Sybil Low by Sybil Low

As a PhD student in the US, you can sometimes expect to get a stipend – a non-repayable grand, given to you to support your studies. How much money can you expect to get to do your research though, especially after all the taxes? One student on Reddit asked the same question. We collected the answers and did a small survey. 

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Key Takeaways

  • US PhD students typically earn a stipend of $15,000–$30,000 a year, varying by institution, location, and field.
  • Survey results showed humanities students average 16k-20k/year, STEM students average 26.5k/year, with an overall average of 25.1k/year across 77 US PhD students.
  • Upon completing their PhD, students can expect a significant salary increase, with potential earnings ranging from $60,000 to over $100,000, depending on the field. 

What is The Standard

Before we see the actual picture, let’s look into the standard economic situation of PhD students. First of all, let’s make it clear that a PhD course is somewhat around 4 to 6 years in the US. And the fact that you get paid for it is one of the greatest parts of the journey. But do you really get that much to get excited about it?

As a PhD student in the US, you can earn around $15,000–$30,000 a year. This sum depends on the institution, location, and field of study. Mind that this stipend can be tax-free (fellowship) as well as taxable if it’s a salary for a teaching position. It’s also worth noting, that students are not usually paid for a full year, but rather for 9 months, with the summer period being mostly treated as an extra research time. Still, there are some programs that offer summer-funding opportunities as well. 

What Students Say the Real State of Events Is

So now, what is the actual picture like for PhD students? After all many got drawn into their PhDs program knowing that they should be well-paid for the research. We made this little statistic to make it clear how much stipend students actually receive after taxes:

  • Most humanities students receive around 16k-20k/year, with only a few (2-3 students) making more than 25k/year
  • Stem students on average make around 26,5k/year, with the lowest being 18k per year
  • Among 77 US PhD students, the average stipend rounded up to 25,1k per year.
  • The largest stipend amount per year was mentioned once and it was 46,5k after tax
Image showing a surbey about stipends of PhD students across fields
How PhD stipend in the U.S. varies across fields

In most cases, the rent was taking the biggest part out of students’ stipends:

“I can confirm that the same holds true for pretty much all Boston-area universities, however. The stipend “looks” good at first glance, but half of it goes towards rent because the housing market is just insane.”

“Oregon state university: maximum a teaching assistant can get paid is $2300 a month take home around $1800 (Most grad students make around $1600). This is for a 9 month contract ($20,700) a year. If you’re lucky you can get 3 more months of summer teaching but that requires you to be a full time student at the same time. Normal rent is around $700-1000. Then they wonder why so many students have mental health challenges.”

Many also reported their stipend barely covered their basic needs:

“Rents are going up even for unsafe areas around the campus. That’s a kicker. $2500/month might be paycheck to paycheck. Anything is possible if you do a parasite lifestyle.”

“After tax bi-weekly $950. It’s barely liveable (annual would be around $23000 after tax) since I need to stay in HCOL”

“$40k post-tax in a high COL city. I find it very livable as a single person without dependents or debt (though I am rent-burdened along with all the other grad students) but my peers with families or loans/debt are barely scraping by.”

With this in mind, you can now see the current problem that students have with PhD level and the reason behind all the strikes happening back in spring. Major underfunding doesn’t encourage students to continue their studies. Moreover, it plays a big part in the learners’ mental health problems, mainly anxiety and depression. 

The Job Prospects – Does it Become Any Better?

PhD is not only lucrative because of the promised payments, but because of the future job opportunities. Most students are being said that they can expect a great raise after finalizing their degree, earning something between $60,000-1,00,000 and above. Professors and lecturers will be earning the most — up to 130k  a year, but not as much as scientists and researchers, as those are promised to get a year;y salary of around 155k

Even though it is promised in the future, this can give some hope to some students struggling. One user shared his experience, confirming that everything is possible:

“…I make ~150k after graduating so just remember there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”


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