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I'm used to the UK system, where it is common for PhDs to take on studentships, and supervision roles to supplement their funding while pursuing their PhD. I've been told this is not common in the US (where I will be completing my PhD). My institution regulates that we can only work for the university up to 20 hours per week, so finding another position within the institution is not possible. Would it be feasible to find part-time consulting jobs or something similar as a PhD student with experience in quantitative social science?

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  • US citizen, so full access to the job market luckily
    – realkevlar
    Jun 29, 2023 at 19:21
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    In my math dept at an R1 in the U.S., we did formerly have a policy that supposedly prohibited funded grad students from doing any outside work... but we have dropped that in the last 10-20 years. It's just ridiculous to pretend to control such stuff, when we do not, and never did, pay grad assistants any sort of living wage... Jun 29, 2023 at 19:57
  • I wonder how many public universities in the US actually pay grad students a living wage. So many grad students have been on strike the past few years.
    – cgb5436
    Jul 29, 2023 at 22:54

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When universities do not pay a living wage, it means that students must find money from one of two sources: (1) parents and/or working spouse, or (2) extra work.

You mention that you have US citizenship, which helps a lot, since non-citizens can only get work within university walls.

Within university walls, these are typical sources of income:

  1. TAing, which means teaching undergrads. Usually labs.
  2. Research assistantships: a professor pays you with grant money to do research, that might be related or unrelated to your own research. For example: doing bench work at a wet lab, or conducting field surveys for a sociologist.
  3. Working at student residencies, e.g., managing a floor of undergrads as a live-in supervisor (also called RAing). Sometimes the pay is just getting a free apartment, but in places like NYC, this perk alone is worth thousands a month.
  4. Hourly paid work, e.g. library stacks, event hosting, catering, secretarial, etc.

There are some limitations on the jobs you can take as a student. You really need to check with your university.

Outside the university walls, these are some sources of income:

  1. Consulting. I'm a Biologist and did several lucrative consulting gigs while in grad school. The difficult part is finding the clients, but the money is really good and the job is easy.
  2. Writing. The industry pays well for technical writing tasks. A lot of it is ghostwriting for wealthy execs.
  3. Teaching. For example, as an adjunct at another college. They usually prefer ABDs (all but dissertations) for this. This can be lucrative if the topic is not too far from your own field, as it reduces prep time.
  4. Just regular jobs like barista, server, etc. Being a server seems to be popular, as tips can be substantial if you find the right restaurant. I worked for many years in the trades, and still do occasional work. It pays really well, but you must obviously have the required skills to start with. During my time as a grad student I met 3 other students who earned money through sex work (I think there was an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed a few years ago about adjuncts doing sex work, but I can't find it now.) I don't think the latter is common, but just to show you the wide range of work grad students engage in.
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    This is genuinely useful, I'd be interested to know how people work this into their schedules generally (for context I am in Environmental Science)
    – realkevlar
    Jun 30, 2023 at 12:10
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University finance person here. When you refer to a 20 hour restriction, this actually comes from the federal government. It has to do with classifying students as "non-employees". The idea is that the remainder of your time is spent on classwork. There are some benefits that can come from not being classed as an employee, administratively, so it's a common choice for institutions of higher education to do.

While you can in theory get additional work both in and out of your institution, please note that you need to disclose this to your PI. If the job is within your institution and you are being paid on federal grants, this will reduce your certifiable effort. The PI may not want to allow that, and that is their prerogative. Student funding is complex and at the end of the day, it is low, as you are not "full-time". Yes, you are engaged full-time, but it is partially to your benefit, which is why the government does not automatically consider students employees, and thus your pay only represents a partial effort.

Think of it another way. As a PI, is it more efficient to hire a fully trained postdoc or two grad students? Once you consider also paying tuition remission for the students (another form of compensation), grad students are already very costly given that they come untrained.

Start by discussing with your PI. There is no shame in having an open conversation, unless you convey you will lower your commitment to the PI. You are not the first to feel the pay cannot support you. I live in a major metropolitan area, and the students make close to what I got in my first job 13 years ago. However, when you add the tuition benefit, and the fact that they are untrained and unable to work "full-time", they cost more to support than you realize. Any PI who has written grant applications can explain how difficult it already is to support students.

Looking outside the institution will give you the most freedom. Staying within the institution will come with rules attached depending on your funding source. That may not be up to your PI. At my institution, grad student salaries are capped by the student union. There can be a lot in play that needs to be considered. [I should clarify that there is a restriction to 20 hrs on your current position. If you are not a foreign student, you can seek an additional job at the institution, e.g., washing glassware. This shouldn't count against the 20 hr restriction, but your institution's policy prevails.]

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  • tuition remission for the students (another form of compensation) Talk about accounting fantasy. Sadly the only "form of compensation" my local supermarket takes is US currency.
    – Cheery
    Jul 4, 2023 at 13:55
  • I don't disagree, but the IRS and NIH in particular do have feelings on tuition as compensation. NIH adds salary and tuition remission costs together and compares that total to the zero year postdoc number. They will slash budgets that exceed that number. I don't make the rules. nexus.od.nih.gov/all/2010/06/01/… Jul 4, 2023 at 14:55

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