In this episode, Emily interviews Susanna Harris, a PhD student at the University of North Carolina and the founder of PhD Balance (formerly PhDepression). Susanna is an outspoken advocate for the mental health of PhDs. However, bolstering mental health can take up-front resources, such as time, money, and energy. Susanna argues that mental health is worth investing in, particularly in your early 20s and while you’re affiliated with a university. Susanna and Emily discuss low- and no-cost methods to improve mental health.
Links Mentioned in This Episode
- Find Susanna Harris on Twitter or Instagram
- Find PhD Balance online, on Twitter, and on Instagram
- This PhD Healed Her Scarcity Money Mindset Using a Goal-Setting Framework (Part 2)
- How This Graduate Student Rejects the Academic Culture of Being Broke
- How to Combat the Negative Financial Attitudes We Learned in Academia and in Childhood
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Tax Center
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Podcast Hub
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Subscribe to the mailing list
00:00 Susanna: The point of investing time, money, resources into your mental health is one, if you don’t, it’s not going to get better. I think that there is this really dangerous mentality around grad school that it’s like, “Okay, I’m going to do grad school and then when it’s done I’m going to start my life” and that for some reason that the moment you graduate, everything’s going to get a lot easier and there’s a lot less stress and you’re going to be making way more money and you’re going to feel like an adult. And not surprisingly, when I talk to people who’ve been out of their PhD for six months they’re sort of still reeling from it.
00:43 Emily: Welcome to the Personal Finance for PhDs podcast, higher education in personal finance. I’m your host, Dr. Emily Roberts. This is season five, episode seven, and today my guest is Susanna Harris, a PhD student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the founder of PhD Balance. Susanna is an outspoken advocate for the mental health of PhDs. However, bolstering your mental health can take upfront resources such as time, money, and energy. Susanna makes the case for why mental health is worth investing in particularly in your early twenties and while you’re affiliated with the university. We discuss ways you can improve your mental health even if you don’t have much or any money to put towards it. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Susanna Harris.
Will You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
01:34 Emily: It is my pleasure today to have Susanna Harris on the podcast. She is the founder of PhD Balance and we’re going to be talking about a really exciting and a very relevant subject matter, which is mental health. So Susanna, for those in the audience who don’t already know you, will you please introduce yourself?
01:48 Susanna: Sure thing. Well, first of all, Emily, thank you for inviting me. At first when you asked for me to be on, I was like, I don’t know what my work has to do with finances and it’s definitely not something I’ve gotten nailed down. I started PhD Balance about a year and a half ago to really just start talking about mental illness in graduate school. I myself am a, we’ll say a final year PhD student in microbiology, and what I really wanted to do is just start talking about mental illness because I’m someone with depression and anxiety and working on a PhD. And throughout this process of building that community, I’ve learned a lot of really important things, one of which is how important it is to get mental health care and how it can be really tricky for people to find space in their finances to do that.
02:44 Emily: Yeah, that’s exactly how we’ll narrow this very vast subject down today, the crossover point between the two of us. So tell us a little bit more about this origin story of PhD balance because I understand there’s even a name change involved.
02:56 Susanna: Yeah. I think that was one of the most difficult decisions for me. So when originally this started, it was just called PhDepression. Again, because I was a PhD student with depression, I thought maybe I would put up an Instagram post and find a couple other people who’d be interested in joining. The whole point was to share a photo, like you would put up on Instagram or you know, the image that we put out to academia. And then in the text share a more personal story about your own dealing with mental illness or mental health struggles while going through academia. And this all came about actually because about a month before — so PhDepression started in March of 2018 — about a month before this Nature Biotech paper came out showing about 40% of graduate students were dealing with anxiety or depression or the symptoms of them at any given time, and I saw that and it was just like, “Oh, I kind of had no idea. I thought I was really alone in this.” And I looked around, I was in a conference of about 200 people and I thought, “there’s no way that five other people understand.” And I think that that’s where it sort of clicked of we get these numbers, but it doesn’t really mean anything unless we can look around and find other people who are going to understand us, who are going to listen to us, not judge us, and then really importantly, be able to give us the resources that we need when we need them.
04:19 Susanna: Probably about a year into it, well six months in, I ended up turning it into a business and that was mostly for liability reasons. It’s a sensitive topic to talk about mental illness. At that time I had a small team of people working with me and I wanted to make sure that if anything should happen, if we ever faced anything legal that we just didn’t know about, that that responsibility would fall on my shoulders. And of course, once you have a business, then people ask you to kind of run it as a business and figure out money. As we were doing that, trying to think of what it’s going to be a sustainable financial model for what we do, we realized that changing to PhD Balance, one people could pronounce it easier, which is always a benefit.
Susanna: Two, it really became much more about general mental health, and that idea that even if you’re not dealing with a chronic mental illness, even if in general, your mental health is great, there’s going to be times where you do become imbalanced. You do kind of tip over to one side and need to right yourself. And so the idea of this PhD Balance is to acknowledge that there are those tipping points that different people have their kind of center at different places, but that the goal is to find that place where you’re okay. And I like to tell people, I think about it balance in terms of yoga, where the purpose of balancing in yoga is not to be perfect. And in fact, if you’re in a position where you’re absolutely perfect and it’s no challenge, you’re not really pushing yourself. Maybe that’s where you need to be that day, but you’re through yoga trying to find out more about yourself, learning where your limits are, understanding that your limits are different than somebody else’s. And the goal is not, again, to be perfect, but rather to learn how to balance and learn how to respect those boundaries of yours. We thought PhD Balance was a good switch to encapsulate all of that.
06:17 Emily: Yeah. What I’m getting from what you’re describing is a dynamic balance, right? And not a static balance. I think everyone likes the term balance, but I like it too, and one of the reasons is really what we’ll be talking about during this interview is that it’s not actually that mental health is one’s only concern, right? You would not sacrifice everything else in your life to have whatever perfect mental health might mean because this does impact other areas of your life such as finances, such as time management, such as work-life balance, other areas. It is about finding a balance between what your needs are and your resources are in one area versus another, and it does have to be dynamic over time. Anyway, we’ll be diving into more of that for the rest of this interview.
Intersection of Finances and Mental Health
06:59 Emily: Let’s talk about kind of, again that intersection between the finances and the mental health. When you’re experiencing financial stress, financial insecurity, as many PhDs do, especially during the graduate student or postdoc period, what effects can that have on mental health?
07:17 Susanna: I think there’s a few kind of separate but overlapping ways that that can affect your mental health. One is just like you said, that added stress. Chronic stress, so stress that lasts over weeks instead of let’s say a day. You know, there’s some stress that’s good. I think that whether it’s in work or even in finances to go, “Ooh, well this is a crunch time,” that’s not necessarily bad, but rather to have it constantly ticking in the back of your mind, that can take a toll on everything else. Oftentimes when we’re stressed about finances, it’s not just that we want to get to a certain goal, but rather that we’re afraid of falling into something else. Especially as people who in general are not making a lot of money, or are making no money, or paying money, it’s not so much always about like, “Oh, how can I best invest my extra money?” It’s rather, okay, how do I get by with my rent and my food and you know, any dependents I might have. And so just that stress and that background knowledge that you might be dealing with those things, that on its own is very difficult.
08:29 Emily: If you don’t mind, I want to add something there, which is about how chronic this can be because I think in regular society, in a normal kind of job, if you were experiencing financial stress or insecurity, there are actions you can take to alleviate that by increasing your income through your primary job, finding another job, moving to another place. But inside academia we don’t feel as free because we have this career goal that we’re pursuing, and the income is not really the main point of the job, right? It’s the training for that next stage. So we start to feel more stuck. Whether that’s actually true or not, how stuck we are, I think it’s a very common feeling, and to me that contributes to the stress, as well as just looking out of this long time horizon of this is not going to change for years and years and years potentially. I really think that that contributes to it, the stuck feeling.
09:22 Susanna: Yeah. Well absolutely. Sometimes I think about, so I’m in my sixth year and at this point I’ve invested so much time and money that I could have made in a higher paying job and I’ve gotten paid the same amount for five and a half years. Now, if I decided I have to have more money right now — I’m really lucky to be a single person who didn’t come in with a huge amount of debt, and has a lot of skills that help to keep my financial requirements down — but let’s say I had a dependent, or let’s say something happened, if I needed more money, I literally could not get it right now. Part of my department is that we signed on saying we weren’t going to have a part time job. I would have to choose between my actual needs versus all of this time and energy I’d put in and walking away with almost nothing. At this point I actually can’t master out, it’s a weird part of my department, so I would literally walk away after five and a half years. So I think that that goes both ways with any kind of crisis, right? Whether it’s finances or mental health or just general physical health, that we are in this really precarious spot where if anything major happens, there’s not really a safety net. And I think that we’re constantly, like you said, we’re constantly aware of that and it’s not something that’s going to go away.
10:52 Emily: Yeah, we’ve definitely well outlined that part of the problem. What was the second point you’re going to make?
10:56 Susanna: Yeah. So the second point is just that, and I think we’ll talk about this a little bit more, of why mental health is worth investing in, worth putting in that money, even when we don’t see the dividends right away. But if you don’t have the money you might decide to or you might have to allocate your resources to other things. Although mental health affects everything that we do, if you can’t buy food that’s going to be a more immediate problem. And what we know about mental health is that even if it’s a small issue, if left unaccounted for, I’m saying untreated, but that doesn’t have to be necessarily medical, that can just be talking to a close friend or doing something like yoga, those things to help you rebalance, if you don’t get the chance to do that, then can develop into something worse and more chronic and takes you more energy and resources to get out of. I think that those financial issues not only cause some of the mental distress, but also make it very difficult for people to remedy the kind of signs and symptoms before it becomes a bigger issue.
12:14 Emily: Yeah, I definitely see what you’re saying there. It’s the same in the area of finances as well, which I say this a lot, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but when the prevention becomes out of reach for whatever reason, then yeah, you’re continuing down that line into the negative conclusion there.
How to Support Your Mental Health in Grad School
12:33 Emily: Okay. Given constraints in resources that PhD students and postdocs have, how can they find low cost methods and resources for bolstering mental health? And you just said it might involve treatment or it might involve some non-treatment options.
Professional and Medical Options
12:50 Susanna: I think my biggest piece of advice would be to talk to an expert in whatever way that you can. It’s not great across the world or even across the US, as far as having healthcare for students, but one thing that people might not necessarily know is that your general practitioner, so the doctor you’d go to if you had a sore throat or something similar, that’s actually someone who has some training in mental health. If you have health care coverage, you can go to that perso, and that’s something, you know, if you go to your university and say you want to talk to someone about mental health, if they covered mental health at the university, then that’s fantastic. I think it’s worth looking into. If they don’t, it’s okay to say, well, I’d like to speak with my general practitioner, and they can do some basic screenings.
13:39 Emily: I actually want to ask a little question there because when I was in graduate school, I went to student health as my — so I didn’t have a primary person, I had sort of a practice that I saw through the university. So when you’re saying the university versus your primary care provider, you’re saying the university as in the nonmedical support options that a student might have available to them. Is that right?
14:01 Susanna: Oh, no, that’s a good clarification. So for me, even though I go to campus health, we have our own providers. So we can meet with somebody and then request them every time. I do all of my physical health care through the university student health. The university also has a campus psychological service, so a counseling service, and in fact, what happened for me when I was having a hard time is I actually went into my practitioner who is at the general student health, and she did this little screening. I had gone in to try and get sleep medication because I wasn’t sleeping and she said, “you know, it seems like there might be something else going on here. I’d like to instead prescribe you some antidepressants.” And then they kicked me over to the campus psychological services who in turn referred me to my now therapist. But all that’s to say that the campus health, the people there, even just in the physical health spaces, do have training, at least to give you an idea, is this something that you’re going to need a more specialized form of help, or is this something that maybe you can deal with outside of medical treatment?
Susanna: In terms of the financial side of this one is that it’s really important to figure out what your insurance covers. This can be really tricky and I would just recommend either finding someone who’s gone through this or working with the campus facilities because they should have somebody. It’s okay also to reach out to a friend and say, “Hey, I’m having a hard time with this. I have to navigate it and it’s going to be brutal. Can you help me?” Because I think that’s one of the big issues with the crossover of finances and mental health is that when you’re already feeling just drowned in distress and responsibility, the idea of waiting through calls and emails is just absolutely abhorrent. I would say reaching out, figure out what your insurance covers, take a look at what money you do have flexible. If this is something that you could afford to see a therapist once a month, twice a month, once every two months, and to be able to then go into your resources, at the university, talk to someone and say, this is the amount of money I have, just full stop. I don’t have flexibility outside of that and they will be able to help you find, there’s something called sliding scale therapy, and so if you don’t have the means or the insurance, there are places that don’t take insurance but also charge you based on how much money you make. One really good option is group chat sessions, or kind of the support groups. Sometimes they’re through university. A lot of times depending on what you’re dealing with, there are local groups.
Susanna: Then I would say though that there are going to be some situations that you’re going to have to find a way to see, maybe a psychologist or a psychiatrist. A psychologist has a PhD in psychology. They’re usually you’re like high level counselors. A psychiatrist is someone who can prescribe medication. And so for things that might need a little more attention, it’s going to be important to figure out if you can get close to those resources. I would just encourage people to reach out to a friend, reach out to an ally and ask them for help navigating the system because there are low cost options, but it can be really exhausting to figure out what you need.
17:40 Emily: Yeah, that’s a great point. It would be, I’m imagining it would be amazing if there were a campus affiliated person who could like officially could help you navigate this. That may or may not exist in different places. Sort of an ombudsman, I guess that kind of thing, maybe that would exist. I know for me, when I sought out a little bit of counseling help when I was in graduate school, if I remember correctly, I went straight to the counseling services on campus. I did not go through like the medical referral route and they had some sort of package available where you can get this many sessions for free over the course of the semester. And then if I needed more than that, I think it would’ve gone through my insurance. Then the other place that I went to was actually through my church and I was able to get some free counseling sessions — actually, some were free and some were low cost — through that avenue too. So it could be another maybe community group that you’re part of. Maybe that’s something that is provided to you as a benefit for being part of that group maybe. That’s kind of the medical side of things. Actually, I want to make one more point, which is for graduate students who are younger and who are still on their parents’ insurance. This is something that you might want to consider when you have insurance offered to you through your graduate program, but you also have the option of being on your parents’ insurance still. If you know that you’re going to need this kind of care, and this would apply to a variety of other medical conditions as well, which insurance is going to be more beneficial to you, and maybe even, is there a way to get double covered, potentially. I don’t know if that’s the case sometimes. Just something to evaluate if you’re eligible for more than one plan.
19:10 Susanna: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I would also say one of the things that gets brought up a lot is that it’s bad, that’s like the low term, that students don’t get full psychological care in addition to whatever medical insurance they’re provided, or just full medical care. But I would say that graduate school in general is not a bad time to start these processes and to get early intervention care. About 75% of people who are going to deal with mental health problems have their first encounter before they’re 25. So right around early, mid twenties is when these things really start showing up, or at least they recognized as larger issues. This is a good time to start getting that help and often university programs, even though they’re not fantastic always, offer a lot more things than you might get at a starting position at a job. I think that it’s worth mentioning, even though it’s not the best system, this might be one of the better places, at least for me in the next five years, foreseeably this is a better insurance set up and a better support system than I will probably have at my next job.
20:25 Emily: I think one of the other benefits there, and it goes right along with that is that the people who you see who are affiliated either with a university or just in the same city as university are used to seeing college students, graduate students, young adults, other people in this age range as you were just saying, when these problems sort of first start occurring, so they may have a little bit more familiarity than if you were in some random city somewhere else and a person who’s dealing with all kinds of different people. We would hope, at any rate.
20:55 Emily: Emily here for a brief interlude. Tax season is upon us and while no one loves this time of year, it’s particularly difficult for post-bac fellows, funded grad students, and postdoc fellows. Even professional tax preparers are often thrown for a loop by our unique tax situation. And don’t get me started on tax software. I provide tons of support at this time of year for PhD trainees preparing their tax returns. From free articles and videos, to paid at-your-own-pace workshops, to live seminars and webinars for universities and research institutes. The best place to go to check out all of this material is pfforphds.com/tax that’s P F F O R P H D dot com slash T A X. Don’t struggle through tax season on your own. Visit my website for the exact information you need in the most efficient form available. Now back to the interview.
21:58 Emily: Okay, so that was kind of on the medical side of things, but what about on more of the balance that’s not directly related to the medical or counseling treatment of mental health problems. What can people do this low cost or no cost on that side of the spectrum?
22:13 Susanna: Well, I love that you brought up the aspect of your church. Whether or not it’s a church, more religious side or some other kind of community based services. And I also know that some churches, even if you’re not a regular member, even if you’re not necessarily religious, will offer those kinds of support groups for people, depending on where it is and what exactly you’re looking for. But even things like joing a yoga studio, or finding a group — Meetup oftentimes has groups that get together, do yoga or have conversations — what can be really helpful for your mental health, there’s a couple things. One, the biggest thing is having a community and being able to feel like you can reach out to somebody and say, “Hey, I’m having a hard time” and to know that they have you. I think that’s technically a no cost option but it takes time to build those relationships with people that you can actually trust.
Susanna: Another really big thing for your mental health is your physical health. Being able to unplug from our phones, which is funny coming from someone who I basically live on social media, but I do actually try to take a week off every two or three months. But taking some time away from our built environment inside and getting outside or if you have access to university gym, fantastic. If not, going for a walk is fantastic. Call a friend while you go for a walk if you don’t want to be alone. Or walk to the grocery store. Or a lot of times if I’m having a bad day, I will get off the bus one stop early and just give myself a little bit extra space. You can do this with any sort of physical activity. There’s ways that you can build up your mental health, even by little things of like choosing positive music, doing affirmations, which is so cringy if anyone has done affirmations, it feels really weird. One of the things that I do that helps that takes like three minutes — I call it three, two, one where I list out three things. I’m grateful for that day; two self complements, so the things that I would say to a friend, but to myself; and one self-love thing I’m going to do that day. It could need get myself a coffee, it could be call a friend, whatever. That kind of like active self intervention can be so helpful.
24:48 Emily: I want to add something there. I really love that you gave that little tool because it’s so, I mean, you can do that at any time throughout the day at any point. I’ve recently been learning more about affirmations also and I’ve actually published a couple podcast episodes on how sort of your mindset with respect to money and career affects your finances overall and how affirmations can be helpful in reversing limiting beliefs around money or false beliefs that kind of holds you back from accomplishing things. I also was very resistant to this idea of affirmations the first dozen times I encountered it. But anyway, anyone who’s interested in that kind of thing, there’s been a couple episodes in the past, I’ll link them from the show notes. This affects all different kinds of areas of life, but I’ve been focusing on learning more about how they affect your money mindset. But go ahead.
- This PhD Healed Her Scarcity Money Mindset Using a Goal-Setting Framework (Part 2)
- How This Graduate Student Rejects the Academic Culture of Being Broke
- How to Combat the Negative Financial Attitudes We Learned in Academia and in Childhood
25:38 Susanna: That’s super cool. Now I’m going to have to go back and listen to those podcasts. The last thing is just having hobbies, having things that you do outside of your work. And that can be anything from, again working out can be a hobby, or cooking, or sewing. Anything that you do, not because someone else is going to think it’s cool, you know, something that you walk away from and you’re like, “yeah, I feel better” just cultivating that. It takes time away, but it is a way for you to give back to yourself and basically a very low cost way of taking care of your overall balance.
26:20 Emily: There’s one more that I want to add in there. I think it’s on the physical health side of things, but that is sleep. This is something that I learned like personally, I did not sleep a lot during college. It was such an intense time and it was weird, I actually went on graduate school interviews about a year after I finished college saying if people ask me, what do you like to do in your spare time, what are your hobbies? I would just say I sleep now. That is my hobby. I lost all my hobbies during college. Now I sleep. That’s how I’m choosing to spend my time and build into myself. And it’s something that I’ve never returned to that lack of sleep that I practiced during college and it’s so much better on this side of things with the sleep.
27:04 Susanna: Yeah. I think that, overall a lot of these things can be summarized of like there’s two limiting factors. You’ve got the limiting factors of finances and you’ve got the limiting factors of time, and in general you’re going to have to choose what you’re gonna pay into. And you’re probably going to have to pay in both, but it is worth it because you get back both. I think that’s what’s really cool is that if you’re at a place mentally that is more healthy, you’re going to do better with your finances and you’re definitely going to do better with your time management and with the enjoyment you get out of your time.
26:45 Emily: Yeah, I think so as well. I don’t really think of these activities as taking away from time or money, but like you said, just just building back into it. I hear this a lot about like working out, like working out does not take time out of your day. It gives you back time during your day because of the energy boost you experience from it and how much, well, if we want to talk about productivity, how much more productive you can be after working out and so forth. Okay, so great, low and no-cost resources there.
The Importance of Investing in Your Mental Health
28:14 Emily: You mentioned earlier this idea of investing in mental health and especially at this particular time of life of, you know, potentially the early twenties. Why is mental health worth investing in? I use that term very carefully, because there’s very few things that actually qualify as investing. And because I deal with finances, I think about actually putting money towards making more money. But there is this parallel idea of investing in other areas of life that don’t directly give you returns on your money but rather give you returns on your self, your person. Why is this worth investing in?
28:46 Susanna: Wow, there’s just so many things and I guess I’m saying this from a perspective of somebody who, if we’ll keep going with the analogy just like really kept digging into that credit card of mental health, where I really didn’t sleep much. I’m still guilty of this and sometimes pushing it too hard, of having to dig into these stores that I don’t necessarily even have. But the point of investing time, money, resources into your mental health is one, if you don’t, it’s not going to get better. I think that there is this really, I think it’s dangerous mentality around grad school that it’s like, “okay, I’m going to do grad school and then when it’s done I’m going to start my life.” And that for some reason that the moment you graduate, everything’s going to get a lot easier, and there’s a lot less stress, and you’re going to be making way more money, and you’re going to feel like an adult. And not surprisingly, I when I talked to people who’ve been out of their PhD for six months, they’re sort of still reeling from it. They’re like, “Oh, it’s, I still have stresses, I still have responsibilities. And in fact, it’s really hard now because I have dealt with these for so long. It’s exhausting.” And so one of those things of why investing now is important is that, um, relative to at least how my future looks — that I want to have a family and kids, I want to have a really full career. I love being busy — is that I don’t foresee my life getting some easier and for me to suddenly find an extra hour in every single day to start dedicating. Building those healthy habits is going to set you really well up for the future when you do have more responsibility rather than just fight this kind of stress. I think this is a really weird time. There’s a huge amount of stress there. There’s no question.
30:42 Susanna: Then the other thing is that I think people have this idea that having better mental health just makes you feel better and it certainly can. I will also say that sometimes working on your mental health feels really awful and it’s important to know that working on your mental health or focusing on finding that balance throughout your life, might not feel great at the time, but you do reap a ton of rewards later on. Speaking personally, I used to go really hard throughout the week and I had something called my Fridays where anyone who was close to me understood that probably two or three Fridays every month I would just crash out. As of about 2:00 PM, I was useless. I was cranky. I couldn’t stay with having commitments and it would take until Saturday afternoon until I was back on it. It would just be a really weird cycle. Looking at it, if I — and this is what I’ve started doing is that I’ve been able to invest 20 minutes a day or so, on average, and then I don’t have that crash out time at the end of the week. And that’s time that I have actually saved. Some interesting things is that people who, for instance with depression, people who deal with depression take significantly more sick days than people who are not dealing with depression. People with anxiety are much less productive if it’s not being handled or managed. And so although you might be working more hours and feeling like, Oh, I can’t possibly fit 30 minutes of exercise in here a day, based on the data we have, you’ll probably be much more productive and you’ll probably make up that 30 minutes and then some, and you’ll also have the benefits of enjoyment that you have there.
32:39 Emily: I think you’re making excellent points on the mental health side of the equation, but I just have to underline everything that you’re saying on the financial side, too, of like don’t squander this opportunity that you have at the moment in building those positive habits in multiple different areas of your life. Because I couldn’t agree with you more that it is pervasive in academia that we think that our life somehow gets to be put on pause during graduate school or during PhD training. And it’s really not the case. As you were saying, if you allow problems to lie on unaddressed, they just, they fester and they grow and then it takes, even that much more to pull yourself back out of it if it’s even possible, at the end of that process. So it is much better to, as you were just saying, invest a little bit of time, a little bit of money, a little bit of effort on a consistent basis up front rather than trying to dig yourself out of it on the back end. Whether we’re talking about mental health or whether we’re talking about finances. Wonderful points overall. And I’m sure if we had more people on this call speaking about other areas of life and they would say the same thing. Beautiful points there.
Financial Advice for PhDs
33:44 Emily: As we wrap up the interview, I like to ask all my guests, what is your best financial advice for another early career PhD? And that could be related to something we’ve already addressed in the interview or it could be something entirely different.
34:00 Susanna: I think my biggest piece of advice and the thing that I’ve had to learn several times over is to give yourself a bigger buffer than you expect. I think what was hard for me is that coming into grad school, I budgeted kind of monthly and that was because a lot of my expenses were pretty consistent throughout undergrad. It was like, okay, every month I’m going to have this, and I didn’t have a car, I didn’t have my own real place. I was renting and everything was already taken care of. What I spent in one month was pretty much what I would spend the next month and I’d have a small buffer. And then getting into grad school, you get kind of these more adult-like problems of your washing machine breaks down, or I have to suddenly pay medical bills that I wasn’t expecting. Things like that. And so I’ve had to learn instead of focusing on a month to month and if I have a buffer at the end of the month, then great. I get to spend that next month, thinking about my buffer in terms of semesters or at least longer, maybe six months at a time. And then at the end of that six months, consider using that buffer. I actually had to learn that my second year when I switched over to a fellowship and they didn’t give us our fellowship for I think 25 days. I didn’t get a paycheck until almost a month after I was expecting it and I was really lucky to have that buffer. You are kind of at the whim of the university. You can’t do a side hustle necessarily. And so that pre-planning for things that you have no idea if they’re going to it’s just, it’s necessary. It’s tricky but it’s necessary.
35:45 Emily: Yeah. Wonderful point. And I mean there’s so much that I could and have teased out in what you’re saying in terms of not relying on the university to pay fellows the same way they would pay employees in terms of being on a deadline. That’s a common unfortunate problem. I totally agree with you about budgeting. I would say over the course of a year, like looking out over the coming year, although semester’s a little bit easier to get your hands around, through what I call targeted savings accounts. That’s a little bit more of a formal system. But like you were just saying, it’s just basically having a longer view about the expenses that are coming your way because they are hard to handle if you only have a given months amount of income to do so. Wonderful points there and thank you for that. Great advice.
Where to Find Susanna Online
36:24 Emily: For members of the audience who don’t yet know where to find you, what’s the best place that they want to follow up with you or learn more about something that you cover?
36:33 Susanna: Sure. I am on social media probably more than I should be, but it is sort of one of my hobbies. I consider it the only game on my phone. You can find me on Twitter and on Instagram @SusannaLHarris. And then to find PhD Balance, we both have a website which is www.phdbalance.com. And then we have Instagram and Twitter as well. You can join the conversation. You can see the other stories that people have have posted, some of our tips and we’d love to hear your stories and your tips. That you can find us @PhD_Balance.
37:15 Emily: Perfect. Thank you so much for giving this interview today.
37:18 Susanna: Yeah, thank you Emily. I’ll talk to you later.
37:20 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 Podington 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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