In this episode, Emily interviews Patrice French, a PhD student in adult education at Texas A&M. Patrice has a full-time position at her university and is pursuing her PhD part-time. She is paying for her degree through her employee benefits and a small grant she won after searching and applying for over 50 external scholarships and grants. Emily and Patrice discuss her path to the PhD, her decision to maintain her full-time job while in her program, and what she expects the PhD to do for her career going forward. Along the way, they touch on Public Service Loan Forgiveness, repaying consumer debt, side income, investing for retirement, and the positive steps Patrice has taken with her finances over the past few months.
Links Mentioned in This Episode
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Sign up for personal finance coaching
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Wealthy PhD group program sign-up
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Podcast Hub
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Subscribe to the mailing list
- Find Patrice French on Twitter
- This Grad Student Defrayed His Housing Costs By Renting Rooms to His Peers
- How the Promise of Public Service Loan Forgiveness Has Impacted This Prof’s Career and Family Decisions
00:00 Patrice: The reality at the PhD level is that there’s not a lot of funding for part time students and that’s just something that I had to contend with. I’ve scoured the internet, I’ve looked throughout all of our university. I looked at regional associations tied to my degree and it’s just not a lot out there for part time students, so being prepared to really fit the cost of your education is something that you have to think seriously about because there’s not going to be a lot of financial support for you as a part time student.
00:35 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 fifteen and today my guest is Patrice French, a PhD student in adult education at Texas A&M. Patrice has a full time position at her university and is pursuing her PhD part time. She’s paying for her degree through her employee benefits and a small grant she won after searching and applying for over 50 external scholarships and grants. Patrice and I discussed her path to the PhD, her decision to maintain her full time job while in her program, and what she expects the PhD to do for her career going forward. Along the way, we touch on public service loan forgiveness, repaying consumer debt, side income, investing for retirement, and the positive steps Patrice has taken with our finances over the past few months. I’m very excited to share her perspective here on the podcast. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Patrice French.
01:39 Emily: I have joining me on the podcast today, Patrice French and she will be telling us about her journey to the PhD as a part time student and a full time worker. So Patrice, thank you so much for joining me today.
01:52 Patrice: Thank you for having me Emily.
Will You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
01:54 Emily: Please tell us about yourself — where you’re in school, who your employer is, where you live, all those kinds of.
02:01 Patrice: Sure. Well, I am currently at Texas A&M University. I’ve been here a little over three years and this is also where I am pursuing my PhD. I am finished with my second year in my program, which is educational human resource development with an emphasis in adult education, but I like to call it adult education for short because the degree name is a little bit long and people often don’t know what that means. Texas A&M, the main campus is located in College Station, Texas, which is approximately a hundred miles northwest of Houston, Texas. So we’re not too far aside from some major cities in Texas.
02:44 Emily: Yeah, that sounds great. I actually have a little bit of a personal connection, I guess, to your field because my mother-in-law made her career in adult education and ultimately rose to the level of principal of an adult school. So yeah that’s what she’s been up to. Tell us your backstory, maybe from high school or college and what you were studying and what brought you to your current point.
From Social Work to Adult Education
03:12 Patrice: Sure. I have a background in social work actually. I have my bachelor’s and master’s in social work. I went to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas for my undergrad and I got my master’s degree at the University of Michigan, also in social work. So for a little bit of time I was licensed to practice social work in the state of Texas, but while I was pursuing my master’s degree, I learned that my focus on social work was pretty much in the minority because I was more focused on policy analysis, whereas most of my colleagues really wante to work inter-personally with families, children, things like that. I made a strategic decision to build my skill in a way that would support the efforts of social work, but at a macro level. While I was at my master’s program, I was a research intern at a social justice education program and my experience there basically just led me to an opportunity in higher ed doing social justice and multicultural education and basically led to my switch from social work to higher ed, which is where I’ve been for the past 10 years.
04:23 Patrice: My first job outside of my master’s degree, I would definitely say parallels different areas of social work, but I’ve transitioned in some ways to being more entrenched in higher ed where I wouldn’t consider my work to be social work. I did diversity and multicultural education work for four years and I was in St. Louis. I moved from University of Michigan to St. Louis in Missouri. I did that work for four years and then I transitioned to doing academic student success and retention work, where I oversaw unit that was tasked with supporting students who are transitioning to make sure they have their tools and things to be successful for retention, et cetera.
05:11 Patrice: I moved back to Texas about three years ago and some of that was precipitated by a major health event with my father. I was searching at the time, but by happenstance I happened to apply right around the time my father became ill. While I was in Houston, which is where I’m from, being with him, I basically got a really quick offer from Texas A&M. and I said, “well, I guess it’s meant to be that I’m back in Texas.” And a couple months later, I was back and that was in 2016 and I’ve been back since.
05:45 Patrice: As far as my trajectory to pursuing a PhD, I had been thinking about that really since I was in my master’s program and thought that I would work for three years and go back to school and become a social work researcher. But since I’ve kind of floated around outside of social work for so long, I didn’t think that was a good fit anymore, but I really was still interested and ended up exploring different programs either in psych or communication or an education for probably two or three years. I decided to take a break from looking at it because I thought it’d be more advantageous to work. I was not willing to sacrifice my income, and with my father’s health, I just put that on the back burner so I can be closer to him and my family to make sure that they had what they need. I was back at A&M and learned that they had an adult education program in my university and I actually work in the college that also hosts my program. I did some research and just decided to apply and got in. So a year into me working at A&M, I started my doctoral program and I started part time and have been pursuing the program part-time since 2017. It’s been a bit of a journey. I will say that I don’t know if I would recommend working full time and being in a doctoral program part-time or even, I know some colleagues that do it both full time. For me, I don’t really have any major life commitments to where I can’t balance it. I have a dog, but I am child-free, I don’t have a partner. Outside of going to visit my family, which is about an hour or 40 minutes drive away from me, which I usually go twice a month, I don’t have those huge commitments to where that it would make it harder to balance outside of just the commitment of supporting myself and making sure I’m doing what I’m meaning to do with my main employment position. And then just figuring out life and making sure I take care of myself, health wise and things like that. It’s been a lot.
Deciding on a Part-Time PhD
08:11 Emily: I can definitely see how you got to the PhD though. It’s clear from the point when you were in your master’s that the more academic kind of work and training was going to be a good fit at some point and you got there in a slightly different field than you were expecting. That’s great. I think you mentioned a little bit earlier that you didn’t want to sacrifice your income, but was that the main reason to do what you’re doing this way, with full time work and part-time PhD, rather than doing the PhD full time or are those programs not like well-funded or how did you come to that decision?
08:48 Patrice: I believe the year I started at A&M as an employee, they just started a new benefit where staff employees who could pursue a degree and get some tuition assistance. You had to work at the university for a minimum of one year to be eligible for that. The way that it was marketed at the time, I thought it was only $2,000 maximum for your pursuit of your degree or maybe between $2000 and $5,000 just for one year. So I was under the impression that I would be funding most of it myself and my program funds traditional full time students that are able to serve in TA, GA, or RA positions. Funding was not an option for me through my program nor was it at the larger university level because most of the graduate funding and fellowships were full time students. Or all of them actually. I haven’t seen any part time student funding fellowships at the university level. Financially, it would not have worked for me to go back to school full time because I think our average GA/TA salary is about $1,900 a month and most of them fund just traditional fall and spring hours, and the summer. My amount of bills and needing to be available if it was necessary to support my family. It just really wasn’t an option for me and I just didn’t want to sacrifice getting to a place where I was sort of comfortable. I didn’t want to struggle like I had been in graduate and undergrad and so I just decided not to do that.
10:31 Patrice: Up until the time when I got admitted, I was searching furiously for funding opportunities and I think I applied for over 50 external scholarships. I have a very detailed spreadsheet that tracks all of that and I didn’t get anything. I was applying to $500 scholarships from law offices or foundation repairs. It was just everything that didn’t have a stipulation for what a student should be, I applied for, and nothing. Right into the start of my program, I talked to our benefits people at the university and that’s when I learned that the benefit actually is as long as I’m employed at the university full time, I will get up to $5,000 a year in tuition assistance, which breaks down to $2000 for the fall, $2000 for the spring and $1000 for the summer. That, in combination with some fee waivers, which I think equate to about $300 a semester, really covers about 80% of my overall tuition fee costs. That ended up being way more affordable for me to have to come up with maybe $400 or $500 a semester in comparison to $2,600. In my college, our tuition and fees, excluding some of the fees that I don’t have to play as an employee , the tuition is about $2,547 per semester if I’m taking six credit hours. It sounds really inexpensive in comparison to some other institutions and I’m in state as well, so that makes a big difference, but still it wouldn’t be affordable on my salary to pay out of pocket without pursuing any external aid or scholarships or loans.
12:25 Patrice: I made a very intentional decision not to pursue any more student loans because I have them now and they are continuing to accrue interest and things of that nature, based on the payment plans I’m under because I am pursuing the public service loan forgiveness and have been under the income based repayment plan for four years. Now I’m on the pay as you earn, but my balance has increased and although I’m in school, I have chosen to waive my deferment so I can continue to make payment towards my loan so I can increase my qualifications sooner than later. I just didn’t want to occur any more debt and so I decided either I’m paying for this out of pocket as much as I can, so that might mean that it takes me 10 years to finish my degree, or I’m going to try to find some aid. Gratefully, I have been able to cover all of my costs for my program. I also found a small grant that I have to apply for annually, but I’ve gotten each year, that is for $1,500 for the fall and the spring.
13:36 Patrice: My net costs for my degree program has been negative for me out of pocket, meaning that in many cases between the grant and my tuition assistance, I actually get a little bit of a refund that I’m able to put towards books and supplies, software and other general living expenses. It’s actually worked out very well and I’m very grateful that I’m able to pursue my degree pretty aggressively. I think two courses per semester is a lot to be doing while working full time. And I do one in the summer. So far it’s been a very affordable degree. And even with that, I have a very detailed spreadsheet to the penny where I’m able to project how much my total degree is going to cost with fees, tuition, even diploma fee, the dissertation fee, even the regalia, I already haven’t an estimated a cost of total attendance. I’m being very diligent towards those costs, even though they have primarily been covered by my institution.
14:43 Emily: This is a very thorough explanation. Clearly you are on top of all of these different areas, in terms of the, and I’m, I’m glad that you mentioned pursuing all of those like scholarship applications that you did. I mean, only one grant has come of it, which is good, it’s what you needed, but not more than that because it was such a limited pool for part-time options. But it definitely sounds like you’ve been funded to the degree that you need to be and you just have to keep working your full time job and time to do the graduate work on the side. It’s different to work a full time job than to be like a TA, because a TA, tt’s only a 20 hour week per hour per week commitment and you have a presumably 40 hour per week commitment, but also as a professional, you’ve been doing this for a while, you’re very efficient. I can see how this would work out like pretty well, definitely financially, and also how you can manage your time. Before we move on from this, what does the future look like for you? What are your career goals with the PhD?
Post PhD Career Goals
15:56 Patrice: I always wanted to get a PhD for the credentials and that is still my primary goal. When I was admitted to my program, since Texas A&M is such a huge research institution, I wanted to open myself up to opportunities that would expose me to the academy, to what a tenure track faculty position could be for me. Is this something that I can see myself doing? So I’ve been building my experiences to both pursue the degree itself and also build my CV to give me opportunities, through publications, research experience. I’m still on the fence about whether or not I’m interested in an academic career and I’m leaning towards that not being for me and I do feel like I have a lot of skill and I’ve gotten some really positive feedback from my professors and peers in the field at conferences I’ve attended, but I don’t know if it’s for me in terms of the work with the writing and a lot has changed in the academy with how competitive it is. And quite honestly, based on my research, I would likely be taking a pay cut and would essentially be transitioning to a new career track that would take me maybe five to seven years to recoup the my salary that I had built thus far. And I don’t know if I’m willing to sacrifice that. I don’t really foresee myself getting a partner anytime soon, that may contribute to making a change in that decision. Aafter this, I do foresee myself staying in higher education. My current role right now is that I’m in an academic administrative position overseeing a program assessment that’s tied to some accreditation needs. It’s very much an administrative role, but there are lots of opportunities in higher ed that with the PhD specifically will open up opportunities. So I’m not too worried about where I’m going to land. I’m just gonna hold on for dear life for right now so I can finish my degree and then make some decisions about that. I’m crossing my fingers, I should be finished by the end of 2021 with everything. I have a year and a half left of coursework, so I should be done fall 2020, and my goal is to devote 2021 to writing. By 2022 I should be at a place to evaluate where I am and make some decisions, things like that. I don’t know, we’ll see.
18:30 Emily: You anticipated my next question because you had offhandedly said earlier, “Oh, might take me 10 years to finish,” but that definitely does not sound like the plan that you see yourself on, so that’s really, really good to hear.
18:45 Emily: Emily here for a brief interlude. As a listener of this podcast, every week you hear strategies that another PhD has used to improve their financial picture. But listening and learning does not automatically translate into action in your own financial life. If you are ready to change how you think about and handle your money, but need some help getting started, I can be of service. There are two main ways you can work with me to create and implement a financial plan tailored for you. First, I offer one-on-one financial coaching, either as a single session or a series, as you make changes over the long term. You can find out more at PFforPhDs.com/coaching. Second, I offer a group program called The Wealthy PhD that is part coaching, part course, and part community. You can find out more and join the wait list for the next time I open the program at PFforPhDs.com/wealthyPhD. I believe it’s possible to succeed with your finances at every stage of PhD training and throughout your career. Let’s figure out together how to make that happen for you. Now, back to the interview.
Side Hustling for Extra Income
19:59 Emily: So in terms of funding your PhD, we’ve talked about you have your salary. Thankfully you haven’t, it sounds like, had to use your salary directly to fund the PhD. You have your tuition assistance from your employer. You have this grant that you won. But you told me that you also side hustle, so can you tell me about that?
20:16 Patrice: Yes, I am trying to find multiple ways to supplement my income even though I feel like I’m pretty stable. I did buy a home a couple of years ago and so there’s some costs that I’m looking to cover in terms of maintenance and repairs that are eating away at my salary more than I anticipated and I’m trying to recoup my savings. I have done a number of things. I have done freelancing editing work. I am renting out a room in my house with a colleague and friend of mine. I have done a lot of freelancing stuff as well, mostly editing. And something that’s more towards my student loans, I am partnered with an organization that basically connects nonprofit organizations with freelancers that have a level of skill that the organization needs and upon successful completion of a project, that organization will pay my student loans directly in the form of a stipend. And so I’ve done a couple projects. I haven’t done that many because I’m super busy, but that is another way that I’ve tried to indirectly try to pay down some of my debt with my loans even though I still plan on pursuing public service loan forgiveness, but I don’t know if I will continue to pursue that because it’s counted as income. So I did get a miscellaneous 1099 and it’s taxed, so I don’t know how advantageous it is for me to not see those costs directly, and how it affects my taxes. That’s pretty much what I’ve done. I don’t have a lot of time to do a lot of freelance stuff. Before I started, before I moved here, I did Ubering for a while, which was more lucrative for the drivers than it is now, hearing what I’ve heard, because I do still have some peers that drive for it. But I’m pretty busy so I don’t have a lot of times to do work that takes a lot of time, so any way that I can make free money, that’s where I’m kind of looking at now. The rental income is an easy way to do that and it works out both for myself and my friend because she gets to save money because she’s also in a doctoral program and is really looking to save on costs from renting her own apartment. And I’m able to get a little bit extra income that can go to other things.
22:45 Emily: Yeah, I was going to say the rental income sounds like the perfect solution in your situation because a full time job plus being a PhD student plus trying to side hustle where the side hustling involves trading your time for money, that is a lot on your plate and as you said, you’re visiting your family and so forth. The rental income is really just leveraging another asset you have, not your time, but your home, in a new way. That sounds like a really a really good fit. I’ve published an episode on the podcast before about a homeowner who rents out, who at the time was renting out rooms to his friends and how it was really just, while interpersonally challenging in a couple of ways, really overall very beneficial, mutually. So a good situation when you are able to rent to someone that you know and like and want to be around and trust to pay the rent on time and so forth.
Student Loan Repayment as a Part-Time PhD Student
23:38 Emily: You’ve mentioned your student loans a couple of times and your pursuit of PSLF. I meant to say earlier, it actually makes a lot of sense to me if you are into PSLF to not, I guess go to graduate school full time because I think that would have stopped the clock on that, I’m assuming.
23:56 Patrice: Yes. As long as I’m have my employment verified for full time employment, it would not. It still defers my loans automatically, but there is a one-time option to submit for a waiver of the deferment. You have to either stick with it or you don’t, they’re not going to give you the option to go back and forth, so I made that decision before I started, so I never had a lapse in my qualifying payments for that reason. I’m just sticking very diligently to and really connecting with the loan servicer in regards to where I am and I’m making my minimum payments and just chugging away.
24:37 Emily: And I think you may have mentioned earlier, are the student loans totally from your master’s degree or also from undergrad?
24:44 Patrice: They’re a combination. My undergrad degree was, my first two years were fully funded by scholarships and due to some transition and changes, a part of that was there was an increase in tuition of about up to 7% per year. And TCU is a private institution, so that 5-7% on $19,000, it makes a difference. My last two years of my undergrad, I think I took a total out of, I think, $14,000 and my master’s degree, I took out $24,000 and my master’s funding was only to cover my living expenses because I had a scholarship that covered all of my tuition and fees. While I tried to find employment while I was at Michigan, it was getting really tricky, so I just decided to take out the loans. I was only there for a 13 month program anyway, so I figured, let me just focus on my education and get out and just deal with the loans later. Total for both my degrees it’s about $36,000, but my balance is about $37,500 now eight and a half years later due to the accrual of interest and capitalization since I’ve been on the income based repayment plan instead of the standard option. So it’s just sitting there.
26:01 Emily: I’ve also done other other episodes where we discuss PSLF, very common in our community to be either pursuing it or considering it. What do you think about that decision now, eight and a half years in? Was PSLF the right route for you?
26:17 Patrice: I think it is. My salary when I was right out of my master’s degree was about $30,000 a year and it was in a state that took out state and local taxes, so my take home was about $1,800 per month. I think my standard payment at the time would’ve been about $400. That is a little bit under a quarter of my salary, and so I was really intentional about thinking about the options. I know I’m likely going to stay in nonprofit higher ed. That really wouldn’t be too much of a challenge to pursuing other employment options in lieu of a public service option. Really the salary and then my employment options were my main decisions behind that. I’m a little bit antsy about it given the challenges that I’ve been hearing about, but I think by the time that I’m qualified for forgiveness, there will have been…One, I think that any changes they make will affect new borrowers and not existing borrowers. Let’s say they take it away. I think that it won’t affect me. I think a lot of the hiccups that have happened with the borrowers that are qualifying now will have been remedied by the time that I qualify, which honestly should be in 2022, but I have some payments that are under review that I’ve not gotten a straight answer on in over a year. So my date is September 2023. So within 2022 or 23, I should have a qualification for forgiveness. I’m trying to stick to my decision. That’s why I’m on the fence whether or not I’m going to ambitiously start paying them down, or if I should just stick to the minimum payments because it really aggravates me to see my balance to staying. Because I’ve also been able to maintain a taxable adjusted salary that is, that keeps my payments pretty low. I have a very good accountant that’s able to, with my freelance income, to reduce my income a lot to where what’s reported helps to keep those payments low, which is a goal of mine since I am still covering a lot of other things. But I don’t know. We’ll see. If it happens that it no longer is advantageous for me, then I will make plans to pay them down because I am on a pretty ambitious consumer debt plan right now to where I should be done with all of my consumer debt, excluding my mortgage and my student loans, by next year. And so that should free up a lot of salary, especially if I continue to get some supplemental income through renting my room or stuff like that. So if it happens that I want to change my mind, I’ll just start ambitiously paying it down and will get rid of it.
29:19 Emily: You sound, overall, pretty optimistic about the program. I share your optimism.
29:25 Patrice: Cautiously, I’m cautiously —
29:27 Emily: Yeah, very good point. And really since you’ve been on the plan for eight years, it makes sense to hold out for that last 20% and just see it through and hope for the best.
Other Financial Goals
29:40 Emily: Tell about your other financial goals. You mentioned other debt repayment.
29:45 Patrice: Yes. So my goals right now are to really get a hold on my consumer debt. I have a little bit of credit card debt. I have a car that I have a year and a few months left back on that. I actually have been listening to a lot of your podcasts and reading the blog and have put together a debt plan where I think I’m using the avalanche method to really just target one area of debt at a time. I’m targeting the highest interest rate and then just tackling it and then going to the next. I have a pretty robust plan that if I stick to it, I should be done with everything by the end of June. I have a couple of credit cards and I have a car payment that I think has about $6,000 left on it. I had a really good interest rate on that. It has 2% interest on my car. Really, it wouldn’t save me that much. I have a loan for doing some home repairs and I would pay off a year early, a little bit under, maybe 10 months early on my current plan. I’m really just focused on getting the consumer debt down.
30:57 Patrice: I also want to build up my savings because partially me buying a house, there were some unanticipated expenses of repair really early on to me purchasing them. Since I had done so much on the down payment, I didn’t have the savings to do the repairs, so that was part of the reason why I have a loan for doing some of their repairs. By paying off all of this debt, it will free up a lot of my income so I can start saving, which is a big goal. I’d really like to have more of a cushion than I have right now. Besides that, some larger goals are to just do a lot better at my mid-term and long-term planning. I usually would just plan month to month and all my bills are really the same, so they’re on auto repayments. Any overspending I’m doing or not planning ahead is my fault, quite honestly, unless there’s an unexpected expense, like if my tire blew out or something. But a part of it is just me just being too social and liking to go out and drink and eat out when I can easily just eat at home. It’s just being more fortuitous on my budget so that I could meet some of these financial goals and I’m being less reliant on overspending and really trying to plan out.
32:19 Patrice: I actually have a spreadsheet that is between now and 2020 that kind of plans out how much I’m expected to spend on all my bills, which really shouldn’t change. And then as those debt balances go down, I anticipate that my salary is going to go up so I can start planning for more savings and planning around travel because that’s a big thing that I don’t do a good job at. If I’m traveling for a conference, which a lot of that is self funded, or I’m just going to visit friends and stuff, I kind of just figure it out, and usually me figuring out is putting on my credit card and paying it off later, which isn’t the best approach. I’ve actually applied for a credit card that has a really good mileage rate. There are no airports that are really close to me where I have a preferred airline and so I’m really focusing on putting my recurring bills on that card to build up points, so that I can use that for more of my travel instead of just relying on just any old card. I’m trying to be a little bit more savvy with things. I definitely think when I get through with my debt, I won’t really have to worry about trickling back to my credit cards since there will be so much more flexibility in my salary or my take home anyway. That’s about it.
33:40 Emily: Yeah. It sounds like you’re tackling now the personal finance side of things with the same kind of diligence and energy that you were in these other earlier areas that we discussed more related to your career. That sounds amazing. There are so many wonderful strategies that you just laid out and so I hope that everyone caught them the first time around. Great stuff that you’re doing right now. How are you doing on long-long-term, like retirement stuff? Does your employer already do a lot of that?
34:10 Patrice: Yeah. My previous employer, I worked at and institution in St. Louis, I forget what they matched up to, but after the year I was able to contribute at a matching rate up at least to 5%, but I think I might be wrong.I have a 403b that is sitting, that I haven’t touched, I’m just letting it accrue. And then I have a separate retirement plan since I worked for the state of Texas. They take a little bit longer to get vested in, so they’re contributing an equal amount, which is 7.6%, that I’m contributing each month. But after five years I’ll be fully vested as an employee. Um, so if I ever leave I can just let it stay there, I can come back and it’s a really robust retirement system. I will definitely be here long enough to get vested. Those are my main two things and because of that, I haven’t really pursued any other retirement options such as a Roth IRA or things like that, because I’m well-matched at my institutions and I think it’s the equivalent of a pension retirement with the state of Texas. I don’t think it’s your traditional investment fund. I think it’s fully funded and that my eligibility I think is at 55 years age or the equivalent of I think 20 years of service or something. If I wanted to, if I ended up staying in the state of Texas or at this institution, I would have the option to retire at 55 because I’ve been working here since before I was 30. I think it’s a good option. That’s something I’m paying attention to more readily, but I’ve been contributing to my retirement since I was 22, at a minimum of at least 2.5% of my salary, which was not a lot at the time because I was making $30,000 or $33,000 or whatever. But definitely at a point now I’m maxing out the full contributions and maybe if my salary is freed up once I start paying off my debt and have a more sizable savings and I might take out in a Roth IRA to maximize their savings as well. Or I think I’m also looking into some investments, but that’s kind of a long-term thing. I would feel more comfortable pursuing investments once all of my debt is free, so I’ll have a lot more pocket money to play with, assuming that I’m in the same role I’m in now, making the same salary that I am.
36:41 Emily: Yeah. I can definitely see this as one of the advantages of doing the PhD part-time while working full time is that not only do you have the higher salary, but you have these benefits that graduate students never receive. That’s awesome. And it seems like over the next two, three, four years, a lot of different pieces of your finances are going to get a lot easier, right? That’s going to be paid and PSLF will either come through or you’ll have to focus on paying off in another way. Other consumer debt will be gone. It really seems like…And of course when you finish your PhD and your salary hopefully will change, it’ll really be a pretty nice rosy picture at that time and you’ll be able to pursue the IRA or other types of savings, or whatever lifestyle stuff, whatever you want at that point.
37:29 Patrice: Yes. Yes. That’s my goal. Something I neglected to mention is hat my tuition benefit that the university is actually really smart in this because if you’re pursuing graduate level work, and you get tuition assistance from your employer in excess of $5,250 in a calendar year, anything over that amount would be taxed as income. And my previous institution gave a hundred percent tuition remission, but it was a private institution and tuition was about, I think $25,000 a year. So even if you were pursuing part time, most of my colleagues that were pursuing degrees, they would actually end up owing taxes annually because of that. Then our employer worked out a deal where you can just pay the taxes out of your salary, so it wouldn’t feel like such a big hit. But I don’t have to worry about the tuition assistance being a taxable benefit because it’s right under that mark in a calendar year, which is fantastic.
Financial Advice for Part-Time PhDs
38:32 Emily: Yeah, because I mostly deal with full time students, it’s something that I’m like, “Oh yeah, I remember those numbers, I remember being aware of that,” but it’s not something I’m intimately familiar with, so I’m glad you can tell us about that on the podcast. As we wrap up here, what is your best financial advice for another PhD student? Perhaps a part time student.
38:54 Patrice: I would definitely say, look and find as many resources as you can to fund your education. Depending on your program, there may be funding through grants. For example, I’m on a research project right now, that I’m not being funded on, but they got a little bit of money to fund graduate students for extra work. I know that it may be something to consider between the time you’re already spending working, but there is funding out there within your programs, through a lot of the research that’s being done. It’s really just being proactive to ask for it and also don’t feel like you have to rush to graduate and get it done. That’s something that I had to reconcile with, and I had to keep asking myself, why am I really pushing to get this done by this date? And there’s no real answer to that. So if you are reasonable with your time, that is something to make it really affordable, in terms of whether or not you’re going to pursue self funding or program funding or even things like loans and stuff like that. I have a colleague of mine that she and her husband actually bought an RV and we are a huge tailgating community at Texas A&M and she actually rents out her RV during our football season and that is partially how she’s able to fund her cost of her program. And so I’ve heard of some really creative things in addition to just the taking out loans or paying out of pocket that have helped support them.
Patrice: Unfortunately the reality at the PhD level is that there’s not a lot of funding for part time students and that’s just something that I had to contend with. In doing my exhaustive internet search, I was on some premium scholarship websites where you pay a fee to look in databases. I’ve scoured the internet, I’ve looked throughout all of our university. I looked at regional associations tied to my degree and it’s just not a lot out there for part time students. So being prepared to really fit the cost of your education is something that you have to think seriously about because there’s not going to be a lot of financial support for you as a part time student, even if your program gives a lot of flexibility in the pursuit of your degree, which my program does by offering a number of courses online and then in the evening. So it doesn’t really conflict with my nine to five, eight to five work schedule, but it just is hard. There’s just no way around it , there really isn’t. Maybe for some people that are in a partner relationship that it’s more feasible for them. Thankfully through my benefits I am able to not really worry about my cost, but if I wasn’t, I definitely would be taking a lot more time to pursue my degree because I am very much committed to not incurring any more student loan debt.
41:45 Emily: Yeah, I think the listeners can pretty well trust what you’re saying, when you say I have scoured the internet because you’re obviously very thorough in your work and so it’s disappointing to hear that, but better to be realistic about the situation than to go into it hoping that you’re going to win something that’s just not available to you. Thank you so much for joining me on the podcast. I am so glad to have your perspective here.
42:08 Patrice: Thank you so much Emily. I’m glad I’m able to share.
42:12 Emily: Listeners, thank you for joining me for this episode. PFforPphDs.com/podcast is the hub for the Personal Finance for PhDs podcast. There, you can find links to all the episode show notes and a form to volunteer to be interviewed. I’d love for you to check it out and get more involved. If you’ve been enjoying the podcast, here are four ways you can help it grow. One, subscribe to the podcast and rate and review it on Apple podcast, Stitcher, or whatever platform you use. Two, share an episode you found particularly valuable on social media or with your PhD peers. Three, recommend me as a speaker to your university or association. My seminars covered the personal finance topics PhDs are most interested in, like investing, debt repayment, and taxes. Four, subscribe to my mailing list at PFforPhDs.com/subscribe. Through that list, you’ll keep up with all the new content and special opportunities for Personal Finance for PhDs. 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 Poddington Bear from the Free Music Achive and is shared under CC by NC. Podcast editing and show notes creation by Lourdes Bobbio.
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