In this episode, Emily interviews Dr. Mallory Smith, a staff scientist at a large public research university. Mallory learned to advocate for herself with respect to her income during graduate school. Her message to graduate students is that they are not merely students but professionals within their fields and should be treated as such, and the skill of being assertive but not aggressive is useful across a lifetime. Mallory and Emily discuss negotiation, where to find funds to pay for research and conference travel, and Mallory’s experience tutoring undergraduate physics students as a side hustle.
Links Mentioned in This Episode
- Postdoc Salaries Database
- PhD Stipends Database
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Schedule a Seminar
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Podcast Hub
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Help Out
- Find Dr. Mallory Smith on LinkedIn
00:00 Mallory: When you’re an undergrad student, you’re a student. When you’re a grad student, they still make you feel like you’re a student, but you have a degree and the work that you’re doing is furthering the objectives and benefiting the university and you really do deserve to be compensated for what you do.
00:24 Emily: Welcome to the personal finance for PhDs podcast, a higher education in personal finance. I’m your host, Dr. Emily Roberts. This is season four, episode seven, and today my guest is Dr. Mallory Smith, a staff scientist at a large public research university. Mallory has a message for graduate students. You deserve to get paid and asking to be financially compensated, doesn’t have to be gauche. We talked through several applications of this mindset from rectifying a lapse in pay to finding creative sources of travel funding, to negotiating a job offer. Mallory also shares her experience side hustling as a tutor for undergraduate students in physics. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Dr. Mallory Smith.
Will You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
01:15 Emily: Welcome to the podcast, Dr. Mallory Smith. Mallory came to me with several ideas that she wanted to speak about from her own personal life, all relating to income, so that’s what we’re going to cover today. Income as a PhD trainee. So Mallory, will you please introduce yourself to our audience a little bit further?
01:33 Mallory: Sure. I got my PhD in 2016, officially 2017. I was a postdoc for about two years and now I’m a staff scientist. I’m on the staff. We use the term staff scientists to say that you’re promoted and I haven’t been promoted, so I always add that disclaimer, it’s a new position for me. I went to a small state school for undergrad and to a larger, but not very large, private university for grad school, so that’s kind of definitely colored how I see income and what opportunities I’m able to talk about because it’s defined by what I’ve been exposed to.
A Message for Grad Students: Practice Self-Advocacy
02:20 Emily: Yeah, definitely. We’re looking for your personal angle on this here. So you came to me saying, I have a message, I have a message for PhD trainees. What is that message?
02:32 Mallory: So I have had a couple of experiences in grad school and a couple of friends in grad school. One particular story stands out. I have a friend whose professor was just absent-minded, and completely forgot to figure out summer funding for her. She kind of had assumed that he was on top of it and he completely wasn’t, so it got down to the last minute and it’s like, “Oh by the way, next week you’re not going to be paid anymore because I don’t have summer funding for you. Oh, well.” And she said, “Oh, okay.” The deadlines for everything had passed. And I’m like, “You need to tell the department,” because our department was really trying to make sure that they got some funding, somehow, for every single one of their students, whether it be a summer TA position or working something else out, and she didn’t want to ask because she was afraid that was passed all the deadlines and you know, I think she kind of felt like, “Oh, it was my responsibility have figured this out earlier,” or something like that.
03:48 Mallory: The thing is that when you’re an undergrad student, you’re a student. When you’re a grad student, they still make you feel like you’re a student, but you have a degree. And the work that you’re doing is furthering the objectives and benefiting the university. Whether you’re training and especially when you’re presenting at conferences and when you’re doing any TA positions or anything like that, you are furthering the objectives of the university and you are an employee of the university and you really do deserve to be compensated for what you do. That also is a piece that I think departments can use some help in, in realizing where their gaps are. Because if you don’t feel valued, you’re not going to be as productive or as enthusiastic about where you’re at.
04:46 Mallory: So for example, with that particular professor, he had grad students sporadically and I think the network of communication can get lost, the thread can get lost. If you are letting your department know to say, “Oh yeah, that professor, they have that problem, they’ve done this to four other grad students, we have a backup option for you.” Or the department doesn’t know this is going on and say, “Oh, okay, now I know”, and the department chair or the heads can look out maybe for future grad students and prevent that from happening.
05:23 Emily: I have so many things that I want to say about this topic as well. It’s such a strange relationship that graduate students have with their advisors and also with their departments and universities. And it varies so widely across different universities and across different departments and with different students in different advisors. During what you were saying just there that you’re an employee is only the case for some graduate students, right? So many, many graduate students are employees and should absolutely be empowered by what you just said, that they bring value to the university in one way or another. That’s why they’re being employed and if their employment should lapse by accident, of course that’s something that should be rectified. But anyway, it’s such a strange relationship between the trainee and the institution because, in some cases you’re treated more like a student or a trainee and in some cases, you’re treated more like an employee. And it usually seems that the university wants to do whatever is in their best interest — treat you as a student in one case, employee in another case whenever it benefits them and it’s a real shame, but it does fall to the student or to the trainee, in many cases, to push back against that and it shouldn’t be that way. Like in your example of this, the student’s advisor should have been looking out for her, should have been on top of things, but in that case, he wasn’t and so it did fall to her, unfortunately, but it did.
06:59 Emily: I observed something similar actually when I was in graduate school. This happened to a postdoc that I knew that her pay just lapsed for several months. And she was an employee, so I don’t know, maybe she was switching positions or something. I’m not sure what happened actually. I think it had to do with being a visa issue because she was an international postdoc. But anyway, she went unpaid for several months while this was being sorted out by our, by her advisor and like you said with your friend, she was kind of OK with it. I was shocked and appalled when I found out that was happening, but she didn’t really want to rock the boat. And maybe that was because it had to do with visa stuff. I don’t know. But in any case, it did unfortunately fall to her. I’m sure this happens to a lot of different people, what should these students and postdocs do if they find themselves in this kind of situation where they’re kind of being taken advantage of, although maybe it’s unintentional, and it’s not necessarily malicious, but it’s just bad management?
08:07 Mallory: I think it’s departments and professors, people, they take the path of least resistance to getting the thing crossed off their list. I think when you’re a grad student, you have to start looking out for yourself to some degree. There should be better policies in place at a lot of universities to prevent a lot of this from happening but until we’re there, I think when you start, you have to know what your parameters space is. Your offer letter will tell you how many months of funding you’re guaranteed. I think, it’s been a while, I started grad school in 2010, so I think my offer letter said that I was employed 11 out of 12 months, but that it was nine months of like serious pay and then two months of summer pay to be covered by the professor. There was some language in there that you would know ahead of time. Also, if your professor is someone who’s not paying attention to deadlines and not being forthright in communicating things with you, you kind of have to take that on yourself to find out in March if you have summer funding because that leaves you not enough time to work something out.
09:40 Emily: Unfortunately, again, these advisors are very rarely trained in any kind of management. They’re often kind of flying blind and doing whatever they’ve done in the past and it’s really an unhealthy situation, something that really, really desperately needs reform within academia. Yet, this is the system that we’re working with right now and students and trainees do find themselves there. So in the case of your friend, in the case of my friend, how could they have phrased this request so that they’re likely to have it fulfilled but also not feeling whatever is holding them back from asking the first place? Maybe they didn’t want to feel pushy. Maybe they didn’t want to draw attention to the mistake of their supervisor. How could they have maybe tried to rectify this?
10:30 Mallory: If it’s hard to start that conversation, you know it’s intimidating to make an appointment with the department chair and say, “I’m lodging this formal complaint that I’m not getting paid and I’m angry.” That’s a very hard approach. That’s not what I would personally take. That’s definitely not one my friend would be comfortable with taking. So I’d say find someone that has a low barrier of entry to talk to. Departments have a lot of other people beyond the administration, the secretaries and other people who have been working with the department, sometimes for decades — they’re often in this position that they’re not someone directly responsible for your management as a grad student, but they know the department. You can sort of start to find the people who know the things in the department. In my graduate school, we had someone who was really looking out for graduate students and you could go very easily to her and say, “Hey, like I’m having this issue, how should I approach it?” and get some real feedback that wouldn’t be going all the way and lodging a complaint. Also, older grad students; if there’s an older grad student in your group with that professor, say, “This is happening to me did this happened to you, what do you think I should do?” and you can kind of get some tips on the least “causing the boat to rock” way of getting what you really deserve.
12:07 Emily: Yeah, I totally agree. I mean, in my department as well, when I was in graduate school, we had an excellent administrative assistant who was handling all the graduate student’s stuff. And she, as you were saying, was really an advocate for graduate students. I feel like I could have easily gone to her and said, “I’m having this problem. What do I do about it?” And maybe that is escalating it to the DGS and doing something formal and she would know, or maybe it’s as simple as, she’s just going to go have a conversation with someone and it’s going to be fixed, no problem. I don’t know how it could be resolved, but that person would know. Identifying your resources within the department, absolutely, I think that’s a great idea. Even if you don’t know how to do that, as you said, to ask an older student or someone else who’s sort of serving kind of as a mentor to you or that you look up to within the lab or within the department and they’re going to know who that person is to go to. So I think that’s an excellent way to approach it.
Self-Advocacy Post-Grad School
13:00 Emily: I can definitely see how this skill of advocating for yourself when necessary can apply to post PhD life. Isn’t this the purpose of being a student? We’re learning how to do thing. We’re gaining knowledge and gaining skills and so forth. And some of these soft skills, like speaking up when something isn’t right, are very valuable to learn within graduate school and can be used later. Do you have any thoughts about using this skill of self-advocacy post training phase?
13:34 Mallory: Typically PhD programs, in my experience, which is a narrow set field of physics, is narrowly defined, like here is the tuition that graduate students in this department get. That’s it. I didn’t know this ahead of time, but during graduate school, I learned there’s other ways to ask for money. The postdoc I applied for, it also had like a set salary — this is what we paid postdocs, that that’s it, but someone else I know actually asked for additional travel funding and they were able to give that to that person, so they had their own travel budget to go to whatever conferences they wanted to. They didn’t need approval or to worry about funding regulation, like it has to apply to the grant that’s paying for it. They could just pick a conference and go. That’s a type of perk that you can ask for.
14:38 Mallory: I think some postdocs do allow you to negotiate for salary. Then every job post-postdoc, maybe not every but most every job post-postdoc, is the negotiate-for-your-salary type of position. The graduate school I went to had a big business school and it was big on their undergrads being successful and so they had a lot of professional development events about how important it was to negotiate for your salary. They could just show you this graph that if you ask for an additional X thousand dollars in your salary now, the impact over your career is substantial because when you’re starting out, the next position you go to, the salary will be based off what you were paid previously.
15:36 Mallory: When I applied for my job, I had been, for years hearing, “You have to negotiate for your salary” and I’m like, “Oh God, they’re offering me such a great salary. I’m so happy with it, but like I feel like I have to negotiate.” So I went to one of my mentors, my boss, and I said, “Hey, I’m interested in negotiating.” And they were like, “Well, typically you have some skill that you can say, ‘Hey, I can bring this and you should pay me more because I’m bringing this skill’” I didn’t have anything like that but I actually ended up crafting this response letter to my offer and saying, “Oh, I just looked it up and I was wondering if a salary increase to this amount would be possible.” And they actually came back and said, well, not to that amount, but to a slightly lower amount that was still higher than what they had a base offered, and that felt really cool of course, but hopefully over the long run, that’s the type of impact that is meaningful, in terms of salary.
16:48 Mallory: When you go to negotiate for your salary, there are web sites like glassdoor.com and other places where you can find out the range of salaries that are possible for your position. Typically, there’s a lower end and a higher end, and they have a cap. They can’t pay you higher than this amount for this position. That’s it. You always want to ask to be in the top half of that bracket and they’ll put you somewhere, hopefully in the middle, but not the lowest part of that bracket in that negotiation. But just kind of note, I knew when I was asking that I was not asking for an exorbitant thing and also, I was intimidated because I knew everyone that I would be working with already. When you ask for money, you’re not asking from the people that you’re working with. You’re asking from the university and really from HR. You shouldn’t feel like, “Oh, I’m asking for some special treatment that I don’t deserve.” It’s really a linear, top down thing from the administration and just ask. We have this sort of negative connotation about asking about money and talking about money, but if you just simply ask and say, “Hey, I was wondering if this is possible” and you’re not being aggressive about it at all. that’s not, that’s not an aggressive question to ask.
18:22 Emily: I think you’re exactly right and I’m so glad that you shared the exact phrasing that you use because it’s one sentence, the way you phrased it. It’s so easy to throw that up there and if you didn’t have what you felt was justification like, “Oh, I’m bringing X, Y, Z skills to the table,” you can still ask, especially if it’s in line with whatever the ranges that you know are appropriate for that position. I think that’s a pretty standard thing is that you’re looking at taking a new position and you look up what people are paid and you have a range there and if your offer is coming in on the lower end of that range, just ask for, as you said, the higher end of that range and maybe they’ll meet somewhere in the middle.
19:01 Emily: My husband did the exact same thing when he negotiated his current industry position. He just said, “Hey, I looked up the salary range for this position in the city that I’ll be moving to and it looks like this is a fair number. Can you do that?” And they said, “No, but we’ll bring it up by a certain degree.” That was really successful and once you get over the mental hurdle of doing it, the actual phrasing of the one or two sentences is really not like that much. But as you said, it pays off so much every single year for the rest of your career going forward in the compounding of the raises that you’ll be getting. It’s the same way that compound interest works with investments or reverse ways with debt works exactly the same with your salary to the degree that your new salary is based off any previous salaries. I just love that you said that.
19:55 Emily: I also want to point out that negotiation is more rare but is possible at the postdoc and even the graduate student levels. I wanted to point the listeners to two websites I have that function similarly to Glassdoor, which are PostdocSalaries.com and PhDStipends.com and so there you can just go and look up what are postdocs or PhD students being paid at that university or in this field or what have you and get an idea of whether your offer is livable, whether it’s more or less than other people in the same city are making. You can even, especially as a postdoc, start using that as justification for negotiating your salary. I actually do have a question within the survey in postdocsalaries.com did you negotiate your salary or benefits? And as you mentioned earlier, a lot of people forget about negotiating benefits. Maybe that salary number can’t move, but something else on the side can move. Because the thing is that when you take on an employee, like you said, the salary ranges are set above levels than just your advisor that you’re going to, it’s a few levels above that. The thing is that the cost of taking on an employee is actually much more than just the salary. They have to pay taxes for you, they have to pay benefits for you, and so asking for an increase in salary, you may be like, “Oh, I’m asking for a 5% or 10% increase in the salary,” but that’s not a 5% or 10% increase in the total package that they’re taking on, by hiring you, it really is a smaller number to them then it looks like to you. Keep that in mind when you’re going to negotiate.
21:33 Mallory: When you get a new job, you get this salary offer and it’s more than you’ve made before because if you’re coming from grad school, anything’s going to be, should be more than what you made as a grad student. When you get out of grad school, you have to calibrate yourself to not be like all blown away by that number because typically, they’re going to offer you the low end of the bracket. It’s more efficient for them.
21:59 Emily: Emily here for a brief interlude. Through my business, I provide seminars and webinars on personal finance for graduate students, postdocs and other early career PhDs, for universities, institutes and conferences, associations, etc. I offer seminars that cover a wide range of personal finance topics and others that take a deep dive into the financial topics that matter most to PhDs like taxes, investing, career transitions and frugality. If you’re interested in having me speak to your group or recommending me to a potential host, but you can find more information and ways to contact me at PFforPhDs.com/speaking, that’s P F F O R P H D S.com/speaking. Now back to the interview.
Finding Sources of Travel Funding
22:48 Emily: You mentioned a little bit ago that a friend negotiated for some travel funding. What ways have you gone out and gotten extra funding? Or what ways have you seen other people do that?
23:08 Mallory: I know that for example, the American Physical Society often has a pot of money for helping grad students attend conferences. You can apply andI think the one that I knew about gave everybody who applied and they accepted $300 toward traveling to this conference. And it’s not much, but it helps cover some of the difference,
23:40 Emily: Especially if it’s something you are going to pay out of pocket anyway, that’s a big help
23:45 Mallory: The other thing is that departments sometimes are strapped for cash and I think that if you’re running up and you’re asking for money and they really are like, “we don’t have money, we’re sorry, we really don’t have money,” they will say that and it will be clear. But a lot of times departments have pockets of money around and if you know to ask, this will become accessible to you, but you have to know to ask and sometimes they’re not advertising that part as well. I know that for certain universities, they often have some study abroad relationship with one country in particular, so if you want to go to, if there’s a conference and it happens to also be in that country and your university already has a relationship with sending students there, even if it’s undergraduate students, there might be a pipeline for getting funding. That’s pretty easy. I got travel funding from a private fund that came from the donation that existed for grad students to travel internationally and present their work or attend a workshop and learn, and I didn’t know about that until my advisor said, “Hey, I don’t have money to send you to France, but you should apply for this thing.” And that worked out. Then there’s pockets of professional development funding around that, if you’re presenting your work, is accessible to you. The other thing is that sometimes graduate student unions have money set aside for helping grad students with this. I think our graduate student union had a some sort of rolling application that you can apply to get a couple hundred dollars towards travel and preference given to students that haven’t gone anywhere yet, that kind of thing. There’s a lot of weird avenues that you can find out there. There’s also cross-disciplinary or interdisciplinary types of collaborations and alliances that if you’re doing anything related to them you can reach out and say, “Hey, I would like to go to this conference that you guys are holding because I’m doing this thing, it’s related. Can you help me cover some of that cost?”
26:08 Emily: Thank you so much for listing all those different, as you said, little pockets of money that might be accessible to you if you have the secret key, the unlock code, to inquiring about them. It’s too bad that this is kind of secret grad school knowledge that has to be passed by word of mouth instead of sort of being out there and clear. And maybe it is clear in some places, but this is another one of those reasons, these are the ones that you’ve like observed that were relevant for your university and your department and they may or may not be similar with somewhere else, but hopefully if a newer grad student or a newer post doc entering a new place can ask some people a few years ahead, “Oh, I’m looking for funding to go to this conference. I ran into a barrier, there is no more pools of money in the standard place. Do you know how people have gotten funding.” Just asking those questions of maybe there’s some kind of work around here. I love all the examples that you threw out. I hadn’t heard of half of them before, so that’s wonderful and everyone can try those. But also, still ask your peers, what are the secrets to this place, these funding pools. Hopefully, if you ask enough people, you’ll get the right answer. Especially, go to people who have been traveling internationally, who have clearly done the thing that you want to do, and ask them how they went about doing that.
27:29 Mallory: I think a lot of times during our PhD we’re in our bubble and a lot of the things that are unique for us are not unique for the department and not unique for graduate students. You’re probably not asking for something new that’s never been done before. The other thing I’d like to mention is professors who have been professors for a while think about this differently. I think they kind of have the mentality of it’s ridiculous not to get compensated and of course, why wouldn’t you ask? So they’re not saying, “Hey, by the way, I can pay for if you ever want to do something like this, this or this.” It’s not because they’re trying to keep it a secret from you. It’s just, it doesn’t occur to them that you wouldn’t know about this already, which is crazy, right? If you’re a new student, why would you know? But they get kind of stuck in their experience within their bubble of what they see and what they deal with and how they think about salaries and funding, which is on a whole different level.
Tutoring as a Side-Hustle
28:36 Emily: Going back to your first point about simply asking and advocating for yourself in a very gentle way can be done with respect to this additional travel funding and so forth. Another topic that you wanted to bring up was regarding side hustling. Can you tell us about your experience with side hustling in graduate school?
29:04 Mallory: My side-hustling was a tutoring, so I didn’t aggressively side hustle. I didn’t need to really supplement my income, but it was nice to. Tutoring is something that one, there’s always a need for tutors for freshmen level physics; and two, if you look up what the typical tutoring charge per hour is, if you have your bachelor’s, that level is typically $25 to $30 or so, and then if you’ve got your master’s or your PhD, it’s $30, $40, $50 an hour. A couple of things with that. One, I hate charging students that are struggling with physics, like, “Okay, yeah I can help you but it’s going to cost you,” and so I never charged the whole amount that I should have, but I learned something in getting to the point where I was comfortable with charging: one, the students that were undergrads at my graduate school, their parents were paying their tuition bills, so I was not making some student broke, they were able to afford it; two, when I was getting compensated for my time, $20, $30 an hour, I was very happy to prepare for that well and to do a good job. Once I had some experience tutoring, because I went in with very little experience and I always joke I have to write the students I first tutored and say, I’m really sorry, I learned how to tutor with you and you didn’t learn any physics. But I learned after! But that’s okay. The other thing is that when you get stuck in graduate school and you can sit down at the end of the day and help someone learn physics, that’s really gratifying. I got stuck in my research, I struggled with my classes and being able to help someone else was like, okay, I’m not a failure as a physics person. I’m clearly benefiting younger students.
31:11 Emily: I think that tutoring, I would say it’s the number one thought of side hustle for a grad student, because clearly as you were just saying, you do have something to teach. You have a great deal of expertise in some areas, even if it doesn’t feel like that on a daily basis, once you can look back a little bit, you’ve really come a long ways within your field, and so it’s so accessible to be able to teach people coming along behind you by a few years. The other thing about charging students and feeling a little bit weird about that is that you have to remember that this is above and beyond all the resources that the university itself is transferring to those students. They have the class that they’re in, they have the TA for that class, they have their professor, they have maybe, at least at the college that I went to, there was sort of a free tutoring center available that you could just make appointments out for various subjects. Being a private tutor — well, they’ve already maybe either gone through those resources and haven’t found them sufficient or they don’t want to use them for whatever reason. They’re willing to pay someone for their time, for the individual attention, whatever it is. Just to keep that in mind when you are going into that situation that you’re charging for. They already have a lot of resources available to them that are included with what they’re paying already for tuition. They have decided that they want something above and beyond that.
32:36 Emily: I wanted to ask you about the difference between how you distinguish yourself as a TA versus a tutor. And maybe you weren’t teaching during that time. Was there ever a time when you were both TAing and tutoring and how you sort of draw a distinction there? Presumably, you are not tutoring the students who are enrolled in your class.
32:54 Mallory: Our department actually, they had a list of tutors that they just said they gave the undergraduates and these people said they’re interested in tutoring, contact them. But you were not allowed to tutor someone that you’re TAing. That’s probably a good rule, because then they’re paying you to get preferential treatment in some sense of it. The other thing is, when I got to be on my feet about tutoring, I would have more students that could contact me than I could handle. I can’t tutor more than five or six students in a given week. That’s a significant time investment. But what you can do is try to get all students that are in the same course so that you’re not having to cover new material. It would get to be, I do one hour of prep and then I tutor four people because it’s just bang, bang, bang. It’s the same material.
34:03 Emily: That’s a really good idea. I hadn’t thought of when you have such a demand for your skills, it makes sense that you could then select among the potential clients that you have. The other thing I’ll say to that is raise your rates. If you have more demand, raise your rates. Standard thing. Did it ever occur to you to do group tutoring? Would that have been possible when you were already lining up these students in the same course?
34:31 Mallory: Yeah, I had done some group tutoring and I think that, at least for my style of tutoring, more than two people becomes really less one on one. My one on one rate was one thing. My group rate was like lower per person because I just think that the experience that I could offer in that environment was a little bit less. But that’s a good way to do it if there’s a lot of demand and you feel like you want to really help the students. That’s a good way to minimize the impact on your time to help the maximum number of people.
35:13 Emily: It’s a little bit of a win-win: lower the rates for them, you raise your hourly rate for yourself. Don’t just split the same rate among everyone, you’re working harder. Or raise it and then split it.
35:25 Mallory: Yeah, raising it and then splitting it, absolutely. But then also, I think, at least the undergrads that I encountered, they were like, “Well no, we’re paying for one on tutoring experience. I don’t care how much it costs the, I’d rather have that than that group thing.” I couldn’t really convince them to make the group thing a thing, but that’s okay.
35:48 Emily: Yeah, that makes total sense. Well, I’m really glad that your department made that easy for you because often when I think about tutoring, I guess I don’t really think about going through the departments first, but that’s a very, very natural match. If the departments are willing to have a running list you know grad student tutors available, then that’s great. Did your advisor know about your tutoring side hustle? You were on a list somewhere so he or she maybe could have known?
36:17 Mallory: Yeah, definitely. I’m sure my advisor knew. It was something that I did after hours and so I didn’t consider it like I need to ask for permission for this. It’s my time. Also, since the department encouraged it, there’s some advisors, I’m sure that would discourage you thinking about anything other than your own research, but it was sort of okay because it was normalized.
36:48 Emily: Yeah, I guess I would say for an environment where it hasn’t been normalized, like maybe that list isn’t available or you don’t really see other grad students working with undergrads at the same institution, tutoring is still available. It’s just you might have to look to a different population like in your city, like high schoolers or students at another university or community college. Or do it within your own university, but keep it a little more quiet. There are just a lot of options available for tutoring. And like you were saying earlier, it’s not really necessarily a distraction from your research if it’s reinforcing basic principles for you and improving your teaching skills and improving your confidence within your own field or whatever it is. I feel like tutoring is one of those side hustles that’s both easily accessible and potentially has benefits in your primary professional life, not just, “Okay, I’m earning an extra income here.”
37:43 Mallory: Yeah, absolutely.
Any Last Words of Advice?
37:45 Emily: To close out, Mallory, what advice do you have for a grad student or postdoc who’s looking to increase her income?
37:53 Mallory: I’d say find out the resources that are available in your department. Find out every opportunity for getting expenses covered. If you’re traveling to a conference, typically there’s some expense coverage for doing that traveling. That includes the meals when you’re traveling, and just sort of knowing what’s reasonable. There’s always fellowships and things to apply for and my advice is to apply. I wanted to apply for a fellowship and I applied for one and I didn’t get it. I didn’t feel like I really deserved a fellowship. I had a friend who applied for a different fellowship and she was encouraging me to apply for that fellowship also. And I said, “Oh, no, no, no, I don’t qualify for this.” And she applied for it and she got it. I don’t think our background experiences were so different. You looked at our records on paper, we had a lot of similar things. Don’t close yourself off to opportunities because of where you think you’re at or what you think you’re worth. Go for everything and let them tell you. You might be surprised.
39:29 Mallory: The other thing is just doing everything. If you care about maximizing your income, minimize your expenses. Don’t get a Netflix account on your own, share it with 10 friends. If you can bundle your car insurance into a six-month payment or yearly payment that’s on auto pay, you can get significant discounts. Other weird things like, do you ever need a rental car? Because if you are considered in any way an employee of the university, there are often just global discounts with major car rental companies that you can say, “Hey, and I work for this university,” and even if it’s for personal travel, they’ll still say, “Oh, okay, well we can give you an 18% discount.”
40:19 Mallory: I never really went out to maximize my personal, wealth. I just wanted to sort of do well and, and keep my head above water. I think that if you really want to maximize your wealth, then you’re the expert in providing all of the information for how to do that. But you don’t have to maximize everything in order to just do well financially. I’m happy with where I’m at financially. I could be somewhere else entirely, but I’m doing well and that’s all I need.
41:06 Emily: I think finding that point for you where you can have whatever income level it is, where you feel comfortable and happy and if you can have a job that allows you to have that income level and you can feel fulfilled professionally and have the lifestyle that you want, that’s a really sweet spot. Right? I think because we’re speaking to academics, people who have been in academia at least in the past or maybe in the present, I think it’s a pretty well, you know, shared value that being wealthy or being incredibly rich is not the number one priority for everyone, because you wouldn’t have made the life choices that you have at this point if that were the case, right? You would have gone into high finance or you know, high tech or whatever. You would’ve made different choices. But I think what you’re saying is exactly right. If you can find that professional fulfillment, know what the standard things are in that area and just try to optimize where you can within that. I think, for example, your goal as a student or as a postdoc should be to not pay for your own professional travel. Your goal should be to not pay for any component of that out of pocket. You should find funding to cover completely. Now if you fall a little bit short and you end up paying for your meals on one trip or what have you, that’s okay, that’s acceptable. But you should just be trying and striving to find the funds that will cover that. That’s a small way that you can maximize your income/minimize your expenses. After all, this is professional related travel, right? It should be covered by someone else other than you.
42:44 Mallory: I was shocked when I was the young student at traveling and I didn’t know that this was sort of expected people were like, “Why would you be paying for anything? You’re taking this trip because you’re asked to for your career. You shouldn’t be paying for anything.” And I thought, “Oh, you paid for my flight. That’s more than enough. I shouldn’t ask for more.” No. When I went to my first trip to go to this other lab for a couple months and do this research project, they said, “Okay, here and you get $5 a day for food.” And I said, “Okay.” And another student from my group joined and said, “This is ridiculous.” And immediately called up our advisor and said, “They’re giving us $5 a day for food. This is completely unreasonable.” And it immediately became like $10 or $15 a day. So it’s the squeaky wheel gets the grease, a little bit, with stuff like that
43:41 Emily: Well, Mallory, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today and for sharing your insights into these areas.
43:48 Mallory: Thanks very much for having me Emily. It was a lot of fun. I’m happy to talk. Thank you very much.
43:49 Emily: Listeners. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode. PFforPhDs.com/podcast is the hub for the Personal Finance for PhDs podcast. There you can find links to all the episode’s show notes, a form to volunteer to be interviewed, and a way to join the mailing list. I’d love for you to check it out and get more involved. If you want to support the show and my business, please go to PFforPhDs.com/helpout. There are plenty of ways to sell without laying out any of your own money. See you in the next episode, and remember, you don’t have to have a PhD to succeed with personal finance, but it doesn’t hurt. The music is Stages of Awakening by Poddington Bear from the free music archives and it’s shared under CC by NC.
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