Do Phd Programs Pay You? Answers On Stipends, Salaries, And More

Deciding whether to pursue a PhD is a big choice that involves weighing the costs and benefits. One key question many prospective PhD students have is: will I get paid to earn my doctorate degree? The short answer is yes, PhD programs do offer pay in the form of stipends, salaries, and other financial support.

However, the details vary significantly between programs, fields, and sources of funding. In this approximately 3000 word guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about PhD funding, including statistics on stipends, differences across disciplines, fellowships vs teaching and research assistantships, expenses to factor in, and strategies for maximizing your graduate earnings.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Most STEM and some humanities PhD students receive a stipend and tuition remission in exchange for teaching or research. Stipends average $30,000 but range from $15,000 – $40,000+ depending on field and university.

Salaries are more common in professional programs like law and medicine.

Background on PhD Stipends and Funding

When considering pursuing a PhD, it’s important to understand the financial aspects associated with it. PhD programs typically provide financial support to their students, but it’s important to note that the funding structure can vary depending on the institution and field of study.

Types of financial support for PhD students

PhD students are often supported through a combination of stipends, scholarships, fellowships, and research or teaching assistantships. Stipends are a common form of financial support for PhD students and are typically provided as a fixed amount of money paid on a regular basis.

These stipends can help cover living expenses, such as housing, food, and transportation, while students focus on their research.

In addition to stipends, scholarships and fellowships are also available to PhD students. These forms of financial support are often awarded based on academic merit or specific research interests. Scholarships and fellowships can provide additional funding and may come with specific research or teaching obligations.

Research and teaching assistantships are another way for PhD students to receive financial support. These positions often involve assisting faculty members with their research or teaching responsibilities in exchange for a salary or stipend.

Assistantships not only provide financial support but also offer valuable experience in research or teaching, which can be beneficial for future career opportunities.

How stipends and salaries compare to salaries for college graduates

While PhD stipends and salaries vary depending on the institution and field of study, they generally tend to be higher than the salaries of college graduates with bachelor’s degrees. According to data from the National Science Foundation, the median annual stipend for PhD students in science, engineering, and health fields is around $34,000 to $35,000, which is higher than the median starting salary for bachelor’s degree holders.

It’s important to note that the financial benefits of pursuing a PhD extend beyond the stipend or salary. PhD programs often provide tuition waivers or reductions, health insurance coverage, and access to research funding.

These additional benefits can help offset the costs associated with pursuing a PhD.

Variability across fields

The financial support available to PhD students can vary significantly across different fields of study. Fields such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and business tend to offer higher stipends and salaries compared to fields like humanities and social sciences.

This variability is often influenced by factors such as the availability of research funding and the demand for professionals in the field.

It’s worth noting that while the financial support may vary, pursuing a PhD is not solely about the financial benefits. PhD programs provide an opportunity for advanced research, intellectual growth, and the development of specialized skills, which can lead to fulfilling and rewarding careers.


STEM PhD Stipends and Salaries

When considering pursuing a PhD in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) field, one of the most common questions is whether or not PhD programs pay you. While the answer is not as straightforward as a simple “yes” or “no,” it is important to understand the different aspects of financial support available to PhD students.

This article will explore the topic of stipends and salaries for STEM PhD programs, providing valuable insights for those considering this academic path.

Average stipends by field

The amount of stipend provided to STEM PhD students can vary depending on the field of study. According to recent data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the average stipend for STEM PhD students in the United States ranges from $25,000 to $35,000 per year.

However, it is important to note that this is just an average and actual stipend amounts can differ significantly depending on factors such as location, university, and funding source.

For example, in fields such as computer science, electrical engineering, and biomedical engineering, where demand is high, stipends tend to be on the higher end of the spectrum. On the other hand, fields such as mathematics and physics may have lower average stipend amounts.

It is essential for prospective students to research stipend amounts specific to their field of interest.

Sources of funding

PhD students in STEM fields often receive financial support through a variety of sources. One common source of funding is through research assistantships (RAs) or teaching assistantships (TAs), where students work alongside faculty members in conducting research or assisting in teaching undergraduate courses.

These assistantships not only provide financial support but also offer valuable hands-on experience and networking opportunities.

Other sources of funding for STEM PhD students include fellowships, scholarships, and grants. These can be awarded by the university, government agencies, private organizations, or philanthropic foundations.

Additionally, some students may secure external funding through industry partnerships or by securing their own grants. It is advisable for prospective students to explore all possible funding options and apply for as many opportunities as possible.

Benefits beyond stipend amount

While the stipend amount is an important consideration, it is essential to look beyond just the financial aspect when evaluating the benefits of a STEM PhD program. Pursuing a PhD in a STEM field offers numerous advantages, including access to cutting-edge research facilities, mentorship from renowned faculty members, and opportunities for collaboration with industry professionals.

These benefits can greatly enhance a student’s academic and professional growth, paving the way for a successful career in academia, industry, or entrepreneurship.

Furthermore, many STEM PhD programs also offer additional benefits such as health insurance coverage, tuition waivers, and travel grants for conferences or research-related activities. These perks can alleviate the financial burden and enhance the overall experience of pursuing a PhD.

Humanities and Social Science PhD Funding

When it comes to funding for PhD programs in the humanities and social sciences, there are some key differences compared to STEM fields. While STEM students often receive higher stipends, humanities and social science students have more opportunities to secure funding and gain valuable experience.

Lower stipends but more opportunities than STEM

While it is true that stipends for humanities and social science PhD programs may be lower compared to STEM fields, this does not mean that funding opportunities are scarce. In fact, there are numerous grants, scholarships, and assistantship positions available specifically for students in these disciplines.

These opportunities not only provide financial support but also offer valuable experience in teaching, research, and other related areas.

Additionally, many humanities and social science PhD programs offer funding through fellowships and grants that can cover tuition fees, living expenses, and even travel costs for research or conferences.

These funding options allow students to focus on their studies and research without the added stress of financial burdens.

It is important for prospective PhD students in humanities and social sciences to thoroughly research and explore the funding opportunities available at their desired institutions. This can be done by visiting the university’s website, contacting the department or program directly, or reaching out to current students or alumni for advice and insights.

Fellowships provide flexibility

One of the advantages of pursuing a PhD in humanities or social sciences is the availability of fellowships. Fellowships provide financial support to students without requiring them to work as teaching or research assistants.

This offers a greater level of flexibility and freedom to focus on their own research and intellectual pursuits.

Some fellowships are awarded on a competitive basis and may come with additional benefits such as access to research resources, mentorship opportunities, and networking events. These benefits can greatly enhance the overall PhD experience and contribute to a student’s professional development.

It is worth noting that fellowships in humanities and social sciences often have specific criteria and requirements, such as research proposal submissions, writing samples, or interviews. Students should carefully review the application guidelines and deadlines to maximize their chances of securing these prestigious funding opportunities.

Professional Degree Programs: Law, Medicine, Business

When it comes to professional degree programs such as law, medicine, and business, the approach to funding can differ from PhD programs. While PhD programs often provide stipends to their students, professional degree programs tend to offer full salaries to their participants.

Full salaries more common than stipends

In professional degree programs like law, medicine, and business, it is more common for students to receive full salaries rather than stipends. This is because these programs are typically structured in a way that allows students to work and earn a living while pursuing their degrees.

For example, law students may take on internships or clerkships at law firms, where they receive a salary for their work. Similarly, medical students often participate in clinical rotations or residencies, which come with a salary.

Full salaries in professional degree programs can be a significant advantage for students. Not only do they provide financial stability, but they also allow students to gain valuable work experience in their field while pursuing their degree.

This combination of academic and practical training can be highly beneficial when entering the job market after completing the program.

Exception: MD/PhD programs still provide stipends

While full salaries are more common in professional degree programs, there is an exception for MD/PhD programs. MD/PhD programs are dual-degree programs that combine medical training with research-focused PhD studies.

These programs typically provide stipends to their students to support their research activities.

Stipends in MD/PhD programs are crucial as they allow students to dedicate the majority of their time to research without the financial burden of additional work or clinical responsibilities. By providing stipends, these programs enable students to fully immerse themselves in their research projects and contribute to scientific advancements.

It’s important to note that the availability of stipends or full salaries may vary between different universities or programs. It’s recommended to consult the specific program’s website or contact the admissions office for detailed information on funding options.

Maximizing and Supplementing Your PhD Funding

While pursuing a PhD program can be a rewarding and intellectually stimulating experience, it is no secret that it often comes with financial challenges. However, there are several strategies you can employ to maximize and supplement your funding, ensuring that you can focus on your research without undue financial stress.

Apply for external fellowships

One effective way to supplement your PhD funding is by applying for external fellowships. These fellowships are typically awarded by organizations, foundations, or government agencies and can provide additional financial support.

Many external fellowships offer generous stipends, allowing you to focus solely on your research without the need for additional part-time work. Additionally, receiving an external fellowship can enhance your resume and academic profile, making you a more competitive candidate for future funding opportunities.

Look for teaching and research opportunities

Another way to maximize your PhD funding is by exploring teaching and research opportunities within your university. Many PhD programs offer teaching assistantships or research assistantships, where you can work alongside professors or contribute to ongoing research projects.

These positions not only provide valuable experience but also come with financial benefits, such as a stipend or salary. Teaching assistantships, in particular, can also help you develop important skills in communication and pedagogy, which can be beneficial for your future academic career.

Consider employer tuition benefits

If you are currently employed, it is worth exploring whether your employer offers tuition benefits or assistance for pursuing higher education. Some companies have programs in place to support their employees’ educational endeavors, which could include financial assistance for PhD programs.

Taking advantage of such benefits can significantly alleviate the financial burden associated with your studies. Make sure to inquire about any available programs or policies within your organization and explore the possibilities.

By employing these strategies, you can maximize and supplement your PhD funding, ensuring that you have the financial resources to focus on your research and academic pursuits. Remember, it is essential to explore all available options and take advantage of any external fellowships, teaching or research opportunities, or employer benefits that can support your journey towards earning a PhD.

Expenses to Factor In

Tuition and fees

When considering the financial aspects of pursuing a PhD program, one of the primary expenses to factor in is tuition and fees. While some PhD programs offer full funding, including a tuition waiver, others may require students to pay for their tuition.

It is important to carefully research and understand the financial obligations of the program you are considering.


Another important expense to consider is healthcare. Many universities offer healthcare coverage for their graduate students, but the extent of coverage can vary. It is essential to understand what healthcare benefits are provided by your program and if there are any additional costs associated with it.

Additionally, it may be beneficial to explore options for healthcare coverage outside of the university, such as through a spouse’s plan or private insurance.

Retirement savings

While pursuing a PhD program, it can be easy to overlook retirement savings. However, it is crucial to start planning and saving for retirement as early as possible. Some universities offer retirement savings plans for graduate students, such as a 401(k) or a 403(b).

It is recommended to take advantage of these opportunities and contribute to your retirement savings, even if it is a small amount. The earlier you start, the more time your money has to grow.


Taxes are another expense that PhD students need to consider. The tax implications can vary depending on factors such as stipend amount, funding source, and student status. It is advisable to consult with a tax professional or use online resources to understand your tax obligations and potential deductions as a PhD student.

Being proactive and knowledgeable about your tax situation can help you effectively manage your finances.

It is important to note that the expenses mentioned above may differ from program to program and from one university to another. Therefore, it is crucial to thoroughly research and understand the financial aspects of the specific PhD program you are considering.

Planning ahead and being aware of all potential expenses can help you make informed decisions and manage your finances effectively during your PhD journey.


While PhD programs do offer pay in the form of stipends or salaries, it’s important to look at the details and understand the expenses you’ll need to cover. Funding can vary greatly depending on your field and program.

With strategic planning, applying for fellowships, and taking advantage of opportunities like teaching, most PhD students can make enough to get by with careful budgeting. While doctoral studies require dedication, they are very doable with the right financial preparation.

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