Saturday, October 2, 2010

17. Funding is fleeting.

Those of you who have been accepted to graduate school with multi-year funding packages (i.e. guaranteed economic support in the form of teaching assistantships, research assistantships, or fellowships for a given number of years) should count yourselves fortunatethat is, unless you would be happier doing something other than going to graduate school. Those funding packages can be hard to turn down, and even harder to give up after you have begun a program of study if you do decide that you would rather be doing something else (see Reason 11); also consider what you could be earning in another line of work. 

For many people, however, it is nearly impossible to plan their way through graduate school from the time that they begin their studies, because their funding situation changes from year to year, or term to term, and they have no way of knowing what the next year holds for them. Some departments at some universities are able to support all of their graduate students all the way through their programs. Other departments have extremely limited funds for graduate student support that are rationed severely. Most departments fall somewhere in between. It is hard to plan your life when you do not know what you will be doing from one year to the next. Economic uncertainty while you are in graduate school (quite apart from the situation that you will face upon graduation) can be a major stress, building as the years go by.


  1. I have heard horror stories of graduate programs that lure students in with a fellowship for the first year but offer no funding thereafter. Never assume that you will always find funding or teaching assistantships. Competition is getting tougher, now that more and more departments are cutting their budgets wherever possible.

    1. You're absolutely correct. I was given a tuition remission and stipend for the first year of an MA program, but, when I inquired about funding for the second year, I was told by the program director to "consult the financial aid office." Although it's deplorable, he admitted that they "recruited" competitive out-of-state students with single year funding packages.

    2. A department may also intend to fund you for several years, only to have a Dean cut their TA budget. It's often an easy place to cut.

    3. This happened to me - I was the recipient of an honors scholarship with full funding for my first year. Unfortunately an ex-employee at the university had screwed up the major source of funding for my field, and so nothing beyond that was guaranteed. Hence attendance for me was solely based on faith that by the time the second year rolled around, funding would have materialized. It was one of the factors that encouraged my departure from grad school in the field that I had spent several years preparing to enter.

  2. Even if your program does guarantee funding for a few years, keep in mind that it's rarely enough to get you through to the end. If a department gives you 4 years of funding but people take at least 5-7 years to finish, then you're going to be scrambling for funding once it runs out.

    Your school may hire you an adjunct once your funding expires, but that's a very different experience than being a funded student. As an adjunct/unfunded student, you'll probably go from making $15,000-$20,000 a year to making maybe $10,000-$14,000 a year (if you're lucky enough to get hired for multiple classes). Your salary won't include health insurance; you might get charged dissertation fees (to the tune of thousands of dollars); and you probably won't get an office, except maybe for your office hours. You become something of a second class citizen (or third class citizen, perhaps).