In this episode, Emily interviews Dr. Alaina Talboy, a PhD in cognition, neuroscience, and social psychology. Alaina had her son before starting grad school in 2011 and separated from her husband a couple of years before finishing her PhD in 2019. She describes what it took financially to complete her PhD on a small academic year stipend: multiple side jobs, the maximum possible federal student loan debt, and childcare negotiations with her co-parent. She did nothing in those years aside from researching, working, and parenting. Emily and Alaina discuss the university policies that would have made all the difference to her experience as a graduate student and parent, such as fee waivers, conference funding, and on-campus childcare.
Links Mentioned in this Episode
- Find Dr. Alaina Talboy on Twitter and on her website
- Alaina will speak on overcoming imposter syndrome at the Women in Tech Global Conference in June 2021.
- 20s and 30s Personal Finance Panel
- Related Episodes
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Speaking
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Community
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Podcast Hub
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Subscribe to the mailing list
00:00 Alaina: If those supports were in place, I can imagine this going a completely different direction. And I don’t know if I would have ended up where I am, but I can’t imagine it would have made things worse, it could only have made things easier. It would have relieved everything. That support would have completely changed my life and made my PhD something I could just focus on without worrying about all the other stuff.
00:32 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 eight, episode 11 and today my guest is Dr. Alaina Tallboy, a PhD in cognition, neuroscience, and social psychology. Alaina had her son before starting grad school in 2011 and separated from her husband a couple of years before finishing her PhD in 2019. She describes what it took financially to complete her PhD on a small academic year stipend, multiple side jobs, the maximum possible federal student loan debt and childcare negotiations with her co-parent. She did nothing in those years, aside from researching working and parenting. We discussed the university policies that would have made all the difference to her experience as a graduate student and parent, such as fee waivers, conference funding, and on-campus childcare.
01:30 Emily: As I’m recording this many people in the US are reflecting on what their life was like a year ago when the country started shutting down versus now, so I thought I’d do the same for a moment. My very last in-person speaking engagement was on March 5th, 2020. While I was waiting for my return flight in the airport, I started receiving emails that regular meetings and events in Seattle, where I was living at the time, were being canceled. That’s when I knew that we would be hunkering down at home for a couple of weeks and started mentally preparing for my husband and I to work from home without childcare. Of course, we all know how wrong that expectation turned out to be. I felt relieved at the time that I didn’t have any other speaking engagements on my calendar so I didn’t have to cancel any travel or switch seminars to webinars.
021:15 Emily: However, once May rolled around, I started getting quite concerned about my business, which did heavily rely on in-person speaking engagements at universities for its revenue. Not only was I unsure when I’d be able to travel again, but I had no idea whether university budgets would be slashed and unable to accommodate hiring an outside person like me.
02:37 Emily: Over the summer, I pivoted my business to focus more on serving individual graduate students and PhDs, and that has been successful, but I’m also delighted to report that believe it or not, the speaking side of my business is currently having its best year ever. I discounted my speaking fee for the webinar format, which has enabled me to work with more offices and groups than ever. In previous years, my clients were always graduate schools, postdoc offices, career centers, et cetera. But this year I’ve actually been hosted by single departments and small graduate student associations as well. It’s been so rewarding to reach more people than ever this year with my tailored financial education. This spring alone I have given, or I’m scheduled to give 19 webinars, and I’m still receiving inquiries for events in April and May. I don’t know whether or how long this trend will last, but I’m going to try to serve as many people as possible while it does.
03:32 Emily: If you would like to bring one of my webinars to your university schooled apartment association group, et cetera, please check out my website pfforphds.com/speaking. All you need to do to get the ball rolling is schedule a call with me through that page or email me email@example.com. I hope to hear from you!
03:58 Emily: Now it’s time for the book giveaway contest. In March, 2021. I’m giving away one copy of, “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” by Ramit Sethi, which is the Personal Finance for PhDs Community book club selection for May, 2021. Everyone who enters the contest during March, will have a chance to win a copy of this book. If you would like to enter the giveaway contest, please rate and review this podcast on Apple podcasts, take a screenshot of your review and email it to me firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll choose a winner at the end of March from all the entries. You can find full instructions pfforphds.com/podcast.
04:38 Emily: The podcast received a review this week titled “Great Encouragement”. The review reads: “This podcast provides so much useful information while also encouraging me on days when I get worried about my limited funds. I’m not bringing in much money while working towards my PhD, but this makes it feel more possible to save a little for the future while working towards my degree.” Thank you so much to batty_in_AK for leaving this review! I am so glad that you find the podcast encouraging during a financially difficult time of life. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Dr. Alaina Talboy.
Will You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
05:21 Emily: I have joining me on the podcast today, Dr. Alaina Talboy. She has a really compelling story for us today about becoming a single parent while pursuing her PhD and what that was like financially to experience that. And then we’re really going to have a detailed discussion around what are the university-level policies that would have made her PhD go easier for her as a single parent, what policies would be helpful. I hope that this conversation will be, maybe yes, maybe no, applicable you as an individual, but it’ll give you some insight into the experience of PhD parents, especially PhD single parents, and what we can do as a community to support them better, Maybe at the university level. So Alaina, I’m really happy to have you here. Thank you so much for agreeing to the interview ad will you please tell the audience a little bit more about yourself?
06:05 Alaina: Absolutely. Thank you for having me today. I started graduate studies in 2011 and finished my PhD in 2019 in cognition, neuroscience, and social psychology from the University of South Florida. Ever since then, I’ve actually been a research scientist at Microsoft, looking at user experiences for the Edge browser.
06:26 Emily: Yeah. Sounds wonderful. We’re recording this in January, 2021 for the listeners context, so you’ve been there somewhat less than two years, between one and two.
06:33 Alaina: Just under.
06:33 Emily: Yes. And I believe that you got a master’s degree first and then moved on to your PhD. Is that right? Was that when you started in 2011, your masters?
06:43 Alaina: I did. I started my master’s at University of West Florida in 2011. That took two years to complete. And then I went straight from my masters to my PhD at USF in 2013 and was there until I completed in 2019.
06:57 Emily: Great. Okay. So we’ve got the professional highlights. Let’s hear about what was going on in your personal life at that time, the development of your family.
07:04 Alaina: Yeah, so I actually started my family before I started grad school. My son was born in 2010, and so he’s been with me every step of the way from my first graduate interview all the way until I had my diploma in hand. And he helped me hang it up on the wall and everything, right next to his picture. So he has been here through everything and has seen all that it takes to get a PhD.
07:32 Emily: And you were married for time as well. Is that right?
07:36 Alaina: I was married up until about a year and a half, two years before I finished my PhD. We had a very amicable split, but we had to figure out a lot of the co-parenting stuff that is not typically a concern for graduate students. So it took a while to really figure out how to balance making sure the family was taken care of, had a roof over our heads and then ensuring equitable time between each of us for parenting.
08:06 Emily: Yeah. And just for a little bit more context for us, what was the stipend that you were earning during that time and then what was your former husband earning as well?
08:15 Alaina: The stipend I had at that time was a nine month contract from USF that was $14,300 for nine months. That worked out to a little under $1,500 a month for my income. My husband was making about the same as I did, but at that point then we were supporting two different households, so I actually had to take on numerous side jobs to support myself and my son during those last two years of graduate studies.
Funding Situation During Grad School
08:46 Emily: Yeah. I want to get into sort of the tactics you were using that time in a moment, but I want to go back for a second to talk about the funding during your master’s degree because you mentioned your PhD funding. How was your master’s funded?
08:58 Alaina: The master’s degree was not funded. It’s interesting because I left undergraduate without any student loans, because I was able to get a lot of grants and things like that, but when I got into my master’s program, it was not a funded program. I actually had to take student loans out to support us at the time, because my husband’s job at the time was not enough to support our family. We use the student loans to support us through some really difficult financial times, and then eventually I did end up getting a 10 hour per week position my second year of my master’s program, but that was just barely enough to cover half of a week’s cost of my son’s daycare. I have had side jobs for a very long time to make sure the family was supported.
09:50 Emily: Yeah. Okay. When you finished your master’s, you’d worked for a variety of part-time positions during that time. What was the balance of student loan debt when you came out of your master’s?
10:04 Alaina: I had about, I believe it was $30,000 in student loan debt for my master’s degree, and in total with my PhD, I had borrowed just over $120,000, which was the maximum I was allowed to borrow. And the last two years of my PhD, I didn’t even have student loans. Now I am two years post PhD at $4,000, roughly, a month in payments. And my student loan balance is $198,000.
10:37 Emily: Wow. Maybe a conversation for another episode. Incredible. So you were taking out more student loan debt during your master’s and PhD. But in addition, working at your assistantship, you got during your master’s, as well as the one you had during your PhD. Let’s talk more about, okay, we got this stipend, which is not very generous, not a very generous stipend.
11:01 Alaina: And it’s only nine months. That’s something I don’t think people realize is that this does not include summer funding and summer funding is never guaranteed, so that’s three months you got to figure it out.
11:13 Emily: Yeah, and what kind of benefits came along with that? Like health insurance, was there more than that?
11:19 Alaina: There was health insurance for myself. There was the option to get dental, but the cost was insanely high. There was no way to get my son or my former husband on the health insurance because the co-pays would have been more than a paycheck, and it wasn’t financially responsible to do insurance that way. Unfortunately, during that time, my son was actually enrolled in Medicaid to make sure that he had health coverage and that he had dental coverage and things like that because we simply couldn’t afford to get health insurance for him and him.
11:58 Emily: Were there any other benefits available to you?
12:01 Alaina: They had the campus health and wellness centers that you could go get your physical checkups. You could get psychiatric services, therapy services. Really great, but of course there’s always the co-pay for that. If there were any other benefits available, I couldn’t tell you because I looked and it would just wasn’t clear.
12:25 Emily: Yeah. So probably none. And if not none, at least a lapse in communication about what benefits were available.
12:34 Alaina: Exactly.
Balancing Parenting, PhD Dissertation, and Side Work
12:34 Emily: I want to get an idea of how, especially your PhD went with these financial pressures of having the small stipend part year, of having the student loans that you were taking out, but then at some point couldn’t even take out any longer. And you’ve already mentioned side work. So tell me about how the balance was in your life between actually working towards your PhD on your dissertation, all the side work, if it was an assistantship that you had the work for that, the parenting. It sounds like a lot. What was your life like at that time?
13:08 Alaina: Looking back, I look at it and I have no idea how I did any of it. I look back and I think about doing that now, and it just blows my mind because I was teaching a class at USF, I was teaching a class at a local community college. I was doing another class at a private college, plus my dissertation plus parenting. I did dissertation editing services on the side just because that money had to come from somewhere. Looking back, I was either always working or parenting. There was never me time. There was never downtime. There was never just time to sit and relax. It’s either work or parents and you make do and you get through it, and hopefully on the other side end up with some sort of work-life balance.
14:04 Emily: Yeah. I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but it seems to me incredibly unfair that you would be in a funded PhD program and be striving so hard to work on the side and spending so many hours doing that. And still on top of that, be racking up more student loan debt. I think we all kind of get, yeah. PhDs are underpaid. Yeah, it’s a hard time of life. Well, you added parenting onto that too. Wow. Yeah, of course, you’re going to have some time constraints, but to do all of it with the energy that you had, which sounds inhuman, almost, and then to add the student loan debt on top of that is really kind of mind boggling to me, that that’s what it came to.
`4:47 Alaina: It is. And the advice that you get is that, try pay back your student loans while you’re in grad school. But in my mind, I’m just sitting there thinking, I’m taking these student loans to make sure we have a roof over our head. That we have food to eat. That we have the ability to go back and forth between buildings. How could you possibly pay back student loans while you’re in school? And particularly in my situation, where I’m supporting a family. It’s not a realistic expectation. And when my student loans ran out and I had to talk about possibly going and getting another side position, the conversation I had with some professors was just go take student loans. Like why can’t you just take student loans? And it’s an unfair conversation and it doesn’t address the realities and the limitations of what we can actually do during grad school, financially.
15:42 Emily: I do want you to explain a little bit more what happened, financially after you were no longer able to take out student loans. And of course that was also the time that you were separating from your husband and you have the two households and all of that. If you were only barely hanging on before that point with the student loan debt, what happened when that stopped?
16:03 Alaina: I cried a lot. I’ll be completely honest, the last two years of grad school had a lot of tears and a lot of stress. I was teaching six classes to make ends meet and I was trying to get my PhD done and I had to, because my former husband and I co-parent, and we’re really adamant about making sure our son spends equal amount of time with both of us, we had to actually work that around my adjunct schedule because as adjuncts, you don’t get to choose what time you teach. You’re just given a time slot. And so not only was I under the financial pressure of that, I had to move my time with my son to make sure I could keep those jobs to make sure that we could keep paying bills.
16:51 Emily: So you added more work essentially while you were trying to finish your dissertation. I’m actually very impressed that you finished. I think because a lot of people at that stage when they’re ABD and the financial pressure is there, they want to move on and they may not ever end up completing it. So how did you hang on to the end?
17:13 Alaina: I almost didn’t. I almost walked away. Um, there were several times where I just looked at my document that I was writing and just went, “why, why am I doing this?” But I’m stubborn. I am an incredibly stubborn person, and I have put eight years into this degree. I am finishing this degree. This is going to get done. And I just put my foot down and said, no, this is, this is going to end. There’s going to be a light at the other end of the tunnel. It’s going to be worth it.
17:40 Emily: Yeah. And we’re going to circle back to this at the end of the interview, that there has been a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t want to say it’s all been doom and gloom. Okay, so we’ve got an idea of the financial pressure that you were under and what you were doing, basically pushing yourself to the human maximum to meet the responsibilities that you had, and finish your dissertation. You said earlier, okay, yes, there was health insurance for you. It was not practical to put anybody else in the policy. There weren’t really any benefits offered by a university in terms of you as a parent.
The Benefits That Would Have Been Helpful as a Single Parent
18:09 Emily: What policies, now that you’ve taken some time to reflect on this, what policies would have made a big difference in your life? What policies on the university or departmental level would have made a big difference in your life in terms of making sure you did complete the degree and maybe not in the fashion that you did?
Reducing or Eliminating Semester Fees
18:28 Alaina: There’s so many things I would go back and argue against and one of the first thing is semester fees. ‘m not sure if this is across all universities, but almost every graduate student I’ve talked to has had to pay roughly $800 a semester in fees, even though they are employed by the university. And so you imagine that’s one entire paycheck that’s just completely gone for the semester because those fees are required. Eliminating fees for graduate students would be the first and foremost thing on my list to go back to the university and say, “Hey, you want to help parents who are finishing their PhD, eliminate these fees.”
19:14 Emily: The fee itself, of course, $800 per term is quite it’s a lot of money and no, that’s not universal. Some places have figured it out that they don’t have to require that kind of fee. Was it due all at once or was it something that you were able to prorate?
19:30 Alaina: I don’t remember being able to prorate it. It was not something that could be taken out of paychecks. It was not something like your parking permit, your $200 a year parking permit — yeah, they could take that one out of your paycheck every other week and they could do it like $30 or $50 a paycheck. But your fees, no. They were due when they were due. You could make payments up until that due date, but once you hit that due date, if you missed it at all, it was an immediate hundred dollar fee stacked, right on top of it, with increasing fees the longer it took.
20:06 Emily: Okay. So punitive responses if you did miss it. Okay. Got it. Large fees had to pay all at once. High fines if you didn’t, if you didn’t make it. Okay. What was the next policy?
Policies Against Moonlighting
20:20 Alaina: The next policy I would say is looking back at my contracts at that time, it felt like moonlighting was completely unacceptable. The language that they used is, you’re given this stipend offer, you must let us know immediately if you have accepted work anywhere else. There’s the possibility that this stipend will go away if you have other funding. Looking at that language and the position that I was in, it felt like I was forced to hide the adjuncting work that I was doing and all the work I was doing on the side, because I was so scared that my stipend was going to be taken away from me, because even though it was minuscule and it is well close to that poverty level, it was absolutely necessary to make it through. I didn’t want to lose that stipend. The moonlighting restriction, I understand they want people to focus on their degree. I understand they want people to be all in headspace on their PhD and stuff, but it doesn’t allow for the reality of life that you have to be able to support your family and student loans don’t cut it. You have to be able to let people have a job outside of their department if they need to do that, to support their family.
21:29 Emily: Yeah. I mean, I’m in total agreement. Treat graduate students like they’re adults and they can manage their own time. And if a problem does come up with someone’s side job, because it actually is interfering with the dissertation progress or the coursework, or whatever’s going on, then address it when the problem comes up. But I think the language that you read that scares people off from moonlighting or hides the fact that they are doing it is really counterproductive. Of course the other part of that, which you just mentioned is you can also just pay people enough that they don’t feel the pressure to take on the side work. If you really want the students to be focused on their degrees, then pay them adequately to allow them the room in their lives for that focus. That makes the most sense to me.
22:22 Alaina: Exactly. The book that I’m working on right now, the whole first section of it is talking about treating your graduate studies like it’s your job, because that’s exactly what it is. You are going for a graduate degree, you are being paid to get that graduate degree, and in exchange, you’re teaching a course or you’re doing research, or you’re doing some kind of service to the university. You should be paid appropriately for that time.
22:48 Emily: Yes, absolutely.
22:51 Emily: Emily here for a brief interlude. This coming Thursday, March 18th, 2021 at 7:00 PM. Eastern, I’m serving on a personal finance panel and you’re invited to attend and ask your money questions. The event is officially for people in their twenties and thirties, but it’s kind of secretly a PhD panel as I, another panelists, and the moderator all have PhDs. The remaining two panelists have a JD and an MBA. We are all card carrying personal finance nerds. All personal finance topics are on the table, including student loans, investing, couple’s finances, buying house, COVID economics. Anything you like the event is free to attend live, and you can purchase access to the recording for one year for $17, go to pfforphds.com/panel to find out more and your ticket through my affiliate link. I hope to see you there now back to our interview.
Accessible Childcare Options
23:53 Emily: What’s another policy on your list that was hurtful or would have been helpful?
23:58 Alaina: The other one that I was thinking of was the childcare facilities on campus, because there is a childcare facility. It was not subsidized. At that time in 2013, it was $220 a week for the age group my son was in, and that was their subsidized value. The problem with that though, is that of course faculty gets first pick and that completely fills up the entire program. There really was no daycare option available on campus that was even remotely viable. We ended up having to do a lot of off-campus shopping to find a daycare.
24:41 Emily: Yeah. I mean, of course adding another benefit, like a subsidized service, like daycare would be an incredible boon to the parents on campus. And actually I’ll link in the show notes because I did an interview back in season two with a single mother in graduate school, and she talked about the incredible childcare support that was available to her on campus. One of the things I remember from that is just in reflecting on it, I’m thinking, wow, to have your daycare option, your childcare option, like geographically, physically close to you, saves you so much time and commuting, and it actually gives you more flexibility in your time being on campus and so forth. It would be a benefit to all employees and of course, graduate students and undergraduates and everybody who has children to have more of those options. Expanding those programs would be fantastic.
25:31 Alaina: Absolutely.
25:32 Emily: And subsidizing it, if they can.
25:34 Alaina: And subsidizing, if they can. I understand they have to pay their workers. And I totally respect that, but you know, again, you’re an employee.
Conference Travel Assistance
25:43 Emily: Yeah. Were there any other benefits that you wanted to bring up?
25:46 Alaina: The last area I want to talk about is conference travel. And this is something that strikes me as so odd because I am in a STEM field or a STEAM field, depending on which acronym you prefer. Going to conferences is vital to your success in academia and also outside of academia. Being able to present your papers and your posters and giving talks and all those things. There’s something about the conference circuit that just really is invaluable and cannot be replaced. The problem is most of the program didn’t have funding for conference travel, let alone trying to figure out how to set up childcare, if my former husband wasn’t going to be able to watch my son during conference season. Luckily our lab had very small stipends. We got $500 stipends to go do conferences and there were four of us, so we split one hotel room and able to limit the cost of conferences by having four of us in one room. However, that’s another area that really is just lacking in support and really hits your finances hard, especially if you’re serious about trying to follow that academic route.
27:00 Emily: Yes. Thank you for bringing that up. There’s one other area that I thought of in terms of policies. Maybe this wasn’t on your list because you had your son before you started graduate school, but I’m thinking about parental leave and is it defined? Is it defined for graduate students? Does depend on whether your employee or a fellowship recipient non-employee? But just having, first of all, clear policies around what the parental leave is, is super helpful. Of course, if that leave can be paid or if it can be 12 weeks would be incredible here in the US. All those things can add on to that, but just having clear policies around that I think would be super, super helpful.
27:39 Alaina: Yeah. It’s interesting as you’re right, I had my son before graduate school, but I did run into some medical issues during graduate school and come to find out the grad students were not protected under FMLA. If you had to take any time off, you were literally at the mercy of your advisor. Now, thankfully I had a phenomenal advisor who let me do my work remotely and told me to stop replying to emails the day after I got out of the hospital, but there was a leave period that I had to take for medical reasons, and if my advisor wasn’t as understanding as she was, I could have been dropped from the program because there are no protections in place for that.
28:19 Emily: Yeah. Great, great point. I hadn’t really thought about FMLA, but ideally the university would be providing its own protections for its students. Wow, thank you for bringing that up.
How University Benefits Can Impact a Grad Student Parent
28:31 Emily: Okay. In thinking through this list of like, wow, what would have been like if I’d had subsidized childcare and so forth — what would it have meant to you, as a PhD, as a developing scholar to have had the kind of support that we were just talking about from your university?
28:48 Alaina: It would have been life-changing. I can’t quantify the stress that I felt those six years and what it has done, not only physically being under that much stress that long, but mentally being under that stress. And two years out still having some kind of anxiety about large purchases or the thought of going and getting the car repaired is still an anxiety, even though I have a really good job right now. There’s some almost side effects of living like that for so long that now have to be undone and have to be unlearned. If those supports were in place, I can imagine this going a completely different direction. And I don’t know if I would have ended up where I am, but I can’t imagine it would have made things worse. It could only have made things easier. It would have relieved everything that support would have completely changed my life and made my PhD something I could just focus on without worrying about all the other stuff.
30:01 Emily: Yeah. I’m so glad you phrased it that way, because if you had received additional financial support whether that’s in the form of a higher stipend or fees being waived, or some kind of subsidies, or maybe health insurance being a better option, a variety of ways that can play out, of course, that would made a difference to your finances. And of course you would have more savings in the bank or you’d have less student loan debt or something like that. But I’m really glad that you phrased that in terms of the stress that you were under, because I think that we don’t, we don’t really consider enough that affect — the cognitive, the emotional, the physical effect of that stress on our developing scholars, on our PhDs when they’re in training.
20:42 Emily: And like you just said, what that does, not only during that time and how does it affect your work — I mean, your work, as if the only that’s the only thing that matters — but your work, but also everything else during that time. But then also later, because as you just said, you have to unlearn all the things. You have to recover from that period of stress financially for years and potentially decades after your PhD. And that’s a lot of what my work is as well is how do you get out of the mindsets about money that you were forced into during that time. I’m really glad that you phrased it that way. Anything else you wanted to add to that?
31:18 Alaina: It also would have opened up just so much more time to spend with my son. I feel like I missed milestones because I was so busy trying to scrape together and make ends meet that I miss some of those important childhood things that I can’t get back.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel: Current Career
31:36 Emily: Yeah, absolutely. Now we said that there was a bright spot at the end of this, because you did get to the end of the journey. You did get to graduation, you got the PhD, and now you’ve mentioned that you have a really good job. So tell us what your career is now.
31:51 Alaina: Yes. I actually made the choice to leave academia after I was offered a tenure position, and instead I moved to Seattle to join Microsoft. Now I am a research scientist here at Microsoft, a user researcher, and I do work for the Edge browser. And I got to say, I love my current career. I don’t know if that’s too forward to say that, but I am in the best spot, not only financially, but also in terms of work-life balance than since I started grad school. That’s where I’m at right now.
32:31 Emily: It really seems like you came through the crucible in graduate school, financially, time-wise, so forth. I hope the rest of your life feels this good.
32:40 Alaina: I hope so.
32:40 Emily: It’s good to hear that you’re in a much better spot now, have a much better income. You’re making those student loan payments, as you mentioned earlier. I’m assuming that you’re glad that you finished the PhD, that you think it’s working out?
32:54 Alaina: I am, yeah. And I was thinking about this earlier today, preparing to talk to you about this, is if I had the choice to go back and do it again, would I change anything? And honestly, I don’t think I would. I know sometimes people regret going the PhD route, but I don’t regret it. I am so proud of the work I did during my PhD and all of the work that it’s enabled me to do after my PhD and the work I’m doing now is so personally validating to know I can use all of those skills I developed and I can just only go up from here.
39:31 Emily: Oh, well, that’s really great to hear. I’m really glad we could end this on a little more of a cheerful note. You mentioned earlier about a book. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
33:39 Alaina: I’m currently writing a book. It’s going to be essentially a how-to guide for people who are just starting their graduate studies, but it’s trying to help people change their mindset about how they think through graduate school and doing things like research for the rest of their lives. It’s a book that will help you think about graduate stays not only as a student, but also as your job and as the start of your career. It provides the tools and tips and tricks and all the things you need to walk out, not only with your degree PhD in your hand, but also to try to land that real coveted academia job, but also how to leave academia on the other end, if that’s something that you want to do. It’s opening up the possibility of not staying in that smaller bubble of academia, but looking at the broader world of opportunities that exist just for PhDs.
34:33 Emily: Yeah. I love that reframing about yes, you’re a graduate student. Ye, you’re a student, but it is your job. It’s the start of your career. I love that reframing of it, and I wish that I had embraced it a little bit more at the start of my own PhD. Where can people go to learn about this, when it’ll be out and so forth?
34:52 Alaina: They can find updates on alainataloby.com and they can sign up for the newsletter there. I will happily post additional information on Twitter and LinkedIn as well. And I’ll ask to include those in the show notes.
Best Financial Advice for and Early-Career PhD
35:05 Emily: Yeah, absolutely. No problem. So last question before we conclude is what is your best financial advice for another early career PhD? And that could be something that we’ve touched on here, or it could be something completely else,
35:18 Alaina: Something completely else. So I’m going to say this is for right after your PhD, where you land that first job. With your first real paycheck, go get yourself the most delicious steak or whatever meal is your favorite and just sit down and it, because you earned it.
25:39 Emily: Wow. Yeah, thank you so much. Thank you so much for joining me today, Alaina. This is a great interview.
35:43 Alaina: Thank you for having me.
Listener Q&A: Emergency Fund Savings
35:51 Emily: Now onto the listener question and answer segment. Today’s question actually comes from a survey I sent out in advance of one of my university webinars this spring, so it is anonymous. Here’s the question:
36:03 Emily: “Where should I park my emergency fund savings?”
36:08 Emily: This straightforward question deserves a straightforward answer, and that answer is in a savings account. Ideally, you would use a “high yield savings account”, bit of a misnomer right now., You might be able to get half a percent in interest or so at the moment of this recording, but that’s really the best you’re going to do without taking some degree of risk with your money or moving it around to chase the highest yield.
36:34 Emily: I know this is a really tough answer because emergency funds feel like they are just sitting there doing nothing when interest rates are low, but the job of your emergency fund is not to earn a return for you. It’s to be available for you, in its full amount, in case of emergency when you need it, whenever that might come up. So your checking accoun,t savings account, money market account, these kinds of places are the most appropriate for emergency fund savings.
37:04 Emily: I like to keep my emergency fund in a separate savings account so that I don’t dip into it accidentally, but at the same bank as my checking account, so that in the case of an emergency, it would be very instantaneous to transfer money from the emergency fund into my checking account. So if you, the listener have any issues with accidentally or kind of on purpose using your emergency fund for purposes other than emergencies, then you might want a little bit more separation. So definitely the separate savings account, but maybe even keep it at a different bank than where you have your checking account, so that there’s the delay of a few days to get money between the two accounts that will discourage you from dipping into it.
37:46 Emily: Now, some people who also still can’t stomach the idea of the emergency van, not getting any kind of return might set up what is called a tiered emergency fund. So there may be some degree of emergency fund savings in cash equivalents, like in a savings account. There might be some degree in a conservative investment fund, like bonds, mostly bonds. Maybe they’ll even have some of what they call their emergency fund invested more aggressively, so that some of it can earn a return while it’s still available to you, in the form of taxable investment accounts.
38:22 Emily: And I’m not totally opposed to this strategy. This may be one that I implement at some point in my life, but I just want to point out it’s for people who have money. My typical audience, graduate students, they’re typically living a little closer to the edge than the people who set up those types of emergency funds. If you just have $1,000 or $5,000 or $10,000 in an emergency fund, I don’t think you should be looking at these tiered options. I think that should be an all cash equivalents kind of situation. The unfortunate truth is as you have more money, as you have more wealth, you can afford to take on more risk.
39:00 Emily: So there’s a straight forward answer. Keep it in a high yield savings account, possibly at your bank or at a different bank. Don’t try to invest the money until you have lots and lots of wealth and accessible money at your disposal. At that point, you can afford to take on more risk with this part of your portfolio.
39:19 Emily: If you would like to submit a question to be answered in a future episode, please go to pfforphds.com/podcast and follow the instructions you find there. I love answering questions, so please submit yours.
39:33 Emily: Listeners, thank you for joining me for this episode. PFforPhDs.com/podcast is the hub for the Personal Finance for PhDs podcast. On that page are links to all the episodes show notes, which include full transcripts and videos of the interviews. There is also a form to volunteer to be interviewed on the podcast and instructions for entering the book giveaway contest, and submitting a question for the Q&A segment. 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 podcasts, Stitcher, or whatever platform you use. If you leave a review, be sure to send it to me. Two, share an episode you found particularly valuable on social media, with an email list serve, or as a link from your website. Three, recommend me as a speaker to your university or association. My seminars cover 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. 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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