Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Why you should study nuclear engineering at UMich

If you're reading WWPD, chances are you know more about constitutional law than I do. You may even have been cited in the dissent. So yes, very pleased with the DOMA decision, but no, not able to explain its particulars to you above and beyond what you already know. There are, it appears, other places on the internet doing this.

What's more in my area: the arrival of transparency to graduate study. First, as Flavia told us, was the Ph.D. Placement Project. Now, see also GradPay, which seeks to answer the other question on everybody's mind: What's normal for grad-student pay?

This may seem a silly thing to concern one's self with, because surely college seniors/recent grads are rational actors, comparing options as vs. cost-of-living in different locales, and examining their own financial situations. What matters isn't what's normal, but whether this will do.

But there's an aspect of grad pay that tells you how competitive your program is, and how desired you are by that program. Just because you can swing it (perhaps with the help of independent funds) doesn't mean you should. Depending what it is you hope to get out of it.

I'll also repeat my usual spiel on this, which is that in my experience, if you're of the set who need to support themselves financially, but not anyone else, there's a sense in which any pay 'to read books' seems like a ton if what you were used to was paying to read books (or parents/loans paying on your behalf), and hoping that whichever side jobs would make a dent in that cost. If you're still thinking along the lines of woohoo, a scholarship!, if you're in the mindset of only needing a tiny little room somewhere and a roof over your head, the fact that your tuition is paid and you're getting money above and beyond that can seem like, how on earth would you be anything but eternally grateful? And then a few years down the line, the thrill of $10k or whatever (I exaggerate. As you'll see if you go to GradPay!) may drop substantially.

One thing that could be useful, with GradPay, is to know the cost of living in these places, and the (subsidized?) housing situation. NYU grad students often make what would be solidly middle-class salaries elsewhere, but there's that pesky requirement - at least during coursework and teaching - to live in or very near New York. Another: lots of grad-student funding comes from additional patched-together fellowships, summer funding, and such, above and beyond the stipend. How much of that students have access to varies school by school, I'd imagine, so there are situations where grad students making as much as $40k who, on paper, seem to be making $20k. (Try explaining situations along those lines to a rental agent, though, who will indeed view the stipend as the salary, because anything else may not be guaranteed in a contract.) Another: health insurance? Not all grad students are under 26 and on their parents' health insurance. But this is certainly a start.

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