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How to adjust from working ($) to grad student life


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I've been interviewing for basic/biomedical PhD programs and beginning to get stressed out about this decision. 


I have a good job in biotech, doing interesting work and learning on the job, both in terms of technical knowledge and industry-specific skills/experience that will help me in the long run.  I do feel somewhat limited by the lack of PhD, in terms of career growth.  The work I'm doing is very applied, so while I have a good grasp of the subject matter I'm in, I have a significant knowledge gap as far as the basic science that is the basis of the field I'm in (if that makes sense).  Basically, I am really knowledgeable/experienced in a very narrow and applied field in biotech and know very little outside of that, even in very related fields where an understanding would be helpful.  And having the PhD "degree" would help me advance.


So I was pretty confident in my decision that I need a PhD to be where I want career wise.  However now that I'm attending interviews, I am getting stressed when I think of the paycut I may be about to experience.  Even at my non-PhD level I am making twice of what some stipends are.  Is taking a huge pay cut, guaranteed for the next 6 years, a rational choice??  If I was completely miserable at my job the choice would be easier I guess.  For those working before grad school, how did you bite the bullet and do so? 

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I was working at a job making 3 times what I do now as a student and it was great! No doubt it's hard to go back! But, like my peers who were also working, there are two major reasons to leave:


1) Timing. If you are flexible now, no spouse and no kids, then GO WHILE YOU CAN. We all know lots of people who hear that we are going back to school and they say "yeah, do it now while you can. I wish I would have gone but now with the family..." Being broke is not so hard when you don't have to answer to anyone. 


2) Career path. Eventually many of us will tap out on the career ladder without the degree we need. That is why we are looking at grad school in the first place. The job market is getting more and more crowded and sometimes we need the right background to be really good at out work. I came because I needed the knowledge base I'm getting. If it's a choice of going now or hitting a glass ceiling and going later, now seems better to me. 


It's hard to come back and be broke, but it's also fun. You won't be going to fancy restaurants and you may have to live in shared housing. That's life! Just have a good attitude about how ridiculous it is and find some previously employed students to commiserate with. Being away from work has actually been really helpful for re-grounding me and giving me space to ask big questions about what I want out of life. And it's exposed me to a bunch of new opportunities. You'll be broke, but you don't have to be miserable. 


And hey, it's always fun to have a laugh at the kids who are in the program fresh out of undergrad and living at mom and dad's. They are so easily impressed by our financial planning and tastes ;)

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Um, I think this issue is overblown unless you have horrible money management / shopping addiction. Regardless of what you make, be it 50k or 100k, I can't imagine anyone actually spending close to their entire salary. The biggest things are probably rent and food (both of which you will have to downsize a bit, but it shouldn't be something that dramatically changes your lifestyle unless again, you spend way too much as it is). Most grad salaries are around 30k, some as high as 32-35 depending on cost of living. 

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epistudent:  Thanks for the reminder that it will be OK!!  I definitely want to do it, and just have these panic moments of "what the heck am I doing?!".


bamafan:  Of course I don't spend my whole salary; it won't be a lifestyle adjustment for me at all in terms of spending.  But I do currently put a significant amount into savings and retirement account, which is important to me and will be seriously harder if not impossible to do on 30K. It was more a question of is this a good life/financial choice, not whether I would be able to continue a shopping addiction.

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I'm looking at basically forgoing my retirement account for the duration of grad school, which will leave me with just about enough of a budget to live frugally, while still having enough to take occasional trips, etc. I actually sat down and did the math, and even if I wind up in a mid-range salary with a PhD I should still be able to contribute far more to my retirement than I can now, even including a 6-year gap in my contributions.


So yes, I would say that it's a sound financial decision.

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