This episode comprises seven audio clips from PhDs and PhD students who are advocates for PhD students’ professional and personal development. They each answer the prompt: “What aspects of a PhD program – beyond academics and research – should a prospective graduate student consider when deciding among offers of admission and why? How should they investigate and evaluate the strength of a program in this area?” The contributors are Dr. Emily Roberts of Personal Finance for PhDs on finances, Mr. Kevin Bird on unionization and advocacy, Dr. Emily Myers on unionization and advocacy, Dr. Jen Polk of Beyond the Professoriate on career development, Dr. Katy Peplin of Thrive PhD on mental health, Ms. Susanna Harris of PhD Balance on mental health, and Dr. Katie Wedemeyer-Strombel on work-life balance. Please share this episode with all the prospective PhD students in your life!
Links Mentioned in This Episode
- Find the contributors on Twitter:
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Podcast Hub
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Subscribe to the mailing list
- Finance: Calculate the Living Wage
- Finance: How to Read Your PhD Program Offer Letter
- Finance: Additional Financial Factors to Consider Before Accepting an Offer of Admission
- Unionization and Advocacy: Find out more about unions in Washington and California
- Career Development: Beyond the Professoriate
- Mental Health: Thrive PhD
- Mental Health: PhD Balance
- Work-Life Balance: More from Dr. Katie Wedemeyer-Strombel
00:05 Emily R.: 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 two and today I have a very special episode for you. I have invited six other PhD advocates to contribute their voices to this episode and you’ll hear from myself and each one of them in turn. The questions I’ve asked each of these contributors to answer are: what aspect of a PhD program, beyond academics and research should a prospective graduate student consider when deciding among offers of admission, and why? How should they investigate and evaluate the strength of a program in this area?
00:45 Emily R.: If you’ve already matriculated into or completed a PhD program, you probably appreciate what an important topic this is. Will you take a minute to please share this episode with prospective PhD students in your sphere of influence? Please tweet your thoughts on the episode using the hashtag #PhDfactors. In this episode, we’re going to hear from me, Dr. Emily Roberts of Personal Finance for PhDs on finances, Mr. Kevin Byrd on unionization and advocacy, Dr. Emily Myers on unionization and advocacy, Dr. Jen Polk of beyond the professoriate on career development, Dr. Katie Pepin of thrive PhD on mental health, Ms. Susanna Harris of PhD balance on mental health and Dr. Katie Wedemeyer-Strombel on work life balance. Without further ado, let’s hear from our contributors.
Finances with Dr. Emily Roberts
01:43 Emily R.: Naturally, my contribution to this episode revolves around your finances, specifically how to evaluate whether you will be sufficiently supported by the stipend or salary provided by the program. You may or may not end up using this factor when you choose your PhD program, but either way you should go into graduate school well aware of the financial realities. When I was applying to PhD programs, I didn’t pay much attention to the stipends in the offer letters. I naively trusted that every program I was accepted to would support me financially to a reasonable degree. The PhD program I picked based on only the research opportunities and location actually did pay a decent stipend, but that was blind luck on my part. I know now that graduate students often do experience a great degree of financial stress and ill effects. Approximately 50% of PhD students take out student loans, prior to graduation and many also accumulate credit card and other types of consumer debt. Some PhD students qualify for snap benefits and a few experience food insecurity. Think about the difference it would make to your mental health alone to attend a graduate program with a stipend that allows for a comfortable standard of living versus a program where you have to pinch every penny, side hustle like mad, and still be in the red every month. Do you think you will be able to perform well academically if you’re experiencing chronic financial stress?
03:08 Emily R.: There are long-term financial effects to think about as well. If you currently have student loans, will your stipend allow you to start to repay them? If they are un-subsidized, they will accrue interest all through your graduate school deferment period and you’ll have an even larger balance to tackle post-PhD. What if you were able to start investing with your stipend? If you’ve never played around with a compound interest calculator, pause this episode and spend a few minutes doing so now. With reasonable assumptions, investing $250 per month throughout only five years of graduate school can turn into nearly $1 million in your retirement years. That’s $1 million of wealth in retirement that would not exist if you accepted a stipend that didn’t afford you that ability to save.
03:56 Emily R.: Are you sufficiently motivated to pay attention to the stipends in your offer letters? Good. I’m going to tell you how to evaluate the single most important factor in your funding package. The number that I want you to find in each of your offer letters is your stipend or salary net of fees. Some of your offer letters might state this number clearly and some might obfuscate it. To compare apples to apples across all your offers, you need to know how much money is actually going to end up in your bank account after your tuition, insurance premiums, and all fees have been paid. If your offer letter doesn’t make it clear to you what financial obligations you will have to pay to the university from your stipend, it’s worth a follow-up email to clarify.
04:39 Emily R.: Next, we need to put this net stipend number in the context of the local cost of living for the university. I like to use the MIT living wage database for this. The living wage is basically the amount of money it takes to pay for basic living expenses like housing and food in that local area. It doesn’t include discretionary expenses like travel or putting money toward financial goals. Go to livingwage.mit.edu and click on the state and county of the university you’re considering scroll until you see the amount of money that constitutes a living wage, including income taxes for a single person. If you have a child, or someone else who depends on your income, you may need to scan over to the amounts for larger family sizes. Take the living wage number you found and compare it to the stipend after all education related expenses have been paid. Ideally, your stipend will be higher than the local living wage. Personally, I felt I was able to live comfortably during grad school and save a good amount of money and my stipend was about one third higher than the local living wage. The number that represents your stipend, net of fees divided by the local living wage is the number that you can compare across all of your offer letters.
05:54 Emily R.: Now, what should you do with this information? My advice, which you can take or leave, is to eliminate from consideration all of the PhD programs that will pay you less than the local living wage. If you choose to go to a program that pays you poorly, steel yourself for the likelihood that you will take out student loans or consumer debt during your PhD or have to devote a lot of time to side hustling. You may decide that this is worthwhile, but at least now you’ll go in with your eyes open. If you have two or more offers that are above the local living wage, if you like, you can continue to factor in financial considerations as you make your decision. In fact, I’ve made a list of a dozen additional factors you should evaluate before committing to a PhD program. The stipend divided by the local living wage actually just scratches the surface. You can download the PDF of the full list by going to pfforphds.com/offerletter and signing up for my mailing list.
Further reading: 10 Ways to Combat Financial Fragility Beyond Grad School
Unionization and Advocacy with Mr. Kevin Bird
07:00 Kevin: Hi, my name is Kevin Byrd. I’m a PhD candidate in the department of horticulture at Michigan State University and I’m also the current president of the graduate employees union in Michigan State and I’ll be covering how and why to take graduate unions into account for your graduate school decision. Graduate unions are important to consider because I think they’re central to a safe, secure, and equitable experience in graduate school. If you have a graduate union, it means there’s a system in place to combat harassment, discrimination, overwork, and other workplace mistreatments, independent from these university institutions. It also means there’s more power to pushing universities to provide living wages, comprehensive health insurance to all graduate assistants and to keep university fees low. When we were looking at other universities at Michigan State for our last contract campaign, we found a pretty stark pattern that the highest stipends in terms of cost of living were held by unionize universities and the lowest by non-unionized. In fact the only universities that had stipends less than half the cost of living were non-unionized universities.
08:03 Kevin: Additionally, through collective bargaining, there is something that holds institutions to their word and maintains benefits and services graduate assistants are entitled to receive. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Missouri, there was a moment when graduate assistants lost their health insurance with two days notice. Without a binding collective bargaining agreement, these students were largely left powerless to get back the benefits they were promised upon signing. Meanwhile, at Michigan State after several contract campaigns, we have some of the most comprehensive health care on campus with low deductibles and low co-pays, even after the university tried to reduce those benefits in the last contract cycle. It’s this sort of stability and progress that unions help maintain and build upon year after year. Hopefully the benefits of unions are at least partially clear right now and we can move on to how to evaluate unions at universities that you’re looking at.
08:52 Kevin: One of the first things to look at is whether the university is public, private, public universities are governed by state labor law, while private universities are governed by federal labor law. Given the latest ruling by the national labor review board, most private university unions are fighting for a struggle to be recognized by universities, whereas many state labor laws allow for graduate students to be unionized. Knowing whether university is public or private is one of the easiest ways to figure out if there is an established union or if there is a union currently fighting for recognition. Right now at Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and Loyola, all private universities, there are unions but they are not officially recognized by the university and they have not been able to participate in collective bargaining.
09:33 Kevin: The next move would be some internet sleuthing to look at the website of the union at the university you’re looking at first see if they have their last collective bargaining agreement posted. This would tell you the benefits that graduate assistants currently have with the university, especially important things like the minimum stipend the university can pay you, the pay increases every year, and the current health insurance plan the graduate students currently enjoy.
09:54 Kevin: Next, would be the current campaigns the union’s currently working on. What sort of things need to be addressed in the university? What’s the union doing to address them? And what does progress look like over the last few years? All of these things will help you get a landscape of what issues are facing a campus and how a union is working to address them and how successful they’ve been in the past. Additionally, you can look at media presence to see how the news covered the last bargaining cycle that a union undertook. Did they have to shut down streets with a march? Did the hold rallies? What sort of actions were they able to take that eventually led to the progress that they got in their latest contract? These things in particular can tell you how well organized a union is and how they can use their power to make changes on progress for graduate assistance.
10:34 Kevin: You can also look for other benefits that unions provide to their members. At Michigan State, we have something called the solidarity grant where members can apply to the union in times of financial need and receive a couple of hundred dollars or a thousand dollars to address major crises that have occurred in their life, from a flat tire to burst pipes. One final thing to consider is whether the university website talks about the union on it. This could be an indication of labor relations between the union and the university. It’s probably best to be at a university that acknowledges and at least recognizes the union and works to distribute information about contract benefits to prospective and current students.
11:07 Kevin: All these things considered, I would personally recommend prioritizing universities with strong unions in your decision. A graduate degree can take many years and the political and economic landscape can change rapidly. An established union is capable of increasing and maintaining current benefits, while also fighting off rash decisions by university administrations. If you’re committing to live somewhere for five years and you’re embarking on an ambitious academic project, it’s good to have someone on your side fighting for your benefits and maintaining a quality of life that you deserve while you’re working on this degree. While these conditions may exist anywhere, I think they’re much more likely to occur in universities with strong graduate unions.
Unionization and Advocacy with Dr. Emily Myers
11:50 Emily M.: Hi, my name is Dr. Emily Myers. I, very recently, as of last week, have a PhD in pharmacology from the University of Washington, here in Seattle. I am also an executive board member with UAW 4121, which is the union that represents about 6,000 postdocs and academic student employees, like teaching and research assistants, here at the University of Washington. I am going to give some insights into what I wish I had known when I was looking for a PhD program, and how important unions can be for your graduate student experience beyond stipends and student fees, which unions have also won major victories for graduate students.
12:31 Emily M.: So I chose my program for my science interests and because I loved Seattle, but I really didn’t have the depth of knowledge about how institutions work that I do now that I’m on the other side of my PhD. I was fortunate that I chose a university where the graduate students had been unionized and had been building power since 2001 and we had stronger workplace protections than most other schools, because academia is a strict hierarchy, with power dynamics that do not favor trainees, like grad students. In tandem with these power structures are institutional structures, where harassment and discrimination are widespread. In fact, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine put out a report last year showing that women in science face rates of harassment second only to the military, and that this was for white women, and so fails to capture any sort of intersecting identities. And it’s important to understand that harassment and discrimination are about power, and who has power, and who maintains access to that power. Unions are a fundamental way to change power structures, through bottom up grassroots organizing, and gives graduate students and other trainees more of a voice in their workplace. As union members, we have access to third party neutral arbitration, which is the only scenario where the university does not have final control over the outcome of a harassment claim. This is a huge step in rebalancing power and that’s one of the top things that grad students at Harvard are on strike over and are fighting for right now.
14:07 Emily M.: In addition, unions can be a phenomenal source of community in graduate school, because graduate school can be extremely isolating. And so finding folks outside of your discipline is huge and the unions can also offer resources that are not dependent on university approval, which can be critical for international students on visas. And I think that enthusiasm and recognition for the need to change these power structures is reflected in how we are seeing a huge spike in graduate students and postdocs forming unions across the country at all kinds of schools.
14:43 Emily M.: So to give an example of this, towards the end of my time as a PhD student, I made a complaint about a professor in my department who notorious for making sexual jokes for harassing young women and saying racist things. And the university investigated and said while they believed us, but it wasn’t bad enough, meaning it didn’t cross the legal definition of harassment, and so the university was not liable and would not take further action. And it was through working with my union, we were able to get this professor removed from supervision of grad students, even after the university failed to take action. So I am not sure that without my union community and allies, I would have felt safe enough to say anything in the first place, let alone get results from speaking out about harassment.
15:32 Emily M.: As always, I hope anyone listening here won’t face harassment and discrimination in their time as a graduate student or in general. But I also strongly encourage anyone who comes from a marginalized background or is concerned about their future work environments to consider the status of a graduate student union in their decisions about choosing a program. So you can find out if a university has a union by either asking current graduate students. Or universities typically will have a labor relations office and you can check their webpage to see what workers are unionized on campus and you’ll want to look for a name and local number. Like for example, UAW 4121 is United Auto Workers four one two one. Because student senates and associations are not the same thing. And you can always reach out to current graduate unions like mine at UAW4121.org for more resources or resources or information. Or for example, if you’re in California, it would be UAW2865.org. And with that I just want to say congratulations on your PhD programs and good luck.
Career Development with Dr. Jennifer Polk
16:50 Jennifer: My name is Jennifer Polk and I’m co-founder of Beyond The Professoriate. I earned my PhD in history from the University of Toronto and now work full-time helping graduate students and doctoral degree holders build awesome careers. It’s crucial to actively attend to your career while pursuing a PhD. This might seem counterintuitive. After all, isn’t the PhD itself the thing that will help your career? While that may occasionally be true, it’s only true if you build into your experience activities and accomplishments that matter to employers, both within and beyond academia. That building is usually something you need to do for yourself. You can’t rely on your advisor or graduate program to do it for you.
17:44 Jennifer: Most PhD students live on minimal stipends and it’s common for folks to take additional paid work, if they’re able, to pay their way. An awful lot of folks have significant student loans too, of course, and if you’re a regular listener of this podcast, you know all this very well. All of that is to say that you might need a decent paying job pretty quickly once you graduate. Since it could take months to find work, even for the most successful among us, you’ll need to put in the groundwork over the years of your PhD to build experiences, gain skills, and cultivate a professional network that spans a variety of fields. That’s so you’ll be in a good position to get hired when it’s time to start applying for jobs. Ideally, your advisor will be supportive of your career no matter where it takes you. A good match with your primary advisor is incredibly important. That’s true beyond career concerns, of course. Advisors have a lot of influence over your experience, much more than you might expect, and there are academic studies that show this. I’m not just making it up.
19:01 Jennifer: Beyond your advisor, ideally, your department and the graduate program specifically will actively create opportunities for you and your fellow students to gain professional experience and grow your networks. Maybe you can do an internship with the full support of your department or attend regular lunch and learn or other networking events that they organize. Pay attention to academic and nonacademic resources. The default in many academic disciplines is to privilege scholarly careers above all others. Avoid, please, avoid departments that give you that vibe. They are not living in reality and you very much will be.
19:46 Jennifer: The bottom line here is to make sure your advisor will treat you with respect always and support you doing what you need to do to build career-relevant experiences and skills for both academic and nonacademic careers. You can absolutely ask your prospective advisors pointed questions about what kinds of career support you can expect. This is your career, your life, and you want to make sure you’ll get the support and resources you need for success during and after your studies. Graduate school is hard enough without all this added stress.
20:21 Jennifer: As you’re exploring your options, learn about programming and other opportunities available to you via the institution’s career center or graduate school. Look, for example, for a robust series of workshops, for career consultants, you can make one on one appointments with. Maybe they focus specifically on graduate students, even just PhD students. That’s awesome. You can also investigate what’s being done at the association level, so to check on what your academic discipline is up to. For example, some of the larger scientific societies host regular webinars and program multiple career-related sessions during their annual meetings. That’s great. Do take a proactive approach before you accept an offer and enroll. This is not the time to be shy. If you don’t find a good fit, you might be better off not doing a PhD at all or not this year. Your bachelor’s or master’s degrees are absolutely good enough to help you create an awesome career and life for yourself. One filled with all the creativity, intellectual rigor and challenging problem solving that drew you to want to do a PhD in the first place.
21:36 Jennifer: Learn more about Beyond the Professoriate on our website beyondprof.com and you can find us on social media too. You can also follow me, Jen, on Twitter at @FromPhDtoLife. I’d love to see you there. Thank you.
Mental Health with Dr. Katy Peplin
21:58 Katy: Hello, my name is Dr. Katy Pepin and I am the founder and head coach of Thrive PhD. Thrive PhD is a community for graduate students. It’s also individual coaching, courses, a Twitter presence, and Instagram all at that handle. Why I care about this aspect, mental health, of PhD programs is because it was one of the things that was so hard for me when I was a grad student. I have been dealing with a brain that tends toward anxiety, that can have some depression issues. My diagnoses aren’t as important as the fact that I knew early on in my PhD program that if I didn’t take care of my brain, as well as my career and my publications, I wasn’t gonna make it through.
22:48 Katy: So some of the things that I think it’s important to consider when you’re looking at a PhD program are first of all, the resources that are available for your mental health, through the university and hopefully at no cost or little cost to you. Some questions to ask: are grad students allowed to be seen in the on-campus mental health facilities? Sometimes those are undergraduate student only, so that’s important to know. Whether or not the health insurance that you’ll be offered covers mental health services or medications? If so, is there a limit to how many sessions you can have per year or per semester? Do you have the ability to be seen by providers outside of that insurance network or are you limited to a handful of people inside of the area? All really good questions to ask for your insurance.
23:41 Katy: Secondly, it’s important to kind of ask some questions around the mental health culture in the department. Some of the sure sign tells for me are: one, do graduate students stay enrolled? Do they have a high dropout rate? Sometimes that can indicate a mental health climate problem. Do people openly and excitedly talk about their non-PhD, non-grad school lives in the program? Do they talk about how they go rock climbing? Is it encouraged to work out? Do people have the ability to flex their schedules based on how they’re feeling on any given day? Is the opportunity available for you to work remotely? And if people are struggling, do people feel comfortable asking for help around those areas?
24:29 Katy: It can be really difficult to find that out on a prospective visit or even from an email as you’re evaluating, as you’re not a student. But it can be very important to find ways to ask that question. So some of the questions that I have asked to get around the mental health climate without directly saying, does your faculty support or not support the idea of graduate students having robust mental health resources and support, are to ask things like, do people feel comfortable talking about their personal lives? Do any graduate students have different family structures? Do graduate students have kids? Is anybody a parent? Is anyone a caretaker? What kind of relationships do people have? And are those things supported? Another great question to ask are how are the boundaries around breaks? One of the sure fire tells of a department that has a kind of problematic culture around mental health is that students either don’t feel comfortable taking breaks or they only take them in between the semester when their grading is finished or when the university is otherwise shut down. So ask graduate students, you know, what are the PI’s policies around weekends and evening work? What are the policies if you need to go home unexpectedly or if you’re not from here? Is it flexible enough for you to work remotely if you need to? Are there opportunities for graduate students to tweak the conditions of their work in order to best support themselves?
26:02 Katy: It can be really hard to ask those questions and it definitely can be worrying to say, I want to know what these resources are in advance because some graduate students might feel like that makes them seem like they’re already a problem and they’re not even there. So I would embolden you and encourage you to ask as many questions as you feel comfortable, but know that there are always ways to build support around yourself, whether that is through what the university provides or supplementing it from an outside perspective or place. I’m wishing you a happy new year. And again, my name is Katy Paplin. I am the founder of thrive PhD. You can find me on Twitter or Instagram @ThrivePhD or thrive-phd.com
Mental Health with Ms. Susanna Harris
26:58 Susanna: Hi everyone. My name is Susanna Harris and I am a PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I am also the founder and CEO of the PhD Balance. PhD Balance is an online community dedicated to talking about those difficult challenges and problems we face while we’re in our graduate programs. I founded this group because we really wanted to make a space to talk about certain things like dealing with difficult advisers or understanding what to do after graduation, but most importantly we wanted to talk about the struggles that students have with their mental health and with dealing with mental illness throughout their programs. I really care about this because I myself have depression and anxiety and I realized that a lot of other people around me did as well, but we just didn’t talk about it.
27:48 Susanna: For this reason, I think it’s really important to look at graduate programs and understand how they will support students’ mental health. You can get a good idea of this based on what kind of resources they have, as in, can you go to campus health? How long does it take to get an appointment? What kind of treatments are covered and can you see a therapist outside of those treatment options? This might include how does the department respond to when there is a mental health crisis or when a student divulges to someone that they are struggling with some sort of mental illness. You can even understand what is the culture surrounding the discussion of mental illness. Does the department actively provide resources? Will the lab group that you’re joining be open and accepting of someone having a difficult time? Does the university provide mental health days or access to other kinds of literature? This is really important because although a lot of us, myself included, go into graduate school thinking we are prepared and we will somehow get through it faster and easier than the average, we have to remember that the average is made up of people just like us and I’ve quickly realized that the challenges I faced in the PhD were just as hard as people before me had said.
29:06 Susanna: So what are the best ways to go about seeing if your new program or your new lab will take care of your mental health, no matter what kind of challenges arise? The best way to do this is to just ask people directly. Say, “this is something that is commonly talked about. I know that others have expressed difficulties with dealing with their mental health. How does it work in where you are?” It’s better to ask things about how or what or when rather than just asking, “is the mental health culture good or is mental health supported?” You can ask things like what has happened in the past when someone has talked about these things or you can say, are you aware of what resources there are and can you show me where to find them? Even understanding if a faculty member or a lab member or department has or knows about these resources tells you a lot about how important this topic is to them.
29:57 Susanna: If you want to understand more about my perspective, you can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @SusannaLHarris and I would love for you to check out PhD Balance. We have a website that’s www.phdbalance.com or you can follow us on Twitter and Instagram to hear other people’s stories of dealing with these really hard challenges in graduate schools and sharing resources about how to get through a program. That’s at @PhD_balance. So thank you so much. Bye.
Work-Life Balance with Dr. Katie Wedemeyer-Strombel
30:39 Katie: Hi, I’m Dr. Katie Wedemeyer-Strombel and if you follow me on Twitter it will be no surprise that I’m here to talk about the importance of considering work-life balance when choosing a PhD program. This is a subject I’m passionate about because I chose a PhD program without considering things like departmental culture and the recreational opportunities in the area. Both of these ended up being a pretty bad fit for me and in hindsight I wish I would have more strongly considered the nonacademic factors as seriously as I considered the academic ones. As a PhD student, it’s very easy to lose yourself to your program, to your work, and it’s critical that you’re able to rest and recreate regularly in ways that fuel you. As I say frequently, rest is not just a reward for hard work, but a critical component to working hard. Making sure that the university you attend and the surrounding area can provide enough resources for your well-rounded life and interests is important.
31:33 Katie: When you become a PhD student, generally you will work for the university as a teaching or research assistant in addition to conducting your own research and while will take up a lot of your time and energy, it should not and does not have to be all that you are. You are allowed to be a whole person, not just a research robot and finding a departmental culture and location that fit your interests is important.
31:57 Katie: Let’s first talk about departmental culture. What do I mean by this? Let’s say for example, if you don’t drink alcohol but learn that a department you’re considering regularly encourages binge drinking as a reward for working hard, then perhaps that’s not a great fit for you. If it’s important for you to see your family for certain holidays, make sure that the department you’ll be joining encourages or at the very least does not reprimand students for taking time to spend with loved ones.
32:25 Katie: Now about location of the program. This is something, again, I mistakenly did not consider when choosing my program and it made falling into the bad habits of overwork and over-drinking too easy, as my usual hobbies and recreational activities were hard to come by in the area. For example, do you like to hike and camp? Then a university in a flat state with few nature exploration opportunities may not be a good fit. Do you enjoy seeing or performing in live theater? Google the area and make sure there’s an outlet for this nearby. Does seeing the ocean or other body of water help calm you down when you’re stressed out? If so, maybe only consider schools that have natural features that fit these needs.
33:04 Katie: So how can you look into the work life balance factors as a perspective student? Well, the best thing you can do is ask current students in the department, preferably over the phone or in person, questions about the local culture within the department and the recreational opportunities nearby. Preferably, you’ll be able to talk to this current students over the phone or in person, and I specifically recommend asking over the phone or in person so that the current students will feel more open to answering honestly, as they don’t have a written record of their answers. If you are unable to ask in person, say on a recruiting trip, you can email and ask for a quick phone call. In my experience as both the perspective student and the current student in this scenario, most folks are happy to chat and share their own experiences. Some questions that I recommend asking are: are current students able to comfortably take time to spend with loved ones? Can they travel for holidays? Are they encouraged or reprimanded for working reasonable hours and taking time away when needed? What do they do for fun that’s not related to their work? What do they like most about the location of their program? And what do they like most about the departmental culture that they’re in? If you’re a minority, I’d also recommend asking others who share similar backgrounds with you if they feel that their way of life feels welcomed and safe within their department and local culture. And one of the most important questions I think you can ask is if the current student would choose the same program again, knowing what they know now about it.
32:42 Katie: So now that you’ve talked with the current students about the departmental culture and the location of the university, what do you do with this information? Seriously consider their answers and allow those answers to help you decide between programs. If you get an off feeling from a program’s culture or worry that you won’t be able to do your favorite hobby, trust your gut and find a program that best suits your needs, both the academic and your personal work life balance needs. As my amazing advisor, Dr. Tarla Rai Peterson once told me, “We are all better off when we give ourselves permission to know one another as whole people.” Your PhD research is going to be important, but who you are as a person is even more important and I encourage you to consider your own personal needs in addition to your academic ones in choosing a program. For more on work life balance as a graduate student, you can read some articles I have in the Chronicle of Higher Education or follow me on Twitter at @krwedermeyer. Thanks for listening and best of luck as you choose your program.
35:58 Emily R.: It’s Emily again as we close out this episode. I’d like to emphasize two themes I heard from the contributors. First, grad school is your real life. It’s not reasonable to try to ignore or suppress your personal life or what makes you happy and healthy for the five or so years you’ll spend in your PhD program. Choose a PhD program that enables you to live a full life and succeed academically. Second, you can find a good amount of information online, but nothing can replace personal real time conversations with current graduate students. The best time and place for those conversations, and your other observations, is during campus visits. I encourage you to attend as many of those as you possibly can and participate in them fully, asking all the questions the contributors suggested in this episode. You can follow up over the phone, as needed, as decision day approaches. I wish you all the best in choosing the PhD program that will foster both your professional and personal development. Please share this episode with all of the prospective PhD students in your life.
37:12 Emily R.: Listeners, thank you for joining me for this episode. PFforPphDs.com/podcast is the hub for the Personal Finance for PhDs podcast. There, you can find links to all the episode show notes and a form to volunteer to be interviewed. I’d love for you to check it out and get more involved. If you’ve been enjoying the podcast, here are four ways you can help it grow. One, subscribe to the podcast and rate and review it on Apple podcast, Stitcher, or whatever platform you use. Two, share an episode you found particularly valuable on social media or with your PhD peers. Three, recommend me as a speaker to your university or association. My seminars covered the personal finance topics PhDs are most interested in, like investing, debt repayment, and taxes. Four, subscribe to my mailing list at PFforPhDs.com/subscribe. Through that list, you’ll keep up with all the new content and special opportunities for Personal Finance for PhDs. See you in the next episode, and remember, you don’t have to have a PhD to succeed with personal finance, but it helps. The music is Stages of Awakening by Poddington Bear from the Free Music Archive and is shared under CC by NC. Podcast editing and show notes creation by Lourdes Bobbio
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