I openly admit that I am financial illiterate and for most of my life neither know about nor cared about investing. I am currently doing research in a field that is tangentially, but not exactly related to financial mathematics (say physics: a lot of Brownian motions and what not going on).

What has gotten me interested is over time is that I've met many people (who are much younger than me, like 19 years old right out of highschool) who are investing in stocks WHILE doing research. In fact, they appear to know a lot more than I do, which makes me feel a bit self-conscious and inadequate.

What has prevented me from doing the same:

  1. Basically no family member or close connections who can guide me. Not born with a silver spoon.

  2. Research is a lot of work and requires dedicated focus. Can't imagine rushing a deadline while managing my assets.

  3. I literally have not taken a single course in finance, and assumed it would be easy given my extensive graduate school level math background. But I have no idea where to get started.

  4. No money. This is one of the key reason. I am your typical 20s something scholarship-living graduate student in North America. If I am investing anything it is my TA stipend or my scholarship itself (which I will need to pay back at the end of the semester). I literally do not have any other income source and cannot even take a hit of a few hundred dollars.

1, 2, 3 I can fix, but I am worried about 4.

Is there any advice on stock investments during your grad school for people who have tried their hands, especially if you were living as a low-paid graduate student like me?

Is it possible to achieve a balance between research, life and managing your finances?

  • 14
    This seems like a pretty clear-cut example of a "boat programming" question. Not having a lot of money isn't exactly unique to grad students. In any case, there's probably better advice to be had at Money.SE.
    – Anyon
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 20:11
  • 2
    Even if you wanted to float that boat and discuss issues relevant to grad students, Money.SE would still be the correct target site.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 20:50

2 Answers 2


Over long time periods the stock market tends upward but with fairly (or even extremely wide) fluctuations. If you get into the market as a young person, your investments will likely grow over the long term. But risky investments, or meme driven investments are contraindicated.

If you have a modest amount of funds that you don't need and are unlikely to need in the foreseeable future, something like "indexed funds" can be a good, safe, investment. They won't make you rich, but you will build a nest egg that you can add to throughout your life.

But it is helpful to have a financial advisor. And you need to know whether they have a "fiduciary" relationship with you. If so, they have to agree that any changes made to your portfolio are made in your interest, not their own. There are dishonest brokers who will "churn" your account to generate fees, and you never seem to advance.

Depending on where you are, real estate may be an even better deal. Like stocks, real-estate tends to appreciate over a long term. If you are in a reasonable housing market buying a house early can save you rent and build equity. But you also need to be aware of real-estate taxes in many places.

But, think long term, not get-rich-quick.

Advice from a master:

Don't gamble; take all your savings and buy some good stock and hold it till it goes up, then sell it. If it don't go up, don't buy it.

-- Will Rogers

  • Thank you for the advice. Just another question, did you ever had to rely on any knowledge from academics on investment? There are courses I could take on this topic (one in particular uses books such as "Investment Science" by Luenberger) but I feel like just reading stuff online should suffice.
    – Olórin
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 22:19
  • Managing a portfolio can be a full time job. Don't do that in grad school and maybe not until retirement. But some things are safer and require little time or effort. Don't take risks with funds you may need. And don't spend a lot of time/effort away from your studies.
    – Buffy
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 22:23
  • I'm removing the argument about whether it's okay to answer off-topic questions. There has been considerable discussion about this over the years, but no consensus -- see for example here.
    – cag51
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 23:45
  • Yes, I provided that link as just one example of the historical discussion and diversity of thought on this issue. As you note, it doesn't decide the issue one way or the other (and I'm very deliberately not taking either side!).
    – cag51
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 3:46
  • Regarding the quote: How much "up" is enough to sell? How do you predict which stocks go up? I wouldn't advise such a speculative investment strategy, especially to newcomers with little time to manage their portfolio and do research on companies and markets. Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 7:05

Don't even think about investing until you've saved an emergency fund enough to cover at least 3 to 6 months (and perhaps a year) of living expenses.

Due to exponential growth, investing earlier does have huge advantages, but for PhDs in many fields you make more than enough after PhD that you will be able to invest enough to retire comfortably even if you save nothing before you get your PhD, so there's no reason to be stressed about this until you graduate. And you may need your emergency fund for the time between graduation and your first job. Once you have your first job out of graduate school and have saved an emergency fund then you can think about this.

  • Couldn't agree more. Also, learn to budget your future expenses, which is in fact the functional equivalent to an emergency fund. Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 7:07

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