I should soon complete my masters degree in engineering and have decided to apply for a PhD after I finish.

An issue I face is that I cannot afford to not receive a wage that I could for example get by going into industry. So far I have been very fortunate to study for free in Scotland and Switzerland - and during my time in Switzerland it became apparent that the PhD students not only didn't have to pay fees but in fact were employed as staff of the University and received a good wage. As a comparison in Scotland you would normally have your doctorate fees covered by the project funding but would only receive a modest stipend on which it would be a real struggle to get by upon fully depending on circumstance. Further, in other countries, I know it is normal to pay your fees for doing the PhD and receive no stipend whatsoever.

My question is: are there many other countries in which, as you do in Switzerland, you receive a staff wage comparable to a wage you would receive from going straight into a job in industry? The only other countries I'm aware of in which this is the culture are Denmark and Sweden.

  • 14
    If you are concerned that a Ph.D. stipend won't pay as much as a Masters in Engineering will get you in industry, then a Ph.D. is probably not the right career choice for you...
    – Hao Ye
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 5:57
  • 85
    @HaoYe I wonder why every salary-related question on academia.SE always receives comments how an academic (and especially a PhD student) should not care about money. I think this is a seriously stifling and unhealthy way to approach this topic.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 8:31
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    Isn't this question too broad? I mean, it will potentially attract as many different answers as there are countries with PhD programs, and none of them can really be "right" or "wrong". Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 9:31
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    @xLeitix - there is a good reason from the US perspective. In the US, the average professor makes substantially less than the average person in industry with a corresponding amount of experience. Furthermore, doing a PhD has little if any worth in industry. Hence from a purely economic perspective, doing a PhD is a bad economic choice. As an Asst Professor, I have (within $2000/year) the same salary I had (in my 2nd year in industry) before entering grad school, and that's without accounting for more than 15 years of inflation. I hated working in industry, so it was a reasonable choice. Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 12:12
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    @xLeitix - I never said that an academic of a PhD student should not care about money. I do think, however, that it's unrealistic to expect to receive a PhD stipend equivalent to going into industry (which OP suggests is a dealbreaker: "I cannot afford to not receive a wage that I could for example get by going into industry.") If that were the case, there would be a lot more people doing PhDs, since there would be very little opportunity cost. Especially for engineering disciplines.
    – Hao Ye
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 19:02

17 Answers 17


I'm not sure how much Scotland is different from the rest of the UK, but from my experience of UK PhD funding, I'm not sure why you're worried.

A standard PhD stipend is a little over £14,000 per year, paid quarterly. Fees are covered, and additional money can often be earned by taking on teaching or marking duties, up to about £1500 per year. Taking into account that students do not pay tax this is approximately equivalent to a salary of £17 or £18 thousand per year.

While I appreciate that circumstances may vary for different people, I wouldn't really call that

a real struggle to get by upon

Outside of London, that is enough to rent a decent sized one bedroom flat or share a nice house, pay your bills, take a nice holiday and still have the weekly cash to go out for dinner or drinks. In London, the stipend is increased but I don't have personal experience of the living expenses there, so it may be different.

As I said, circumstances may be difficult for some people, but most universities will have support for childcare or special needs, so unless you are trying to support a family as the sole earner, I don't think it's really a worry.

  • 2
    Not really, I'm speaking from personal experience here, and I live in a major city. I'm not saying you can take loads of expensive holidays and buy whatever you want, but you don't have to live on a shoestring. For a single person, or someone sharing with other employed people, money isn't really a worry.
    – FJC
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 10:55
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    @FJC I can further extend. I also live in a major U.K. city and also have two children and a partner who's also a student. I can't say I've had any worries during my PhD, we've been able to live quite comfortably with me doing a bit of teaching. Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 18:22
  • 1
    Just for full disclosure, are you a UK, EU, or overseas student? Non-EU students often have a radically different experience to obtaining PhD studentships. This varies by field, I imagine (so you should state your area), but in the physical sciences most of the main funding channels are EU-only at best (though of course that is subject to change in the next couple of years). As an overseas student, a PhD is often an exercise in raising £20k+ per year, plus living expenses, with no UK channel willing or able to shell out.
    – E.P.
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 21:42
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    @FJC The OP was not asking about surviving with PhD salary, he was asking about the PhD salary that was "comparable to a basic job in industry". 15K - 18K a year is not in any way comparable to a basic job in industry. And do you know that in order to become permanent resident, your (Tier 2 visa) salary needs to be at least 35k. In London, where I did my PhD, the basic job in industry in my field (Junior Software Engineer) starts with 45k for fresh graduate. Of course, folks at Google, Facebook etc get much more.
    – sean
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 22:01
  • 1
    @v107 I'm not aware what the OP's idea of a basic salary in industry would actually be, but when I was applying for graduate jobs a few years ago £17k wasn't out of the ball park. I agree that there are some areas where graduate starting salaries are higher, but I don't think £45k is the standard. Maybe we should ask the OP to give a figure for the salary they would expect in their area? On your point about visas, I think PhD students don't get permanent resident visas, just a temporary one for the duration of studies, so that wouldn't be relevant here.
    – FJC
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 9:32

In Germany PhD students are also usually employees. Most professors have one or a few PhD positions to fill and also third party funding often comes for PhD positions (e.g. from the DFG or from the BMBF). This means they have a regular job and all social security. The pay is good but first it is far from what one could get in the industry (of course, depending on the field...), second you are often employed half time, three quarters or something different, and third you'll have teaching duties to fulfill. Either way you can make a living as a PhD student (even part time) but you can probably not afford a fancy lifestyle with a big house or a new car.

Also note, that you can also do your PhD on some kind of scholarship which come without social security (e.g. from some foundations but also some departments have a system for PhD scholarships).

  • 6
    be careful, not all PhD Students are emplyees in germany. And, quite a lot of Professors don't give their phd "jobs" to foreign students (this includes all students from other universities than theirs) if they don't know them. They wait for students with stipends. And Stpendiates don't have all the social securty. Also, some groups, due to lack of funding or greed only pay their phds a minimum wage like a "Studentenjob" which is around 800 €
    – Julian
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 6:38
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    To complete what @Julian wrote: The other end of the spectrum is fields where PhD students with anything other than a 100% employment in their institute are basically unheard of. So, there is indeed a lot of variation across places and fields. Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 6:49
  • 7
    @Julian: Since the asker is in Engineering, my experience is that he'd be closer to the 100% employment end of the scale.
    – Murch
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 8:14
  • 3
    @Julian Off-topic, but you can avoid the code formatting if you use the apostrophe ' instead of the grave accent `.
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 11:57
  • 3
    @Julian In Computer Science it's quite common to have 100% employment. Which is rather necessary because that's in my experience still the lowest possible end of the scale - if you're good, you can easily get double or more in the industry (and that's ignoring bonuses..). Really, nobody gets into academics to get rich.
    – Voo
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 17:08

In Norway, the standard PhD salary is around NOK 420.000 which is about USD 52.500 per year. This will give you around NOK 24.500 or USD 3.000 per month after tax. In addition you will get about NOK 70.000 to cover travel expences etc.

  • 1
    In my university in Norway it used to be NOK 30.000 for travel expenses etc. per year, otherwise the numbers agree. Note that USD/NOK rate fluctuates considerably: it was 5.50-6.00 four years ago but is 7.50-8.85 this year. So it used to be more like USD 4,500 per month after tax, which was a really nice deal if you compare globally. Of course, the prices in Norway were high back then, too, as measured in USD. Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 11:58
  • 3
    But, you also spend Norwegian quantities of moneey on groceries, travel, leisure, etc. (but it's still a very good deal).
    – gerrit
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 17:53

I can attest to the Netherlands and Belgium being on this list. PhD students are (normally!) considered employees of the university and are paid salary. As far as I know this is the case when the project has secured funding.

The questions surrounding the project funding are generally more difficult - i.e. in some cases the student needs to find an own source of funding - either another institution providing funding (scholarships etc) or a company.

  • 2
    The Netherlands is slowly moving away from this model, and replacing a wage with a stipend. Supposedly the same monthly income, but without the full legal protection of an employee contract.
    – MSalters
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 9:07
  • 1
    @MSalters: not only without the legal protection. Also without the wage increases, no pension, no social insurances and without a bench free (if you're in a lab you have to hope your colleagues have some money to spare so you can buy stuff).
    – VonBeche
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 8:29

I would add Mexico to the list.

In STEM, a PhD grant from the national council for sciences and technology (conacyt) is 6 times the minimum salary, which is equivalent to the starting salary of a freshly graduated engineer. Today, this amount is equivalent to around USD $700 a month, tax free, and enough to live correctly in Mexico City.

Some universities could give other grants. For instance, the UNAM has a grant program for students not in areas covered by conacyt. The amount of the grant is equivalent (See the UNAM website).

I would add that in public universities tuition is basically free.


In Switzerland, PhD students in areas where there is a high demand and relatively easy to find a job (physics, computer science) are paid a salary less but still comparable to that a company can offer for the new master without any previous employment. Master degree is required for PhD.

For areas where it is more difficult to find a job, it is formally half time employment (so 50 %) but realistically a PhD student still stays a complete working day in laboratory. It may change over time and be laboratory dependent on which of these two rules applies.


In Hungary, when applying for PhD, you can decide whether to apply for a stipend (paid by the government) or pay yourself. Some universities have limitations, like they don't allow you to have a stipend when working full-time, but this is not universal. If you apply for it and your results are good enough, you will get paid for 2+2 years in the current system (I think if you don't finish your dissertation by the end of that, you have to pay back some of it).

As of today, this means 140 000 HUF for the first 2 years and 180 000 after. The minimum wage is about 74 000 HUF after taxes. Also, engineering students frequently participate in projects at the university or industrial partners, which can add a lot.

  • To translate that: 140,000 HUF are about 450 euros. Living in Hungary is a bit more affordable, but not that much.
    – Murch
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 8:16

In Italy, PhD students are paid a net amount of at least 1000 Euros per month (the sum is dictated by government), in case their admission would be with a scholorship. In some cases, research groups might add some additional money to the 1000 Euros to further support their PhD student. It can get up to 1500. In industry, a newly graduated engineer makes roughly about 1500 euros per month after taxation during first 3 years of employment.

  • Right. Also the university itself can additional money bringing sometimes the PhD scholarship around 1300 €/month. Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 9:13

It depends even on the field of study and the deaprtment heads.

In Czech republic, PhD students are paid a stipend and can be paid from the project they are part of.

In one department the students are paid the "state" stipend only, and it is not comparable even with minimum wage. In another department, with strong research background, the students are paid comparable to average wage. Both are part of same university.


It is about 1700-1800 Euro per month in Austria after taxes for Computer Science or Electrical Engineering. (14x a year) This is about the median income in Austria, but still a little less, than industry pays.


In Argentina you can apply for a full scholarship from mainly two government agencies: CONICET and AGENCIA. Beware that everyone can apply but not everyone gets it, although the number of scholarships given is rather generous.

I think there is an age limit also (<30 years? Something like that).

The current scholarship is a little less than U$S1000 monthly, which is semi-decent given the cost of living in this country.


In Sweden, most PhD students are employees with standard benefits: five weeks vacation, paid family leave, sick leave, social security, etc. There are considerable variations in salary depending on your field, university, and how long you've been employed. The salary range is roughly around 20k SEK/mo (~2100€, just starting out in the humanities) to around 34k SEK/mo (~3550€, close to dissertation at top paying STEM universities) before taxes. Incomes in this bracket are taxed at roughly 25%.

For comparison, the median salary in Sweden is somewhere around 28 000 SEK/mo.

There are no additional fees for being a PhD student, but you will usually be expected to spend part of your time teaching or doing other departmental duties.


In Belgium, you get a decent salary during your Ph.D., but you will not pay taxes on it, so you will not be able to profit from tax advantages. (e.g. if you have a loan, you will not receive tax refunds).


Presumably, there are many places where PhD fees are waved and where many students receive some form of scholarship/stipend/wage. Thus, it seems that there are several issues:

  • Are fees waved, deferred, or paid?
  • Do you get given money to do the PhD and if so how much?
  • Are you considered an employee and therefore get additional benefits?
  • How much additional work (e.g., teaching, research assistant, etc.) is allowed or advised while doing PhD and how much money does that generate?
  • What are you defining as the income you could earn in industry and how close do you have to get to that income for the PhD to be considered equivalent?

I'll use the case of a PhD in Australia as an example:

  • Most local students will have their fees waved
  • Perhaps half of all PhD students are on a scholarship
  • The median wage of a full-time worker is about AUD$60,000, which at a guess is roughly $48,000 after tax.
  • A PhD scholarship would be about AUD$26,000 tax free.
  • If you did some tutoring work up to the generally allowed level (perhaps 6-8 hours per week averaged throughout the year) you might earn another AUD$10,000 which wouldn't be taxed because you're below the tax free threshold.

So, in summary, you are earning $36,000 after tax compared to median wage of about $48,000 after tax. You're not getting retirement benefits and many of the other employment benefits you would get with a full-time wage.

Alternatively, you might be able to work part-time and do the PhD part-time. Many scholarships require full-time completion. But if you are able to get scholarship and work part-time. Then you might be able to put together something approaching median wage. That said, the whole process would take longer, and you wont necessarily be in a better financial position at the end, had you gone full-time, and started your post-PhD career sooner.

So in summary, I guess it depends on exactly where you set the frame of reference and how you combine scholarship, other income, and the potential post-PhD income.


In France PhD has salary of about 1300 or 1500 euro net per month, but then student has to pay annual tax:

  • If he/she earns 1300 euro/month, tax is about 200 euro
  • If the net salary is > 1500 euro/month, tax is > 1200 euro

Also every PhD student pays fees to university, which is about 400 euro/year. France is a very socialistic country, as you see from taxes above, but PhD students are not eligible for any social help.

And consider, please, that apartment rent in Paris region (Ile-de-France) is expensive, a decent studio not very far from university costs more than 500 euro/month.

  • 2
    Social help, and taxes, vary greatly with your personal situation: my wife, my newborn son & I could decently live in Paris during my PhD, having only my salary. Our rent was expensive (~800€) but we had a couple of social help, and paid close to no taxes.
    – Clément
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 22:24

I am limiting my answer to the scope of engineering PhD programs. In the USA, the stipend number varies greatly by geographical area, university prestige, private or government funding, and program of studies. I know of universities that pay annual PhD stipends from USD $10k up to USD $55k. These are normally dictated by the amount the university determines as "cost of attendance."

This amount generally caps the available financial aid (in the form of scholarships, fellowships, grants, etc.) that the university can provide to a student. Of course, there are external sources but that wasn't part of the OP question.

In my impression, the (roughly) top 50 engineering programs will pay a decent enough stipend for a single person to live comfortably (rent a private studio/apartment, eat out regularly, make car payment, etc.) without splurging.

  • I did an MS in a respected (but not famous) STEM program in the western USA - Master's and PhD students who obtained a stipend from their projects (most did not) received somewhere from $10-20K annually, and also had their tuition covered. This was enough to cover housing and food in the area, and a few luxuries, but not much else after taxes. Those who went directly into industry in the same state were paid anywhere from $40-70K starting salary depending on their exact field.
    – brichins
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 20:00

In USA, if you are lucky (good) enough to get full funding, it'll cover your living costs if you are single and you probably earn more than the national median. But that's an order of magnitude off from what you can potentially earn. As someone who is thinking of going for a PhD you probably qualify for high earning jobs. This totally depends on your degree.

Say in Computer Science, where I come from, doing a PhD makes no financial sense in 99.999999% of the cases. Take this from someone who went through a long PhD program.

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