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 by Maria Faleeva
, posted on 24 Feb '21

Money Talks: Tips on How to Manage your PhD Stipend

Today I thought we would talk about money, specifically, money as a PhD student – it’s the kind of thing that everyone wants to know about, but you may not always feel comfortable asking. Well, as the FindAPhD Student Ambassador, I’m happy to explain exactly what money is like for someone doing a doctorate. Let’s dive right in.

The ‘value’ of a PhD stipend

Before we start talking about managing money as a PhD student, let’s be clear about stipends themselves.

PhD stipends, just like salaries, range in amounts. A fully-funded student in the UK typically gets between £15,000 and £21,000 a year, depending on which organisation is supporting your project.

Of course, the value of a stipend is also relative to the costs you’re managing with it. For example, London is a comparatively expensive place in terms of accommodation, whilst other parts of the UK such as Manchester can be a little bit cheaper. When sending in my applications, I knew that I could only manage to do a PhD if it came with funding, and so I did not consider projects which would be self-funded or rely on loans. After that though, my main priority was always the project and the university I was applying for. Of course, I would look at the stipend that each project offered, but it was not the main thing that determined which PhD position I accepted.

At the end of the day, you need to be aware that as a PhD student, you may need to work a lot, and when you try and calculate how much you get paid by the hour, even if you are on the higher range of the stipend spectrum, it’ll seem like pennies. Accepting that no PhD position shall pay you huge amounts of money is key, but the important thing is that you shall be doing what you love whilst getting one of the highest educational qualifications possible! So, bear that in mind when you think about the ‘value’ of your funding.

From ferret-sitting to podcasting: working alongside postgrad

Depending on your project, you may be able to top up your stipend with part-time work. Here, time management and finding the right job are key.

During my Masters course last year, I really tried to perfect the art of finding the simplest part time job that would reap the most benefits. I tried everything: for the longest time I thought I had struck gold when I became a pet sitter. But after becoming exhausted from running from place to place all around London and a particularly unfortunate home visit to some rogue ferrets, I decided to switch it up. I started trying to set myself up with jobs that I could do from home. If you apply a little bit of creativity, you’ll be surprised with what you can come up with; my freelancing gigs ranged from being a Russian teacher to an illustrator of scientific diagrams! Remember, just because you are doing a PhD, doesn’t mean you can’t apply your multifaceted talents elsewhere!

At the start of this year, I was really excited to get the FindAPhD Student Ambassador role, which has really helped me in boosting my stipend. This position is ideal as I can work on my blogs and vlogs from anywhere; be it at home or in the lab. So, if you guys think you would be interested in content creation, I would really encourage you to apply for this position!

I am also starting my own podcast called “Fables of Science”, where I explain research articles I come across in my readings via the medium of short fictional stories. To be honest, I was originally very intimidated to start the podcast, as this is the first time I am putting myself out there with a project that is 100% independent. But I am hoping that it shall be worth it; aside from really enjoying the process of writing, recording, and editing, I believe that by leading this podcast I shall become more confident in the field of science communications. This experience might help me segue into my next series of part time jobs after my Student Ambassador position is passed on to one of you guys!

The endless cycle of spending and saving

With the Covid-19 pandemic, I do realise that I am not spending as much as I normally would. The funds that would typically be allocated towards nights out with friends are now saved away for a rainy day (or splurged once or twice a week on take out).

I’ve also benefited from some planning. When I learned the location of my day-to-day lab, I made the decision to move within walking distance of it, and so on most days I manage to save a little on transportation. Annoyingly, most of my budget goes on mundane, but necessary stuff, like my flat rent, my gas and electric, water bills, and food. However, as students are not expected to pay council tax, I am able to afford to live in a much nicer place than I would have otherwise.

My primary way of saving this year has been to get a Monzo account, and so far, it has worked really well for me. Each month I set myself a Monzo allowance, which is slightly lower than what I have left over after my monthly stipend after all my bills have been paid. I found this method to work really well for me because you can allocate how much money you strive to spend on food, transport, eating out, etc, for each month, and can track your spending habits really easily. This way, I see what I am spending a little bit too much on (takeaway) and force myself to save a little bit each month.

Overall, PhD stipends are really quite nice

Maybe I am still looking at research with rose tinted glasses, but when people comment on the fact that “I must be so tired” or that “I work so many hours” I typically don’t agree, as I honestly do enjoy spending hours on end in lab, and it is still miraculous to me that I am getting paid to do something that I love. If one saves right, and is good enough at their time management skills, you can settle into a nice routine where you can live in comfort- and don’t forget to treat yourself once in a while!

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