For graduate students, the end of the spring semester means a few things.
Among turning in final assignments, completing necessary milestones for our respective programs or facilitating, grading and submitting scores for students, many of us also have to navigate the debilitating pressure of figuring out how we'll make money these next few months.
This added stress would be alleviated if our funding extended into the summer months.
The summer is not only a time of recovery from the academic year, but the only time graduate students get to work on the non-school-related professional activities that we are told we must also prioritize. Writing papers worthy of conference and journal submission can take more than three months, but this is the only free time we can dedicate to it.
During the summer, graduate students should be able to focus on these important things, but instead, some of us are working other jobs to cover rent and other living expenses.
The Graduate School funds students through both service and non-service stipends.
Service stipend recipients like myself are teaching assistants, research assistants or even teaching fellows who work in classrooms alongside faculty members. Non-service fellows — or the “lucky ones,” as I call them — are graduate students whose funding is not contingent on the teaching or assisting with research.
Funding makes us eligible for benefits like tuition, fee awards and health insurance.
There is a general pattern of ambiguity for funding among graduate students. We're not really in the know-all of how departments pay their students since funding looks different depending on department and program. This leaves us left with no real grasp of what it looks like as a whole. While the Graduate School might believe these stipends are competitive and sufficient, the current minimum for doctoral students is not even a living wage — despite the recent increase approved by the College of Arts and Science.
Further, this funding is limited to the nine-month academic calendar, meaning the little money we get would have to stretch for the months we aren’t being paid. August and May are months that do not offer full payment because technically we aren’t “working” the full time. The amount we are paid is not enough to last the entire year.
There are so many changes needed when addressing graduate student funding, with summer funding being high up on the list.
Although summer funding is not guaranteed, there are a number of opportunities that could work as solutions, with fellowships and teaching during summer sessions serving as options. These are highly competitive, however, and not promised. Further, payment for teaching happens at the end of the summer — as if rent and groceries can wait.
The precarious nature of summer funding is made even worse with the skyrocketing cost of seemingly everything ever.
Nationally, the average price for a gallon of gas has gone up in recent months. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that all food prices are going to increase by around 4 to 5 percent. Rental prices are on the rise across the country and in North Carolina — the average cost of rent has increased by 20 percent from last year.
These soaring costs are overwhelming in comparison to our stipends, which, before the $1,300 increase that was announced this year, had not changed since 2015.
Graduate students are different from undergraduates in that being a student is part of our job itself.
The current funding structure leaves us vulnerable to economic difficulty during a time when we should be resting, studying for important exams, working on professional development or spending time with our family and friends we aren’t able to see during the academic year. The University should fully recognize the contributions that graduate students bring to our community and commit to guaranteed pay throughout the summer.
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