Did you know that as a PhD student, there is a difference between salary and PhD stipends?
This is just one of the many things you should know when deciding to do a PhD.
As the highest level of education, a Doctor of Philosophy or PhD can take anywhere from four to 12 years to complete.
Embarking on a journey towards a PhD is an intellectually rewarding pursuit, but it often comes with financial challenges.
So, how do students cope?
If you receive a salary, then you are likely an employee the school hired to carry out a job like leading a class.
Like most jobs, salaried workers get a set wage based on their hours and often have employee benefits like subsidised healthcare or compensation.
A PhD stipend is a financial support system for doctoral students to cover living expenses, tuition, and research costs during their academic journey.
There are three types of PhD stipends:
- Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTAs): For this, you are required to assist by delivering one or more courses over a number of years. You would also need to take on other responsibilities, such as marking student tutorials, supervising lab experiments, and providing support to undergraduates during office hours.
- Research Assistantships (RAs): In this role, you will assist a departmental professor with their research. If you are lucky, the said professor is your PhD supervisor, and their research (and the support you give) will relate to your own doctoral project.
- Stipend via Studentship: This is a non-repayable grant for doctoral students. Unlike the other two stipends, this one rarely has additional suits, but you must progress with your degree.
Have PhD stipends always been like this?
PhD stipends have a rich history that mirrors the evolution of higher education.
Our current understanding of a PhD originated in 19th-century Germany, but doctoral degrees were awarded long before this.
Over time, PhD stipends have evolved into a cornerstone of doctoral education, ensuring that financial constraints do not hinder the pursuit of advanced knowledge.
Fun fact: The term “stipend” itself has Latin origins, coming from “stipendium,” which refers to a soldier’s pay.
This etymology underscores the idea that stipends are a form of financial support for individuals committed to advancing knowledge, akin to soldiers committed to a cause.
Sometimes, these PhD stipends are not enough.
At the beginning of this year, The Guardian reported about how PhD students in Australia were barely earning enough to survive.
“Through Melbourne’s winter, I know people forced into less than suitable housing who weren’t turning on their heat,” said Tara-Lyn Camilleri, who lobbied to raise the stipend at Monash University from 30,000 Australian dollars to A$37,000 while completing her PhD last year.
It was eventually raised to A$33,000, about A$4,500 less than the minimum wage after tax.
As PhDs can take years to complete, it is always easier to do one when you have money saved away instead of relying entirely on the PhD stipend.
In fact, Forbes even released a list of the most popular PhDs among billionaires:
- PhD in electrical engineering:
- Former CEO of Google Eric Schmidt (estimated net worth: US$16.2 billion), UC Berkeley
- The man behind Garmin GPS Min Kao (US$4.2 billion), University of Tennessee
- Cofounder, Chief Technology Officer and Chairman, Broadcom Henry Samueli (US$7.7 billion), UCLA
- Cofounder, Broadcom Henry Nicholas III (US$6.6 billion), UCLA
- PhD in computer science
- Founder, D. E. Shaw & Co., L.P. David Shaw (US$7.9 billion), Stanford University
- Co-Founder & Co-Chairman, Two Sigma David Siegel (US$6.8 billion), Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- The man behind some of Microsoft’s most successful software, including Word and Excel, Charles Simonyi (US$5.2 billion), Stanford University
- Cofounder, Netscape Communications Corporation James Clark (US$2.9 billion), University of Utah
- PhD in biology
- Art Levinson (US$1.3 billion), Princeton University
- Timothy Springer (US$2.1 billion), Harvard University
These are just some of the billionaires who have earned a PhD.
Fret not if you are not a billionaire yet. You can always apply to universities with the highest stipends.
Top 5 countries with the highest PhD stipends
Boasting over 50 institutions of higher education, it is no surprise that Austria is a top choice for a PhD.
Its rich cultural and academic heritage offers competitive stipends, with institutions like the University of Vienna leading the way.
This is because of the country’s commitment to academic excellence and research.
Universities often collaborate with international partners, contributing to a vibrant research community.
Government funding and a focus on supporting doctoral research contribute to the attractiveness of stipends in Austria.
Here are the most common PhD qualifications in Austria:
- Doctor of Arts
- Doctor of Economic Sciences
- Doctor of Medical Science
- Doctor of Natural Sciences
- Doctor of Psychotherapy Science
- Doctor of Technical Sciences
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Average PhD stipend: US$74,163
Cost of living: US$861.45 to US$1292.17
The Netherlands, known for its innovation and research-driven culture, offers competitive stipends, with institutions like Delft University of Technology providing substantial financial support.
About 10 Dutch research universities are ranked in the top 200 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022.
The Netherlands is also highly ranked internationally for the number of publications per researcher (second) and for the impact of research publication (fourth).
“The PhD salary in the Netherlands is one of the best in the world,” a former PhD says to Dutch News.
“In the UK, the salaries are just 1,000 pounds and PhD students need to work at weekends. I was able to buy a house while being a PhD student here.”
Here are some of the top universities in the Netherlands:
- University of Amsterdam
- Leiden University
- University of Groningen
- Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)
- Erasmus University Rotterdam
Average PhD stipend: US$46,537
Cost of living: US$646.09 to US$969.13
Renowned for its high-quality education system, Finland offers competitive stipends, with institutions like the University of Helsinki providing substantial financial support.
Government funding often supports stipends in Finland, reflecting the country’s commitment to nurturing the next generation of researchers.
Students are also encouraged to take ownership of the research in Finland.
Here are the top universities in Finland:
- University of Helsinki
- Aalto University
- University of Oulu
- Tampere University
- University of Turku
Average PhD stipend: US$53,436
Average cost of living: US$11,45.62
Denmark strongly emphasises education and research, and the country’s social welfare system ensures that stipends are sufficient to cover living expenses.
The country also offers an Industrial PhD option if you want to conduct a research project with commercial perspectives.
Denmark is also popular for the balance of robust academics and a great living standard, giving international students the best of both worlds.
Here are the best universities in Denmark:
- University of Copenhagen
- Technical University of Denmark
- Aarhus University
- University of Southern Denmark (SDU)
- Aalborg University
Average PhD stipend: US$42,618
Average cost of living: US$2,512.13
The land of innovation and Vikings beckons ambitious scholars with competitive stipends and one institution that stands out is the renowned Karolinska Institute.
Sweden’s commitment to pioneering research and its unique blend of modernity and tradition make it an alluring destination for those pursuing a PhD.
Most universities in Sweden offer salaries instead of stipends.
Here are some of the leading institutions in Sweden:
- Blekinge Institute of Technology
- Chalmers University of Technology
- Dalarna University
- Halmstad University
- Jönköping University
- KTH Royal Institute of Technology
- Karlstad University
- Karolinska Institutet
*All figures were converted as at the time of writing