“I wish I had known” – Some advice on how to plan your study

Hello everyone! 

Ana Vivaldi and Brenda Fitzpatrik – both 4 + PhD candidates in our department, have kindly put together a document to share their experiences and lessons learned  about how to best plan our study to avoid unnecessary hardships as we get further along in our academic paths. This document is a work in progress and we welcome any comments and any other advice that might be missing. Thank you Ana and Brenda!

What I Wish I Had Known

Notes on Financing and Professional development for Graduate Studies in Arts

Based on the personal experience of a PhD student in the Social Sciences

Your own situation may differ, depending on your discipline and other circumstances, so not all of these recommendations may apply, but in general, I recommend that you:

Be aware that financial support after the fourth year is virtually non-existent for Arts students, so plan accordingly:

  1. Make a financial plan along with your academic plan

Get both the department and your committee involved in that plan. Discuss with your committee a budget to cover your studies from start to finish, including at least one additional year to completion (over what you project in your academic plan). Project worst-case scenarios, look at your sources of funding (bank, family, etc.) and how much each can provide, consider how much debt you are willing to take on, and where you would turn in a financial emergency. Plan for inflation, and increases in cost of living (at least 2% a year) and tuition, and bear in mind that salary and fellowships may not increase with inflation. Plan how you will support yourself during summers. Go back to this plan, just as you go back to your grad program.

  1. Maximize your funding applications

Use the support your department provides in funding applications in the first two years. Prioritize these applications over being an overly obsessive student. (To be blunt, good grades won’t pay your research or living expenses. Which is not to suggest that you neglect your coursework, but only that you set priorities.) Work on your applications with other students; read and edit your work together. Research what type of projects are getting funding, plan a strategy to match those criteria (taking into account your own interests, of course). Do your own research for funding opportunities (ask for help at the library); there are many funding sources that most students do not know about (IDRC, Soros Foundation, and others).

  1. Save money in the early years of your program for later years

Do not expect that your financial situation will improve throughout your program; it is actually the opposite–funding after the 4th year is almost non-existent. Any time you have funding or other income, prioritize and make a monthly budget that allows you to save as much as you can for when your funding runs out.

  1. Consider the following income-generating options
  1. a) Teaching Assistant-ships: You will be eligible for 5 years (6 if you take fieldwork or other types of leave; read the union agreement carefully).
  1. b) Sessional work: If there is an opening in your area of expertise, this is great experience, and worth doing at least once during your program, but take this work knowing that it will likely leave you no time to work on your thesis, and progress will be nearly stopped during that time. (Teaching the same course twice is very good because you have all the preparation done, but this is not usually possible).
  1. c) Teaching work outside the department or university: Consider teaching or TA-ing in a related department, or at other universities and colleges (SFU, Capilano, Langara, etc.)   For this you will need: to find out about the calls for sessionals and TAs, to get permission from the department to teach, and to show your teaching evaluations from any TA position(s) you have held, so keep those (they are all on-line now). (International students do not need an off campus work permit anymore but are limited to part-time work)
  1. d) Research Assistant-ships: It may be difficult to find an RA-ship with anyone other than your supervisor or committee members, but occasionally RA-ships may be available, even if not advertised. Contact professors and ask them if they need an RA.
  1. e) Jobs at UBC: As well as decent wages and benefits, any administration position over 50% time provides a tuition waiver. This option is much unexplored among students and gives you work experience, connections and much more financial stability.
  1. f) GSS jobs. gss.jobs (they come up from time to time)
  1. g) Resources for Jobs

→ At UBC Administration http://www.hr.ubc.ca/careers-postings/staff.php

→ UBC Campus jobs (the Bookstore, the Library, Food Services, etc.) http://students.ubc.ca/career/campus-experiences/other-campus-jobs

and http://students.ubc.ca/career , go to “Careers Online”—they have links to various jobs

→ Staff finders: They provide temporary staffing to UBC units. Wages start at about $19/hour. Their positions tend to be full-time, though temporary, so this may be a good option for the summer.

http://www.hr.ubc.ca/staff-finders/apply/ for information

  1. f) Other jobs. Ask Oralia about job listservs. UBC Career Services
  1. g) Loans: If you need to take on debt, plan ahead for it as much as possible. Do not wait until you are in financial difficulties, but find out in advance what types of loans you are eligible for, and the maximum amounts.
  1. h) GSS Emergency Fund: This is a one-time emergency hardship fund for students in financial distress. There are specific conditions to be met, and the maximum is normally not more than $2,000 so it is never going to save your semester, but it may help if you are truly facing an emergency.
  1. i) Take a leave, work intensively outside UBC and then come back. (if you are an international student you need your visa *not* to expire while on leave, otherwise you are unable to renew it and become illegal – this is the type of things International house will not discuss much with you-).

Finally, take leaves of absence if there is any particularly difficult moment. You can take up to 1 year in different portions (a semester each time or several semesters together). You can take a leave for personal reasons with no further explanation (ie no need to show doctors notes or any other document just a written letter and a form). There are also medical leaves. Do not try to hold to the program if you need and can take time off.

Accademic considerations: Streamline your program and prepare to the job market

1) Make your academic program tight in time, not overly ambitious and try to use time wisely as much as you can: use summers, try finishing the course-work in one year (take summer courses, if they are not available in Anth look outside the department), make the comps as short as you can, plan for shorter rather than longer fieldwork (ie 10 months vs 12). Already at proposal – comps stage you can plan to leave a portion of work for the post doc (or the doc if you are MA), for example leave archival work for latter if it is not central. Start writing drafts of your thesis as soon as you can. Use courses for the purpose of your research as much as you can, make final papers be small, draft lit reviews fro your dissertation or Comps project proposal.

2) Bear in mind the program, but also all professors and mentors prepare you to follow an academic path, but only a few of us will get that work. Try developing other skills (this can be software expertise as ATLAS TI, to statistics (SSPS), geographic information systems, health research tools, find out what you may need in your area). Get a job outside the department, get teaching experience. Consider taking any course you need to develop these skills. Consider participating in the following programs.

Graduate Pathways to Success Program: https://www.grad.ubc.ca/current-students/graduate-pathways-success and the Instructional Skills Workshop Program: http://ctlt.ubc.ca/programs/all-our-programs/instructional-skills-workshops/ .

3) Try to get to know people in your sub-field as much as you can, search outside the department, consider applying for the Liu institute (if you fit in it) and – or any other network (RAGA, migration) that is suitable for your work. Search professional organizations and conferences in applied social sciences in your areas of interest. Build your professional as well as an academic profile, as much as you can.

If you are international student:

1) Bear in mind tuition is already much expensive than for local students and may continue to raise. The gap between local and international tuition gets bigger after the 2nd year. There is an international tuition fellowship that attempts to match international tuition with local tuition for grad students, but that fellowship has not risen in many years, what means that you get even more inflation on your tuition each time it rises. Project this raises. Also while domestic tuition gets reduced after 3 semesters, international tuition keeps the same until the end (and you pay tuition even after defense, until the day your final version of the thesis is submitted).

2) Bear in mind you depend on your full time student status to renew your visa. This may be a problem at the end of your program and if you need to take time off.

3) Bear in mind that off campus work-permit you have limitations to work, you can only work a number of hours a week (20?), and you are not in the hiring priority for jobs.

4) Consider you are not eligible to any state help (ie disability, family, other), you can’t apply for loans and bursaries in UBC. You can’t apply to bank loans in Canada.

So it is a good idea as international student you:

1) Consider applying for Permanent Resident as soon as you can (second year), even if you are not planning to stay in Canada. This will make you eligible to more fellowships, much cheaper tuition after your second year, give you possibilities to work full-time and be more eligible to work, be eligible to Ubc bursaries and Ubc loans, and the specific bank loans for students, you will also be eligible to more post docs.

2) Know your rights and the resources available

Read the TA agreement, read FOGPGS policies, navigate the GSS website. You may also find it helpful to consult the GSS Advocacy Office, the UBC Ombuds Office, UBC Equity, or International House if you experience issues related to finances, leave, visas, supervision, (or any other aspect of your relationship with UBC). Bear in mind they are pretty disarticulated, you will have to connect and process the information (ie International house knows about visas but will not know about what happens if you get a debt with UBC as international student).

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