014 #5
    One should spend a quarter of their income on rent.

    To answer OP, thousands of grad students manage to live on their stipends. You may have to get a room mate and live simply, but people do it.
  7. Mar 6, 2014 #6
    That's an unrealistic rule of thumb in most of the Western world or as a US grad student in the sciences. But I've lived on my own spending roughly 60-70% of my salary/undergrad grant on my rent while living in Europe, a year of which was in central London, where the cost of living probably exceeds most US college towns by a factor of 3-4, and did just fine. You just can't expect to go out or eat out every weekend.

    In my grad school visits, the US grad students I've met so far never had to share an apartment with anyone out of necessity, only two did so as they got along well and figured it would be a great way to save for beer money. :)

    PhD studentships in Physics/Astronomy in the EU pay a little better than US TA's/RA's (albeit they are fixed 3 or 4-year contracts), but it doesn't meet this rule of thumb either, by far.
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2014
  8. Mar 6, 2014 #7
    Thats unrealistic for grad students.
  9. Mar 6, 2014 #8

    Ben Niehoff

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    This is a laughable standard. Throughout most of my grad school I have paid about 40% of my income on rent. This is after sharing an apartment.

    To the OP: You will have to share an apartment, most likely. But if I can do it in Los Angeles, you can surely do it in not-Los-Angeles.
  10. Mar 6, 2014 #9
    I was in math. I made about $1600 a month (with no pay for 2 months in the summer). Living expenses weren't so bad. Something like $600-800 would cover the bills, even without a roommate. Then you'd need a bit more for food. I think if you know what you are doing, you can get by with only a $100-150 budget for food. It's nice to be able to go out to eat with friends and stuff, though. Then if you have a car, there's insurance and gas. So, $1200 ought to cover it, if you know what you are doing and don't mind not being able to buy much of anything. I will say it would be nice to go into it with some savings, just in case things come up. If you need a little extra money, you can do some tutoring.

    I was able to save up quite a bit of money for a while (but then lost most of it, for reasons I won't get into).

    A bonus of living off that kind of money for a while is that when you get a real job, making 40k (assuming you live in a place with reasonable housing prices), it seems like an insane amount of money. I'm still waiting for that to happen, actually. When I hear people tell me about how 50k is not enough money, I find it pretty hilarious, unless it's in some super-expensive place. Ironically, though, I'm hoping to make 6 figures eventually, not for the material wealth, but for the security and freedom it brings. Just a kind of insurance and freedom to pursue risky ventures without the burden of having your livelihood depend on their success.
  11. Mar 7, 2014 #10
    I never said it was a realistic rule of thumb on a grad stipend. :)

    Just something to shoot for.
  12. Mar 18, 2014 #11
    So if I can make it through my undergrad math, will they fund me to get a master's in math or do they only fund for Phd? I have no idea how it works; what kind of grades does someone need for funding? I attend a small state liberal arts school.
  13. Mar 18, 2014 #12
    Some places will fund master's students. Some will only fund PhD students. Some don't even accept master's students (but do give an MS to people who drop out of the PhD program). Unless you are independently wealthy, you need to research this at each school you apply to.
  14. Mar 18, 2014 #13
    This, with the only following modification: MOST places will not fund master's students for science, especially if they don't have a phd program. I have seen around 1-3 in the US that do (Rennsaler's physics msc and Northern Arizona's applied physics msc were some), but their stipends are around 60-70% of the lowest phd stipends I've seen. I think it would be impossible to break even no matter how frugal you were in this scenario, having some savings or getting some form of loan would probably be a must. You still have TA responsibilities and pretty intense coursework at these schools as a terminal masters students, so it would be hard to get in a part time job.

    Probably varies widely for math and engineering masters(I've heard of some programs having better stipends than even physics phd programs in the same city as well as ones that were totally unfunded).
  15. Mar 18, 2014 #14
    So, pretty much everyone that gets accepted in to a phd program gets all expenses paid for?

    What is an example of a specific work assignment for a semester (specifics)?

    How hard is it to get accepted to a phd program if you are say an ab student at a small university?
  16. Mar 18, 2014 #15
    1. Not necessarily. It is possible to get admitted without support (though it is very rare). It is also possible to get admitted but with only guaranteed support for the 9-month academic year. One school I got admitted at couldn't guarantee me summer support which meant there was no realistic way I could pay for rent if summer came around and no TA/RA-ship was available. Needless to say, I declined this school despite liking it quite a bit (and being relatively highly ranked among public schools, probably top 5 in that specific field).

    2. I'll get back to you in a few months, for now I'll let current grad students speak for that. Word of mouth is: grading homework, lab assignments, and maybe exams. Supervising lab courses. Usually 20hrs/week.

    3. Quantifying these things is close to impossible, but people from small uni's regularly get into prestigious programs if they do the right things. Good grades, standardized test scores, research experience and recommendation letters are the standard recipe. Skimp on the first two and the last two become immensely more helpful. Skimp on the last two, you better have done really well. Picking the right school with good funding in the research field you want helps immensely, not having a somewhat clear idea of what you want to do in grad school and why is a no-no.
  17. Mar 18, 2014 #16
    Since you're looking at math, I'll answer the questions specifically for that field:

    1. Pretty much every PhD student gets support. There are some schools (NYU is famous for this) that admit some people without support, which is basically a "soft rejection" -- if they do this, they don't want you. Most schools don't guarantee summer support, but the amount you get for the academic year should be enough to get you through the summer even if you can't find something else. (Warning: when looking at offers, don't forget to take into account the cost of living in the area.)

    2. Typical assignments are TA positions, which usually means that you have to teach recitation sections and grade homework, quizzes, and exams. Some schools have their experienced TAs teach a class by themselves, which means they are responsible for everything. Most schools have TA training programs, so you won't be a TA in your first semester (or first two semesters). Instead, you'll be a grader or something like that, or even get a fellowship if you're lucky/good. You can also get an RA position, but these are rarer in math than in other sciences. You will probably need to have a few years under your belt before your professor can get you covered on his or her grant.

    3. It's really no harder than if you come from a large university. The only challenge is that you may not have the same number of advanced courses available, but usually you can compensate for this by getting some research experience.
  18. Mar 19, 2014 #17
    Okay, so what is the big deal about not being supported in the summer? Do people take grad math in the summer or something? Don't most people go home in the summer?
  19. Mar 19, 2014 #18
    Many people go home for some time during the summer, but you typically do something work-related (teaching, research, internship, whatever) for most of the summer, even if you only do it to make extra money or ensure you get to graduate on schedule.

    But summer plans don't always work out, so you should be prepared to support yourself year-round. That means that if you only get paid for 9 or 10 months, you need to have the financial discipline to make it last for the whole year.
  20. Mar 19, 2014 #19
    Schools with sufficient money available are typically able to support their students for the summer no matter what, some pride themselves on managing to do it for all their students without exception.

    Without summer support, if you're on a comparatively low TA in a place with a high cost of living (like the school I turned down, East coast), it is practically impossible to spread your resources that thin. Think roughly 75-80% of your monthly TA wage going to rent and utilities, the rest being for food and other expenses. No way you're saving up for 3 months of rent and food if you don't get a summer TA/RAship. IMO no school is worth that level of discomfort, that financial distress will inevitably distract you from your work, IME (as an undergrad that got by on his own with a tight scholarship/stipend).
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