Reflections on Philosophy Department Graduate Stipends

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Now that I am a postdoc scholar at the University of Kentucky (Go ‘Cats!), I am reflecting back on my experience as a Teaching Assistant.

Stipend amounts are hard to find

One thing that was hard to discover, perhaps understandably, was the expected “stipend” of graduate teaching assistants at other universities I applied to.

For what it’s worth, I saved the information about our stipend. My department preferred that it not be public. But count your lucky stars you aren’t as poor as I was in 2012.

UPDATE: This site goes some of the way to remedying this absence of knowledge!

I can’t speak to what other departments do. Perhaps TAs make more, or have to work less, at public schools with lots of state funding or private universities with big endowments, but we were taken care of. Kentucky’s cost of living is quite low, plus we did side work.

starving student Not me, but a good illustration of what philosopher grad students look like.

Side work

From the first year, the Buhler family “starving graduate student” status was somewhat alleviated by side work.

First, my wife worked part-time. she had our first baby the same week that school started, so this work did not begin until he was about six months old. over the following for years, she has worked an average of 15 hours a week tutoring and teaching.

Second, I took a very part-time tour guide job at a downtown attraction, which I worked full time during the summers. I occasionally taught high school courses at a local private 2-day school, and eventually began to “moonlight” at another university. I was making satisfactory progress, and so got permission from my advisor to send out resumes to local colleges for adjunct work. I lucked out and got a gig at Asbury because a friend was just leaving his adjunct post there, during the semester in 2014.

Third, we also were able to buy a duplex using money saved and gifted by parents. The rental income from one side of this duplex subsidized our mortgage and saved us a couple hundred a month from what we’d pay renting down the street.

Between these sources of income, we made it work.

Why labels like “Teaching Assistant” and “Stipend” are misleading

Functionally, “TAs” are not teaching assistants but teachers.

Depending on the semester, they mostly don’t just grade or do recitations but full courses.

They are not adjuncts because they are salaried and have health insurance and some security, if they are making satisfactory progress in a program.

Graduate students are, functionally, low-paid junior professors.

They do not “assist” the teacher but teach; they do not receive a “stipend” but a salary.

Dip and rise

I began in 2012 when there was a 2/1 or 1/2 teaching load. Graduate students could choose for the most part when they wanted to take on a lighter semester.

Immediately in 2013, however, we were given a pay raise and a heavier teaching load of 2/2. So while the total amount went up, the amount per class dropped down to a little better than adjunct professors, but far better if you factor in health insurance and tuition remission.

Thanks to good leadership, our stipend steadily rose over the years. This helped out my family a lot.

Will the pay continue to rise?

I can’t speak for future salaries because I am now paid differently as a postdoc. Next year, of course, I hope to have a full-time job somewhere. It remains for future graduate students to record – and if it is appropriate, share – their pay information for the benefit of posterity.