Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Graduate School: Funding

I’m super frustrated right now.  To explain why I’m so frustrated I’m going to have to back up and explain a little bit about the funding situation in pursuing a PhD.  What I have to say probably varies across the disciplines, but here’s a glimpse of the funding madness of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

Unlike those who pursue medical school, law school or MBA’s, taking out student loans to pay for graduate school is UNCOMMON.  That’s not to say that no one does it (and people often do if just pursuing a masters degree) but for a PhD candidate in a STEM field it is likely that you are getting financial help from some sort of organization which helps cover tuition and living expenses.

The most common funding sources are:
·      Fellowships (from the NSF, NDSEG, and several hundred other sources):  Applications are required, as are yearly progress reports etc
·      Research Assistant (RA):  Generally funded through the university and specific faculty member the student is working with
·      Teaching Assistant (TA):  The people that do all the work a professor for a class doesn’t want to do.  Most common this means grading way too many papers and answering students’ questions.

At this point I’ve been funded through every one of those sources.  TA’s generally mean less time for research.  RA’s mean you are at your adviser’s mercy (My current, frustrating situation).  Fellowships mean a bit more freedom and generally a larger stipend for living expenses.

My frustration comes from the fact I was supposed to hear back about a fellowship opportunity TWO WEEKS ago.  A week ago all the applicants got an e-mail informing us (without apology) that we would find out by Friday or the latest Monday (yes, as in yesterday). 

I’ve been jumping every time I’ve received a new e-mail.  I still haven’t heard anything, which just leaves my brain spinning with fears that I wasn’t picked.  The reason I even care is that this fellowship would be a 10% INCREASE in my stipend.  THIS IS HUGE (especially when considering that my current income is well below the national average).

Even worse, the e-mail I’m waiting for is going to let me know if I get an interview.  Not if I actually get the money but only if I’ve gotten into the second round of interviews.  This e-mail that I’ve been waiting for will also hopefully tell us WHEN that interview will be.

I’ve been in waiting-limbo for almost TWO WEEKS.  Come on people, hurry up and send me some information.  I’m waiting on pins and needles and until you tell me something I can’t start planning!

I don’t have much choice other than continue to wait...and get a free lunch while talking to a prospective student about the joys of graduate school (too accurate:  http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1483).

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