Grad students are notoriously underpaid for the number of hours they work (if they're funded at all). If you're one of them, you may be wondering how to make money in grad school. Keep reading!
I’m lucky to be in a higher-paid field (computer science), but the minimum stipend amount for funded positions in London is something like £16,000 per year. Now, if you lived pretty far out of the city and were SUPER frugal, you might be able to live on that, but it’s probably not realistic for the average person.
I’ve worked throughout my full-time post-secondary education. During my undergraduate degree, I worked various on-campus jobs and was a paid research assistant. While I was doing my master’s, I worked as a consultant part time. During my first year of my PhD, I continued consulting for my previous company part-time.
New students often ask me whether or not they should try to work while studying. Before you figure out how to make money in grad school, you need to figure out if it's realistic to work during your degree. I’d personally say that it depends. Here are a few things you should consider:
The bottom line is, if you need the money, you should work. Look at how much you spend per month and whether you can cut back on anything. For more tips, see my article on how to create a budget.
Aside from the money, another reason you may want to work during grad school is to get some professional experience on your CV. If you’ve gone straight through you studies and haven’t done any internships, etc., it may be smart to get a part-time job in your field while you study.
Do you have time for a job? My first term of my master’s degree had simply too many contact hours for me to fit in a job and my schedule was pretty rigid. The first year of my PhD also required a lot of face time, but I had two days without lectures which made it easier to fit in my job.
That being said, I was pretty burnt out after my first year and was, honestly, super relieved when I was laid off due to COVID. Yes, it meant having to move and budget a lot more, but it also gave me way more freedom and allowed me to more fully focus on my research.
This is pretty obvious, but hear me out. You need to figure out exactly how much money you realistically need to make from whatever job you’re doing. You may only need an extra couple hundred pounds a month. Or you may not have funding for your programme and need a nearly full-time income. You’ll be looking for VERY different jobs depending on your needs.
I would definitely recommend a remote, flexible position over something fixed that requires your physical presence. It just makes it MUCH easier to fit around your uni work, which should always take priority (though I know that’s not always easy!). However, if you’re someone who needs more structure, having to physically show up somewhere might be helpful.
Now, this depends on why you’re getting your job. If you just need the money, it’s obviously better to get a job in your field but it doesn’t matter as much. If you’re using this to get something on your CV when you have little professional experience, this one is much more important.
Now, if you’re studying in the UK, with Brexit, this one might suddenly be important to you. A lot of visas have restrictions on the number of hours you’re allowed to work, so be sure you’re complying with those.
Now, what kind of jobs can you actually do during grad school?
I'm sure this is the first thing that comes to mind when you're wondering how to make money in grad school. This one is fairly obvious and, in fact, a lot of programmes will require it. The pay varies depending on your department but you can get quite a good hourly rate in some departments, like computer science. So, it’s worth trying for a position in a high-paying department even if you’re qualified even if it’s not your ‘home’ department.
That being said, TA pay is more of a supplement than a replacement for a full income if you’re not funded. I expect to make about £1,200 or so TA-ing for one to two modules, spread over several months.
This is probably the most lucrative of all the options listed here. Depending on your field, level of expertise, and clients, you could earn hundreds of pounds an hour for consulting work.
In the first year of my PhD, I was earning the equivalent of a full-time income working just 15 hours per week.
This one is, however, more difficult if you don’t have existing potential clients in mind or haven’t done consulting before. I would recommend reaching out to your professional contacts and seeing if anyone has any leads. Alternatively, you could look for jobs on places like Upwork, but I don’t personally have experience with this.
Check with your supervisor as well to see if he/she knows of any opportunities. My supervisor does consulting and often brings members of our research group on to projects.
I found it much easier to only consult for one company and was lucky they had enough work for me for quite a long time. I think it would be quite difficult to manage demands from lots of different clients at a time while simultaneously studying.
A lot of researchers will use part of their grant money to hire early career researchers to conduct things like data analysis or do data management for them. The pay for these positions isn’t usually great, but these are often advertised via email by your university and are, thus, pretty easy to come by.
Now, I wouldn’t start this one if you’re desperately in need of stable income during your studies. However, I’ve been blogging for a few months now and have started making a bit of ‘fun’ money each month. It’s personally enough to supplement my stipend to make sure I’m not dipping into my savings. The earning potential with blogging is also high, but it’s definitely a delayed returns type of deal. I wouldn’t expect to be making a significant income consistently for at least a year (though others have success more quickly than this).
If you’re interested, check out my guide on how to start a blog that makes money.
Participating in research experiments through your uni is an easy way to make a couple of hundred pounds here and there. It’s not a reliable income by any means but can help supplement your stipend. I personally haven’t participated in any medical experiments, but these tend to pay more. However, a computer science study I took part in paid pretty well (£300 or so for a day’s work).
If you really just need the money, it might be easier to find a job in food service or retail (well, maybe not now, but when life goes back to normal). These jobs are good for someone who needs a more structured schedule. It’s also nice to sometimes have a job that has nothing to do with your research so your brain gets a bit of a break from thinking about it. Personally, when I’m busy with other tasks is when I end up solving a lot of problems in my research!
Prolific is an online platform where researchers conduct online surveys. You can sign up to become a participant and take surveys. Each survey pays a minimum of $6.50 per hour but many pay more than that. Though I’m not a registered participant, a lot of my colleagues conduct research through Prolific (and I’ve taken their surveys to give feedback!).
Again, this wouldn’t replace a full income by any means, but it’s a good way to earn a bit of extra cash.
I hope you found this list helpful and it gave you an idea of whether or not you should work during grad school. Did / do you work during your undergrad, master’s, or PhD? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you!