Are graduate student stipends too low?

March 7, 2008 at 10:37 am | | grad life, news, stipends

According to a article in the Stanford Daily, over 60% of graduate students at Stanford consider finances “stressful,” and over 40% consider graduate school “a financial risk.” Source. These figures are apparently from the Graduate Student Council’s 2007 survey of graduate student life, which unfortunately I could not find a copy of on the GSC website.

I did some investigating myself. According to the Stanford Registrar’s “Guide to Graduate Student Life,” the estimated living costs (per quarter) of a Stanford graduate student are:

Housing (Rent, Utilities, Furnishings): $2,941

Food: $1,835

Personal (toiletries, entertainment, and clothing): $856

Transportations (Fares, Parking, Insurance, and Vehicle Expenses): $300

Medical (Insurance, Co-payments, and Meds): $766

Books (For courses and outside research): $591

Total: $7,289/quarter ($29,156/year)


So, according to the Stanford Registrar’s office, the estimated living expenses for a graduate student are $7,289/quarter ($29,156/year). In chemistry since we generally don’t take classes after our first year and our P.I.’s pay for almost all research expenses, we’ll consider a chemistry (or natural sciences) living expense (minus books) to be $6,698/quarter ($26,792/year).

The minimum graduate Research Assistantship at Stanford (which is what the Chemistry Department pays for us as a stipend) is $6,953/quarter (or $27,812/year). This is between a shorfall of $336/quarter (or $1,344/year) from the registrar’s estimated expenses and a surplus of $255/quarter (or $1,020/year) from the chemist’s expenses.

Of course, we’re TAXED on our stipends, and the amount of federal tax we owe on our standard RAship (based on the 2007 tax tables for $27,812 – $5,350 standard deduction) is $2,587/year. That brings our annual salary down to $25,225. This is a shortfall in either scenario.


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  1. personally, i don’t think a higher stipend is the solution: this means that profs would have to pay more (and pay more overhead to the university). instead, Stanford should use some of its $12×109 endowment to help grad students out by: (a) providing free health (and dental and eye) insurance, (b) lowering the cost of on-campus housing, (c) paying for the train pass for off-campus students, and (d) lowering the cost of food and books on campus for all students.

    Comment by sam — March 7, 2008 #

  2. Luckily, we do get free health insurance, but yeah the only thing I can think my university could to help would be to actaully offer grad students housing…

    Comment by Will — March 7, 2008 #

  3. Stop whining, lab [redacted], and empoweringly embrace your [redacted] – Welfare, food stamps, indigent ER for healthcare needs. Everything is FREE!

    All my life I have been OUTRAGED by $billion (now $trillion) institutional stupidities and government corruptions. A huge bite of everything I’ve earned was stolen at Federal gunpoint to munificently feed the Officially Sad gratis, or outright burned to ashes. I was wrong and I admit it.

    I will reregister Democrat in 2009 and sign up for Welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid while I can still find the far ends of the lines. Alcoholism, drug addiction, morbid obesity, insanity… I’M GOING TO LIVE BIG! Work hard, fools! I’ve got insatiable appetites for every penny you earn, for every penny you are worth, and for every penny you can borrow. You owe me, for I want everything for nothing and offer nothing but more demands in return. WHERE IS YOUR COMPASSION? I want that, too.

    Tomorrow belongs to me.

    Comment by Uncle Al — March 8, 2008 #

  4. dude, charles will kick your ass if you use language like that again. and i’ll help.

    Comment by sam — March 8, 2008 #

  5. [deleted by editor]

    Comment by Uncle Al — March 9, 2008 #

  6. so… I’m supposed to leave a comment here re this blog-meme; you may be interested in continuing it: and

    Comment by sujit — March 9, 2008 #

  7. sorry bud, your federal rights to free speech don’t apply here at my website.

    that’s strike two. please do not use those derogatory words here again.

    Comment by sam — March 10, 2008 #

  8. […] Despite the fact that we are very expensive to our PIs, we graduate students receive a stipend that just barely pays for our living expenses. In fact, according to Stanford’s own estimate, our expenditures are a couple hundred dollars more than our annual income. […]

    Pingback by Everyday Scientist » grad school microloans — March 25, 2009 #

  9. […] fees increasing and stipends not growing, it seems that now is a perfect time to add a safety […]

    Pingback by Everyday Scientist » SCMF — April 13, 2009 #

  10. Drug Addiction will not only ruin your body but it would also mess up your life..–

    Comment by Alexandra Gibson — May 17, 2010 #

  11. Food Stamps are great and i wish that there were more of them.,,”

    Comment by Archie Hill — July 19, 2010 #

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