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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Education: Financial burden

Gene Russo

Published online
This article was originally published in the journal Nature
Graduate students face big decisions about money. They can benefit from wise counsel and careful forethought.

After finishing her PhD in April, Kristina Stemler came to a crossroads. Should she pursue the tantalizing dream of pure research in academia, or find an industry job in which product sales govern priorities and shape career prospects? Her decision depended on many considerations — what did she enjoy most? What was most satisfying? Where would the hottest jobs be? And then there was that other matter looming in the back of her mind and sometimes keeping her up at night: the fact that she is tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
Stemler is one of many junior researchers who face huge debt on top of the already-daunting burdens of getting funding, landing a position and toiling for long hours in the lab. Debt can cause stress and change the calculus of career decisions. It does not usually accumulate as a result of graduate studies — for which students often get fellowships or other funding — but from the ever-increasing cost of an undergraduate education. In the United States, tuition fees have increased faster than inflation, and total student debt now exceeds the nation's credit-card debt.

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