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Emily Roberts

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    Biomedical Engineering

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  1. Emily Roberts

    "Kiddie Tax" on Fellowship

    I create resources on taxes for grad students and postdocs, and the Kiddie Tax question has bugged me for several years. In 2018, I hired a tax firm to do some research for me, and this was one of the questions I asked them. Answer: Yes, the Kiddie Tax does apply for fellowship income in certain situations (regardless of your dependent status). I am going to write a detailed article on this, but it won't be published until next month probably. Is there anything further I can help you with, aside from confirming that this is a (terrible, unfair) thing? I think the only way to avoid it is proper planning in advance, which of course is no help to you, but I'm hoping that my article may help some future students avoid it.
  2. Emily Roberts

    Biological Sciences PhD Stipend and Taxes

    [In the US] An offer letter stipend essentially reflects your "gross" salary, from which you will pay income tax. Generally speaking, if you have an assistantship, income tax will be withheld by your university, and if you have a fellowship, you will manually pay quarterly estimated tax. Try comparing your stipend offer to the local living wage to see if it's sufficient.
  3. Emily Roberts

    Stipend budgeting/taxes

    I applaud you for sketching a budget prior to committing to housing! It's simple to calculate your tax liability using the info you provided, at least for your first full year of employment (2019). 2018 may be different as you'll be starting/changing jobs mid-year. For federal income tax, if you are single and take the standard deduction of $12,000, you will pay 0% tax on that first $12,000 of income, 10% tax on the next $9,525, and 12% on the remainder (these are the 2018 brackets). Using the numbers you provided, that is 10%*$9525+12%*($14,000-$9,525)=$1,489.50 or $124.13/mo. This tax liability may shift if you have other adjustments to your income, such as additional income sources or above-the-line deductions, e.g., interest paid on student loans. You should check if you're receiving any scholarship funding or similar that isn't tax-free (i.e., money that goes toward fees that are not qualified education expenses) or if any of your stipend will go toward paying qualified education expenses. For estimation purposes, you could just add any net scholarship income to your stipend or subtract any net qualified education expenses from your stipend, even if that's not exactly how you'll treat it on your tax return. Check your offer letter for these kinds of details on your non-stipend funding. You won't pay FICA tax no matter your funding source. Tennessee doesn't have state income tax on ordinary income, just investments. If you have an assistantship, you'll fill out a W-4 and have income tax automatically withheld from your paycheck. If you have a fellowship (internal or external), it's most typical for universities to not withhold any income tax (though a few do). In that case, you would need to look into filing quarterly estimated tax - probably not necessary for 2018, but likely required in 2019 and following.
  4. Emily Roberts

    $3500 in taxes?!?!

    Co-signing @TakeruK's example above. Break the "I owe $3,500 in taxes" down into its components to see if each one is reasonable (your Form 1040 separates federal income from self-employment tax into different lines before totaling them). How much is for federal income tax, federal self-employment tax, and state income tax? How does it compare to the calculation above? Was any tax withheld from your stipend income and was that accounted for on the return? You wouldn't have had any tax automatically withheld from your self-employment income, which is why you're facing such a large bill now since you owe both income tax and self-employment tax (15.3%) on that component. You also have to be very careful not to get caught up in how much extra you owe at tax time/the size of your refund or compare that number to anyone else's (or even yours in the past). It depends both on your total tax liability AND how much was withheld/paid in estimated tax throughout the year. Compare the total tax you owe this year with the total tax you paid last year, and unless something went really awry with one or both returns you should have paid more last year due to your higher overall income and higher self-employment income. Did something change with your stipend - go from assistantship to fellowship funding, for example? If you used to have automatic tax withholding on your stipend and don't any longer, that could help explain why you are supposed to pay more when filing this year's tax return than last year's. Since it seems like you're long-term self-employed for a big chunk of your income, you should be paying quarterly estimated tax on that part of your income. Part of what you owe this year may be penalties for not doing so, and that wouldn't necessarily have applied for last year if it was your first year in business. You may find this article (mine) helpful going forward: http://pfforphds.com/how-to-pay-tax-on-your-phd-side-hustle/
  5. Emily Roberts

    Stipend Levels

    The system at your current university strikes me as unusually structured. I know for my grad school the only differentiation among assistantship/training grant stipends were due to which school you belonged to (graduate, engineering, or medical), and everyone was paid the same base rate for a given academic year no matter if they were a 1st or 5th year. (Some people might be paid more if they won a fellowship.) Those might represent two ends of the spectrum of how much universities differentiate among students to determine their stipends. You might find the data in PhD Stipends helpful to narrow down a bit what you might be offered at various universities (disclaimer: my site).
  6. Emily Roberts

    Fellowships Vs. Assistantships

    As @GreenEyedTrombonistsaid, assistantships come with a work requirement (usually up to 20 hrs/week), while fellowships do not. Fellowships allow you to be 100% devoted to your studies and your dissertation work, while in the worst case scenario for an assistantship up to 20 hrs/week could need to be devoted to something else (teaching, administrative work). In my observation, a research assistantship for which you are allowed to work on research that will go into your dissertation (typical in STEM fields, but not universal) is on a day-to-day basis equivalent to a fellowship. All your time is devoted to research (and maybe taking classes) in both cases. You wouldn't be able to tell the difference between an RA and a fellowship student unless you look at their tax returns!
  7. Emily Roberts

    9 month vs 12 months Funding

    I think for most STEM programs it's just that the stipend source will change after 9 months and the offer letter doesn't apply after that point. Yes, it's probably that you will join a lab and have an RA through that lab, so funding is contingent on that happening. However, that's not always the case, and some programs really do just pay stipends during the academic year (e.g., you are a TA and don't have a class over the summer). The typical funding path for PhD students should be discussed during your visit weekend, and if it's not you definitely need to inquire. As a bit of an exception to the above, I think it is common in CS programs for students to do summer internships (which tend to pay more than RAs would).
  8. Emily Roberts

    About duration of the GRA offer

    This is field- and program-dependent. Only mentioning funding for the first year is not necessarily a bad sign because it is common for funding to continue and it may not be 100% known right now where that funding will come from in the 2nd year and beyond (e.g., it might depend on you being accepted into an advisor's group). But it's something you definitely need to inquire about if you are seriously considering the offer. If you have a visit weekend scheduled they will probably talk about funding for the rest of the PhD at that time (at least what is typical) or you can ask the question. If you aren't getting a visit weekend, ask the admin assistant/person coordinating the admissions process.
  9. Emily Roberts

    What does this email reply mean?

    Since the number of available TA positions depends on how many current students clear out, I wouldn't expect to hear about that until well after you have to make a decision about where to go. And he didn't even address the RA question, which isn't a great sign. If I were you, I would assume that I wasn't going to receive funding from this university. See what other offers come in and then maybe circle back to it if you think that risk is worth taking. Is it typical in your field for people to go into PhD programs without funding? I wouldn't have guessed so but I'm not very familiar. What is the typical trajectory in terms of securing an advisor with this program? Does that happen prior to matriculation or at a certain point in the first or second year?
  10. Emily Roberts

    Basics of Fellowships, Assistantships, Grants, and Stipends

    There may be some exceptions to this rule, but I would say that a fellowship funds an individual while grants fund projects. Institutions that award fellowships to rising PhD students know that they are fairly unlikely to be able to follow through on their proposed research because they don't even have an advisor yet. That said, aside from the prestige of winning an outside fellowship, sometimes it does confer a degree of independence, i.e., you won money so you get to direct your own research a bit. Definitely don't discount the power of prestige when it comes to a well-known external fellowship. Winning outside funding early on can start of a pattern of winning other awards and grants later. Yes, the student/postdoc/PI who wins is excellent, but they also have a real leg up by having been previously judged worthy by another funding agency. My advice is to apply for the NSF GRFP and the NDSEG at a minimum. I recently compiled a list of portable fellowships that pay full stipends that are available to prospective PhD students, which you can sign up here to receive.
  11. Emily Roberts

    Basics of Fellowships, Assistantships, Grants, and Stipends

    You received great answers already from @Eigen and @fuzzylogician but I'll add my own spin on the answer as well. The way that universities and students refer to funding does vary, so once you're attending one university you might have to adjust to their own particular meanings of stipend vs. fellowship vs. scholarship vs. grant. Your stipend is simply your salary - the money that you take home for your living expenses (and that you pay in income tax). At the graduate student level, a fellowship refers to an award that the student won based on merit that funds his stipend or augments his stipend. It could be internal or external. The fellowship might also pay some or all of the student's tuition and fees. In my observation, scholarships are not much in play for graduate students. If you win a fellowship (or scholarship), it usually replaces the funding that you would have received through some other mechanism, i.e., you're not going to receive a full stipend for being a research assistant plus a full stipend for winning a fellowship. Some students are unpleasantly surprised to find that winning an outside award did not affect their own personal bottom line at all because the department simply reduced its support by the equivalent amount. In a few places, if you win a large outside fellowship, your department may pay you a bonus or an even higher stipend than the one specified by the fellowship. Or you might receive a stipend through an assistantship, but receive a small additional internal fellowship on top of the stipend. Assistantships are part-time jobs. A half-time (0.5) assistantship equates to "20 hours/week" of work - and that is what most assistantships are and that will pay a full stipend (set by the department/university). Sometimes a student might be given a 0.25 assistantship, "10 hours/week" of work, for half-pay plus benefits (more or less). A teaching assistantship is for teaching/grading, a research assistantship is for research, and a graduate assistantship is for some other type of job around the university, like administrative work. Research assistantships come in two flavors as well: research that is part of your dissertation and research that is not part of your dissertation. In terms of having maximum time to work on your research, a fellowship or RA-for-your-dissertation is best. If you have a TA, GA, or RA-not-for-your-dissertation, that's 20 hours/week of work that's not directly furthering your goal of finishing your dissertation, so all your dissertation research has to be done in the other 20+ work hours per week. When graduate students talk about grants, generally they are talking about grants that their PI won, and the grant is paying their stipend (RA) and the cost of doing the research. I think there are some grants available for upper-level PhD students, but they also would be funding projects, not individuals (the way a fellowship does). Another variant is a training grant, which is awarded to a department and pays for the training of students in a specific area of research. As @Eigen said, in STEM fields these designations are not something to super concern yourself with. You should receive some kind of assurance that you will be paid a full stipend throughout your PhD (or at least 5 years), whether that is an official guarantee or simply based on a longstanding pattern. Again in STEM fields it's most typical that RA positions allow you to do research toward your own dissertation (of course, your dissertation topic is guided by the PI's projects that have received grant funding). A great point that @fuzzylogician made is that these distinctions can become muddied/confusing on the ground. For example, I was required to TA for two semesters (10 hrs/week), but that was not tied to my pay at all. During one of the semesters I had a fellowship and during one I was an RA. Students on training grants function like RAs but they are paid like they are on fellowship (i.e., non-compensatory pay).
  12. Emily Roberts


    Thanks for linking to our site, @samman1994! The data is all self-reported by PhD students receiving stipends; we didn't want to make the submission form too onerous, so benefits like health insurance premiums aren't their own category. Some people choose to specify that in the comments. If you have ideas for how PhD Stipends could better serve you (like specifically asking about health benefits), please let me know! We are open to updating it. The utility of the site directly correlates with the size of the dataset, so @cowgirlsdontcry if you think your university's data is a bit weak, please enter your stipend and ask your peers to do the same! Thanks!
  13. Emily Roberts

    Need help on the matter of fellowships and awards

    To further help you to understand whether your stipend will be liveable... Check out PhD Stipends (my website), which has grad student-submitted data on stipend levels in various fields and at various universities. The LW Ratio (living wage ratio) will tell you whether the post-fees stipend is more (> 1) or less (< 1) than the local living wage, which is an estimate of basic living expenses (rent, food, transportation, medical, miscellaneous, taxes).
  14. Emily Roberts

    Fall 2016 Acceptances, Interviews, and Rejections Thread

    Thanks for sharing the site and thanks to those of you who entered new data! The database has grown over 10% in just the past few days.
  15. You're definitely noticing the right details, but these various pieces of the financial offers do vary widely by university and department. I don't think that specifically what fees are paid by the university and which aren't is an indicator of financial viability; the bottom line of the total package is better. If you are unsure about how your stipend might change in the future or exactly what fees will be paid, you should talk with the departmental admin assistant or older grad students. They're not going to be able to lay out a fixed schedule for you, but you should at least be able to find out if you were offered a disappearing top-up award.

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