In this episode, Emily interviews Dr. José Riera, who recently finished his PhD in education from Washington State University. José’s offer of admission to WSU did not include any funding, so he initially accepted some student loans and expected to accumulate a hundred thousand dollars of debt before graduation. However, through his incredible resourcefulness, José secured multiple types of funding throughout his three-year degree that paid his education and living expenses and allowed him to repay the student loans he initially took out. Jose teaches us the tactics that he used to land two assistantships, an adjunct teaching position, and 18 scholarships. Don’t miss José’s incredibly inspiring story of overcoming these and other obstacles!
Links Mentioned in This Episode
- José’s LinkedIn
- PF for PhDs Community
- PF for PhDs Subscribe to Mailing List (Access Advice Document)
- PF for PhDs Podcast Hub (Show Notes)
00:00 José: I would also say that you also want to make sure that you craft a very good message so that when people meet you, they not only remember who you are, but they want to know what you’re passionate about and how you’re helping yourself and others in that. Because then they make the connection and say, “Oh, wait a second.” So, they immediately connect as opposed to saying, “Well, he’s just, or José’s just a student in need.” You want to make sure that they have some memorable talk points about what it is that you’re pursuing, your research, your career focus, and the communities that you want to help out.
00:42 Emily: Welcome to the Personal Finance for PhDs Podcast: A Higher Education in Personal Finance. I’m your host, Dr. Emily Roberts, a financial educator specializing in early-career PhDs and founder of Personal Finance for PhDs. This podcast is for PhDs and PhDs-to-be who want to explore the hidden curriculum of finances to learn the best practices for money management, career advancement, and advocacy for yourself and others. This is Season 13, Episode 6, and today my guest is Dr. José Riera, who recently finished his PhD in education from Washington State University. José’s offer of admission to WSU did not include any funding, so he initially accepted some student loans and expected to accumulate a hundred thousand dollars of debt before graduation. However, through his incredible resourcefulness, José secured multiple types of funding throughout his three-year degree that paid his education and living expenses and allowed him to repay the student loans he initially took out. Jose teaches us the tactics that he used to land two assistantships, an adjunct teaching position, and 18 scholarships. Don’t miss José’s incredibly inspiring story of overcoming these and other obstacles! Without further ado, here’s my interview with Dr. José Riera.
Will You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
02:09 Emily: I have joining me on the podcast today, José Riera. He recently finished his PhD in education from Washington State University, so he has a different kind of funding path than what we normally hear on the podcast. And I’m really excited for him to share for anybody else who’s pursuing a similar degree or has similar funding challenges at the beginning of their PhD. So, José, I’m really delighted that you are joining us here. Will you please tell the listeners a little bit more about yourself?
02:33 José: Well, thank you for hosting me today, Emily. I’m very happy to be here and help you and your mission to support many worthy students obtain funding and guidance to survive what can be a very challenging process. And I consider myself blessed to have met you at the beginning of this journey. So, I was able to pave the way thanks to your support and complete really an incredible journey in a three-year time span, which is amazing. So, just a little bit about me besides the fact, like you mentioned, I just completed my PhD in education here at Washington State University. I’m in the eastern part of Washington, in the town of Pullman. Before that, my background was mostly in business administration. I did a lot of work in inner-city communities throughout the United States, serving mostly Latino and African American neighborhoods.
03:28 José: I have an undergraduate degree in finance from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. And then I have a Master’s in Business Administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. So, my background prior to coming to WSU had been mostly a business administration perspective handling financial and retail aspects of different operations. And I did that throughout the United States. I think through some health challenges and just some personal reflections, I pivoted away into the area of education where I felt the focus was going to be mostly on helping others. And as I entered the second stage of my life working mostly towards was I a good steward of the resources that I was born with? And that led me, among other places, to Washington State University, where, like you mentioned, I just completed my PhD.
Funding the MBA
04:28 Emily: So fascinating. So, this was your second go-round with graduate school, actually. Tell me about how you funded the MBA.
04:37 José: Well, the MBA, it was in the University of Pennsylvania. My parents helped significantly with my MBA, and then I had also won a significant scholarship funding from the University of Pennsylvania, just based on my ethnic background that provided some support. So, I was able to cover that. That was only a two-year program. And I was in a little bit of better financial shape back then than I was coming into my PhD.
05:08 Emily: Okay. So, you didn’t take out student loans, for example, for that initial degree?
05:12 José: No, I did not.
Finances Right Before Starting Graduate School
05:13 Emily: So, tell me about your finances right before coming into graduate school. You just said you were in a different situation, so what was the situation?
05:19 José: Well, the biggest challenge for me was I had, you know, I spent several years in a hospital. And I was recovering from an accident, and that recovery process really wiped out any sort of financial support that I had. I had child support that I was accruing, unable to pay for because I had no income. And then I had just a sheer amount of health-related expenses I kept accumulating. So, that was my backdrop as I looked to complete my rehab and then get my life back in order and decide to pursue something back in education that would give me additional tools and a different perspective on my life is really the genesis of how I connected with you and how I connected with Washington State University, among other schools.
06:19 Emily: Okay. So, we have a big interruption that you just went through in your financial life. Some debts that you had accrued. So, I’m guessing that you did not want to accrue any further debt during your graduate degree. Can you tell me about how PhDs in education are typically funded?
Funding for PhDs in Education
06:41 José: Yes, very good. Well, at least at Washington State University, the program is very, very international. And a lot of the students, especially from Saudi Arabia, from China, they’re actually funded by their own host governments. So, I entered into what’s a fairly small program. My class was only about 13 students. I think I was the only citizen in the entire group. So, that just gives you a sense of the fact that a lot of them received independent funding, and the program itself wasn’t really geared towards providing financial support just because it’s seen somewhat of a, for lack of a better word, a cash cow for Washington State University. Again, you’re having a lot of students that are not only paying out-of-state tuition, but a lot of them are paying even a higher out-of-country tuition. So, it’s a big operation for them. I did not have any sort of support coming into the program.
07:46 Emily: Yeah. So, tell me about when you, like received your offer of admission to Washington State. It sounded like you didn’t receive funding along with that, Is that correct?
07:56 José: That is correct, yes. And they were very clear from the get-go saying we’d love to welcome you into our environment, but we don’t have the financial package or wherewithal to be able to provide any sort of support into your program. So, you’re going to have to find your own way of supporting your education.
Why Washington State University?
08:17 Emily: And was that your only offered admission? Were you looking at other offers of admission at the same time? And if so, how did those funding packages look?
08:26 José: Yeah, so that’s actually a very good question. I was actually based in California, and I had been looking, and in the process of applying for Berkeley as well as University of California Davis, these schools had in-state tuition that was more affordable, obviously. But the big decision for me, there were two main factors. The first one was the fact that these schools, since I didn’t come from a background in education, in both of these universities, and I won’t even tell you about Stanford, because Stanford would’ve been a nine-year program. But these universities would have required me to pursue some master-level educational courses before being allowed to enter fully into a doctoral-level curriculum. And Washington state was not that way.
09:25 José: Washington said, “Look, we realize that you’re not from an educational background, but you have a significantly interesting, eclectic, shall we say, background. You have very strong academic credentials from your undergraduate and graduate school. We will let you start taking in doctoral level courses.” Which helped me at least reduce my academic yearly path by at least two years compared to UC Davis and UC Berkeley. So, again, it was a trade-off in that regard. And then secondly, I had other considerations. My daughter was a student at WSU, and that was a big decision for me to actually come here to make up for the years that I was unable to be in her life due to health issues and my hospital recovery.
Plan for Funding the PhD
10:23 Emily: What a beautiful opportunity. I’m so glad that lined up for you so well. Okay, but, you’re coming in with no funding. So, what was your I guess, outlook at that time? Like, what was the plan before you actually arrived on campus? What was your plan for funding the PhD?
10:41 José: Well, listen, I’m very much of a self-starter. So, at the very least, I said, “This is an opportunity that I am giving to improve my lot where I was, where I was just essentially sinking in debt and not feeling that I had much traction.” Entering into this opportunity that Washington State afforded me allowed me to make a step in the right direction. And, you know, even if I had not had any other sort of funding, because of my financial condition, I was given a fairly generous FAFSA package. You know, so I could have really loaded up on student debt to the degree that I could, upwards of $40,000 each semester. And initially, the first year, as you might imagine, I was paying out-of-state tuition, which was two-and-a-half, sometimes three times as expensive as in-state.
11:40 José: So, I started that route, especially moving in. But I had knocked on a lot of doors. Especially, I had looked at a different program. At one point I wasn’t sure if they would take me in the School of Education, so I applied for a history program, made good connections there, and the head of that school said, “Look, I know you’re not a student at the College of Arts and Sciences where the program is located, but we have this opportunity here that we’re not sure yet, but it might be able to pay for your tuition.” So, again, just knocking on different doors, calling for informational meetings. That helped me. I had a conversation with Dr. Carmen Lugo, who was the director of the school. And then when the opportunity came up, I did the interviews.
12:30 José: They liked me because you know, it was managing the language labs. I speak different languages. So that helped, and I got that opportunity, and, you know, I was even willing to do it without the tuition reimbursement. And then she pulled through, and then I had tuition covered for that. So, I was making that relationship from afar, but since I got here, I think it also helped the fact that I moved to Washington like three months before school started. So, that also meant that I could be trained to run the laboratory. And then that gave me an edge over perhaps other students that were remote when I was already local and chomping at the bit.
Being Proactive About Financial Needs and Knocking on Doors
13:16 Emily: I think this is a great lesson here for any prospective or current graduate students they can pull out. Now, obviously, you were a non-traditional student, and you had all these advantages from your past career and your past education that, you know, might or might not exist in other people who are listening. But, what you did and what they could do is that you were really proactive about two things. One, letting people know about your financial needs or concerns. Hey, I really want to get tuition covered if I can, would love to receive a stipend. I don’t know if those exactly were the conversations you were having, but I need some funding. Is there any way that I can get that? And as you said, just really knocking on a lot of doors, talking to a lot of different people about what you can offer them, and what you would need from them. And that ended up working out, as you said, with this, is it fair to say it was an assistantship, or like what kind of position?
14:06 José: It was an assistantship. Definitely a graduate assistantship. And to your point, it wasn’t the sign to be offered to graduate students outside of that home school. But because of some, you know, the fact that I was persistent. I was there, they knew me already, just as, you know, just in person having shown up, shaken hands, and done a lot of personal bonding, I was top of mind. And, I think to your point also, the age, being non-traditional. I think there’s an assumption of a certain level of maybe gravitas or just seriousness about the purpose of saying, you know, he’s not going to be, you know, calling in sick much. In fact, never did. So, you know, I think that gave me an edge, but that wasn’t the only pump that I was priming.
15:00 José: I made it a point to be known specifically by the graduate school, precisely by, you know, saying, “Look, this is where I am. Where can I access opportunities? You know, where can I access support?” Whether it’s for clothing for an interview, food security, help with financial aid, help with navigating so many expenses, maybe getting some housing support, energy conservation. So, a lot of things I checked just to, you know, as they say, you know, stretch a buck and make it scream, right? And really, you know, getting people to know who I was, what I needed, and what I was pursuing, especially as far as what my interests were. I always made sure that, you know, I had somebody that I could call on afterwards or would call me.
New Opportunities During COVID
15:52 José: And that actually came into place once the COVID pandemic initially happened, because the whole campus was sent home. And now I was residing on campus, but then my job meant that I, you know, it was a student-facing position, and since there were no students, there was no income. Hence, that position was eliminated during COVID. And that also meant that I had to pivot quickly because it was a program that I thought would carry me throughout my years here. And then there was no funding after the first year. So, having seeded the grounds with other people, I was able to, through the graduate school, find out that there was an opportunity at the Emeritus Society, which is the professors at Washington State University who have retired there have a social group, a support group, and where they come together and they had a position that was vacant to handle their events.
17:01 José: And it was a lot of challenges because it was an older demographic. And this was my second year, so the entire 2021 of the pandemic. So, everything was done remotely, and getting some of these people working on Zoom for the first time in their lives was a work in progress. But they were just such a wonderful experience, and always, and to this day still follow up on what I’m doing. So, I felt very much that it was stressful in the sense that, you know, there was a moment there between March and April of 2020 that I just said, you know, what do I do now? And then, you know, I was able to get that opportunity. And again, because of the fact that I was known on campus and known inside of my department, I had one of my professors who gave me an internship for that summer. And then I transitioned into this assistantship for my second year.
18:05 Emily: Love it. So, now we’ve seen this strategy work for you two times for your first year, and then for your second and third year, it sounded like?
18:11 José: Well, it was for my second year. So, it’s an interesting, again, interesting turn of events because of the fact that I am proactive, like you mentioned, as far as getting myself known and finding out different resources. So, for my third year, I had already accumulated a fair amount of scholarships that I had applied for and won. So, you know, about 18 different support awards from institutions that support recovered individuals like myself that overcame health conditions, to just competitive scholarships, to then even Washington State Employees’ Credit Union, which is my credit union. They have a program that they support their own members. It’s a competitive one, but it’s also one that I applied and won for consecutive years. So, I had a little bit accumulated for there.
19:11 José: And then because of, again, having talked to different people, there was a faculty position that opened up at the College of Business. Mind you, my college is a college of education, okay? But at the College of Business, they had a need to teach finance and entrepreneurship. And one of the people that I had known, one of the professors called me up and said, you know, “Is it okay if I recommend you for this adjunct, you know, position that’s there? I I think you have a rich business administration background and you can make it happen.” And I didn’t need to think twice about it when they <laugh> when they interviewed me, because it’s very unusual that you would find a graduate student also operating at a faculty level, right? That you could be, I was a student working on my dissertation, but I was also teaching and developing something for my profile.
20:06 José: So, I ended up my last year, I could have stayed a second year with the Emeritus Association, but given the fact that I was given such a great opportunity, they even welcomed the fact that, “Hey, you should pursue that.” And then I ended up teaching for two semesters in the business school. That brought in funding, and then I had enough of the scholarship that would pay for my tuition. So, I was able to potentially coast the rest of the way financially. It wasn’t easy, but it was done.
20:42 Emily: Emily here for a brief interlude. If you are a fan of this podcast, I invite you to check out the Personal Finance for PhDs Community at PFforPhDs.community. The Community is for PhDs and people pursuing PhDs who want to take charge of their personal finances by opening and funding an IRA, starting to budget, aggressively paying off debt, financially navigating a life or career transition, maximizing the income from a side hustle, preparing an accurate tax return, and much more. Inside the Community, you’ll have access to a library of financial education products, including my recent set of Wealthy PhD Workshops. There is also a discussion forum, monthly live calls with me, and progress journaling for financial goals. Basically, the Community exists to help you reach your financial goals, whatever they are. Go to pfforphds.community to find out more. I can’t wait to help propel you to financial success! Now back to the interview.
High Success Rate with Scholarships
21:48 Emily: I want to pull three elements out from what you just said because I do not want the listeners to miss this. So, one, we talked earlier about you being proactive and knocking on many doors and talking with many people and letting them know what you can do for them and what you need from them. But what you said in there, and what you know, came into play again when the pandemic started, is that you developed these connections before you needed them urgently, right? You said you moved to campus a few months ahead of the other students so that you were a known face and a known entity by the time, Oh, this position is opening up, like that seems like it would be a good fit. They already knew you before the pandemic started. All that work that you had done before, continued to do, when that pivot needed to happen, you had already laid the groundwork and you had the resources in place. So, it’s almost like analogous to having an emergency fund. Like doing this networking for your career before you urgently need it is similar to keeping a cash emergency fund in your finances before you encounter an emergency that you would draw on that for. So, that’s point number one. Point number two, you said you won 18 scholarships. How many did you apply for <laugh>, do you know, to get those 18?
22:58 José: Well, I have a pretty good success rate on those. And again, I mean, you know how time is of the essence when you are a graduate student. So, I had to screen a lot of them and then make sure that, at least on paper, I had an above-average chance, you know. Just based whether, I didn’t apply for everything that was out there. Some of those came as direct referrals from the graduates school here at the WSU. So, they were internal competitions that you applied for, especially the teaching awards. So, meaning that there were scholarships available for students who were looking to expand pedagogy and become better classroom teachers. So, a lot of those came in through the internal graduate school at Washington State University.
23:50 José: But the external ones, I would say that, I just don’t want to create the wrong expectation. I probably ended up applying to about 25. So, I got to most of them because I would do the pre-screening, and I didn’t want to be wasting a lot of time either writing big essays for small dollars. So, there was also, my sweet spot was maybe focusing on ones that were between $2,500 and $5,000, because that made it meaningful. A lot of those, the money can only be used for school-related expenses. So, it’s not like you can take it out and, you know, have a party. So, that’s why you can see that that served as my nest for my last year, where even though the faculty position didn’t pay for tuition, I had enough money accumulated that did that. And then I just had to worry about my day-to-day expenses, which I did just based on the income that I received, whether assistantship or teaching. And I also did a little bit of thrift shopping on the side just to kind of like buy cheap and try to sell. That’s where the spending money came from.
25:02 Emily: Well, I’m so happy to hear that you were so strategic about those scholarship selections and the applications, and I feel like we could do an entire other interview about that strategy. Because it obviously worked out so well for you and you were, you know, judicious about how you used your time. And I just love everything you mentioned. So, that was a value-packed, you know, response there that I didn’t want the listeners to miss. And then the third point that I wanted to pull out was that you, you know, you’ve had now from what you described, two assistantships or the faculty position, non-assistantship. One assistantship, another faculty position that were not within your own school of education. And I just don’t want the listeners to have like a limiting belief around who on campus might or might not be able and willing to hire them based on these bureaucratic boundaries that may exist. So, I love your example of how you were able to, you know, cross those boundaries again because of the work you did earlier, getting known by all these people. So, I just wanted listeners to have that as well.
Learning About Financial Resources Early On
25:58 Emily: Is there anything else that you want to add about, you know, how you managed financially during the PhD? We’ve already gotten a few different details, but anything more?
26:10 José: Well, I think one of the more important things, which actually, you know, I met you, or started following your advice even before I had gotten accepted to graduate school. So, I think the importance of obtaining information so that you know what’s realistic, what’s out there, you know, what services, you know, at least populating yourself with enough information with the resources that you provide. When I was having discussions with the graduate school, and I would encourage everybody to just, regardless of where they go, I think their first stop should be the graduate school, just because they have a direct connection with you. They know where different opportunities are. They can show you, as they did, “Look, you know, there’s this whole list of information that if you fill out just a standard application, we’re going to put you in the lot to win or be eligible for some of these awards.”
27:14 José: So, it’s something that you just need to show up and do it, you know? And it’s there. So, I can’t imagine that being the process in every single school, but they’re there. They’re there for you. So, the fact that they, you know, I was able to go there and I had enough information based on your podcast, based on your personal opinions, that I could go and say, “Look, you know, this is what I need and I’ve already done my, you know, four-year span. These are kind of like the expenses that I’m seeing, you know, can I get some support here? Can I get some support there?” And even if they say no, it’s still you’re learning through this process and you know where the other resources are. And I find people want to help you.
27:56 José: They want to help you if you’re willing to put in the effort. And, you know, so I would just encourage people to do that. Even with your research, when you’re at WSU, the fact that I was in the multidisciplinary research allowed me to qualify to other experiences including summer internships. I did a summer internship with a first-gen-focused institution in Nashville. And that wasn’t necessarily initially my focus, because my focus was mostly on using technology to help individuals with disabilities. But I pivoted into first-gens because of that experience. And that gave me not only contacts in that industry, but also an opportunity of being able to do field research that then became the basis of my doctoral dissertation here at Washington State.
28:47 Emily: So amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that message. It actually is a reflection of something I heard back in the interview I did specifically for international students. A very similar message to them, which was get to know your designated school official, like we were talking about earlier, before you run into a financial crisis that of course, international students have many more restrictions on how they can earn money and whether they can take out student loans and all these issues. But get to know the people who know the resources, have access to the resources in advance, so that when, you know, if you see a crisis approaching or like you, your income source dried up, then you know who you can go to. They already aware of you. Maybe they’ve been keeping an eye out for opportunities for you. So, incredible message.
Completing the PhD Without Taking on Student Debt
29:28 Emily: I understand that you ultimately were able to complete your PhD without taking on any student debt from all of the, you know, avenues of funding that we talked about. Can you tell me about what that means to you to have been able to accomplish that?
29:44 José: Well, it was you know, I’m still a little bit giggly about that because it wasn’t the case. I mean, when I first came here, and mind you, I landed in Pullman, Washington. I actually drove here in April of 2019. And I was perfectly, not perfectly I should say that, but at least I was resigned that this might put me in a hole for at least a hundred thousand dollars. Just in the way that I had nothing written down. I had nothing committed. You know, and it was, it was very humbling saying, “Okay, I’m going to start dipping into these FAFSA funds because I just don’t have any income. And I did that for the first six weeks, and then, you know, things started coming along and then I was able to contain that initial debt. I never really added to it, carried it and then, you know, then got some scholarship funding that allowed me not only to start paying down on it, but then eventually, you know, with my stipend, being able to wipe it clean.
30:53 José: And I know there’s some who say, “Oh, if you had left it there, you probably would’ve eliminated now with some of the Washington DC funding.” But it’s okay. I mean, I think now I don’t have it. I feel much stronger. My credit score is probably almost 70 basis points higher than when I began the program. Precise, because I was not only able to keep those expenses down, but also pay down on expenses or debt that I carried from my past. And again, I’m just very grateful to you and some of the people that you’ve introduced me through your program and your podcast, including your brother as far as support that I receive to make sure that I’m lining myself up for eventual homeownership opportunities, now that I’m facing a future where I have finally some steady income, a new career, and just life outside of campus.
31:53 Emily: I’m so happy to hear that. I’m so pleased. You’re giving me a lot of credit here. But I think it was a lot. I mean, we had one conversation, but it’s a lot of the podcasts and other things that I’ve put out there. So, I’m so pleased that you’ve been using that, and I wasn’t even necessarily aware of that the whole time. One note, this is not necessarily advice for you, but for anybody who is listening at this point. This is going to come out in fall 2022. If you paid down federal student loan debt during the pandemic, which it sounds like you did, José, you can actually request a refund from your loan servicer up to the 10 or $20,000 of forgiveness that we are expecting to come through this fall. And so, if you want to do that, you could actually get that refund and then get the debt wiped away. So whatever that amount is, maybe it’s $10,000, you could actually have that in your pocket if you wanted to go ahead and do that. Not necessarily saying you have to, because I know there’s a lot of pleasure you receive from, you know, having not only paid off that student loan debt that you took at the beginning, but it sounds like you also paid down some of your other debt, which is incredible. But I just want the listeners to know that opportunity is there if they did pay off debt during the pandemic.
32:59 José: Well, thank you. I’ll be paying close attention to that upcoming podcast for sure. That may be, it’ll be an early celebration of Christmas.
Next Steps in Career and in Finances
33:08 Emily: Yeah, that sounds great. Okay. Second to last question here. What is next for you in your career and in your finances?
33:15 José: Well, I think as I indicated earlier, a lot of my journey, especially in these past few years where I’ve had to rely upon, because of the fact that I was not financially independent, I had to rely upon other people for support and show them, right? That I was worthy of the trust, and in some cases, that I was worthy of the positions that they had given me. I have an obligation now to pass forward some of those benefits that I received. And I say that because then I was originally catering or focusing in on getting into classrooms. And my focus was to go into kind of like the greater Appalachian region of the United States, which there’s a lot of financial need, there’s a lot of mentoring need for, you know, just really wonderful individuals who just don’t have the support at home and guidance to be able to know what college is all about.
34:19 José: And then they’re at risk, even if they get accepted, of not fitting in and then dropping out. So, I can make an impact in their lives. So, I was heading in that direction. And then I got a call from a non-profit that I worked with in the past that wanted me to see if I could stay behind in Washington State to help the lower-income agricultural communities in Washington State. There’s a lot of mostly Hispanic and Native American communities in the greater Yakima Valley. That allows me an opportunity of combining both my educational focus as well as my business administration to help those communities in terms of obtaining funding for school, of obtaining funding to start off their own businesses, of navigating some of their citizenship limitations. And it also allows me to stay close to, I have two daughters, one actually who was Natalia, my oldest who graduated here, I was able to graduate simultaneously with her, so that that was an extra benefit of coming to Washington State.
35:27 José: And in fact, we both walked together in May. She’s now living in Seattle. I have my youngest that lives at home with her mom in Vancouver. So, me being able to stay here in Washington State a couple of years and working where there’s a need for not only role models, but hard skills in financial and agricultural businesses. I can make an impact in a lot of financial ways and also personally meaningful ways, and still maintain contact with the important people in my life.
36:02 Emily: I’m so pleased. That’s so wonderful. I’m so glad you got that opportunity to stay there in Washington and do that mission-driven work. So happy!
Best Financial Advice for Another Early-Career PhD
36:11 Emily: Okay, last question for you. What is your best financial advice for another early-career PhD? And that could be something that we have already touched on in this interview, or it could be something completely new.
36:22 José: Well, I think again, you and I both share the perspective of knowing what it’s like to be in the hole, shall we say. And I think that that might be more meaningful, you know, to focus in on that because it’s such a threatening time and humbling time you know. Because you can think everything you want about your accomplishments and what you’re doing, but you’re still faced with the reality of how do you make ends meet and how do you survive. So, I think still for those of you who are looking, contemplating this journey, or in the middle of this journey, I think some of the things that you talked about before. Don’t be putting any sort of unnecessary limitations of your ability of being able to prosper. And don’t look at it as like I don’t want to get known around as somebody who’s in need.
37:20 José: Or you know, I don’t want to necessarily show the fact that I’m, you know, in financial need. I don’t think people will judge you for that. I think if anything, they see you more as somebody that is very responsible, is not letting the worst-case scenario happen. You’re trying to be proactive about it, and people will support you. I’m telling you, I mean, in my setting here, it’s seen as like, ‘Wow, you’re hungry, and you want to tackle this on and not let that get out of hand for different reasons.” People will find a way of helping you, but you’ve got to show up and you’ve got to do the work. They’re not going to give you a handout, because that’s just not, well, that’s just not necessarily the type of image that you want to command.
38:06 José: So, I will go back to what you were alluding to. Just knock on different doors. Don’t be afraid when they say no, it’s not a rejection necessarily. It’s just more of an issue of prioritization and saying, well, maybe it’s not the door that you need to do, but at least you leave a good presence so that in the future if something were to come up, they do call you. And I’ve seen that happen in my case, right? So, I would also say that you also want to make sure that you craft a very good message so that when people meet you, they not only remember who you are, but they want to know what you’re passionate about and how you’re helping yourself and others in that. Because then they make the connection and say, “Oh, wait a second, Emily likes to promote advance in higher education and she’s got this network. We just got this grant. Let’s call her.” So you’re ready, they immediately connect as opposed to saying, “Well, he’s just, or José’s just a student in need.” You want to make sure that they have some memorable talk points about what it is that you’re pursuing, your research, your career focus, the communities that you want to help out with.
39:20 Emily: That’s such a perfect encapsulation of like the main messages that we’ve gotten through this interview. I’m so happy to hear that like last articulation. And to put it kind of with some of my own words there, you demonstrated and what you’re encouraging other people to demonstrate, is resourcefulness. And the university does have a lot of resources, <laugh>, and they may be, you know, in different little pockets and they may be unknown. And you have to go around and talk with people and network and, as you said, let them know what you can do for them and what you bring to the table. I noticed this pattern also when I’ve spoken about negotiation of graduate student stipends. And like, in a way, what you were doing was negotiation, except they didn’t even know that they were making you an offer yet, right?
40:00 Emily: Like you were just out there trying to get those offers. What I noticed when I talk with graduate students about negotiation is that they usually do open up very vulnerably about their finances. This is the need. Hey, this is the cost of living going on. I really don’t think that this offer was sufficient to meet this cost of living. And also in some cases, oh, look what I’m bringing to the table. Okay, I’m bringing in a fellowship, I’m bringing outside money. I’m bringing in your case, a whole career, you know, a first career’s worth of work experience, graduate degrees, insights. So yeah, as you said, just leave a good impression, like let them know what you’re about and what you need. And in the future, belaying those seeds and in the future they may be able to come back to you with some kind of offer. And your case, it’s worked out over and over and over again. And I’m so glad that we captured that story in this interview. José, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It’s been a pleasure to have you.
40:48 José: Well, I’m very blessed to be here, Emily. And I thank you for four years of putting up with me and such wonderful advice. And I’m just glad that, you know, I’m able to demonstrate what you do when you put into effect the guidance that you’ve shared with us remotely and in my case remotely and in person.
41:10 Emily: Thank you!
41:16 Emily: Listeners, thank you for joining me for this episode! I have a gift for you! You know that final question I ask of all my guests regarding their best financial advice? My team has collected short summaries of all the answers ever given on the podcast into a document that is updated with each new episode release. You can gain access to it by registering for my mailing list at PFforPhDs.com/advice/. Would you like to access transcripts or videos of each episode? I link the show notes for each episode from PFforPhDs.com/podcast/. See you in the next episode, and remember: You don’t have to have a PhD to succeed with personal finance… but it helps! The music is “Stages of Awakening” by Podington Bear from the Free Music Archive and is shared under CC by NC. Podcast editing by Lourdes Bobbio and show notes creation by Meryem Ok.
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