I am working on an NSF proposal that will be my first grant proposal sent out from Northwestern with me as a listed (co-) Principal Investigator. Never mind what it’s about, for now. Part of the proposal right now is for an RA whose responsibilities will have a strong administrative component. I just got the numbers back from our grants person, and an 12-month half-time RA at Northwestern is more than $34,000 in direct costs–not counting fringe benefits–because it includes tuition as well as the stipend. You can hire a pretty competent staff person for the half-time equivalent of a $68,000 annual salary, especially given that there are still a lot of assistant professor positions in sociology that have a base starting salary lower than that. If I get the grant, I’m not sure what I will do. I’m not going to spend it on a graduate student who simply views working on the project as a job, that’s for sure, as that would make no economic sense. An advantage of my current employer is that my ability to recruit similarly-interested students to come here is not strongly tied to whether I can myself provide funding for them, as then I would probably feel compelled to use the money to invest in a student even if I didn’t feel the expenditure was in the best interest of the particular project.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

9 thoughts on “moneymoneymoneymoneymoney”

  1. The question of the cost of graduate students and how to pay for the cost of graduate education (as graduate students do not typically pay tuition) is one of the major crises in the academy these days. People have been howling about this issue all over the country for the last few years. On many campuses, postdocs are cheaper than graduate students, and this is a major crisis in graduate education across the sciences. Federal caps on the amount of tuition they will pay are another source of crisis. The PI wants the cheapest possible grant so s/he will get it. The institution wants to cover its costs. Graduate education actually costs something and somebody has to pay for it. It is something of a collective goods problem.


  2. OW: I agree, of course. It’s just very striking to look at the budget numbers on paper and see that two half-time RAs cost the same as one full-time staff person making $68K.


  3. Are you sure about those numbers? I thought they were much higher. After all, aren’t you also paying the grad student? There is no way that $34K covers both stipend and tuition at NU.


  4. As expensive as grad students are (and your RA’s must be making a better stipend than I), they are also an investment in the future of the discipline. If our mentors aren’t willing to pay for us the RA, then our only option is teaching. While teaching is a fine way to fund your way through graduate school on a practical level, it’s not what employers want to see on CV’s.

    When I go out on the job market sometime in the next decade, it will be professors like you, willing to invest in me, which will make me marketable. (Well, and all the free research I do while trying to make ends meet.)


  5. AA: I agree with what you are saying. The issue is basically if it’s going to be someone I’m really mentoring, then it likely makes sense to support them as an RA even though you are paying well-above market in terms of the actual wake. But if it’s something where it’s somebody else’s student and I’m mostly just their employer, then I don’t see why one would just go with staff.

    Eszter: $34K was the figure I was given from IPR. ~$21K for stipend/fringe and ~$13K for tuition is my recollection.


  6. Jeremy,

    Note that some of the newer students are still deciding what they want to do, and it happens often that if they get involved in a research project they might end up getting interested and do their own work in that area. Sometimes professors just assume that either the grad student has been set on studying that stuff for a few years (or with you), or s/he is not interested and never will be. Sometimes interests and research topics adjust to possibilities of funding and exposure to topics, so I don’t think that the issue is so clear-cut.


  7. Jeremy, I checked my records on this and I see what it is. Just to clarify, this is a special tuition rate for grants that come with full overhead. (I realize that’s what yours would be.) Nonetheless, just to clarify, this is a reduced tuition rate for those grants specifically. Tuition at NU is way more than this, it’s about $12K/quarter now. So the cost would be much higher otherwise. I was just surprised at the tuition cost you cited, it didn’t seem realistic for a full year at NU.


  8. Eszter: That’s good to know. Obviously, whatever point about the tradeoff involved in using $34K of grant funds for a half-time RA is only greater if it is something like $50K or more.


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