In this episode, Emily interviews Dr. Travis Seifman, a postdoc at the University of Tokyo. During graduate school, Travis lived in university housing at multiple universities, but chiefly two campuses of the University of California. While the housing was subsidized and convenient to arrange, Travis noted a few downsides and annoyances. Travis and Emily discuss the differences between university housing and private housing and wonder how best to allocate this scarce resource. Travis proposes an adjustment in the approach that universities can take toward their housing administration: “Make it reasonable for adults.” This episode, recorded in August 2019, should serve as a conversation starter regarding the objective of university housing and its administration, especially in the era of COVID-19.
Links Mentioned in the Episode
- Find Dr. Travis Seifman on his website and on Twitter
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Community
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Podcast Hub
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00:00 Travis: The purpose of university housing is not to make money for the university. The purpose of university housing is to provide an affordable place to live for students, in light of the fact that we’re only making X amount and they know full well that we’re only making X amount. And in light of the fact that in many of these communities, local housing, regular market housing is extremely expensive. Making it affordable, and then also making it reasonable for adults.
00:31 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 seven, episode four, and before we jump into the interview, I have some personal and business updates to share with you. I’m going to start adding short updates to the beginning of each episode. This week, I have a pretty huge one on both the personal and business front, which is that my family moved from Seattle, Washington to Orange County, California at the end of August, my husband and I lived in Seattle for five years and had both of our kids while we lived there, so it’s a big change for all of us. This move brings us one step closer to our next financial goal of buying our very first home, which we are trying to do in 2021. I am documenting all the steps we’re taking to reach that goal in my progress journal inside the Personal Finance for PhDs community. If you want to keep up with our journey, or document your own, or access the multitude of resources in the community, you can find it at pfforphds.community. Now onto the interview.
01:35 Emily: My guest is Dr. Travis Seifman, a postdoc at the university of Tokyo. During graduate school, Travis lived in university housing at multiple universities, but chiefly two campuses of the University of California. While the housing was subsidized and convenient to arrange, Travis noted a few downsides and annoyances. We discussed the differences between university housing and private housing, and wonder how best to allocate this scarce resource. Travis proposes an adjustment in the approach that universities can take toward their housing administration: make it reasonable for adults. I expect that this episode recorded in August, 2019 will serve as a conversation starter regarding the objective of university housing and its administration, especially in the era of COVID-19. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Dr. Travis Seifman.
Can You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
02:29 Emily: I have joined me on the podcast today, Dr. Travis Seifman. I’m delighted to have him. Travis, thank you so much for joining me. We’re going to be talking today about university-affiliated housing and Travis’s wide range of experiences with university affiliated housing. So Travis, thank you for joining me today, and will you please tell the audience a little bit more about yourself?
02:49 Travis: Thanks so much for having me, Emily. I’ve just finished my PhD in history at UC Santa Barbara, University of California, Santa Barbara, this year. My main research focus is on early modern Japan and Okinawa and rituals, diplomatic relations between them. I previously did two master’s degrees, actually at the University of Hawaii and the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Um, so I’ve lived in a few different places. And during my research, I also lived for a short time at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, and at the University of Tokyo.
Travis’s Experience with University-Affiliated Housing
03:25 Emily: And all these different places that you’ve lived, at least some of them, or most of them you’ve lived in what I’m saying is university-affiliated housing. Can you describe the housing situations — main situation or multiple — that you’ve had?
03:37 Travis: Yeah, sure. Just to say it very briefly. When I was at SOAS in London, I stayed in grad student dorms, university housing. University of Hawaii, I stayed in regular private departments for one year. And then for two years, I lived at the East West Center, a federally funded think tank organization located adjacent to the university of Hawaii. So I lived in their dorms for a couple of years. Then, when I moved to UC Santa Barbara, they have dorms for single grad students and they also have family housing. I’ve lived in both of those, and I’ve also lived with my girlfriend at the family housing at UCLA. And during my research trips, I stayed at university dorms, visiting researcher dorms at both University of Ryukyus and university of Tokyo.
04:22 Emily: Why don’t you start with where you UCSB where did your PhD? What was your experience there with that housing?
04:28 Travis: To a certain extent, I would say it’s overall positive, simply in that university housing is always an easy go to option when you’re moving across the country or even moving to a different country. You know how to apply for it. You don’t have to arrive early, or get a hotel while you search for apartments and all this kind of stuff. And it’s often cheaper than the housing that’s around.
04:50 Emily: Do you think that it’s sometimes or usually is cheaper than going off campus because the accommodations are different, like maybe less private, for example, than what you’d get off campus, or have you actually lived in like subsidized university housing?
05:08 Travis: I think everywhere I’ve lived has been subsidized, whether it’s subsidized enough is another question. One place we could start is to just talk about the price. When I was living in the single dorms, the single person dorms at UC Santa Barbara to begin with my first year, the rent was somewhere around $980 per person in a four bedroom apartment. And the apartments in that area are somewhere around that cost. It’s the most I’ve ever paid to live anywhere. It was more than I paid to live in a private apartment in Honolulu. It was more than I’ve paid anywhere else that I’ve lived in my life for dorms in Goleta, which is a town that I had never heard of before I even moved there. We’re not even in Santa Barbara proper.
05:52 Emily: One clarifying question — you were living in a single person room, right? You had a private room in a four bedroom suite, is that right?
06:00 Travis: Yeah, it’s four individual private rooms, shared in a suite. It was $980, or somewhere around there, per month. And after I think, my second or third year there, the grad student association, or perhaps it was the TA union, actually managed to negotiate with the administration to get the rent lowered to $780, which I thought was an incredible victory. I don’t know how typical that is at other campuses, but we did manage to get it down. Regardless of what the market can bear in the area, it’s much more reasonable based on what we’re being paid.
06:38 Emily: Do you mind sharing what your stipend was at that time?
06:41 Travis: I believe it was somewhere around $1,900 a month, so if you spend half of that on rent —
06:46 Emily: Yeah, that’s quite high.
06:48 Travis: Yeah, and meanwhile, the family housing was somewhere around $1,300 a month, so you’re paying $1,300 for an entire apartment. I understand, obviously, subsidizing for families because they need it more, they have more dependents, but just to sort of mentioned that.
07:07 Emily: When you describe family housing or a whole apartment, are you saying it’s a studio or a one bedroom, two bedroom? How large is it?
07:14 Travis: Yeah, so I forget what precisely the rates are, but UCSB family housing has one bedroom apartments, they have two bedroom apartments. There’s a number of different configurations, but basically one bedroom and two bedroom, and I think they charge somewhere around $1,300 a month. And I’ve lived in one of those two bedroom apartments for a year as well.
07:36 Emily: So that was $1,300 for the entire apartment, so split between two presumably adults, maybe they have kids or maybe they don’t.
07:47 Travis: Yeah, exactly. So split between two adults, presumably both adults have some kind of income, but you know, one of them might not, one might be on a grad student stipend and the other one might be stay at home spouse, with children.
08:01 Emily: I think that’s not uncommon among international students, that if you get a spousal visa, the spouse is not permitted to work in the United States.
08:10 Travis: Right. That’s true. I hadn’t actually thought about that point. That’s true.
University-Affiliated Housing vs. the Private Market
08:13 Emily: How did it compare for you as a renter in that place versus if you had gone to the private market, as you had in the past?
08:22 Travis: When you’re working with the university housing, at least you have the advantage of that there’s an entire administration there and you kind of know who to talk to, as opposed to finding the landlord, like how do I actually get in touch with them? And to be fair, I suppose a lot of the rules probably aren’t too different, in terms of whether or not you’re allowed to have pets, most apartments don’t allow pets. Most landlords don’t want you repainting the walls or putting nails in the walls or anything like that. So in terms of a lot of those things, I suppose, I can’t say it’s too different. University housing has the opportunity to be more caring and more understanding about students. The idea that a landlord is in it for the money, that’s just the way things are. The university, ostensibly is not in it for the money. They’re in it to provide housing for members of their community. And so there’s an opportunity there to say, not just anything goes, but just to kind of be understanding of people’s needs, provide allowances, and just be a little bit more open.
09:30 Emily: I think what you’re saying is these students are part of the university community, right? The university is also their employer in many cases, or the administrator of their fellowships. It’s where they’re spending all their time and you’re part of this specific group. It’s not like when you go to the open market and as you said, it’s basically just about price, that’s it. It’s not intentionally trying to foster community or positive relationships between the landlord or the tenants or among the tenants or anything. So university housing is in a different position in that way. And like you said, one of the really positive things that it does is it makes it easy for students who are moving to a new area to find housing. They know they’re not going to be hosed. They’re not going to get in with a bad landlord or whatever. If it’s provided by the university, they know they have already a degree of trust there, is that right?
10:20: Right, right. And I think two places where private housing has the advantage over university housing because of the way that it’s administered, is in terms of access to guests, for example. I’ve had private landlords who’ve said we don’t want really loud parties, we don’t want you disrupting the whole community. But generally you have a key to your apartment that you can give to a guest if you’re leaving for a week or whatever it is. Nobody needs to know about it. You can have overnight guests and nobody needs to know about it. You can sublease and whether that’s officially allowed or not under the lease, you can sublease and people generally don’t have to know about it. University housing, they have all kinds [rules] — you can only sublease to single students who are actively UCSB students. Or if you’re in a family apartment, you can only sublease to people who qualify to be in a family apartment. If you’re going away for the summer, or if you’re going to wait for a whole year to do your research, it’s extremely limiting and for no really good reason.
11:21 Travis: A lot of university apartments, typically at UCSB, they’ve instituted that you don’t have any kind of key to your apartment. You open it with your student card. So again, if I’m even just having a guest over for one night, and I need my student card to get myself into stuff on campus, I can’t give them the card to get into the apartment. It’s these kinds of, I guess, on their point of view, it helps them enforce things maybe, or maybe it’s just a convenience that they didn’t think about the ramifications of, but it’s that kind of stuff where I’m an adult and who’s to say that I can’t have overnight guests. And even at the University of Tokyo apartments, even though the rules said that your overnight guest has to be officially a family member — a sibling, parent, or spouse, or child, I guess — when I actually, when my girlfriend actually came to visit me, they said, “well, we’ve put her down as your sister, so don’t worry about it.” And it’s that kind of, we can get into it later or maybe not, but it’s that kind of being willing to bend the rules that I think is, or not even bend the rules, but just be willing to help students rather than I’m here to enforce the rules, which I think a lot housing departments could afford to have a bit more of.
12:33 Emily: Yeah, that’s interesting. Thanks for providing the example of how you actually access your home. I was thinking, I guess it kind of makes sense for security purposes that you don’t want keys being given out and anybody being able to access whatever, especially because you have roommates within your suite, right?
12:51 Travis: That’s true. And security is an issue.
12:53 Emily: But like you said, it doesn’t allow for any discretion on the part of the actual person who lives there. And you wouldn’t have that kind of — I mean, with landlords, it’s like, okay, you’re not allowed to make copies of your keys. Most likely that’s in the lease somewhere. But as you said, it doesn’t mean you can’t allow your guests to have access a time or two when you’re not physically with them. It’s again, up to your discretion, as the person having the guest over.
Interplay Between the University and it’s Housing Office
13:18 Emily: What other experiences would you like to share?
13:20 Travis: One main thing that I would like to touch upon as I touched upon a little bit already is just the idea of having the staff there to say, I’m here to help you, I’m here to help you figure things out rather than I’m here to enforce rules. To give just a couple of examples of that, UCSB housing, if you have your own car, you can register that car, not any other. Only one car and you can park in the parking structure every day. If you don’t have your own car, you get, I believe it’s two visitor park passes a month and it’s included in your rent. I had my girlfriend coming up from LA however often, and granted that’s not allowed under the lease to be having overnight guests, but even so you won’t let me register her car because it’s not in my name, so what am I supposed to do, how am I supposed to have people park? I’m allowed to park all the time. It’s included in my rent if I have my own car, but because I don’t, I only get two passes a month. Anyway, the point of the story is to say that you walk in and the administrators say, “I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them” rather than saying, “I don’t make the rules. And I know they’re stupid, so let me tell you, actually, you can park over there over the weekends, or actually you can park here, or actually, if you use this code, you can get extra visitor passes.” Fill me in on what tricks or tips there are for making this more viable. And similarly —
14:56 Emily: I think that’s a more generalizable problem with bureaucracy, and the people who enforce it, as you said, rather than actually make the rules, but the people who are on the ground, interacting with those who are displeased about the rules. Often, the first response is just a recitation of this is the rule. Like I know the rules and this is the rule. It’s a little bit harder to find someone who’s willing to like find a creative solution. And often those people know what the creative solutions are because they know the rules so well, they’re supposed to enforce them, so they know the ways around them. It’s nice when you do find someone who is willing to work with you, but it might be something that you have to push for a little bit like, “I know the rule, but like, is there another way that I can get the result that I’m going for without breaking the rule?”
15:39 Travis: Right. Exactly. And that has to do with the way that university housing is integrated into the university administration, rather than being a separate entity, because if you have a private landlord, you can deal with them and they might be more friendly or less friendly that you can deal with them without it impacting reputation with the administration or I don’t know what to say, because it’s so integrated. And then of course, you have the opposite problem as well that very often housing is not integrated well enough into the administration, and I’ve had times when the cashier’s office agreed to let me defer my rent beausethe knew they hadn’t paid me. They knew that I wasn’t in the payroll yet, so they agreed to defer my rent for a few months and then nobody told housing.
16:21 Emily: Can you talk a little bit more about that? Because not being paid on time is actually a surprisingly common problem among graduate students. You would think that if whatever the problem was — the fellowship didn’t come through, it wasn’t processed on time, whatever it was — that housing, being affiliated with the university, they would have some procedures in place for “Oh yeah, this happens sometimes. It’s not the student’s fault. It’s again on the administration, and we have this policy where they can not pay rent for awhile.” You would hope that that would be in place. Whereas with the landlord, it might be a lot of hoops you have to jump through to convince them that it’s okay for you to not pay rent. Maybe you’ll get kicked out. That’s a possibility. So it sounds like it didn’t operate quite so smoothly for you.
17:05 Travis: Right. Actually that’s a really good point too, in terms of the pros and cons of university housing. The landlord doesn’t care whether you’ve been paid or not. I mean, they could choose to be flexible on a personal basis. Whereas the university you’re hoping it’s more integrated that they know. This particular case at Santa Barbara, it worked out very well in the end. Generally speaking, I’ve had overall, I don’t know why, but somehow UC Santa Barbara administration overall seems to be the least problematic of places that I’ve interacted with. They do seem to get their stuff together. When I first arrived at, at UCSB, as happens, I think anywhere that you go, it takes a little time to get into the payroll system. The semester or the academic year starts at the very end of September, so until you’ve worked through the month of October, then you get paid at the beginning of November. Otherwise they have no work to pay you for just yet. For whatever reason, maybe it’s typical for undergrads to pay for their housing on a quarterly basis rather than on a monthly basis. So originally they charged me three months rent at once and they wanted to take it all out of my fellowship before I could even pay my credit card bills, before I could buy groceries, before I could do anything else. Long story short, I talked to the cashier’s office and they were understanding and flexible and they agreed to not only put me back onto a monthly basis, but also to defer it so I didn’t have to pay the first few months rent until November. I then started receiving notices from the housing office saying that I hadn’t paid the rent.
18:44 Emily: So it was more of an internal communication problem within the housing office.
18:46 Travis: Right. It was just an internal communication problem between the cashier’s office on campus and the housing office over by the dorms.
18:56 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, which I add to every month. There is also a discussion forum, monthly live calls with me, book club 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.
Single vs. Family University-Affiliated Housing
19:59 Emily: And then the other thing that you brought up that I was interested in is you brought this up a little bit earlier about the price differential between single student housing and family housing, and you mentioned to me earlier that what is the definition of a family is a little bit of a strange thing to be talking about with university housing, right?
20:21 Travis: Right. Sure. At UCSB and I think probably UCLA as well are quite flexible and quite open minded about what counts as a family. I hope that it works similarly at other campuses. I hope that it does. At UCSB, when I applied for family housing with my girlfriend, you don’t have to be married, you don’t have to be in a hetero relationship. All kinds of different possibilities are possible — single parent with children, all kinds of different possibilities are acceptable. But you have to prove it. And I understand why on the administrative side, because you have such a limited number of units for family housing, you want to make sure that the people who are living there are actually families who are ostensibly more in need of the extra subsidized apartments. So I understand from the administrative side that they have to find some way of kind of proving that you’re a family.
21:28 Travis: At UCLA, they just do that through a very limited set of things. You have to have a shared bank account, proof of a former lease that you used to lease together under both of your names, marriage certificates, other kinds of very formal things. UCSB, for better or for worse, they say, even if you don’t have those kinds of very formal documents, you can share with us Facebook posts, texts, screenshots of your personal and private stuff to help try to show, try to prove that you’re in a meaningful relationship. So we shared with them screenshots from Facebook and from texting to say, “Oh, my parents are coming in for Thanksgiving. Are you going to be coming to dinner with us?” Or things like this.
22:18 Emily: This reminds me a little bit of, and I only know about this from TV or whatever, about green card marriages. Not green card marriages, but marriages in which a green card is involved and like having to prove to the government that you are actually in a romantically-inspired marriage, as opposed to some other kind of arrangement. It seems a little bit of overstepping.
22:45 Emily: I guess what I’m curious about with respect to family housing, and maybe this gets into more what you think or what you think the university thinks the purpose of family housing is? What do you think the purpose of it is? And is it accomplishing that purpose?
23:00 Travis: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think it’s a complicated issue because I think that for families, especially for grad students, like I was saying before, if one partner is on a grad student stipend and the other partners being a stay at home spouse, stay at home parent. Or even if both parents are on grad student stipends, you’re providing an opportunity, providing a way for them to live affordably as a family, with their dependents. For those in those situations obviously it’s a very good thing that that’s provided. I can’t imagine how some of my friends managed to afford…just how do you afford to live? We get paid roughly $1,900 a month. If your rent is $1,300 a month for the whole apartment, and that’s your only income for an entire family with one or two kids, I don’t know how people do it. So I appreciate that they have family housing for that purpose.
24:05 Travis: But then of course the flip side is that the single students are saying, just because I’m single, just because I don’t happen to have a romantic partner or a larger family, I have to pay more per person at least to stay in these smaller apartments. I personally have never had problem with being in a dorm room situation where I have my private room attached to a common room. But I know a lot of people also who say, I’m an adult and I want a whole apartment to myself or something like this. UCLA has studio apartments for single grad students and they charge a lot of money for them. UCSB the only option on campus is these two or four bedroom apartments, like I was talking about before.
24:54 Emily: Yeah. I guess this conversation is making me think about what is the purpose of family housing? Because like you said, it’s a differentially applied benefit. There’s more subsidy available to some people because of their family versus other people. And is that fair or is that not? But we were talking about university housing versus private off campus housing, where off campus the only regulation you’re going to find is a maximum number of people who can live in a certain size space. They don’t care, married, unmarried, children, not, it doesn’t matter. So maybe there is an opportunity with on campus housing to provide some, as we were talking about earlier, some additional support for the students in most need, like we were talking about students moving long distance or from overseas — hey, that university housing is there for you to make the whole process easier. And so maybe there is an opportunity to sort of subsidize students who are more in need, like those with dependents. But for me, the harder argument actually is extending that benefit to students in two income households, two income families without any dependence. That’s what, to me, gets a little bit tricky. Like you were saying, single adult versus a couple where it’s just two adults — why should that couple get any more subsidy if both of them are working, if both of them are permitted to work? For me it’s a little bit harder to extend this benefit beyond those who have actual dependents, whether they’re children or non-working spouses.
26:29 Travis: Right. And also, as you’re saying about this, it makes me think about international students who — I don’t know the ins and outs of it. I think being an international student is a lot more difficult in all kinds of ways than the rest of us know. But I wonder, I would imagine that for international students, even beyond the simple matter of the convenience of not having to look for an apartment, the convenience of being able to just arrive in the US and have already arranged an apartment. I would imagine that looking for a private apartment as an international student, you probably have all kinds of trouble with documentation with guarantors. Part of the reason that I’ve never looked for a private apartment for myself in Japan the many times that I’ve gone there for research is because I don’t have a Japanese guarantor, and I don’t have a Japanese bank account, and I don’t have a Japanese phone number until after I have an address to give the phone company to say that I live in Japan and to get a phone number.
27:25 Emily: There’s credit scores as well. That’s another major hurdle for international students coming to the US. The US doesn’t recognize any credit that might have been established in other places.
27:35 Travis: So that’s a whole other conversation to be had about whether some kind of more consideration should be given to international students, especially international students with a family, with dependents rather than domestic students, perhaps. And then just to kind of throw it in there, at the East West center, you have the opposite situation where the East West center dorms are only for people who are on a fellowship or otherwise sort of officially affiliated with the East West center, which is this sort of Asia Pacific studies organization. And it’s about, I think it’s about 75%, my numbers might be wrong, I think it’s about 75% international students. You can only get in there if you’re on a particular kind of affiliation with this organization. If you’re a UH student who doesn’t have that affiliation, you don’t get to live in these dorms. And the dorms are primarily single rooms and double rooms. The single rooms are $400 a month, the last I checked. That was about 10 years ago, but extremely reasonable, especially for Honolulu. But if you’re in a family, you can’t live there. It’s actually kind of the opposite situation of trying to get into these subsidized apartments and family housing at other campuses. That’s a whole other complicated…they really want people to live in the community and interact with each other, on a day to day basis. But if you’re in a family, then you can’t. I think you’re absolutely right. These are the conversations that people are having. Is it fair to have these subsidized apartments only for people in certain situations, and especially if the the second spouse, the non grad student spouse is earning a proper full salary at whatever job it may be, then they absolutely can afford that apartment while other people can’t.
29:16 Emily: And in your experience, has there been any means testing. Have you been asked what your income is when you apply for housing?
29:23 Travis: I don’t recall whether or not I’ve been asked, but I’m not aware of…I mean, I don’t know what goes on in the back rooms, but I’m not aware of that being a policy. I’m not aware of them giving preference to people who don’t have the second income or anything like that. I definitely know people who live in family housing who have a second income, people who don’t have a second income, international students, non international students.
29:54 Emily: It’s just interesting, because again, when we’re comparing with private landlords, how much you make is a very important question for them to ask, to make sure that you can afford the apartment. But of course, there’s no case where they’re going to say, Oh, you make too much, of course we can’t live here. Make however much you want. It’s fine. But it goes again, back to the question of what is the purpose of university housing, and if it is subsidized, and if it is one of their objectives to help students and students’ families who have less means to be renting off campus or whatever, then it might make sense to ask about that. But again, that’s another example of maybe some overstepping that could be going on. So this is a very complicated issue, obviously.
The Ideal University Housing System
30:29 Emily: I’m wondering for you, Travis, if you were to design your ideal university housing system, maybe what would your goals be? And how would you try to achieve those goals?
30:42 Travis: It’s a really good question, and I tried to give it some thought. I don’t know, I have to admit as much as we all have gripes, and I certainly have gripes. At the same time, I’m not an expert administrator, all of the ins and outs of how it should be done, and I understand that people are trying to do what they can, but I think the key point is the purpose of university housing is not to make money for the university. The purpose of university housing is to provide an affordable place to live, for students, in light of the fact that we’re only making X amount and they know full well, that we’re only making X amount. And in light of the fact that in many of these communities, I guess it all depends on where you are at college, but for the places that I’ve lived, local housing, regular market housing is extremely expensive. Making it affordable, and then also making it reasonable for adults.
31:34 Travis: I think part of it is also whatever regulations you have — we didn’t really get into this too much — but whatever regulations you have for undergrad housing, keeping in mind, I mean they are legally adults, but you mind certain notions of trying to take care and keep control over the community in loco parentis, and all of that kind of stuff. Simply extending those policies to grad students isn’t the best way, and acknowledging that as grad students, we want to have a full apartment to ourselves, or at least have the option. We want to redecorate our places. We want to be able to have parking. We want to be able to have pets. We want to be able to come and go over the summer or for a whole year and still retain our apartment. Or if we can’t retain our apartment, then work with us as adults, I think is sort of the key point.
32:13 Travis: And again, just working with people in a way that works with us and not against us. I understand there’s a much more complicated conversation about bureaucracy in general, in terms of, if you give people exceptions, then who are you not giving exceptions to? And how is that fair? And what’s the purpose of policies if you’re not going to enforce them and all these kinds of things. Saying you can’t have overnight guests unless officially of your relationship. And then what happens when you have a girlfriend or even just a friend coming? I pay for this apartment, I should be allowed to have people stay. Just various things like that. I think the key point is just making it affordable, making it a place where real adults can live and making it friendly and workable. Making it a place where people are working with you and not against you. It’s kind of the three points I would make.
33:04 Emily: I’m really glad to have your perspective as someone who’s lived in multiple different university-affiliated housing situations like what’s worked well, what have you, what positive things have you seen about it, maybe what things can be changed. It seems to me that one of the main points that you’re making is just that the administration needs to listen to the students, and as you were just saying, treat them like adults. It seems like that at least happened in your experience at UCSB, when the union or the GSA or whichever it was, was heard and actually got that rent lowered, which is an amazing victory. I just really appreciate your perspective on those issues.
Best Financial Advice for Early Career PhDs
33:41 Emily: As we finish up, would you please share with us what your best financial advice is for another early career PhD?
33:48 Travis: Yeah, I think as someone who’s just finished, I’m not sure what kind of advice I can give for other people who have just finished, but for people who are still in the PhD, I think my main advice would just be to keep your eyes out for whatever you can apply to, and kind of be aware of the fellowships and other kinds of resources that are available for you. You can’t spend hours and hours and hours applying to every single thing and investigating every single thing, but be aware of what’s available to you and take advantage of it. If your department offers whether explicitly or sort of implicitly offers that everybody gets summer funding, at least once or offers that everyone gets at least one quarter or two quarters off before the end, make sure you take advantage of that, make sure you do that. Don’t miss the deadlines. Just be aware of what’s out there and be aware of what you’re eligible for, not just in your department, but also in grad div or in School of Humanities or in whatever other things it might be coming from.
34:49 Travis: The other thing I would say is push and advocate and make the professors, make the faculty and administration aware that certain kinds of things are not funded. This is going into a whole other conversation, and I’ll just take one more minute, but for example, at Santa Barbara, I was fortunate to have a certain amount of funding available possible, potential to me for conference travel and for research travel. And that seems very logical from a top down kind of, okay, we’re giving money for conference, traveling for research travel.
35:22 Travis: Well, what about language study and what about things that are not strictly language study? Because I’ve gotten the funding in the past to study, there’s a thing called FLAS, the Foreign Language Area Studies scholarship, which allows you to study modern languages that the government considers to be of strategic value. But then when they find out that you’re studying classical Japanese or classical Chinese, or you’re not really in a language program per se, but you’re doing paleography or how to handle documents or a workshop on how to handle documents. Well, now it’s not language study, so now there’s no funding for that. You need to make people aware that these programs exist and they cost money and you need to have funding for it from some avenue. FLAS won’t pay for it and if conference travel and research travel won’t cover it, what can the department do? What can grad div do to create something that will cover book history workshops, paleography courses, archeology field, school, and so forth.
36:18 Emily: Yeah, it sounds like, again, you’re bringing up the points of being flexible with people. If everyone’s on the same page about what the goals are, then let’s be flexible about the way that we get there. Or just not letting people fall through the cracks. If you create big planks and boards, let’s make sure there aren’t gaps that people are actually falling into between those boards. Thank you so much for adding that Travis, and thank you so much for giving this interview.
36:45 Travis: Thanks so much for having me. This was really wonderful. I really appreciate it.
36:48 Emily: Listeners, thank you 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 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, please consider joining my mailing list for my behind the scenes commentary about each episode. Register at PFforPhDs.com/subscribe. 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 Archive and is shared under CC by NC. Podcast editing and show notes creation by Lourdes Bobbio.
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