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The quiet, underpaid workforce of academia is under attack #NoGradTax


As an NSF graduate research fellow, I earn one of the highest possible salaries for graduate students in the US (outside of biomedical research). My tuition is waived and I receive a stipend of $34K/year. I feel lucky to receive such support, when our average department graduate student instructor salary is <$24K/year. This may sound like a reasonable stipend for a student, but there are a number of things the average voter doesn't know about the lives of graduate students. Many of us live in dense city centers where research is top-notch and cost of living is astronomical. All graduate students outside of the NSF fellowship at UC Berkeley qualify for food stamps and fall well below the poverty line. Another misconception is the label "student". Yes, we are technically students, but we are also employees of the university. We make up the majority of the academic workforce in research and teaching. If you take into account how many hours we work per week, we are paid a paltry hourly wage similar to waitstaff at a restaurant - but don't expect any tips from your students (or research subjects)! Without our help, universities could not afford to function.

So this brings us to the so-called "grad tax", where the Senate and House Republicans have decided that tuition waivers are taxable income for graduate students. Even at a public university, my in-state tuition is $46K/year. When I was in my undergraduate at USC, my parents would have paid upwards of $80K/year if I hadn't received aid from the university. Assessing graduate student income at a level 2-4x of take-home stipends and taxing said "income" at 25% will make graduate school unattainable for everyone not independently wealthy. This will stifle our country's scientific advancements and put us at a disadvantage economically. This is a cruel attack on an already vulnerable subset of the population. As the Senate and the House negotiate the final version of the tax bill, we have to do everything we can to make sure this does not become law. Our scientific community and its role in our economy are at stake.


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© 2019 Richelle Tanner

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