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sqxz

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About sqxz

  • Rank
    Mocha
  • Birthday 01/01/1992

Profile Information

  • Gender
    Male
  • Location
    Urbana, IL
  • Application Season
    2014 Fall
  • Program
    Biophysics and Quantitative Biology PhD

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  1. sqxz

    NSF GRFP 2017-18

    For anyone already thinking about taxes as they relate to the NSF GRF, here are some key facts and resources that I have found helpful over the past two years (especially last year when I was on tenure for the entire calendar year). The stipend fellows receive from the NSF GRF is considered "taxable income," but it is not considered "taxable compensation" by the IRS. Basically, what this means is that you have to pay income taxes on your stipend each year, but you cannot use your stipend to contribute to traditional or Roth IRAs. Your university will also not include stipend payments on your W-2 (assuming they're following the rules), and your university may not be able to withhold taxes from your stipend payments. In this situation, you either have to pay several thousand dollars at once when taxes are due (including ~$70 of interest on "late" payments), or you can make "estimated tax payments" quarterly to split this up more evenly and avoid the interest fee. If you do a Google search, it seems there used to be some ambiguity surrounding taxes and fellowships, but it appears the IRS has made their policies rather explicit within the past few years. This page (https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc421) talks about which portions of fellowships are considered "taxable income" and how to report this income on your 1040, and this page (https://www.irs.gov/publications/p590a) talks about what kinds of income can be contributed to traditional and Roth IRAs . (The key sentence on the second page is, "Scholarship and fellowship payments are compensation for IRA purposes only if shown in box 1 of Form W-2.") For what it's worth, Congress is aware of the problem of fellows not being allowed to contribute to retirement accounts. Last year, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Mike Lee, Ron Wyden, and Tim Scott introduced a bipartisan bill to fix this problem (https://www.warren.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/sens-warren-lee-wyden-scott-introduce-bipartisan-bill-to-help-graduate-students-build-retirement-savings), but (as far as I'm aware), it was never voted upon, and this issue was not addressed in the tax reform bill passed recently. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.) This standalone bill was first introduced in 2016, and I suspect it will be reintroduced again later this year (if it hasn't been already).
  2. sqxz

    NSF GRFP 2017-18

    In general, the NSF GRF does not allow you to take a stipend from multiple sources at the same time (though there are some exceptions). However, unless things have changed, the length of the award is 5 years with 3 years of tenured support, and I've also heard of people deferring the NSF GRF for up to one year. It might be possible for you to defer the NSF GRF for one year, then take your first two years of the NSF GRF off tenure, then take the remaining three years on tenure. This would allow you to use all of the funding available to you. However, like a previous poster said, I would definitely recommend running this all by NSF GRFP, your university fellowship office, and your research advisor. What I've described may or may not be possible under the current rules, and, if it is possible, it may or may not be advisable.
  3. sqxz

    NSF GRFP 2017-18

    As far as I know, this is not possible. You only have the option to declare your status for the full year, though you can give up the ramainder of a tenured year part way through if something comes up that makes you want to do so.
  4. sqxz

    Urbana-Champaign, IL

    I agree that it will be difficult to find a one bedroom apartment close to campus with all utilities included for under $700. It can be done if you're willing to accept some of the cheapest apartments in town, but it may not have all of the amenities you're looking for. Any website where apartments are listed (hotpads, ApartmentFinder, craigslist, etc.) can be used to see what options are currently available in Champaign-Urbana. I also agree that Urbana will generally have cheaper apartment options available.
  5. sqxz

    2018 Applicant Profiles and Admissions Results

    Congratulations! No, it's not bad to wait to accept. In fact, I would encourage you to do so until after your last interview.
  6. sqxz

    2018 Applicant Profiles and Admissions Results

    For additional information and solidarity as April approaches, this topic may be of interest to you:
  7. For me (speaking qualitatively and anecdotally), three of eight programs accepted almost all of those who were interviewed, and five of eight accepted about half of those who were interviewed.
  8. sqxz

    2018 Applicant Profiles and Admissions Results

    Don't worry about it. I had only received my first of seven interview invitations at this point in my application season, and my last interview invitation came in mid February. Official rejection letters will be sent, but most likely not until March or April.
  9. For general interest, you can estimate the amount you will have to pay in federal income tax using this website (https://apps.irs.gov/app/withholdingcalculator/), though I don't think this applies to international students. You will have to search state by state to get an estimate of how much you will pay in state income taxes. In addition to income taxes, you may also have to pay FICA taxes, which is a flat tax of 7.65% (for our purposes). If you are registered as a full-time student, you are exempt from FICA taxes. For this reason, some institutions make sure their grad students are always registered as full-time students, but others do not. For example, at UIUC, you register for up to 16 credits of "Thesis Research" after you have completed all of your coursework, and you never pay FICA taxes. Conversely, at UCSF, it is my understanding that some programs do not have you register for any courses after the first few years or over the summer, meaning you have to pay FICA taxes during those times. While we're on the subject of money, I also found this website (http://money.cnn.com/calculator/pf/cost-of-living/) particularly helpful for understanding how far different stipends would go after taxes.
  10. sqxz

    NSF GRFP 2016-2017

    As of last year (and I don't believe this has changed), each class of eligible student competes only against the same class for the available awards. That is, undergrad seniors compete only against undergrad seniors, first year grad students compete only against first year grad students, etc. This information comes from the Office of External Fellowships at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, whose director has served as a panelist for several years, and Bill Hahn, who recently served as the director of the NSF GRFP and who gave a workshop on applying for an NSF GRF at UIUC in 2015. I do not know how it is decided how many awards are given to each class of student, but I suspect it is based (at least in part) on how many students from that class applied for an award. I suspect this also plays a significant role in how awards are distributed across scientific fields. With this in mind, to be competitive as a second year grad student, you need to ask yourself what it is you need to do to stand out from your peers in your particular field and your particular year. You should have more research results than an undergrad or first year grad student. This should manifest as a higher quality research proposal and more publications and conference presentations than less advanced applicants. You should also have richer experience with outreach/service and leadership activities than less advanced applicants. Please note that this doesn't mean you should have a greater number of such experiences. It means your experiences should be deeper and more impactful.
  11. sqxz

    Urbana-Champaign, IL

    I lived in Minneapolis for my undergrad, and I do like living in Champaign-Urbana. I have heard Champaign-Urbana described as "micro-urban," and I would agree with that characterization. You can find almost all of the same things that can be found in big cities...there are just fewer of them and with less variety in Champaign-Urbana. For security, you can take a look at this map (https://www.crimereports.com/home/#!/dashboard?lat=40.1117&lng=-88.2073&zoom=13&searchText=Urbana%2C%20Illinois%2C%20United%20States&incident_types=Assault%2CAssault%20with%20Deadly%20Weapon%2CBreaking%20%26%20Entering%2CDisorder%2CDrugs%2CHomicide%2CKidnapping%2CLiquor%2COther%20Sexual%20Offense%2CProperty%20Crime%2CProperty%20Crime%20Commercial%2CProperty%20Crime%20Residential%2CQuality%20of%20Life%2CRobbery%2CSexual%20Assault%2CSexual%20Offense%2CTheft%2CTheft%20from%20Vehicle%2CTheft%20of%20Vehicle&start_date=2016-08-25&end_date=2017-02-21&days=sunday%2Cmonday%2Ctuesday%2Cwednesday%2Cthursday%2Cfriday%2Csaturday&start_time=0&end_time=23&include_sex_offenders=false&current_tab=map&shapeIds=). The University sends students an email whenever a serious crime occurs on campus or in its immediate vicinity. If you go solely by those emails, you'd think that practically all crime occurs in Champaign right near the university. However, as you can see from this map, crime is spread throughout the cities. Having said that, I do consider Champaign-Urbana safe cities in which to live, certainly more so than big cities. Compared to other places around the country, Champaign-Urbana is quite a cheap place to live, especially if you're coming from a large city (http://money.cnn.com/calculator/pf/cost-of-living/). However, your level of financial comfort is going to be determined by your stipend. When I first moved here, I made $24,720/year, and I was able to live comfortably without roommates. There are some programs with higher stipends than mine (e.g., Biochemistry, Computer Science), but most are lower, which may make it necessary to live with roommates. Contrary to what krystasonrisa said, I have never seen an apartment for $60/month, let alone a one-bedroom apartment. In my experience, most one-bedroom apartments near campus are going to be $500-$700/month, but this may get cheaper as you get farther away from campus, depending on what you're looking for. If you ever talk to a civil engineer about MTD, they will boast that it's one of the best public transit systems in the nation. In my experience, it's no better than Minneapolis's, which is pretty good. Champaign-Urbana, especially the university, is pretty liberal. There are lots of great cafes and restaurants in Champaign-Urbana. You should have no trouble there, unless you're looking for something very specific. We have a few museums that are worth going to at least once (e.g., Krannert Art Museum, Champaign County Historical Museum), but there are definitely not enough to fulfill a person for the length of an entire graduate degree. Thankfully, Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis are all within a three hour drive, and at least one city (Chicago) is accessible via bus/train. (The others may be too, but I've never looked into it.) In my opinion, you should not wait until August to sign a lease. You will definitely still be able to find an apartment at that time, but it will be an apartment that almost everyone else who has looked has passed over. If you're not picky, that may be fine. Otherwise, probably not so much. When I first moved here, I leased my apartment sight unseen because I also was not able to visit until August. This worked for me because I asked a ton of questions and had the leasing agent take a ton of pictures of the apartment for me. It was still nerve-racking not having actually seen or smelled (I am highly sensitive to cigarette smoke) the apartment for myself, but it can be done if you're careful.
  12. Cancelling an interview after a program has bought a plane ticket is considered really bad form and reflects very poorly on you. If you're feeling this way now, you should not have accepted so many interviews in the first place. Even if you're no longer interested in a program, most administrators would rather you come and fake it than force them to eat that sunk cost of a plane ticket. If you really feel that it's absolutely necessary for you to cancel this interview, you should explain the circumstances, apologize, and offer to pay the program back for the plane ticket. Having said all that, if a program has bought your plane ticket for you, there's really no way for them to make you pay for it, though some programs may ask (demand) you to do so. If you've bought the plane ticket yourself and the program was going to reimburse you after the fact, you definitely shouldn't expect to get that reimbursement.
  13. I emailed the professors with whom I interviewed asking if they had suggestions for improvement after my first interview and rejection. Some brushed me off, while others offered helpful feedback. If you do this politely and non-defensively/non-desperately, I think it can be a useful exercise. I wouldn't ask for particular reasons why you were rejected, though...I would just ask if they have any suggestions for improvement.
  14. If a program has bought your plane ticket for you, there's really no way for them to make you pay for it, though some programs may ask (demand) you to do so. If you've bought the plane ticket yourself and the program was going to reimburse you after the fact, you definitely shouldn't expect to get that reimbursement.
  15. As others have said, this is likely not a reflection on you. It's just that the professors you're interested in are especially popular or otherwise not available. However, I would say that when I was in a similar situation, it was especially difficult to make a good impression because our research interests were so different. As a computational biophysicist, when I was listening to an experimental immunology professor talk about his research, I felt like we were talking two completely different languages. I found it difficult to come up with any kind of interesting or insightful questions on the fly, so I might advise some extra prep work for these interviews if your research interests and/or backgrounds are especially different.
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