Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Non-investing personal finance issues including insurance, credit, real estate, taxes, employment and legal issues such as trusts and wills
Post Reply
Topic Author
BaronRouge
Posts: 24
Joined: Fri May 10, 2019 3:45 am

Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by BaronRouge » Fri May 22, 2020 6:03 pm

Hi there,

I am 34 yrs old and thinking of undertaking a 5-year PhD program.

I think the PhD is right for me and offers me a valuable "next step" in my life and career, and aligns me more with what I ultimately want to do.

I am thinking through the financial side of the decision to do a PhD and how I mitigate against financial loss and what sort of financial position should I be in before I undertake this?

I do not have a great deal of savings and I doubt it is feasible to have a job during a full-time PhD. I have no dependents. Looking for general advice on being financially sensible.

Cheers,
BaronRouge

anakinskywalker
Posts: 454
Joined: Sun Aug 24, 2008 8:20 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by anakinskywalker » Fri May 22, 2020 6:07 pm

You can hold a full time job and do a full time PhD if your advisor and employer are ok with it. I know plenty of folks who have done it.

It can work really well (for all parties involved) if you can find some PhD-worthy research problem closely related to your job. Speak with Professors who consult actively in the industry.

However it's not the only way to make this work. I would strongly advise against quitting your job, both for financial reasons, and also because holding a real world job can help focus your PhD research on research problems with important real world applications.

Best of luck.

Anakin
Last edited by anakinskywalker on Fri May 22, 2020 6:25 pm, edited 2 times in total.

livesoft
Posts: 71459
Joined: Thu Mar 01, 2007 8:00 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by livesoft » Fri May 22, 2020 6:08 pm

Financial advice will depend upon what the PhD subject matter is. For instance, no graduate student in a science like chemistry, physics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and others would (or should!) ever pay to get a PhD. Instead, the university would pay them. Maybe not a lot, but enough to survive.
Wiki This signature message sponsored by sscritic: Learn to fish.

oldfort
Posts: 652
Joined: Mon Mar 02, 2020 8:45 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by oldfort » Fri May 22, 2020 6:15 pm

5-years is short for a PhD. I doubt this will be a good move from a financial perspective. The opportunity cost of being out of the labor market for 5 years could be high. What do you earn now?

sd323232
Posts: 423
Joined: Thu Jun 21, 2018 4:45 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by sd323232 » Fri May 22, 2020 6:23 pm

BaronRouge wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 6:03 pm
Hi there,

I am 34 yrs old and thinking of undertaking a 5-year PhD program.

I think the PhD is right for me and offers me a valuable "next step" in my life and career, and aligns me more with what I ultimately want to do.

I am thinking through the financial side of the decision to do a PhD and how I mitigate against financial loss and what sort of financial position should I be in before I undertake this?

I do not have a great deal of savings and I doubt it is feasible to have a job during a full-time PhD. I have no dependents. Looking for general advice on being financially sensible.

Cheers,
BaronRouge
What is your PHD in? There is big difference between PhD in electrical engineering and PhD in sociology. Will your investment in PhD pay for itself? I listen to Dave Ramsey, there are so many people getting into 200K school loans to get 50K jobs.

sailaway
Posts: 1386
Joined: Fri May 12, 2017 1:11 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by sailaway » Fri May 22, 2020 6:23 pm

Get free tuition, get paid and live within your stipend, perhaps supplemented with tutoring or other side hustle. This applies to humanities as much as the sciences listed by a previous poster.

It also helps if you have a newer car going in, so that repair costs are minimized over the period. Even better if you can get buy without a car.

Student2
Posts: 70
Joined: Fri Jul 13, 2012 8:26 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by Student2 » Fri May 22, 2020 6:37 pm

So I went back to school to get a PhD at around the same age as you. It made good sense for me as I did not want to keep doing what I was doing and I now love my job and get paid much better than I would have been without the PhD. I did see some calculations showing that getting a PhD doesn't really pay from a financial perspective if the alternative is a Master's. The MS graduate gets to be in the labor market for longer and the PhD will be lucky to break even. Something for you to consider, before you jump in. It wouldn't have made a difference to me. The jobs available are very different and I wanted to have autonomy (which MS doesn't provide so much).
You will want to have some emergency savings. Having access to funds made a big difference to me especially when I first started my coursework because the pay is not so good at first. Yes, 'pay', because you should avoid programs that will not allow you to work as a research assistant/associate or TA. Doing either of these things will add greatly to your education and will help you pay bills. Make sure you talk to students from the program before you commit yourself. No department is going to tell you that you don't have to pay for your education, but that's what you should look for: no or very low tuition and an RA/TA throughout your program. Of course this varies by discipline so you should figure that out ahead of time. The students will tell you (and be sure you ask PhD students, not the MS students).
To get through with the least harm to your finances, you will want to get through as quickly as possible. Five years is entirely reasonable -- again, ask both the departments you're considering and the students themselves how long the average student takes -- but you will need to be focused. Depending on your program, it will be a year or so before you get to pick your dissertation topic. Do NOT dawdle on this. Stay away from problematic advisors and, if you find yourself with one, cut your losses early. During your program, make sure you network actively with people doing the job you think you will want at the end of your program/plans. Do what they do, i.e., the types of data, the types of projects (ask THEM about dissertation topics - maybe you can have them as an external advisor and get your leg in the door for a job or at least a great recommendation). Look for internships, preferably after your PhD, some do pay okay.
But above all, just get it done. I could go on for a while, but you asked specifically about finances so I'll leave it at this, already broad list of advice.

Good luck!

Edited to add:If you can, look for programs at institutions that do not require you to maintain continuous enrollment between becoming a candidate and defending your dissertation. That will also save you $.

oldfort
Posts: 652
Joined: Mon Mar 02, 2020 8:45 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by oldfort » Fri May 22, 2020 7:03 pm

sd323232 wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 6:23 pm
BaronRouge wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 6:03 pm
Hi there,

I am 34 yrs old and thinking of undertaking a 5-year PhD program.

I think the PhD is right for me and offers me a valuable "next step" in my life and career, and aligns me more with what I ultimately want to do.

I am thinking through the financial side of the decision to do a PhD and how I mitigate against financial loss and what sort of financial position should I be in before I undertake this?

I do not have a great deal of savings and I doubt it is feasible to have a job during a full-time PhD. I have no dependents. Looking for general advice on being financially sensible.

Cheers,
BaronRouge
What is your PHD in? There is big difference between PhD in electrical engineering and PhD in sociology. Will your investment in PhD pay for itself? I listen to Dave Ramsey, there are so many people getting into 200K school loans to get 50K jobs.
At the OP's age, I wouldn't expect a PhD to produce a positive ROI, regardless of their engineering field. The OP is past the application deadline for the fall. Let's assume the OP gets their PhD at 40. Without the PhD, the OP would have 18 years experience by 40, which is plenty of time to work your way up the ranks into management with the right combination of technical and social skills.

User avatar
Phineas J. Whoopee
Posts: 9675
Joined: Sun Dec 18, 2011 6:18 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by Phineas J. Whoopee » Fri May 22, 2020 7:08 pm

If I may add, and this not a question for you to answer for us, it's a question for you to answer for yourself, why would you like to earn a doctorate in whatever field it is?

There are considerations that aren't constrained to the monetary. Around here posters often focus on return on investment, but there are other life reasons for education.

If I had asked on this forum about entering my terminal degree program, which I completed on schedule, I'd have been discouraged by posters here. Going for it was one of the best choices I ever made, and not because I ended up wealthier.

PJW

Topic Author
BaronRouge
Posts: 24
Joined: Fri May 10, 2019 3:45 am

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by BaronRouge » Fri May 22, 2020 7:15 pm

To reiterate: - The PhD is a given. I am doing it.

The question was related to mitigating financial loss over that period when undertaking PhD and making wise financial choices beforehand and during given that decision.

Thanks again.
BaronRouge

oldfort
Posts: 652
Joined: Mon Mar 02, 2020 8:45 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by oldfort » Fri May 22, 2020 7:19 pm

If a PhD is a given, then the obvious advice would be to graduate as fast as possible and cut expenses to the bone.

Afty
Posts: 1261
Joined: Sun Sep 07, 2014 5:31 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by Afty » Fri May 22, 2020 7:29 pm

What field is the PhD in? What is your goal, to teach or something else? This will affect the financial advice we are able to give.

jibantik
Posts: 355
Joined: Fri Nov 24, 2017 1:05 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by jibantik » Fri May 22, 2020 7:30 pm

If you want to mitigate loss while undertaking a PhD, drop out :D .

Otherwise, finish as fast as possible and do mediocre research.

fabdog
Posts: 1097
Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2013 1:59 pm
Location: Williamsburg VA

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by fabdog » Fri May 22, 2020 7:36 pm

The question was related to mitigating financial loss over that period when undertaking PhD and making wise financial choices beforehand and during given that decision.
Given your request, I think you got quite a bit of good advice above. Our daughter is starting the journey this fall. Helps that she's single so just herself to watch out for.

She gets a very good break on out of state tuition. She had at least one program offer her free tuition. As noted above don't pay full tuition

She was offered a job as a TA which then can move on to RA. Given her single status, it will be enough for her to live on

They offered subsidized medical insurance. Since she'll be away from us, it offers much better assortment of local doctors and facilities.

She'll need to watch her money, but she won't be struggling. The advice on networking and finding people who do what you want is excellent. Depending on field you may need to line up a good post doc assignment before you move on to your chosen career. 5 years seems to be the "do able" time frame for her program

So make sure you are debt free before you start, make sure you get competitive program offers for both tuition and TA/RA role so you can cover your ongoing expenses... and enjoy

Mike

User avatar
tooluser
Posts: 594
Joined: Sat Oct 01, 2011 7:04 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by tooluser » Fri May 22, 2020 7:37 pm

Lots of good advice so far. I got mine because I was always good in school and wanted to take it to the end. It also helped my career a great deal, even in a company with ~25% doctoral degrees. You will get many positive and some negative comments about it for the rest of your life; people are funny.

I worked part time and attended classes, then did "independent study" (exam prep and dissertation work) for a total of 5 years, and then finished the last year working full time. The company footed the education expenses. The first five years were tough financially, the last one allowed me little time for fun.

But it's different for everyone. You can only go in as well-prepared financially as you are able. Definitely look to defray expenses through work that is relevant to your education. I never did homework on company time, but was given scheduling leeway to construct my dissertation proposal, the dissertation itself, and I was able to use company computers on nights and weekends.

I will also add that at some point after completing classwork and having not yet finished your dissertation, the problem/experience/your life may seem intractable. Many people give up at that point. Dig deep and get it done.

Topic Author
BaronRouge
Posts: 24
Joined: Fri May 10, 2019 3:45 am

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by BaronRouge » Fri May 22, 2020 7:54 pm

Sorry hadn't seen the multitude of great posts when I posted to reply to a particular poster.

Thanks everyone.

Great advice.

adamthesmythe
Posts: 3425
Joined: Mon Sep 22, 2014 4:47 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by adamthesmythe » Fri May 22, 2020 8:15 pm

(Retired Ph.D. here and advisor of many Ph.D. students.)

OP has not stated the field, and much advice will be field-dependent.

Absent that information- one piece of advice. Don't go into debt to get a Ph.D. ESPECIALLY for a late Ph.D. with less time to pay it off.

I've never had a Ph.D. student who finished past the age of 30. I have encountered a few- very few.

Afty
Posts: 1261
Joined: Sun Sep 07, 2014 5:31 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by Afty » Fri May 22, 2020 8:18 pm

adamthesmythe wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 8:15 pm
I've never had a Ph.D. student who finished past the age of 30. I have encountered a few- very few.
What goes wrong for older students? I observed the same thing during my PhD program.

Normchad
Posts: 507
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 7:20 am

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by Normchad » Fri May 22, 2020 8:20 pm

I've heard (from PhDs) that you should never pay for a PhD. You should only get one that is "fully funded". For our kid, this meant the education was free and there was an additional stipend of 18-22K per year.

The thinking behind "never pay for it"; is this. If you have to pay for it, it's a sign that the department and professors don't actually believe in you, and don't even care what happens to you. You want to be working with (and for someone) that has a vested interest in seeing you succeed.

adamthesmythe
Posts: 3425
Joined: Mon Sep 22, 2014 4:47 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by adamthesmythe » Fri May 22, 2020 8:32 pm

Afty wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 8:18 pm
adamthesmythe wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 8:15 pm
I've never had a Ph.D. student who finished past the age of 30. I have encountered a few- very few.
What goes wrong for older students? I observed the same thing during my PhD program.
Maybe I should say that I have never taken on a student that was close to 30.

We had applicants from time to time who thought they wanted to get another Ph.D. Sometimes with out-of-field Ph.Ds, sometimes out of the country. I chose to take on other applicants.

sd323232
Posts: 423
Joined: Thu Jun 21, 2018 4:45 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by sd323232 » Fri May 22, 2020 8:34 pm

Afty wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 8:18 pm
adamthesmythe wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 8:15 pm
I've never had a Ph.D. student who finished past the age of 30. I have encountered a few- very few.
What goes wrong for older students? I observed the same thing during my PhD program.
As we get older, over 30, people realize we dont really have that much in our life time. What looked like a good idea in our 20s, loses its meaning as we age. I remember in my 20s i thought i have to work hard and climb the corp ladder, than i found FIRE movement and realized that i can FIRE in 30s or early 40s. Corp ladder, which was so important to me in my 20s, lost all meaning to me in 30s.

cabfranc
Posts: 27
Joined: Tue Jun 25, 2019 12:46 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by cabfranc » Fri May 22, 2020 8:38 pm

BarronRouge,

I have a Ph.D. and think you have gotten great advice here. If by "mitigate financial loss" you mean not having to pay for the Ph.D., I agree with other posters that reputable Ph.D. programs at major universities in any discipline will include tuition remission and a stipend in exchange for a TA/RA position. However, you will most likely be unable to save or invest very much during this time as the stipend will probably be just enough to cover basic living expenses. I knew some students who "supplemented" stipends with loans to have a certain lifestyle which I would try to avoid. So, if you are accepting reduced income to earn the Ph.D., there will be opportunity costs of being out of the labor market. However, if the Ph.D. will catapult you into a job where you will be making more money, you may be able to make up for those costs.

Regarding your age, I went to graduate school in my 20s (finished when I was 29) but went to school with several students who were starting at more nontraditional ages, such as 30s and 40s. These students were successful in the program but in all honesty I have observed that the academic career path favors those who followed the more traditional path of Ph.D. right after undergrad. Fortunately in my field many students pursue careers outside of academia where this is not an issue.

Cabfranc

sailaway
Posts: 1386
Joined: Fri May 12, 2017 1:11 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by sailaway » Fri May 22, 2020 8:44 pm

sd323232 wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 8:34 pm
Afty wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 8:18 pm
adamthesmythe wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 8:15 pm
I've never had a Ph.D. student who finished past the age of 30. I have encountered a few- very few.
What goes wrong for older students? I observed the same thing during my PhD program.
As we get older, over 30, people realize we dont really have that much in our life time. What looked like a good idea in our 20s, loses its meaning as we age. I remember in my 20s i thought i have to work hard and climb the corp ladder, than i found FIRE movement and realized that i can FIRE in 30s or early 40s. Corp ladder, which was so important to me in my 20s, lost all meaning to me in 30s.
Interesting. In my experience, folks with some kind of life experience do better in PhD programs. They have often given up more to get there and made a more conscious choice about pursuing that level of education.

I wonder if the field matters?

Katietsu
Posts: 3338
Joined: Sun Sep 22, 2013 1:48 am

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by Katietsu » Fri May 22, 2020 8:55 pm

If you do not want to identify the specific field, maybe at least identify the general type of degree , ie engineering, social sciences, etc.

I have not known anyone that paid for their full PhD costs and was successful afterwards. I am sure that there are some people out there, but in my experience, they are the exception. Or maybe there are some disciplines where this is more likely?

Hopefully, you are geographically flexible. Schools can vary quite a bit as to what type of assistance they offer to PhD students. I would throw out a wide net if possible.

Make a strict budget. I know you are a bit older, but you should probably consider living with a roommate. How are you at keeping your other costs down? Bringing a 50 cent sandwich for lunch can make a big difference when you are on a tight budget.

Also consider the safety net of the area you will be living in. I know some students who have taken advantage of public services for low income individuals even though grad students might not be the traditional demographic for a food bank or expanded Medicaid.

Have you had honest conversations about your plan with potential future colleagues? I would really try to be open to their advice even if it is something you do not want to hear.

mr_mac3
Posts: 4
Joined: Fri Apr 03, 2020 8:09 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by mr_mac3 » Fri May 22, 2020 9:17 pm

I am in my second year of a PhD. I'd suggest putting a lot of effort into your applications. The financial support is significantly better at top private universities, at least in my field. Also, where you get your PhD strongly affects your job prospects, especially for academic jobs.

Depending on your field, 5-years may be optimistic. Make sure you have a contingency plan for years 6 and 7 if it comes to it. Some programs will extend support past the 5th year, others may not or it could be in a reduced form.

rbaldini
Posts: 1407
Joined: Mon Mar 23, 2015 3:20 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by rbaldini » Fri May 22, 2020 9:25 pm

Depending on the PhD program, funding it might be relatively easy. I did lots of TA-ships for mine, which paid for tuition plus a small stipend. Then there are research grants, etc.

The bigger downside is the opportunity cost: you probably won't be making or saving much money.

Eneus
Posts: 7
Joined: Fri Apr 14, 2017 8:21 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by Eneus » Fri May 22, 2020 9:43 pm

Be clear on the person you want to work for, your advisor matters much more than the school, both from research perspective, as well as personality. Ask them about how stable is funding. It is essential. TAship does not get you done, spending 20 hours + energy per week teaching means 20 hours +energy less for research. Multiply by x years and you are in a much worse position than someone who was in the group with funding. Hence more time needed to finish or worse job prospects.
Another aspect is depression. If you become depressed or burnout, it will have a quantifiable cost: time to cope, take a break, buying positive emotions, stress-eating, psychotherapy, etc.
Lastly, you may become way less employable with a PhD than without. No joke, supply and demand. Network early and prepare for particular jobs from the beginning.
Don’t know about your field, but 5 years seems very optimistic.
All this being said, it may be possible for you to regularly save money. University may have an excellent 403b to which you may be eligible.

Big Dog
Posts: 1780
Joined: Mon Sep 07, 2015 4:12 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by Big Dog » Fri May 22, 2020 9:48 pm

livesoft wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 6:08 pm
Financial advice will depend upon what the PhD subject matter is. For instance, no graduate student in a science like chemistry, physics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and others would (or should!) ever pay to get a PhD. Instead, the university would pay them. Maybe not a lot, but enough to survive.
To add to this advice, no one, I mean no one, should enter a PhD program that is not fully funded* (by the Uni, or perhaps your employer). But paying out of pocket is a really bad choice.

And yes, five years might be optimistic for many programs. UChicago, for example, has many humanities PhD's that take 8+ years.

*Fully funded means tuition remission. stipends (research or TA's) for room & board, and health care.

RetiredCSProf
Posts: 378
Joined: Tue Feb 28, 2017 4:59 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by RetiredCSProf » Fri May 22, 2020 10:28 pm

Pursue a PhD if you want to study your field in depth, love doing research, and enjoy technical writing, not for a financial gain. Unless, of course, there is a job that you want that absolutely requires a PhD.

My PhD in CS took eight years while I continued to work full or half-time. I was approaching 30 when I started. When I finished, the engineering company that I was working for gave me a salary increase of $34 per week. I had job offers (from other parts of the country) that offered little more. I was already earning more than the average recent PhD graduate in their 20's; thus, the salary offers were tied to my current salary.

NewMoneyMustBeSmart
Posts: 199
Joined: Sat Jun 01, 2019 10:28 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by NewMoneyMustBeSmart » Fri May 22, 2020 10:41 pm

BaronRouge wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 6:03 pm
I am thinking through the financial side of the decision to do a PhD and how I mitigate against financial loss and what sort of financial position should I be in before I undertake this?
You should expect to be a starving student living paycheck to paycheck with no retirement additions.

Below isn't really what you asked, but I'll share it anyway.

My wife defends her dissertation in about 5 weeks and we expect her to have her research doctorate/PhD thereafter. She worked in therapy and wants to get abilities in research to help with this therapy.

She made $90k before the PhD program 4 years ago and made $22k during. So we lost $272k pretax or $163k post tax. To be clear, she is being paid as a graduate research assistant and working at that while getting her PhD "for free".

After she graduates, she expects she can make $50-$60k with her PhD. So we've lost another $30-$40k per year with her PhD pretax or $21k post tax.

(I'm not factoring in the post-doctorate fellowship).

We'll work another 20 years, so this PhD will cost us $972k in lost income or $556k post tax.

She and I had this conversation before she made the decision, and I said why would we do this? And she said because it would make her happy. So we did it.

In general it's been awfully hard. The colleagues are in their 20s. We're about 10 years older than you. The science is niche, the systems and tools they use are a decade behind what I use in industry. The culture is political and there is a lot of high school drama stuff with the colleagues. It's not abysmal, but it's only 35% about the work; the other 65% is the personalities and drama and politics.

I wouldn't recommend it. I didn't finish college and I have 3 PhDs that work for me.

oldfort
Posts: 652
Joined: Mon Mar 02, 2020 8:45 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by oldfort » Fri May 22, 2020 10:54 pm

A TA position has its disadvantages. The more time you spend on your TA, the less time you have for your own classes and research, which ultimately could cause you take to take longer to finish.

22twain
Posts: 2396
Joined: Thu May 10, 2012 5:42 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by 22twain » Fri May 22, 2020 11:35 pm

BaronRouge wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 6:03 pm
I am 34 yrs old and thinking of undertaking a 5-year PhD program.
Your other posts indicate that you're in Australia. Is this PhD program also located there?

The responses I've seen so far are appropriate for PhD programs in the US, where I got my PhD in a physical-science field, straight out of college, 35-40 years ago, and finishing at age 29. You may need to watch out for differences between US and Australian practice.
Help save endangered words! When you write "princiPLE", make sure you don't really mean "princiPAL"!

Lambert Strether
Posts: 1
Joined: Mon Apr 20, 2020 6:30 pm
Location: Tualatin Valley

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by Lambert Strether » Sat May 23, 2020 1:40 pm

There is a lot of good advice here already. The points below describe where, in my opinion, financial considerations intersect with academic and professional ones.

—Attend the best program possible. All doctoral programs differ from undergraduate ones, for undergraduate education typically stresses broad coverage, while doctoral programs feature professional training in selected subfields and possible work with prominent individuals. As a general rule, the best programs typically offer students better subsequent opportunities.

—Don’t be afraid to cut your losses. Capable students, on seeing how the professional training provided by a doctoral program is qualitatively different from undergraduate study, may decide to leave after a year or two. It can be better to arrive at such a decision earlier than later.

—Complete the program as quickly as possible. Doctoral programs normally tell prospective students the work will require five years. I would ask how many students in fact graduate in that time and what the normal range is. The program may be saying it will support doctoral students for five years only; after that, students are on their own. Moreover, students can undermine themselves by working on things of secondary importance that drain away their time. Maintain your focus on the dissertation, for in the end that is what matters.

The most challenging problems students encounter often have their roots in individual emotional tendencies, which is another way of saying graduate study decisions resemble those of finance. Good luck with your decision.

aristotelian
Posts: 7424
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2017 8:05 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by aristotelian » Sat May 23, 2020 2:04 pm

In most cases, you should not have to pay out of pocket. If you do not get funding but a highly ranked program, do not go. Biggest cost at that point is going to be the opportunity cost from having to subsist on a poverty level stipend. Best thing you can do is learn to live on that stipend and then keep living like a grad student even when you get a job.

Mudpuppy
Posts: 6045
Joined: Sat Aug 27, 2011 2:26 am
Location: Sunny California

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by Mudpuppy » Sat May 23, 2020 2:29 pm

There's a reason there's a phrase "living like a graduate student". As others have noted, a good program will provide a TA / RA position that comes with tuition waivers and a small stipend, but it's a very small stipend. I personally had a fellowship and also took on summer internships with a local company doing research in my dissertation area to offset the financial impacts, but it was very frugal living. Looking back on my financial spreadsheet from that time, I had the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $30k in annual take-home income, including the fellowship and summer internships, during my Ph.D. program.

MathWizard
Posts: 4058
Joined: Tue Jul 26, 2011 1:35 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by MathWizard » Sun May 24, 2020 12:03 pm

Be aware that after a PhD you will probably have to take a PostDoc position at a relatively low salary after the PhD, so add 1-2 years to the length of time living like a student.

Financially:
I have a PhD, and my starting full-time salary after a postdoc position was the same, inflation adjusted, as I could have had 6 years earlier with a BS. The work environment with the PhD was better, and better vacation/sick leave, but no bonuses or company car.

adamthesmythe
Posts: 3425
Joined: Mon Sep 22, 2014 4:47 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by adamthesmythe » Sun May 24, 2020 5:53 pm

MathWizard wrote:
Sun May 24, 2020 12:03 pm
Be aware that after a PhD you will probably have to take a PostDoc position at a relatively low salary after the PhD, so add 1-2 years to the length of time living like a student.

Financially:
I have a PhD, and my starting full-time salary after a postdoc position was the same, inflation adjusted, as I could have had 6 years earlier with a BS. The work environment with the PhD was better, and better vacation/sick leave, but no bonuses or company car.
Field and employer dependent. Engineers don't do postdocs unless going academic. Physicists might not do postdocs if going to work in industry.

MathIsMyWayr
Posts: 1664
Joined: Mon Mar 27, 2017 10:47 pm
Location: CA

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by MathIsMyWayr » Sun May 24, 2020 6:32 pm

adamthesmythe wrote:
Sun May 24, 2020 5:53 pm
MathWizard wrote:
Sun May 24, 2020 12:03 pm
Be aware that after a PhD you will probably have to take a PostDoc position at a relatively low salary after the PhD, so add 1-2 years to the length of time living like a student.

Financially:
I have a PhD, and my starting full-time salary after a postdoc position was the same, inflation adjusted, as I could have had 6 years earlier with a BS. The work environment with the PhD was better, and better vacation/sick leave, but no bonuses or company car.
Field and employer dependent. Engineers don't do postdocs unless going academic. Physicists might not do postdocs if going to work in industry.
Unless your end goal is an academia, a postdoc position is a stopgap until securing a full time position. We hire fresh PhDs and postdocs. It looks like postdocs learn practical matters and/or how to manage labs, nothing more.

Holding a PhD does not make one more knowledgeable or smarter. An average college graduate can get a PhD with enough time and efforts. I have seen a wide level of PhD level engineers and physicists.

civility
Posts: 88
Joined: Mon Jun 17, 2019 9:35 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by civility » Mon May 25, 2020 1:07 pm

I started PhD at 30 in chemistry and completed at 35. Currently I feel the opportunity cost is too big. I work in academia teaching which do not offer lucrative pay. If I had been in engineering field the story would be different or at least in chemical companies or industries. It lot depends on your majors and type of industry you get employed.

stoptothink
Posts: 7642
Joined: Fri Dec 31, 2010 9:53 am

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by stoptothink » Mon May 25, 2020 2:08 pm

anakinskywalker wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 6:07 pm
You can hold a full time job and do a full time PhD if your advisor and employer are ok with it. I know plenty of folks who have done it.
I did it (in a science field). I also have several colleagues who did it. Many of us were supporting spouses who were also in school(myself) or families, so we didn't have much of a choice. Shoot, I currently have 3 employees who are in medical school (all top-30 institutions) and are working part-time for me (and all 3 have a spouse and at least one kid); all have told me that at least some outside work or research is encouraged. It's difficult, but possible (if allowed). My PhD absolutely helped expedite my career progression, but it is often not the case (very field/industry dependent).

birnhamwood
Posts: 142
Joined: Sat Jan 19, 2019 5:34 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by birnhamwood » Mon May 25, 2020 6:50 pm

There are too many unanswered questions here for me to give good advice, e.g., your field, whether you will seek an academy, business (or other) position, whether this will be a US degree, private or public, etc. There's far more involved here than just the financial considerations (which seem to be your only concern). Other posters have asked these questions, without satisfaction. Retired professor

MMiroir
Posts: 37
Joined: Sun Mar 29, 2020 12:14 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by MMiroir » Mon May 25, 2020 9:37 pm

birnhamwood wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 6:50 pm
There are too many unanswered questions here for me to give good advice, e.g., your field, whether you will seek an academy, business (or other) position, whether this will be a US degree, private or public, etc. There's far more involved here than just the financial considerations (which seem to be your only concern). Other posters have asked these questions, without satisfaction. Retired professor
Agreed 100%. Also remember that between 40 to 50 percent of PHD candidates in the US drop out before getting a degree. For them, the whole process is a giant waste of time and lost opportunity.

User avatar
Prokofiev
Posts: 1033
Joined: Mon Feb 19, 2007 9:45 pm
Location: New Orleans

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by Prokofiev » Mon May 25, 2020 10:56 pm

Normchad wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 8:20 pm
I've heard (from PhDs) that you should never pay for a PhD. You should only get one that is "fully funded". For our kid, this meant the education was free and there was an additional stipend of 18-22K per year.

The thinking behind "never pay for it"; is this. If you have to pay for it, it's a sign that the department and professors don't actually believe in you, and don't even care what happens to you. You want to be working with (and for someone) that has a vested interest in seeing you succeed.
When I was a grad student at a major research university (40 years ago), paying for it or not paying for it was not even an option. I was in a PhD
program in physics and started as a teaching assistant. Later I switched departments and was a research assistant for 4 more years. All tuition was paid for and I received about $4k /yr which is around $16-18k in today's money. All grad students received this support and were fully funded and
there were no slots available for any non-funded students.

My girlfriend at the time applied as a grad student in chemistry, but was rejected. She could not just pay her way in. No extra space for pay-as-you go. She eventually received a PhD in a closely related science program, again fully funded by EPA grants.

I do know several humanities students (social work, English lit) at our university who were paying full graduate out-of-state tuition as well as some science/engineering grad students at other institutions (mostly smaller schools or colleges) that had to pay their way.

Working full or even part-time while doing your PhD was just about impossible. I was expected to be around the lab 6-7 days each week including
summer and most holidays. No spring break or 3 weeks vacation at Xmas. Writing research grants was our #1 priority. #2 was writing papers to put
our professors name on or giving talks at national conferences. A distant #3 was actually doing the research the grants were given for. I doubt
much has changed since those days . . .
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler - Einstein

Cyanide123
Posts: 235
Joined: Sun May 05, 2019 9:14 am

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by Cyanide123 » Tue May 26, 2020 4:39 am

I've always thought of a phd as one of the worst financial decisions with a huge opportunity cost. The upside is not enough from a strictly financial perspective. If interested in going into academia, the great unknown is how many post docs will be needed before landing an academic spot.

Personally i believe that if anyone is going to spend 5 years on a phd, they might as well spend 4 years instead, get an M.D. Do a few years of residency, and then have financial security. On the other hand, i see all these post docs, still making 30-40k after years of education. What's the point ? If you want to do research, do clinical research with a M.D. and have a guaranteed 6 figure income.

peterwantstosave
Posts: 311
Joined: Fri Nov 24, 2017 8:28 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by peterwantstosave » Tue May 26, 2020 6:38 am

I graduated with a PhD at 28. I'm now a tenured associate professor. My field is mass communication. What's your field? It matters a lot.

If you must go--and it is never a must, should always be a choice--then negotiate to let your program allow you to keep your job. Work as hard as you can to finish as quickly as possible. I finished in four years, but I did nothing else. All PhD, all day. In many ways, it's taken me the 8 years since, to realize how incredibly focused I was (for better and worse) during that time.

A PhD is like becoming a monk. Focus matters more than anything else.

Hope this helps, Peter

Mudpuppy
Posts: 6045
Joined: Sat Aug 27, 2011 2:26 am
Location: Sunny California

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by Mudpuppy » Tue May 26, 2020 11:25 am

MMiroir wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 9:37 pm
birnhamwood wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 6:50 pm
There are too many unanswered questions here for me to give good advice, e.g., your field, whether you will seek an academy, business (or other) position, whether this will be a US degree, private or public, etc. There's far more involved here than just the financial considerations (which seem to be your only concern). Other posters have asked these questions, without satisfaction. Retired professor
Agreed 100%. Also remember that between 40 to 50 percent of PHD candidates in the US drop out before getting a degree. For them, the whole process is a giant waste of time and lost opportunity.
Besides dropping out, there is another reason many do not get the degree: they are told to leave the program. In my Ph.D. program, you had to pass preliminary exams on foundational topics by the end of your second year (although, it was more normal to pass them at the end of your first year) and a qualifying exam proposing your dissertation topic by the end of your third year to continue in the program. If you didn't pass those exams, you were moved to the Master's program.

Your research advisor could also strongly encourage you to "leave with a Master's degree" if they felt you were no longer on the right track to complete your dissertation. I saw this happen a couple of times for students who weren't putting in enough hours at the research lab or who weren't publishing at the expected rate.

RudyS
Posts: 1776
Joined: Tue Oct 27, 2015 10:11 am

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by RudyS » Tue May 26, 2020 9:35 pm

Mudpuppy wrote:
Tue May 26, 2020 11:25 am
MMiroir wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 9:37 pm
birnhamwood wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 6:50 pm
There are too many unanswered questions here for me to give good advice, e.g., your field, whether you will seek an academy, business (or other) position, whether this will be a US degree, private or public, etc. There's far more involved here than just the financial considerations (which seem to be your only concern). Other posters have asked these questions, without satisfaction. Retired professor
Agreed 100%. Also remember that between 40 to 50 percent of PHD candidates in the US drop out before getting a degree. For them, the whole process is a giant waste of time and lost opportunity.
Besides dropping out, there is another reason many do not get the degree: they are told to leave the program. In my Ph.D. program, you had to pass preliminary exams on foundational topics by the end of your second year (although, it was more normal to pass them at the end of your first year) and a qualifying exam proposing your dissertation topic by the end of your third year to continue in the program. If you didn't pass those exams, you were moved to the Master's program.

Your research advisor could also strongly encourage you to "leave with a Master's degree" if they felt you were no longer on the right track to complete your dissertation. I saw this happen a couple of times for students who weren't putting in enough hours at the research lab or who weren't publishing at the expected rate.
Ah yes, the consolation prize Master's degree. In my case, moved on to another school, successfully completed PhD. But I was a lot younger at the time.

Nowizard
Posts: 2746
Joined: Tue Oct 23, 2007 5:33 pm

Re: Financial advice for undertaking a PhD

Post by Nowizard » Tue May 26, 2020 9:49 pm

Being out or partially out of the job market for five years would definitely impact finances. A key to recouping some of the loss depends on the area of study. If a STEM area, then a better chance than if in a liberal arts area such as English or history. I would advise most to seek a Ph.D. at an earlier age and to do so primarily as the outcome of a desire for extensive knowledge in a specific area rather than to obtain the degree itself. That was my goal, and I seldom expect to be called "Dr" though entitled to do so in my healthcare area.

Tim

Post Reply