Frequently, PhD students will be supported for one or more years of grad school by training grants or fellowships. Training grants are given to departments to support incoming students while they are engaged with taking classes and doing rotations before committing to an advisor. Fellowships may be given by the university or an outside funding source and typically carry some prestige as well as possibly a higher pay rate. Both fellowships and training grants are typically considered non-compensatory pay because there is “no work requirement.”
Before you enter your program, you should talk with faculty members, administrators, and older students to learn what type of funding you have been offered for the first and subsequent years and what additional funding you might apply for. Fellowship applications are often due in the fall for funding beginning in the next school year, so you may need to start your applications soon after arriving on campus.
In addition to university-based fellowship opportunities, there are many national-level field-specific fellowships available to students at different stages of their degrees that are catalogued in fellowship databases.
What if I have more than one fellowship?
It is not uncommon for students to receive more than one fellowship that provide stipends. In those cases, the funding agencies typically coordinate a schedule that will allow the student to use only one fellowship at a time and spread the funding out over more of the student’s tenure in grad school. These qualified students may have fellowship funding from the start of grad school to the end.
If I win a fellowship, what does my department give me?
If you receive a fellowship that alleviates your university of providing your stipend, particularly if it is prestigious and for multiple years, ask your department if they provide a bonus or supplemental pay to students who win that fellowship. If you are receive the fellowship during your application process, find out which schools would offer a bonus or supplemental pay and consider letting your top choice know what your other offers are. This is possibly the only opportunity a grad student has to negotiate compensation.
What happens when my fellowship ends?
If you receive a fellowship that provides a stipend that is higher than the base stipend of your department, be cognizant that your stipend may decrease significantly when your fellowship ends. Be proactive in using your excess income for those years to beef up savings or pay down debt instead of inflating your lifestyle.