I’ve written about the logistics of doing a Ph. D before.
In it, I mentioned the need to get a scholarship that gives you a fee offset (so that your degree is paid for) and a stipend (so you can actually live). Not everyone can get both, or even one of these- it just depends on your marks and the demand. It’s a truly horrible situation to have your entire career decided on by some numbers, rather than whether your supervisor really wants you to work in their lab.
Now, when I got my Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) in 2016, which has since become the Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship, the annual stipend was $26,288. The current 2022 rate is $32,400.
Given the Australian minimum wage currently (at the time of writing) is sitting at around $40,175.20…
Am I the only one laughing? To hide the tears?
Just thinking about how I used to work around 9-10 hours each day between Mondays-Fridays and probably an additional 9-10 hours on either Saturdays and Sundays (sometimes both depending on deadlines)… Definitely way more than 40 hours a week, for what was below minimum wage…
And how that doesn’t guarantee you a high paying job at the end of it…
AND how those hours I mentioned are on the lower end- I have plenty of friends who frequently do/did overnighters, regardless of whether it was weekday or weekend, who basically never see/saw actual sunlight. The only UV they were exposed to was probably the one emitted by the Biosafety cabinets when they were sterilising them after use.
Anyway- enough sobbing. 😅
Now that I’ve given you the realities of the financial situation for a Ph. D student (even in a top tier institution), here are some things that I, and those around me, used to do to earn a little bit more so that you could breathe a little easier when it was time to pay the rent/bills/etc.
1. SAVE, SAVE, SAVE
Do whatever you can to save money.
Budget your life and see where you can cut costs.
Live at home if it’s cheaper, or at least live in a sharehouse.
Walk/ride for you commute, rather than drive or PT. Don’t own a car because the rego, insurance, and overall running costs are too high.
Don’t eat out, and just bulk buy groceries and shop all the sales.
Don’t buy things you don’t need. If they’re not essential, just don’t get it.
No expensive holidays or trips.
It sounds kinda miserable, doesn’t it? Certainly doesn’t allow for a typical social life.
So, within reason, do any and/or all of the above. There are plenty of websites and videos that give you tips on budgeting.
And I’d like to stress within reason, because you’re in a highly stressful work/study environment already. If shopping the occasional video game or clothing item gives you immense joy… do it. We are humans, after all, and humans need the occasional happiness.
I used to just buy whatever groceries I wanted, because I love cooking (as you may have realised, if you’re a long time reader 😅😂), and that was my way to unwind. The more complex the dish, the better. It just gave me so much joy to make something and feed it to other people, so I decided I wasn’t going to be too restrictive with that. Because it was something that made me very happy.
To counter it, I cut costs elsewhere.
I didn’t buy clothes very often… or shoes. I didn’t go out much (benefits of being an introvert), and I honestly didn’t have many other expenditures.
It’s about balance, really.
Aside from that, I couldn’t study from home (being from a regional area), but I did have an amazing 😂housemate in the latter part of my candidature. Admittedly it wasn’t the cheapest of rents possible, but this is also somewhere that I gave myself a bit more leeway, because…
I don’t like people. 😅
And even out of the ones that I do like, there are very few people in my social circle that I would invite into my home. Not because I don’t like them- I just don’t have the energy to spend a lot of time with them, because, again, I’m an introvert. I find peopling exhausting, even when I really like them.
So, if I’m at home (in my own turf), I need to surround myself with people I find the least bit exhausting, or give myself plenty of physical space between them so that I can retreat and recharge… without causing any offence. Otherwise I get really grumpy and short from putting up a subconscious ‘front’ for too long, and no one needs to be around that. It’s just who I am.
Thankfully my former housemate really understood that, and while we are different people, we had the same sort of unwind routines and socialising limits. So we found a somewhat bigger place than for just the two of us, and it meant that we had plenty of space to keep to ourselves, or mingle… when we wanted to.
Set boundaries on what you can/can’t tolerate. Remember you have to keep at it for 3-5 years. It has to be sustainable.
Also, if you’re eligible to get a Low Income Healthcare Card (Australian citizen/resident), a Ph. D stipend doesn’t count as taxable income, so you can get a healthcare card to cut costs!!
2. Earn more money
Here’s how to sell a kidney on the black market…
OBVIOUSLY I’m joking.
Because I don’t know how to do that. 👀
But the other common thing we all did was to get a casual job somewhere to boost your income- even just a little bit.
It also looks great on your CV if you have a job while you study.
The most accessible job for us was to teach undergraduate Pracs.
The pay is great ($40-50/hour), and the Prac rooms were just downstairs in the same building. It meant you could quite easily duck out for a few hours, then come back and resume your experiments. The only downside is that it can be competitive (sometimes there can be a lot of potential demonstrators signing up), and it’s only for 12 weeks (the teaching period) per Semester.
But it’s definitely better than nothing (by far!), and if there are reports or exams to mark, it can boost your income significantly.
Plus, it gives you great contacts and references if you want to pursue a teaching career afterwards. 😉
You can also become a Demonstrator/Facilitator for other faculties or institutions
Don’t limit your job searches to just your department alone- there might be other opportunities in other departments or faculties. It’s good to ask other demonstrators to see what other subjects they teach, or where they teach, and see if they can give you an ‘in’. You can also send expressions of interests to other educational institutions if you know they use postgraduate students to do the teaching. It never hurts to try.
The downside is that you might have to ‘commute’ to this other place, perhaps a little further than if it were within your department. It just means you have to plan your day really well to make sure you don’t negatively impact your work/studies because you were busy teaching elsewhere.
Sign up to become a tutor
Given you’re smart enough to get into postgrad, you’re definitely smart enough to teach undergraduate students the basics of your field. You’d be surprised how much you know, even if you feel super dumb in your Ph. D project. 😂
You don’t have to be university affiliated, but it helps if you are. Makes you look much more official.
You can also help with editing essays and reports as a copy editor- so long as you don’t overextend yourself and become a ghost writer for students and aid in their collusion. That’s academic misconduct plain and simple, and a huge no no. It also goes against being a good educator if you’re just doing the work for them and not teaching them how to improve their skills.
Work for the educational institution in other ways
Keep an eye out for job postings for the university.
Work for student centres- there’s multiple faculties and they might even be split by undergrad and postgrad. Given you’re likely to have been a recent student, knowing the process might actually give you an advantage.
‘Work’ in the lab
There’s always random, internal opportunities going around if you pay attention to department emails.
I’ve previously been the Moth Queen in the lab and looked after the lab Galleria on a casual basis.
I know others who were employed to label samples and sort through freezer stocks, because someone had to do it and it was easier and cheaper to employ students to do the hard work.
Maybe the animal house needs assistance to look after the animals used in different studies, or media prep need assistance from someone to make large batches of media/buffers that the department/institute uses?
Maybe there’s odd admin jobs going within the department?
Either way, keep an eye (and ear) out, and you might get lucky.
Become a writer
Good at communicating science in written format? Maybe it’s worth pursuing a career in science communication and write articles for different journals, newspapers, and/or magazines? It’s an incredibly competitive market, but if you’re good (and interested), it’s worth a shot.
Being able to communicate complex ideas and findings to a wide variety of audiences is an incredibly useful skill to have.
Get a ‘normal’ casual job like everyone else
At the end of the day, if it gives you extra income, the job doesn’t have to be related to your field at all. Work in the hospitality industry, or the retail industry. Sure, it might not be the most useful for your career path, but it still pays the bills, right? I know people who worked at Australia Post and sorted their mail during the night. I know people who were bartenders or worked in a furniture store while they did their Ph. Ds. It can be done.
Enter ‘competitions’ that have monetary rewards
This one would just be ad hoc, but there are free conferences and presentation nights that have monetary prizes for those that do really well in either the oral presentation or poster presentation categories. I inadvertently scored $300 for my poster at the Victorian Infection and Immunity Network Young Investigator Symposium one year- where I wasn’t listening to the announcements at all because I had 0 confidence I’d win anything, only to have my friends and colleagues poking me to receive the award while I’d been day dreaming about what to have for dinner that night. 😂 That was a really nice surprise.
These are usually sponsored by different organisations and/or industry partners, but they’re definitely worth entering. Even if you don’t get the prize itself, it’ll look great on the CV if you’ve presented so many times during your candidature.
Obviously there would be other ways to earn more money, but the ones I listed are ones that were really common amongst the student cohort.
Making sure you’re financially stable, let alone putting some money aside to save, might be a touch difficult while you’re studying for 3-5 years. But hopefully this post gave you some ideas on where you can save or earn money, so that you can make your life a bit easier.
Fingers crossed you can get a high paying job at the end of your candidature that makes all of this worthwhile. 😅
Categories: Ph D posts
A Ph. D graduate in Microbiology, residing in Victoria, Australia. Currently working in multiple locations but still in the STEM field. 👀 🦠 🧫 🧬