Grad school financing - hard sciences

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fast_and_curious
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Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by fast_and_curious » Thu May 23, 2019 6:59 pm

Hello Bogleheads,

Back in my day (meaning 25+ years ago), most people I knew, including myself, who pursued graduate education in an engineering discipline, didn't have to pay for it. Some got fellowships, some worked as teaching assistants, some as research assistants, etc. but almost everyone I knew had their grad school tuition/fees taken care of. I went to a large private research institution in the US, but friends of mine at large public research institutions had the same experience.

NOTE - I recognize this is a generalization. Obviously not everyone was so fortunate - I'd prefer not to debate [too much] as to how accurate my 25-year-old recollection is.

Besides being old, my memories are obviously based on my personal experience as an engineer, not in other fields. My question is:

1) In TODAY'S world (not my 25 year old memory), and
2) For graduate work in a research discipline of a HARD SCIENCE (such as chemistry, biology, etc.)

is it typical for master's and Ph.D. students to pay/finance their own way? Or typical to get the type of support I mentioned above?

Why is this actionable? Well, my oldest child is in high school and starting to think about colleges, with the idea (I know things change) of pursuing an advanced degree in a hard science. Let's say they are able to get into highly competitive private, out-of-state-public, as well as in-state public schools for undergrad. If I know that they/we will have, let's say, 8 years of college + grad school to pay for, that could lead us to a different financial decision than if they/we have only 4 years of undergrad education to pay for, with a good chance of grad work being free.

Thanks for any recent input.

student
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by student » Thu May 23, 2019 7:54 pm

For math, physics, chemistry and biology Ph.D. programs, almost all full-students at my school get funded and we are only an R2 school. It is also common for our engineering Ph.D. students to be on TAship.

DoTheMath
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by DoTheMath » Thu May 23, 2019 8:06 pm

Your recollections still apply. In the hard sciences at a reasonably good research university, nearly every graduate student is supported through some combination of teaching, faculty grants, graduate fellowships, and the like.

The only exception I am aware of are specialized programs designed for people in industry or planning on going to industry. Something like a masters degree in applied statistics, data analysis, or the like. But these are designed to be paid for by an employer or by the student with with the clear expectation they'll end up with a good paying job as a result (and certainly such a program and its placement of students should be closely scrutinized!).

To a first approximation, a student accepted without funding should understand that the graduate program considers them a marginal case. If they want to attend on their own dime, great, but the department isn't betting on their success.
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Big Dog
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by Big Dog » Thu May 23, 2019 8:11 pm

one should never pursue a PhD unless its fully funded. And fortunately, the STEM ones usually are.

OTOH, MA/MS programs are usually cash cows for the Uni. Sure, the student can apply for a TA position, but those can be competitive.

btw: assume 5+ years to complete the PhD.

InvisibleAerobar
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by InvisibleAerobar » Thu May 23, 2019 8:23 pm

fast_and_curious wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 6:59 pm

is it typical for master's and Ph.D. students to pay/finance their own way? Or typical to get the type of support I mentioned above?

Why is this actionable? Well, my oldest child is in high school and starting to think about colleges, with the idea (I know things change) of pursuing an advanced degree in a hard science. Let's say they are able to get into highly competitive private, out-of-state-public, as well as in-state public schools for undergrad. If I know that they/we will have, let's say, 8 years of college + grad school to pay for, that could lead us to a different financial decision than if they/we have only 4 years of undergrad education to pay for, with a good chance of grad work being free.

Thanks for any recent input.
Doctoral students in the sciences (be it pure or applied) will generally have their tuition covered and receive a stipend, coming either from grant money of the principal investigator (PI) or as a TA. As grant money has dwindled, some places that once upon a time didn't need to pay students for teaching are beginning to turn toward that route.

Most, however, do need to pay for tuition in master program (e.g. applied math, stat, various engineering disciplines). As i'm sure you know, one doesn't apply to do a master in the non-applied sciences. Though I think (and do double check) were one to enroll in the doctoral program at the outset and leave after obtaining the master degree, that person wouldn't be on the hook for tuition.

Lastly, note that the job prospects for the non-applied sciences are quite bleak compared to what they were twenty years ago. From time to time, we have people chiming in on just this issue (and how doctoral programs work in general). Whatever experience someone may gain as an intern or as a summer research fellow is most likely a far cry from the experience of a grad student working 55hr+/week. Make sure that the decision to pursue a doctoral degree in bio or chem is one that is fully informed.

HerpNerd
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by HerpNerd » Thu May 23, 2019 9:00 pm

MS - Biology from state school (2011-2014)
Paid for the first semester
Teaching assistantship (TA) the next four
Summer TA between second and third semester
Sixthish semester completed thesis, supported by working spouse
Completed GIS certificate in addition to MS paid for by TA

All but one MS student in Biology department on TA or research grant. That student was a high school teacher and was getting tuition reimbursement.

buhlaxtus
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by buhlaxtus » Thu May 23, 2019 9:22 pm

PhD - get paid a salary for it. If that's not offered, it's not a program that's worth pursuing. I'm not aware of any exceptions in the hard sciences. Lots of programs offer admission with a commitment of 4 years of funding, although it might be covered by a teaching assistantship.

Master's - varies. Many of these programs (e.g. data science where I am now) are money-makers with just a few scholarships available. I think the worth of these depends on the name recognition of the institution and its faculty, and how good you are at networking while you're there.

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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by buhlaxtus » Thu May 23, 2019 9:27 pm

InvisibleAerobar wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 8:23 pm
Make sure that the decision to pursue a doctoral degree in bio or chem is one that is fully informed.
This is a really good point. PhD programs are notorious for exacerbating (or causing) significant mental illness and general misery, and rightfully so. And, odds are against ending up as academic faculty afterwards despite what the old profs might tell you. You have to do it out of interest and with the ability and willingness to adapt.

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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by stoptothink » Thu May 23, 2019 9:47 pm

buhlaxtus wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 9:27 pm
InvisibleAerobar wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 8:23 pm
Make sure that the decision to pursue a doctoral degree in bio or chem is one that is fully informed.
This is a really good point. PhD programs are notorious for exacerbating (or causing) significant mental illness and general misery, and rightfully so. And, odds are against ending up as academic faculty afterwards despite what the old profs might tell you. You have to do it out of interest and with the ability and willingness to adapt.
I interview a lot of recent biology/chemistry PhDs, mostly late 20's-early 30's who've just come to the realization that chances of making a living in academia/research are pretty slim. Most of them have never had a job outside of academia and it shows, they tend to interview really poorly. I have no idea what other career options they have that someone with just an undergrad doesn't; we've hired a grand total of one of them in 4yrs (and it was a mistake). In fact, I got an email from a young lady (PhD in chem) in this position earlier this week who I interviewed almost 2yrs ago, she still hasn't found a job and was inquiring about contract work. If someone wants to go that route, get some work experience along the way.

My PhD (which was covered by grants), in Kinesiology-Obesity Studies of all things, was only beneficial in the work force because it came with over a decade of (professional, non-academia) work experience. I did it for me, expecting that it would actually limit my private industry opportunities. It turned out to help, a lot, but I am one of the lucky ones.
Last edited by stoptothink on Thu May 23, 2019 10:03 pm, edited 2 times in total.

buhlaxtus
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by buhlaxtus » Thu May 23, 2019 9:55 pm

stoptothink wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 9:47 pm
Most of them have never had a job outside of academia and interview really poorly. I have no idea what other career options they have that someone with just an undergrad doesn't; we've hired a grand total of one of them in 4yrs. If someone wants to go that route, get some work experience along the way.
ALSO a great point. A lot of PhD programs don't (or can't) train their students for non-academic careers, despite that being the students' most likely option. Some engineering programs are exceptions, certainly - ours does reasonably well. But, say, physics... hrm.

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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by buhlaxtus » Thu May 23, 2019 10:01 pm

fast_and_curious wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 6:59 pm
If I know that they/we will have, let's say, 8 years of college + grad school to pay for, that could lead us to a different financial decision than if they/we have only 4 years of undergrad education to pay for, with a good chance of grad work being free.
Cripes I can't shut up on this thread I guess. But getting back to the original questions - a hard sciences or engineering undergrad has some advantages in terms of getting technical expertise, and opens certain options for both employment and school after undergrad. But (in my opinion) there's not much point in making plans about grad school vs job vs whatever after college. The landscape can change a lot over those first four years - meaning not only the available career options, but also the student's own interests and skills - and you have no idea where things are going to go. Right now your kiddo isn't even in college, so it's too soon to make post-college plans. And too soon to push them to make these plans, too. Give them flexibility, rather than a 10-year plan :)

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fast_and_curious
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by fast_and_curious » Fri May 24, 2019 6:36 am

buhlaxtus wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 10:01 pm
fast_and_curious wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 6:59 pm
If I know that they/we will have, let's say, 8 years of college + grad school to pay for, that could lead us to a different financial decision than if they/we have only 4 years of undergrad education to pay for, with a good chance of grad work being free.
Cripes I can't shut up on this thread I guess. But getting back to the original questions - a hard sciences or engineering undergrad has some advantages in terms of getting technical expertise, and opens certain options for both employment and school after undergrad. But (in my opinion) there's not much point in making plans about grad school vs job vs whatever after college. The landscape can change a lot over those first four years - meaning not only the available career options, but also the student's own interests and skills - and you have no idea where things are going to go. Right now your kiddo isn't even in college, so it's too soon to make post-college plans. And too soon to push them to make these plans, too. Give them flexibility, rather than a 10-year plan :)
Absolutely agree - lots can change in that time, and definitely not trying to push our kids in any certain directions. The main reason I'm asking is that several friends/acquaintances have suggested saving as much money as possible for the undergrad education, so that you can "splurge" more on a higher ranked (more prestigious?) graduate school. That suggestion makes sense (well, one can debate whether expensive schools are worth it in general but I mean I understand the sentiment) if med or law school is in the cards, since those obviously aren't usually paid for. But it ran contrary to my own experience of most engineering grad students not having to worry about tuition & fees, so I just wanted to see whether I was just out of touch when it came to non-engineering fields in today's environment.

So thanks for the information, everyone. I do think it's good information to have when making the decision about where to go / how much to spend for undergraduate, even with the big caveat that things can change before grad school.

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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by TheOscarGuy » Fri May 24, 2019 6:49 am

fast_and_curious wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 6:59 pm

1) In TODAY'S world (not my 25 year old memory), and
2) For graduate work in a research discipline of a HARD SCIENCE (such as chemistry, biology, etc.)

is it typical for master's and Ph.D. students to pay/finance their own way? Or typical to get the type of support I mentioned above?

I had funding for all my years in grad school, which wasn't too long ago at a private school. In my program we had all PhD students on some sort of funding, while a majority of master's students also did end up finding something. It is not unusual for some schools to give out admits especially to international students (e.g. USC) and have them pay full price for Master's programs.

I decided grad school was only worth it if someone else paid for the tuition and expenses. My reasoning was this: there is opportunity cost associated with going to grad school. If I also have to pay for it (by taking out debt), I am making it worse by having a relatively large debt, and 'losing time' because I wont be working full time when I am in grad school. So in my mind it isn't worth it to go if I didn't get scholarship, which thankfully I got :-)

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leeks
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by leeks » Fri May 24, 2019 7:42 am

Agreed that a full-time on-campus PhD program in hard sciences should come with funding (including stipend on the order of ~20K depending on region) from the school arranged up front. There is the option to leave after the master's if the full program is no longer appealing, in which case the master's will have been free (although it may be called an MA instead of an MS). The funding is usually in the form of teaching or research assistantships which require working alongside studies.

Master's programs often do not come with funding. A student who doesn't initially gain entry to a desired PhD program with just an undergrad degree may choose to pay for a master's and then reapply to PhD programs. Another option is obviously just to get more work experience and then reapply, or move on and enjoy life without ever subjecting oneself to the potential torture and misery of doctoral programs (I haven't done one but lived in a neighborhood of PhD students for 6 years including my spouse and many were indeed miserable at times and certainly some have floundered professionally, are underemployed, or ended up happy but with an unrelated career, despite their ivy-league PhD).

The exceptions I can think of are when a student pursues a PhD part-time or from a distance, which may be more common in the social sciences (there seem to be a lot of these program in healthcare and education research). Such situations would not provide funding (which is reasonable because the student is not taking on a teaching or research assistantship). In those cases, the best setup is if an employer will pay for the program or subsidize it with either money or paid time off for study.

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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by Jack FFR1846 » Fri May 24, 2019 7:57 am

Go to the actual school, to the department. Ask to speak with someone about graduate funding and what is typically available. Between current grad students, and professors, I'm sure you'll get a good picture of what the chances are to get funding.

Each specialty will vary. Funding can come in the form of research assistantships, where in many cases, industry sponsors are paying to have focused research performed. In my grad school specialty, a good number of student slaves worked in this way. They were expected to perform research work and publish on a regular basis. PhD candidates had a much higher expectation for publications....usually once per semester at a minimum.

Teaching assistantships in my school were offered by the department. Not sure about now, but there were so many openings, although I was 100% paid for by my company, they offered me the TA job for a class that I was actually taking! I turned them down as my employer wouldn't allow it anyways.

Resident advisor or director: If living on campus, this can bring in either payment towards tuition/housing/meals or actual money. I did this early on in my schooling. I was an "older" student returning first for my Bachelor's and actually was an RA the second semester of my Freshman year. I then transferred out.

On campus jobs: Some jobs become available and are not work-study. Ask. I drove a van to transport students between the main campus and a satellite dorm complex.

All of my experience was long ago, but I'd think it would be worth asking at a minimum.
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student
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by student » Fri May 24, 2019 8:25 am

Jack FFR1846 wrote:
Fri May 24, 2019 7:57 am
Each specialty will vary. Funding can come in the form of research assistantships, where in many cases, industry sponsors are paying to have focused research performed. In my grad school specialty, a good number of student slaves worked in this way. They were expected to perform research work and publish on a regular basis. PhD candidates had a much higher expectation for publications....usually once per semester at a minimum.
I do not know about other disciplines but I do not know anyone who expects a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics to publish once per semester. A typical Ph.D. thesis in math is usually equivalent to 2-3 papers in respectable journals.

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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by mariezzz » Fri May 24, 2019 4:28 pm

Big Dog wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 8:11 pm
one should never pursue a PhD unless its fully funded. And fortunately, the STEM ones usually are.

OTOH, MA/MS programs are usually cash cows for the Uni. Sure, the student can apply for a TA position, but those can be competitive.

btw: assume 5+ years to complete the PhD.
+1.

I'd choose the college based on the financial aid package that is offered. I'd focus on grants. Loans are money that have to be paid back (I'd recommend NEVER taking out any loans other than government subsidized loans, which limits the total amount in loans that can be obtained).
Keep in mind that colleges offer first year students better financial aid packages (to get them in the door) - there's no guarantee the student will keep getting as much in grants, especially if they're not getting top-notch grades (in most colleges today, a B to B+ GPA is a MEDIAN GPA - grade inflation is rampant). There's also tuition inflation over time, and often, grant aid doesn't keep up with that. You should expect your child to work at a job at least 15 hours per week while classes are in session, and at least full time in the summer - that money can go towards their expenses, and gives them valuable job skills, plus they learn important lessons that will benefit them for life.

One person above suggested paying for a masters in order to get into a PhD program: I wouldn't suggest that. If you couldn't get funded in a PhD program to begin with, you're not likely to really benefit by paying for a masters then doing the PhD, unless you're purely doing the PhD for your own personal benefit, not a job path. The important take-home message here is: take undergrad seriously.
===
I'll also add: The reason for getting a STEM PhD isn't to get more money beyond what you could get with a good strong work ethic and a masters degree (or maybe even a BA). The reason is that you're really committed to learning about the world, expanding our base of knowledge.

Going into academia these days is not going to get you as high as an income as once was the case (but even in the past, pay in industry/corporate still outstripped academia), or even job security in many cases, unless you can be a PI and pull in major grants at an R01 institution. If you can pull in major grants, you buy some freedom and flexibility in terms of what you do. But, you're still going to be putting in more hours and working harder than you would in an industry/corporate job at higher pay. In industry/corporate, your goals have to be tied to that of the employer. In academics, your goals have to be tied to that of the organizations with the grants. In either case, but especially academia, you make the choice because you're passionate about the research area, and find rewarding interacting with others who share that passion.

Academia is not for everyone. Some people choose to let someone else be the PI and are staff in that person's lab. That can be a rewarding route in academia. Others shift into industry or corporate positions. You can also go that route for 10 years, make and save a lot of money (sacrificing some freedom to do what you're most passionate about), and perhaps shift back into academia as staff. The most important thing is to not take the view that leaving academia is failure, or that there isn't life outside academia. It's people who think in this rigid way who can't land jobs.

Lucien786
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by Lucien786 » Sat May 25, 2019 8:50 am

This is a great post! Former grad student speaking.
mariezzz wrote:
Fri May 24, 2019 4:28 pm
Big Dog wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 8:11 pm
one should never pursue a PhD unless its fully funded. And fortunately, the STEM ones usually are.

OTOH, MA/MS programs are usually cash cows for the Uni. Sure, the student can apply for a TA position, but those can be competitive.

btw: assume 5+ years to complete the PhD.
+1.

I'd choose the college based on the financial aid package that is offered. I'd focus on grants. Loans are money that have to be paid back (I'd recommend NEVER taking out any loans other than government subsidized loans, which limits the total amount in loans that can be obtained).
Keep in mind that colleges offer first year students better financial aid packages (to get them in the door) - there's no guarantee the student will keep getting as much in grants, especially if they're not getting top-notch grades (in most colleges today, a B to B+ GPA is a MEDIAN GPA - grade inflation is rampant). There's also tuition inflation over time, and often, grant aid doesn't keep up with that. You should expect your child to work at a job at least 15 hours per week while classes are in session, and at least full time in the summer - that money can go towards their expenses, and gives them valuable job skills, plus they learn important lessons that will benefit them for life.

One person above suggested paying for a masters in order to get into a PhD program: I wouldn't suggest that. If you couldn't get funded in a PhD program to begin with, you're not likely to really benefit by paying for a masters then doing the PhD, unless you're purely doing the PhD for your own personal benefit, not a job path. The important take-home message here is: take undergrad seriously.
===
I'll also add: The reason for getting a STEM PhD isn't to get more money beyond what you could get with a good strong work ethic and a masters degree (or maybe even a BA). The reason is that you're really committed to learning about the world, expanding our base of knowledge.

Going into academia these days is not going to get you as high as an income as once was the case (but even in the past, pay in industry/corporate still outstripped academia), or even job security in many cases, unless you can be a PI and pull in major grants at an R01 institution. If you can pull in major grants, you buy some freedom and flexibility in terms of what you do. But, you're still going to be putting in more hours and working harder than you would in an industry/corporate job at higher pay. In industry/corporate, your goals have to be tied to that of the employer. In academics, your goals have to be tied to that of the organizations with the grants. In either case, but especially academia, you make the choice because you're passionate about the research area, and find rewarding interacting with others who share that passion.

Academia is not for everyone. Some people choose to let someone else be the PI and are staff in that person's lab. That can be a rewarding route in academia. Others shift into industry or corporate positions. You can also go that route for 10 years, make and save a lot of money (sacrificing some freedom to do what you're most passionate about), and perhaps shift back into academia as staff. The most important thing is to not take the view that leaving academia is failure, or that there isn't life outside academia. It's people who think in this rigid way who can't land jobs.

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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by scifilover » Sat May 25, 2019 9:13 am

While thinking about funding for grad school will eventually become important to a future academic, what can be more important is being in a top level undergraduate stem program, and then getting some volunteer research experience in some researcher's lab as an undergraduate. Both my sons completed PhD programs, one in CS and one in Biol. The CS grad is now a tenured prof while the other went back and completed an MD as he wanted more people contact in his work. For good candidates with high GRE scores, good undergraduate GPA, and undergraduate research experience, grad schools will pay transportation and hotel costs for candidates to visit and interview. A tenure track job can be tough to get, and once you get one, is a very tough grind to complete and receive tenure. As an incoming tenure track person, the school will give you some funding for research but with the understanding that you will raise more funding on your own. Typically, you have to teach two classes per term while writing grants, doing research in your lab, and recruiting and supervising grad students for your lab. Once the money starts to come in, you can use some of your funding to buy out of teaching one of your two classes as well as paying yourself for the summer.....First consideration for tenure is 6 -7 years away......And most candidates for tenure fail! My Biol son completed his PhD in four years while the CS son took seven. Both received full tuition, and stipends, along with health insurance during their grad school experience.

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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by TomatoTomahto » Sat May 25, 2019 10:29 am

Based on a limited sample (ie, my sons’ friends), all STEM PhDs are paid for. Even so, all of the CS students opted to go to industry, and so far all but one math student and one Physics student. The job offers are compelling and the academic tracks discouraging.

Even as a CS UG student my son managed to save $70k from Internships and TAing. The financials of getting a PhD, even with generous funding, didn’t stand up to getting a job. He figures he might go back after earning a nest egg.
Okay, I get it; I won't be political or controversial. The Earth is flat.

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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by stoptothink » Sat May 25, 2019 11:58 am

TomatoTomahto wrote:
Sat May 25, 2019 10:29 am
Based on a limited sample (ie, my sons’ friends), all STEM PhDs are paid for. Even so, all of the CS students opted to go to industry, and so far all but one math student and one Physics student. The job offers are compelling and the academic tracks discouraging.

Even as a CS UG student my son managed to save $70k from Internships and TAing. The financials of getting a PhD, even with generous funding, didn’t stand up to getting a job. He figures he might go back after earning a nest egg.
About 90% of STEM PhDs are "funded" https://www.air.org/sites/default/files ... 202014.pdf. I know a lot of bio/chem/biochem/biotech PhDs who did not have their PhD fully funded, and some of them are downright brilliant and extremely well know in my field, including our VP of R&D (PhD in biochem from Michigan). There is a trend, at least in my field, of starting a PhD after several years out of academia getting workforce experience (our VP of R&D was mid-30's and with 4 kids, one of his directors is in the midst of it, at nearly 40 and with 6 kids).

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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by TomatoTomahto » Sat May 25, 2019 12:07 pm

As said, my sample wasn’t infinite, but 90% vs 100% isn’t that great a difference, unless of course you’re in the 10%.

By contrast, my daughter’s PhD in soft sciences was promised to be fully funded, but plans “gang aft agley” between signing up and showing up.
Okay, I get it; I won't be political or controversial. The Earth is flat.

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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by stoptothink » Sat May 25, 2019 12:45 pm

TomatoTomahto wrote:
Sat May 25, 2019 12:07 pm
As said, my sample wasn’t infinite, but 90% vs 100% isn’t that great a difference, unless of course you’re in the 10%.

By contrast, my daughter’s PhD in soft sciences was promised to be fully funded, but plans “gang aft agley” between signing up and showing up.
We don't disagree. If you are going straight from undergrad, it is highly likely it will be funded (and if it isn't, you should get a job). But, some people enter the workforce, realize that upper level positions are a possibility (but not without those letters after your name) and return to school. These are people who tend to have zero interest in academia (as a career). In my experience, it is these people who may have to fund it themselves or try to get an employer to cover it.

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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by fast_and_curious » Sat May 25, 2019 2:30 pm

OP again, and thanks for all the recent responses. If I may ask a follow-up of the group: many of the posters here seem to equate getting a STEM PhD with the intention to pursue a job in academia. Again, thinking back to my grad school days (in engineering), many/most of the PhD students I knew did NOT intend to teach or stay in academia, but rather went on to R&D type jobs in industry. This may be biased because I did that work in Silicon Valley in the mid to late 90s (i.e. one of the tech booms), so industry was hungry for researchers at that time and place.

But, say one wants to do medical / pharmaceutical research, in industry rather than academia. Would a PhD in biochemistry or molecular biology not be advantageous for that career path? Better to stop at Master's?

Certainly I know there are many fields in which a PhD "dooms" [for lack of a better word] you to academia, but I was not thinking that most STEM fields would fall into that category.

This is an honest question. Unfortunately I don't know many people in that industry, so it's hard to get these types of answers. Thanks again for the responses so far.

adamthesmythe
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by adamthesmythe » Sat May 25, 2019 2:48 pm

fast_and_curious wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 6:59 pm
several friends/acquaintances have suggested saving as much money as possible for the undergrad education, so that you can "splurge" more on a higher ranked (more prestigious?) graduate school. That suggestion makes sense (well, one can debate whether expensive schools are worth it in general but I mean I understand the sentiment) if med or law school is in the cards, since those obviously aren't usually paid for. But it ran contrary to my own experience of most engineering grad students not having to worry about tuition & fees, so I just wanted to see whether I was just out of touch when it came to non-engineering fields in today's environment.
The way to get into a top grad school- with support- is to do a very strong undergraduate degree, from a well-recognized school, AND to do a project or two along the way. All undergrad programs will not be considered equal at graduate admissions time.

GCD
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by GCD » Sat May 25, 2019 3:53 pm

stoptothink wrote:
Sat May 25, 2019 11:58 am
About 90% of STEM PhDs are "funded" https://www.air.org/sites/default/files ... 202014.pdf. I know a lot of bio/chem/biochem/biotech PhDs who did not have their PhD fully funded, and some of them are downright brilliant and extremely well know in my field, including our VP of R&D (PhD in biochem from Michigan). There is a trend, at least in my field, of starting a PhD after several years out of academia getting workforce experience (our VP of R&D was mid-30's and with 4 kids, one of his directors is in the midst of it, at nearly 40 and with 6 kids).
How does this funding work for established adults? RAs and TAs are really meant for 22-28 year old kids with no families and who think $20K is reasonable pay for a 20 hour a week job. You certainly can't support a family on it and you can't pay a mortgage on a house you bought when you were making $100K or something. All the aid is tied to being an RA or a TA because the faculty needs indentured servants. I have never seen graduate aid that was just a free ride. So how does this trend of established adults returning for their PhD mesh with the nature of RA/TA positions and 90% funding?

I did a year in a PhD program post-retirement and all the established adults were just paying their own way because the RA/TA stipend wasn't worth the trouble.

stoptothink
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by stoptothink » Sat May 25, 2019 3:56 pm

fast_and_curious wrote:
Sat May 25, 2019 2:30 pm

But, say one wants to do medical / pharmaceutical research, in industry rather than academia. Would a PhD in biochemistry or molecular biology not be advantageous for that career path? Better to stop at Master's?
I can only speak to my own experience. I am an exec in a mid-sized (~4,500 employees) health company, not in R&D, but in a science department and I do a lot of primary research. My PhD is in kinesiology, but my colleagues are all chem/bio/biochem/micro/biotech; almost all of our high-level researchers did not go straight through school. They started in the industry after undergrad and then went on to graduate degrees later. We have almost an unwritten rule that we don't hire PhDs without real world experience. I did just help a young man who goes to my church and just finished his PhD in analytical chem get a job with a competitor. He has a higher ceiling than his co-workers, but he is starting at about the same spot as those with just BS'. I can't tell you the norms in other industries.

adamthesmythe
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by adamthesmythe » Sat May 25, 2019 5:01 pm

GCD wrote:
Sat May 25, 2019 3:53 pm
stoptothink wrote:
Sat May 25, 2019 11:58 am
About 90% of STEM PhDs are "funded" https://www.air.org/sites/default/files ... 202014.pdf. I know a lot of bio/chem/biochem/biotech PhDs who did not have their PhD fully funded, and some of them are downright brilliant and extremely well know in my field, including our VP of R&D (PhD in biochem from Michigan). There is a trend, at least in my field, of starting a PhD after several years out of academia getting workforce experience (our VP of R&D was mid-30's and with 4 kids, one of his directors is in the midst of it, at nearly 40 and with 6 kids).
How does this funding work for established adults? RAs and TAs are really meant for 22-28 year old kids with no families and who think $20K is reasonable pay for a 20 hour a week job. You certainly can't support a family on it and you can't pay a mortgage on a house you bought when you were making $100K or something. All the aid is tied to being an RA or a TA because the faculty needs indentured servants. I have never seen graduate aid that was just a free ride. So how does this trend of established adults returning for their PhD mesh with the nature of RA/TA positions and 90% funding?
This is why it is so difficult to return for an advanced degree. While there are benefits to real-world experience, it requires a very motivated person to work for a while earning a good salary, acquire some personal commitments, and then return to get an advanced degree.

> the faculty needs indentured servants

If that is how you feel about it, an advanced degree is not for you. It is a commitment to a life style and a profession. Those desiring a 9-5 career need not apply.

> this trend of established adults returning for their PhD

Where?? I am not aware of any such trend.

GCD
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by GCD » Sat May 25, 2019 5:21 pm

adamthesmythe wrote:
Sat May 25, 2019 5:01 pm
GCD wrote:
Sat May 25, 2019 3:53 pm
stoptothink wrote:
Sat May 25, 2019 11:58 am
About 90% of STEM PhDs are "funded" https://www.air.org/sites/default/files ... 202014.pdf. I know a lot of bio/chem/biochem/biotech PhDs who did not have their PhD fully funded, and some of them are downright brilliant and extremely well know in my field, including our VP of R&D (PhD in biochem from Michigan). There is a trend, at least in my field, of starting a PhD after several years out of academia getting workforce experience (our VP of R&D was mid-30's and with 4 kids, one of his directors is in the midst of it, at nearly 40 and with 6 kids).
How does this funding work for established adults? RAs and TAs are really meant for 22-28 year old kids with no families and who think $20K is reasonable pay for a 20 hour a week job. You certainly can't support a family on it and you can't pay a mortgage on a house you bought when you were making $100K or something. All the aid is tied to being an RA or a TA because the faculty needs indentured servants. I have never seen graduate aid that was just a free ride. So how does this trend of established adults returning for their PhD mesh with the nature of RA/TA positions and 90% funding?
This is why it is so difficult to return for an advanced degree. While there are benefits to real-world experience, it requires a very motivated person to work for a while earning a good salary, acquire some personal commitments, and then return to get an advanced degree.

> the faculty needs indentured servants

If that is how you feel about it, an advanced degree is not for you. It is a commitment to a life style and a profession. Those desiring a 9-5 career need not apply.

> this trend of established adults returning for their PhD

Where?? I am not aware of any such trend.
I connected up what I was replying to in bold underline. I'm not asserting that it is a trend, just replying to the assertion that it is.

LOL at your attitude about who an advanced degree is for.

InvisibleAerobar
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by InvisibleAerobar » Sat May 25, 2019 8:22 pm

fast_and_curious wrote:
Sat May 25, 2019 2:30 pm

But, say one wants to do medical / pharmaceutical research, in industry rather than academia. Would a PhD in biochemistry or molecular biology not be advantageous for that career path? Better to stop at Master's?
Of course a doctorate would help in general, but the question is really one of opportunity cost. Six years of doctoral research plus two years of postdoctoral work (two different two-year fellowships), and one is likely in one's mid 30s by the time one gets that first job. That is a lot of time for a career that isn't necessarily the most financially remunerative. Granted, there are some who get hired as freshly-minted Ph.Ds, but those are generally the exception. Add to that the general turbulence experienced by biotechs and pharma (in the form of lay-offs), and the value proposition really doesn't look that good. And remember, those laid off are the lucky ones who actually landed a real industry job. There are countless others who are doing short term contract work/temping, teaching in an adjunct capacity, or working in a position that nominally requires only a master's degree. All in all, it's a somewhat lousy return on investment. Granted, I have always felt that this forum veers a bit far toward the expedient (and almost to the point of cynicism), but one has to evaluate one's options with eyes wide open when it comes to basic sciences, especially the biological sciences.

I will say that at certain well-established traditional pharmas, there used to be (or still may be) a glass ceiling for those without doctorates (one could not become a scientist without a doctorate). However, some of the newer companies didn't have such a rule (or didn't have such a rule ten years ago), and people with master's degree + experience were able to advance to scientist or even higher. Again, this is where knowing the profession is paramount.

Doing biochem, biophysical, or molecular bio research is not the only outlet for someone interested in those fields. It would be worthwhile to at least contemplate others career paths.

mikemikemike
Posts: 76
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by mikemikemike » Sat May 25, 2019 8:33 pm

Just adding on to what's already been said. I am a professor in the hard sciences at a research-centered school.

Our graduate students don't pay anything: they get full tuition + fees covered, and a decent stipend on which to live. This is the case for every school I can think of.

If you're pursuing graduate training in the hard sciences and are asked to pay (or even forgo receiving a salary), you are getting robbed. In that case, run.

Osprey
Posts: 41
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Re: Grad school financing - hard sciences

Post by Osprey » Sun May 26, 2019 1:25 am

My child is finishing a PhD in chemistry. tuition is free and she gets a stipend to cover living expenses. She found that her undergraduate education at a small college with research opportunities prepared her well for graduate school. She plans to go into industry and has an excellent well paid internship lined up.

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