Amy Freitag at Southern Fried Science recounts advice she received from her a mentor late in her undergraduate career on getting into graduate school: if you don't receive a stipend, you're not really in. "When it came time to choose schools, the [five] years of funding Duke offered me made a large part of my decision as to which graduate school I attended," she writes.
Other programs offered her a stipend, but no health insurance, or two years of funding with the hope of more. Having to pay out of pocket for insurance or medical costs or the uncertainty of funding after a few years were no-goes for her. "I'd seen enough current students working a full-time job to pay living expenses while taking [four] years to finish their master's," she writes. "No thanks."
Looking back, Freitag says that she is even more confident that she made the right decision. She adds that changes could be made to the graduate education system to better finance positions — and also to lower student debt — as well as address concerns that there are too many PhDs being produced. "[P]erhaps it's time to re-think the finances of graduate education. Perhaps schools should offer less positions but fully fund them," she says. "The solution then starts with a bit of sage advice — if you didn't get offered a stipend, you didn't get in.