Women In Academia

Women in Academia: Let’s Talk About Money.

Money – how gauche to talk openly about this subject, and yet given how incredibly important funding is in determining where we pick to go to grad school and in influencing our graduate school career,  money is something that absolutely has to be talked about.

I would really appreciate it if everyone who reads this posts a comment. I want to be able to talk about funding and academia in depth, but I cannot do that if I do not know all of the different funding options that are relevant to y’all’s experience. I don’t want anything that can compromise your identity; broad statements about “fellowship” or “external” funding, teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and paying out of pocket are all going to be immensely helpful. Heck, there are probably funding options that I am not aware of. Any and all help would be most appreciated and would be put to use in a future post in the Women in Academia series. People of Persephone, you’re my only hope!

Maybe I should give you a better reason to comment with such personal details. Funding is how I, and many others, decided which graduate program to attend. As many states face huge budget crunches, funding situations are becoming more tenuous. Programs are looking to milk all the value they can out of every penny. Students are being dissuaded by increasing tuition. For those lucky enough to get financial support, there’s an increasing lack of stable support, or in a lot of cases, lack of any support. External fellowships are being cut. TAships (Teaching Assistantships)  are being cut. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now.

The uncertainty is a beast of its own. There is a special type of worry that starts to build when you’re not sure how exactly you’ll be able to support yourself, let alone afford the costs incurred with classes and research. And when that’s placed against the knowledge of how much time, money, effort, and tears have already been sunk in this degree, knowing that completing the degree is in limbo is just a terrifying thing.

Even if there is funding, each of the different funding sources have their own costs. I’d like to take them each, one and one, in the following week(s). In many cases, for instance with TAships and RAships, there is a trade off between time and money. Sure, you can work, but that’s less time you can spend on your dissertation and more time you’ll have to stay in grad school. Spending more time in grad school just prolongs the process and increases the chances of running into funding icebergs.

Money causes so much stress, and yet, at least from my experiences, it is one of the few things that people do not commiserate with each other over. Yes, there are obtuse mentions to funding, jokes about being “grad student poor,” and constant droning about the time TAships take away from working on one’s own dissertation, but there’s little talk about the toll these things take.

Let me get the ball rolling: in my time in grad school, I’ve received funding from the program (not unusual in the sciences), from TAships and from external fellowships. I have less time left on my fellowship than I have time in graduate school. Soon, I’ll be out and about, looking for more funding.

So, how about you? What’s your situation?


69 replies on “Women in Academia: Let’s Talk About Money.”

I am soooo lucky. I live in the UK, and my PhD was fully funded by a government research council. It took me 7 years to get the funding, and I lost count of the number of proposals I wrote to try and get funding– but in the end I just went to an interview for a great project, and was given the studentship and the money. It paid all my tuition and fees and research expenses, plus enough to live comfortably over the 3 years it took to complete my research. I then managed to get a grant to pay for the final 6 months of writing up. I completed my PhD with no debt whatsoever. I finished 10 years ago and education in the UK is going downhill, but we still have a FAR better deal than Americans. There’s no way I’d have even attempted it without the funding.

I’m finishing my MA in English at a big state school. First year we were on our own, but they trained us for guaranteed funding the second year. This year we taught. Last year we could also be “readers” and make a couple hundred dollars per term, but there was a max that would absolutely not cover anything–like 20 hours/quarter, maybe, at like $12/hour. Anyway, now we’re funded with a tuition waiver and a stipend in exchange for teaching one freshmen composition class/term. It’s a ton of work, and we end up making <$12k for the year, maybe less than $11k, and with a gap in the summer. There's $300/student/year for conference travel, but you can only use it on one conference, not break it up among several. Which is weird.
I'm staying for the PhD here so I have six or seven years left on my funding clock and it's similar, but now I'll have access to $500 for books and a little raise. For incoming PhDs who aren't continuing from our own program, they're almost all funded but in different ways–usually with a tutoring job the first year while they go through the teacher training, but sometimes with teaching and in a couple of cases with money from our associated departments or whatever (Environmental Studies, Women's Studies, Folklore, whatever). I think that's more rare, but at least one person in my "cohort" had that.
My parents paid for the first year of my MA (I think because my dad said they would and my mom had to go along with it, because she had initially said they wouldn't pay for grad school, ha–they always present a "united front") but I worked odd jobs like grading and at a weekend music festival to have a little extra. It was not financially good last year. Summer was very difficult. Ha.
This year I got another part-time job (not a ton of hours–like 7/week, decent compensation, and a good mental break) and I babysit, and I got a teaching job at a community college for summer, which will multiply my yearly income by almost 1.5. So that'll be great. I think my parents are also pretty thrilled about this situation, since they haven't had to give me money in ages.

In other departments at my school funding is organized differently. My friend is in the business school and her money is a lot more, and she was fully funded the whole time. She teaches one class per year and is a research assistant or grader in the off quarters. She also has summer funding. Everyone in her program is treated the same, financially.

In our arts and sciences econ program (they share a hallway with some of us, so I know about them), some people are admitted with funding and others aren't. If you have funding you TA and grade. If you don't have funding, it basically means they don't expect you to finish. All the students who came into the PhD w/o funding were subsequently dropped to the terminal MA (not nec. by choice) and are exiting the program now. Some programs that strive to be "cut throat" and hyper-competitive use funding as an incentive and competition that way. I'm really glad my program is not that way.

That's everything I know! You asked for info so I delivered.

I am starting my MSc in the social sciences in the UK in the fall. I will self-fund for year 1 but am hoping to advance to the PhD program. I will only do so if I get a fellowship for the bulk of my costs. It’s a tough one, it’s the best program for my research interest but I can’t justify tons of debt for a social science degree with unsure career prospects.

I’m currently working on my MLS at one of the top three MLS programs in the country. However, the program is offered one of two ways: online/distance learning (structured as a part-time three-year program and run by the university’s for-profit “professional continuing education” arm, financially), or the traditional full-time two-year residential program which is run through the standard university funding program.

None of the people I know in the program have TAships, and all of us are using FAFSA loans to cover our education. I came out of two years of undergrad at the same college with less than $20k in loans, and went directly into a program in which I’m racking up at least $20k in loans per year. When I finish my MLS, I’ll be looking at at least $60k in student loan debt and a starting salary of $40k (if I’m lucky, the job market around here is saturated with anxious MLS-holders).

Because I’m married, our household income disqualified me from any work-study programs in both undergrad and grad programs, and my current pregnancy (and my upcoming parenthood) pretty much make housewife/grad student my full-time occupation until I’m done. The MLS program strongly encourages us to do “directed fieldwork”, in which we basically intern at local public/private/corporate libraries, but I know that some of my classmates are also working full-time to support themselves and/or their families and don’t have time to do DFW– it is a somewhat financially privileged position (I’d love to do it, but it will depend on if I can find affordable and accessible child care). It’s an invaluable networking experience for a future career, but if a student can’t afford it, it’s out of their reach and their future career may suffer.

At our MLS orientation, the dean flat-out told us that if we wanted to go for our PhDs, we were basically educating ourselves out of working in anything but academia. While I do love the idea of being Dr. Ipomoea, I love the idea of working in a public library more.

I’m in a Canadian MSc program in biology, hoping to transfer to PhD (I take the exam next week, actually). In my department, PhD students are supposed to get 4 years of funding. You have to apply for scholarships every year if you don’t already have a multi-year scholarship. Failing that, you work as a TA and your supervisor makes up the difference. If you’re on scholarships worth less than your stipend maximum, your supervisor/etc. can only top up your stipend to that maximum. If your scholarships are worth more than that maximum, you can make extra money by TAing.

I am super lucky because I am in a special program that is funded by NSERC (a Canadian federal government science/engineering funding agency) to do a specific sort of research, and this program pays for me by default rather than my supervisor, and my stipend maximum is increased a little bit. I have my own NSERC funding on top of that, as well as a fellowship that lasts 4 years, and I work as a TA. I also got an entrance scholarship when I started my MSc last year, but that money is long gone (rent is obscenely expensive here). Also, tuition is waived for PhD students, which is great. So yeah, I’m really lucky to be in this situation.

Thanks! From what I’ve heard, SSHRC is pretty similar – and yeah, it’s quite competitive. That’d be really cool if we’re at the same place – are you in BC? I don’t think that my university has a very big musicology program though, so I’m doubting it (our music program has a big focus on opera).

I should that my MA program gave nary a whisper of any kind of funding, outside of applying for FAFSA and hoping for the best/taking a giant loan. My partner is an MA student in history at the same school and he isn’t offered funding either. I had thought it was the same way everywhere, so I didn’t even try to look. But it seems like it’s just my small, poor, broken public university.

No this is helpful, too. People in the STEM fields who get their PhDs often get full-funding, and since I am one of those people, it’s easy for me to forget about all the other ways in which people pay for school. There’s been a great diversity in the comments so far and I appreciate you commenting and adding to that diversity. Thank you!

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