PhD: Highly educated poverty

Can you get by these wages?

In hindsight, I think it’s justified that I didn’t get into a PhD. I sat over several offers that came by, but each one of them supposedly “failed”; till I learned that those are money spinners for the “universities”. Yes, it’s required for the “academia”, but what’s the importance of pushing yourself through poverty level wages without an end-goal? Basic sciences are in limbo. Post-Docs are expected to assume complete responsibilities for tenured professors.

PhD students face cash crisis with wages that don’t cover living costs

The United States isn’t the only country where graduate stipends aren’t keeping pace with inflation. UK Research and Innovation, for example, Britain’s largest public funder of research, is set to increase the current minimum PhD stipend of £15,609 (US$19,315) by 2.9% for the 2022–23 academic year. That’s less than half the UK rate of inflation, which currently stands at 9%.

Basic minimum stipends — essentially a guaranteed salary for a graduate student — are only one source of remuneration. Some students earn significantly more through fellowships. Gaynor notes, however, that US fellowships generally cover four years of training, yet it often takes at least five years to earn a PhD. When fellowships run out, a student might be forced to live on a guaranteed minimum wage that doesn’t come close to meeting needs.

I wasn’t aware of it. I am sure the dice is heavily loaded against immigrants. One reason I didn’t apply for a PhD in specific country is because of language barrier and the high rate of inflation. I don’t expect to learn a foreign language to administer my daily necessities. Should I focus on acquiring knowledge skills or understanding cultural nuances? I faced this issue in another place of employment, where language barriers resulted in my “complaint”-despite seeing the gentleman much beyond duty hours. Mercifully, my ex-boss ignored the complaint, given the local population was given grievances on almost everything; yet it was instructive.

Remuneration for PhD is pittance. Science isn’t lucrative and is riddled with failures. Yet, it is critical to sustain it higher than managerial positions (and start-ups) that create nothing much of value except for investors putting in money to punt. It’s legalised gambling and instead should be diverted to sustain individuals pushing through all odds.

There’s argument on the other side:

Some administrators argue that students are receiving valuable training that will pay great dividends later, but such low wages are unfair and unsustainable, says Jane Petzoldt, a third-year master’s student in entomology at North Carolina State University (NC State) in Raleigh, and a co-author of the entomology stipend study. “The value of our work far exceeds the stipend and graduate-support packages,” she says.

Co-author Michelle Kirchner, a third-year PhD student in entomology at NC State, says their graduate-student contract prohibits taking on a second job to make ends meet. “How am I supposed to support myself?” she asks. “The university should be required to pay the cost of living.”

The university charges tuition fees. Professors aren’t getting paid in equivalent amounts, but are feted only for the kind of students they draw in. Student debt has assumed massive proportions in the US, and repayment has become a political plank. Where does the money go? Administrative overheads and bureaucracy. Manicured campus. Marketing (and product placements). Promises of “influential alumni”. Networking.

This isn’t a money problem. It’s poverty of ideas.

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