How is Graduate School Funded?

Today we break down the ins and outs of graduate school funding!

Today we break down the ins and outs of graduate school funding!

As you’re looking into graduate school, you may be wondering “How do finances work as a graduate student? How is graduate school funded?” Well don’t worry! Today we’ll be discussing exactly that!

How are doctoral programs funded?

In general, if you are accepted as a doctoral candidate, you will receive a stipend with which to do your work. Part of this money comes from the school’s coffers, but the majority stems from your research advisor’s grant funding. This stipend won’t be a king’s ransom, and indeed you’ll likely be living at or below the federal poverty line, but you shouldn’t have to take out loans to attend a doctoral program. The exact stipend you receive varies greatly by school and especially by geographic location, but in general, you will have enough money for rent, food, and basic expenses. Many graduate students receive a roughly $22,000 stipend, which is again just enough to keep you afloat, with some beer money on the side. The important thing is you will likely not have to take out loans to attend graduate school, so though you won’t be making bank or saving a ton during these years, at least when you graduate, you will have a >$0 net worth!

Should I pay to attend graduate school for a PhD?

In general, NO. Most, if not all, reputable PhD programs are fully funded, so if you are expected to take out loans, this is a huge red flag. If a graduate program does not have enough grant funding or resources to support a graduate student, it’s likely not a very strong program. Academia is all about the research, and if the professors aren’t pulling enough grant funding to support even the most meager of graduate student stipends, they probably aren’t doing high profile work or research that would assist you in the future. Be very, very careful with pay-for-PhD programs as attending these likely won’t further your future interests!

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5 Things to Judge a Graduate Program By, Besides Academics

Here are some criteria you can use to rank the graduate programs you've applied to

Here are some criteria you can use to rank the graduate programs you’ve applied to

We’re following up last week’s post on What Graduate Programs Should I Apply to? with some more qualitative things to look at. We’ve already covered the “hard” stuff like academics and publications, so here’s some other things you should consider when looking at potential graduate sites!

  • Location: This is of course a self-evident criteria for choosing schools, but think long and hard about the area each school is located in. Do you want to live in a small college town in the southwest, or do you want to live in a more urban area on the East Coast? Are you okay with commuting with a million other people every morning, or do you want to get stuck on in an endless concrete spaghetti bowl? You’re going to be living in this location for 5+ years, so make sure you love the place!
  • Availability of collaborations: Is the school  you’re applying to a large one? Does it have many researchers in a diverse ranges of specializations? These may be questions you want to consider when narrowing down schools to apply to. Though a doctoral program will essentially have you doing your own work, it’s important to have the ability to bring in other researchers from other departments to help if necessary. Diversity is the spice of life and research as well!
  • Proximity to desired institutions: In general, if you want to work at an East Coast university post-graduation, you’ll want to attend school in that region. Just as last week’s post touched on the importance of word-of-mouth recognition, so too do we suggest that word-of-mouth is highly location-centric. A lower-ranked local graduate program is likely more respected than a marginally higher-ranked graduate program located halfway across the country. The closer you are to the institution you want to work at, the better your chances at having a leg up!
  • Local life: What kind of activities do you like doing in your free time? It’s important to promote some semblance of work-life balance, so make sure the local area fits your personality! If you like running or mountain biking, look for a school located near natural formations, and if you like being disappointed by local sports teams, make sure you choose Houston or Cleveland. Just make sure you have an ability to let off steam and find a life outside of your research. You’ll need it.
  • Cost of living: While most schools provide a stipend to live on, the distance your stipend will go depends highly on location. Rent is more expensive in San Francisco than Madison, Wisconsin, and a week’s worth of groceries in NYC might cost the same as a month’s in Charlotte, NC. You’re going to be bemoaning your lack of money in grad school anyway, but location may be the difference between crying into 1-ply tissues or 2-ply.
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GRE Vocab and the Seven Deadly Sins: Part VI – Envy

An early sixteenth century Dutch depiction of the seven deadly sins, by a follower of Heironymus Bosch.

In this, our latest post in the series GRE Vocab and the Seven Deadly Sins, we turn to the sin of envy and its corresponding heavenly virtue, kindness. According to Catholic theology, the sin of envy is defined as ill will for those whom one believes are better off than oneself. The Latin word the church uses for envy is invidia, which evolved into the Old French envie before entering English as “envy” in the late 1200s. There are a few good potential GRE vocab words related to envy that are worth mentioning, including invidious, covetous, begrudge, and jealousy.

Invidious, as you may have guessed, is derived from the Latin invidia. The reason it bears a greater similarity to its root than the word “envy” does is because it entered English straight from Latin in the first decade of the 1600s. While it originally simply meant envious, over time its meaning changed to causing or tending to cause not only envy, but also general animosity or resentment. For example: “The twins grew upset when their teacher invidiously compared their academic abilities.” In other words, they got mad when the teacher said one was smarter than the other, a comparison that would cause envy or ill will. Continue reading “GRE Vocab and the Seven Deadly Sins: Part VI – Envy” »

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Sample GRE Multiple Choice Math Problem – Too Big for the Calculator

Let's face it, you're nothing without your calculator.

Let’s face it, you’re nothing without your calculator.

On every GRE Math section, the test makers try to come up with a few extremely difficult problems that will leave even the cleverest students scratching their heads. The really evil part, though, is that even these problems can be solved in under a minute without a calculator – if you know what to do. This means that once you “figure out the trick,” these difficult problems become easy. So, while those test makers are busy cackling with sadistic glee, let’s see if we can’t beat them at their own game.

Consider the following problem:

What is the remainder when 3^200 is divided by 5?

A) 0

B) 1

C) 2

D) 3

E) 4

At first you might think, “Hey, this is easy! I’ll just plug it into my calculator–”

3^200 = 2.656139889… x 10^95


My hammer totally isn't a crutch that has allowed me to forget my multiplication tables.

My hammer totally isn’t a crutch that has allowed me to forget my multiplication tables.

Question mark indeed. You see, these GRE test writers are truly diabolical. They know how much you love your calculator, so they’re always scheming up ways to separate you from it, in much the same way that Loki is always trying to separate Thor from his hammer. Of course, even without his hammer, Thor is pretty strong, and don’t worry – so are you! You’re just going to have to use your other secret weapon…your brain!

Let me show you how. In this case, they’ve made it so that you need to know the ones digit of an insanely large number that is too big for your calculator to display on your screen. However, we can still figure out what the ones digit of 3^200 is. Are you just going multiply it out by hand? No! Of course not! That would take too long. All you need to do is recognize a pattern. Consider the first few powers of 3:

3^1 = 3

3^2 = 9

3^3 = 27

3^4 = 81

3^5 = 243

3^6 = 729

3^7 = 2187

3^8 = 6561

3^9 = 19683

You may have noticed that the ones digits follow a pattern: 3, 9, 7, 1, 3, 9, 7, 1, 3, 9, 7, 1… over and over again. Every 4 powers the pattern repeats. Now we just need to figure out if 3^200 ends in 3, 9, 7, or 1. To do this, we just need to divide 200 by 4 and see what the remainder is. To see how this works, consider the following chart:

Consider: The Power is: Power/4 = Remainder = So ones digit =
3^1 = 3 1 1/4 = .25 1 3
3^2 = 9 2 2/4 = .5 2 9
3^3 = 27 3 3/4 = .75 3 7
3^4 = 81 4 4/4 = 1 0 1
3^5 = 243 5 5/4 = 1.25 1 3
3^6 = 729 6 6/4 = 1.5 2 9
3^7 = 2187 7 7/4 = 1.75 3 7
3^8 = 6561 8 8/4 = 2 0 1

200/4 = 50

200 divides evenly by 4, so there is a remainder of 0, which means the ones digit of 3^200 must be a 1. Any number that ends in a 1 has a remainder of 1 when divided by 5:

1/5 = 0 R1

11/5 = 2 R1

21/5 = 4 R1

Thus, the answer is choice B. If you know what to do, it takes only about 30 seconds to solve this problem. So you see, with practice, even the hardest problems on the GRE become easy. Check back here each week for more extra hard problems and the tricks you need to solve them! Also, remember that you can find out all the tricks from experts like me with a Test Masters course or private tutoring. Until  then, keep up the good work and happy studying!

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Testmasters GRE Online Course Sample Video & Testimonials

Testmasters has one of the most popular GRE online courses in the country. Testmasters GRE online course was developed by Testmasters’ most experienced instructors. As with the classroom course, the online course comes with a 10 point score increase guarantee!

Here are some testimonials from student who have completed Testmasters GRE courses:

“The teachers engage the students to not only improve their test scores, but to enjoy improving them. I walked away with techniques, a better score, and a memory of time well spent.”

Abbey N.

“Testmasters teaches you all you need to know for taking the GRE. The classes are not boring at all and the teachers are awesome!”

Kathryn D.

“When you learn from the best, you can pass the test.”

Gregory M.

“This is a great class with great strategies and teachers. This class really helped me.”

Tejas N.

You can learn more about the Testmasters GRE online course here!

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Obscure Curses & Interesting Insults – GRE Vocab at its Worst

One of the problems with the continued devolution (u kno wht i mean) of the English language is that we have lost our touch for awesome and clever insults. Rather than relying upon carefully crafted vituperates, most people express themselves with more simple insults. Instead of “quiet, you cretin,” we usually settle with “Oh my god, you’re so dumb,” or “that’s stupid.” These types of insults are boring! A prodigious vocabulary will not only help you ace the Verbal Reasoning and Text Completion section of the GRE, but may also allow you to use your newly expanded vocabulary to cast aspersions on friends and strangers alike.

Today’s word is … Flibbertigibbet (flib·ber·ti·gib·bet).talkative

A flibbertigibbet is a person who is frivolous, flighty, or excessively talkative. Essentially, a flibbertigibbet is someone who is annoying, obnoxious, or unreliable.

Flibbertigibbet is a particularly insidious vocabulary word because of its non-traditional etymology. Whereas most of the obscure and interesting vocab featured in previous iterations of this series may be traced across time and language, usually finding their origin in Greek or Latin, flibbertigibbet seems to have appeared spontaneously in the early 16th century.

PRO TIP: If you are struggling with committing obscure vocabulary words to memory, or more generally just preparing for this section of the GRE exam, one of the best ways to expand your vocabulary is by memorizing common Greek & Latin root words.

Because of its unique etymology, flibbertigibbet may present itself as a difficult vocabulary word to memorize. However, its origin is unique and a little amusing, the story of which might help you recall it at a later date. Originally used in the 16th century to describe whimsical and gossipy people, most often referring to young women, “flibbertigibbet” was literally a string of nonsensical sounds spoken aloud quickly, meant to convey the inane nature and speed with which young people gossiped. This expression became common, and was formerly canonized (read: the first written iteration of this word) into the English language in Shakespeare’s King Lear (1605).

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5 Tips to Finish Grad School in 4 Years

Don't lose track of time! Here's some suggestions to help you finish grad school as quickly as possible

Don’t lose track of time! Here’s some suggestions to help you finish grad school as quickly as possible

Nowadays, many graduate programs are taking students upwards of 5 years to complete, with 6-6.5 years being a common timeframe to complete a doctoral program. Gone are the days where a 4 year graduate program is the norm, but with these quick tips, you can put yourself in the best position to finish as quickly as possible, with the hope that you can serve your time in just 4 years! Keep in mind, however, that graduate school is a process to help prepare you for future academia. Don’t rush through if you don’t have enough publications to be an attractive assistant professor candidate, and certainly don’t think there is something wrong with yourself if you cannot finish in less than six years. Bad luck in research hits everyone, so don’t worry!

  • Plan ahead! Even as a first year graduate student, figure out what your overall thesis will be and plan out what experiments will contribute to this manuscript. The most common reason PhD’s take so long is because graduate students do experiments without having a clear idea of where they want to go with the results. With every experiment/study that you plan, make sure it has a clear and distinct role to play in your overall thesis. Sketch out a long-term map of your planned experiments and how each will contribute to a figure or piece of your final thesis manuscript.
  • Read up! Make sure you are completely up-to-date on the literature surrounding your field, and especially pay attention to the publications pertaining to your thesis and projects. If a similar study is published, don’t fear being scooped! See what these researchers found, and plan ahead to preempt any pitfalls that may come your way. Research is all about collaboration, so make the most of the data that’s already been published!
  • Pick an advisor who has a strong history of publications: When deciding between research advisors, try looking for ones who seem to churn out a steady clip of papers and have a strong history of graduating students. If a professor has been in the game for a while and knows how to properly mentor and guide students, you’ll have a much easier time in directing your projects to a quick and efficient completion.
  • Go slow in the beginning: Though you may want to hit the ground running, make sure to take your time laying the foundation for your future research. Document EVERYTHING, and ensure your initial results line up with known benchmarks and models. You definitely don’t want to have messed up in the beginning or overlooked something and have to re-do an entire set of experiments.
  • Pick the low hanging fruit: There’s no shame in completing experiments that are quick and generate a lot of data. You want to make an impact on your field, of course, but don’t make the mistake of making every project a long and intensive longitudinal study. Every paper needs results, and if you have a surefire way to receive quick results, go for it! Don’t spend all your time on low-yield projects that take forever to complete.
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What Makes a Good Graduate Program Advisor?

Publications in journals isn't the only important part of graduate advising. Read on to hear our opinion on what makes a great advisor!

Publications in journals isn’t the only important part of graduate advising. Read on to hear our opinion on what makes a great advisor!

This advice may not be immediately relevant, but today we’re presenting some things we appreciate about graduate program advisors:

  1. Research success: There’s no two ways about it: graduate school is about publications, and advisors with a good history of publishing give you a better chance of being successful as a graduate student. Your advisor doesn’t have to be churning out papers like a Xerox machine, but they should be putting out solid, relevant papers at a good clip. If a professor hasn’t published much recently, perhaps his/her passion or excellence in the field has diminished, so you may want to look elsewhere
  2. Understanding and compassion: A very close second is the compassion your advisor displays. The advisor’s personality dictates the feel of the research group, so make sure you find an advisor who understands and empathizes with the struggles of being a graduate student. You don’t want to work under a slave driver for 6 years, and you certainly don’t want to feel like you have no one to turn to during the inevitable dark times ahead.
  3. Passion for teaching graduate students: Though research is a self-motivated pursuit, you’ll still want an advisor who is there to guide you and teach the things you don’t quite understand. Some researchers have little patience for teaching those below him/her, so try to avoid these! You’re not simply there to produce results, after all. The purpose of graduate studies is to learn, so make sure you have someone who is willing and delighted to facilitate this learning!
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