Grad School vs. Blogging vs. Career vs. Money

It’s finally time to give you all a life update!  As I’ve hinted a few times recently, there have been some big changes in our plans.



Grad School


Last week, my advisor made the official announcement that he is moving to another university at the end of the summer.  He first alerted us to the possibility back in January, so I’ve had a few months to assimilate the news.  At that time, he and I discussed it enough to establish that I’m going to graduate and not move with him.  We said that Plan A would be for me to defend over the summer and Plan B would be to finish my labwork over the summer and then write up and defend in the fall.  As the spring progressed and my work stalled (par for the course), I was thinking more and more than I would have to depend on Plan B.


At the same time as telling us his official decision to move, my advisor said that those of us who were graduating would have to do it this summer.  When I asked him about it, he said that he hadn’t realized before that funding us at our current university would be such an issue after the move.  As his move date was August 1 and he was traveling a lot in July, I was then staring down the barrel of a June defense date, which seemed impossible.  Cue freak out.


Thankfully, as of this past Monday my advisor has moved his start date to September 1 and canceled some of his July travel, so I am supposed to defend between the last week in July and the end of August, which seems so much more feasible than June!





My accelerated graduation schedule is the reason that I am glad I reduced my blog posting schedule when I did.  I’m now writing my dissertation on top of doing a normal amount of labwork, so I am much busier these days.  While blogging (and reading other blogs) brings me a lot of joy, a lot of somethings had to go and it was on the list.  It’s a short-term sacrifice and I plan to increase my involvement again after my defense.


Reducing my posting schedule made me feel like I was waking up from a dream, like I had stepped off a treadmill.  I had the space to reflect on what I really want for my life and how blogging should fit in.  I realized that I love writing, serving my community (grad students and young adults), and the subject matter of personal finance.  I don’t love all the stuff you have to do to actually get paid as a blogger.  I had been thinking of EPF as a potentially serious source of income, but now I know I want to keep it and other online endeavors as just a hobby/service.  I still have projects I want to pursue, but I have to be careful to suppress my natural inclination to put it ahead of my less-fun actual work.





cartoon woman and ladderI want to be an employee – not a popular sentiment around the PF blogosphere!  Blogging should stay a hobby for me because I don’t want more than one job, and I want my one job to have a regular paycheck, coworkers, and benefits.  I’m super risk-averse and security-seeking.  I had been thinking of some possible freelance work (maybe including blogging, but mostly utilizing my PhD) as a transition plan while moving or a work-at-home mommy plan.  But in these past few months I’ve realized that it would be so much better to just focus on getting a really great full-time job.  Thinking about blogging and freelancing as a viable plan at this time in my life is, to me, a form of leaning out, and what I really want to do right now is lean in to my post-PhD career.


To that end, I applied for a job two weeks ago – my #1 choice job and company at the moment.  It’s the kind of job interview that you have to study for, so if I get into the interview process (and I certainly hope I do) I’ll have to make that a priority alongside my dissertation and work as well.  That job wouldn’t start until the fall at least.  I have another couple jobs I’m planning to apply for over the summer, but they wouldn’t start until January at the earliest.


That’s not to say that I am de-monetizing EPF or won’t end up freelancing after graduation for a bit.  Between unemployment and side hustles, I’ll side hustle.  But I won’t let that get in the way of finding a full-time job, which is what I really want.





I’ve had the opportunity to tell a small number of people about my bumped-up graduation timeline, and when they ask me about my post-grad plans it’s obvious that I don’t have any concrete ones yet.  I’ve been saying that I need to wait to find out where Kyle lands a postdoc to start job-searching in earnest, which is true (especially because I really won’t have time pre-defense).  A couple of them have seemed kind of freaked out on my behalf, either because they don’t approve of the trailing wife scenario or because unemployment is generally regarded as terrible.


But I’m honestly looking forward to a bit of a break.  I’ve been at this grad school thing for going on six years now.  A PhD is the worst of both the school and work worlds.  Like being at a job, the work and responsibilities never end.  Like being a student, there are no boundaries like hours and vacations.  Kyle and I have compounded these problems in the past couple years by not giving ourselves proper rest.  I’m emotionally ready for a break, and I’m sure by the time I defend I’ll be very, very ready.


And thankfully, it seems our finances will be ready, too.


First, Kyle has a transition job.  He is going to stay in his advisor’s lab until he finds a postdoc position.  There actually was a question about what title Kyle would have (grad student vs. research assistant vs. postdoc) after his defense, but when Kyle told his advisor about me being kicked out that somehow convinced his advisor to give Kyle the better title that comes with health insurance and a larger paycheck.  So that means that as of September 1 when I stop getting paid, Kyle will be in his new position that has a higher salary than his current one (though less than both of ours now) and we’ll still have health insurance.  When Kyle finally leaves our current university we’ll have a short time when we’ll probably both be without full-time jobs, but he won’t do that until he has a start date for his next job.


Second, we have a bunch of cash accumulated in our savings accounts – not intentionally, but because we haven’t let ourselves have much of a life recently.  As of this writing we have about $20,000 in cash-equivalents, not including our student loan payoff money.  Even if we can’t cover our expenses between Kyle’s paycheck and whatever income I can scrape together, we can supplement from savings.  And that is really, really comforting.  I wanted to use some of that money for a nice vacation and a DSLR, and hopefully we still will, but the priority is getting through our employment transitions without debt.


I’m not at all concerned about living in Durham with this reduced income, though moving to a higher cost-of-living city will be challenging for however long I’m jobless.  We’ll do the best planning we can to live on Kyle’s income , but we’ll definitely need to keep a cushion for that time as well.



I am really, really looking forward to my defense and immediate unemployment.  Honestly.  I’m excited to finally finish this darn degree and thanks to my marital status (i.e. income diversification) I don’t have to be freaked out about not having a job yet.  And I do look forward to getting back to my PF pursuits after my defense, even though it will just be as a hobby.


Have you ever had a job move on you?  How have you handled job transitions in the past and have you ever been jobless at the same time as your spouse?  Do you have any memory whatsoever of the last few months of your PhD?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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34 Responses to "Grad School vs. Blogging vs. Career vs. Money"

  1. Leigh says:

    I haven’t had a job move on me in the past and I haven’t changed jobs unless you count school -> internship -> school. My last job, I hated going to work because I didn’t like the work I was doing. This new job is still pretty overwhelming and stressful at times and my boyfriend has been pretty helpful at encouraging me to not quit! Things have been getting a little less overwhelming slowly, but it’s going to be a long year. There are some rearrangements going on that I hope will improve things at work, but part of me is worried that they will make thing worse.

    Sometimes I forget that blogging is a hobby. I’ve been having troubles fitting sports into my hobbies line-up lately with how overwhelming work has been, which just makes work more stressful! So I’m trying to fix that a bit.
    Leigh recently posted..I don’t like churning credit cards.

    1. Emily says:

      That doesn’t sound so hot. :/ Are you committed to giving it 1 year? It’s so good that you have someone to encourage you – at least to reach the goal you set for yourself. I hope the changes do improve things!

      That’s a yucky catch-22. I haven’t really exercised in months (oops) but I really think I’ll need to pick it back up to handle the stress and look a little better for job interviews. :/

      1. Leigh says:

        I am committed to giving it a year. I gave that commitment to my last job and left around the year mark because it was never becoming something I wanted to do. I feel like it’s more possible that this job might turn out okay, but it still might not.

        It’s made life pretty stressful this year so far. I’m pretty hopeful that it will get better though 🙂

        What really bugs me though is how much money I feel like I/we spend to make life less stressful. I’m trying really hard to not worry about it too much, but there are definitely a lot of convenience things we spend money on that would be cut/reduced if I had a less stressful job.
        Leigh recently posted..I don’t like churning credit cards.

  2. E 2 says:

    Congratulations! Being able to graduate early is so exciting, I’m happy for (and a bit envious of) you! I’m sure a break will be great, too, I totally understand the feelings of burnout. It’s wonderful that Kyle has a transition job and you’re not worried about making ends meet. Good luck with the job application though, hope you do get to the interview stage.

    Our plans are going a bit crazy for next year as well. My husband got a postdoc in a nearby city, and I have a teaching assistantship here, so we are still figuring out where to live and who’s going to commute – there are a surprising number of financial and time tradeoffs. But I’m also so desperate to get out of grad school and have a real job that I sort of want to say goodbye to the TAship and try my luck on the job market. (I’m turning in a dissertation draft next week, and I’ll be spending next year mainly doing more references, figures, and revisions – I think I’d be ready to defend in the fall, but my advisor will be on leave and isn’t willing.) The problem is that his postdoc salary, with the increased cost of taxes, health insurance premiums, and housing and transportation in the other city, doesn’t pay enough for both of us to live on if I have a lengthy job search. I don’t want to burn through much of our savings in case neither of us has a job or we have to make an expensive move in fall 2015. It’s kind of a choice of not-great work for a not-great paycheck, vs taking the risk of either finding better work or none at all. The other solution is just to job search while teaching, and quit and move if I get an offer…but honestly, I wouldn’t mind a couple months off either!

    You’re totally right that grad school can be the worst of both working and school. I like that insight.

    1. Emily says:

      I am so grateful that this is happening, actually, having observed the ordeal Kyle has gone through to get to his defense. And because I’m not going into academia so I don’t really care if my projects don’t get wrapped up super well. I’m just ready to move on, as I’m sure you are, too. That’s great that you already have a draft done!

      Yeah, that is a tough decision. I think I’m with you on the leaving grad school behind thing. Is there any chance you can pick up freelance work to make a little extra while job searching? I’m thinking more and more that the pressure to earn will force results. 🙂

      1. E 2 says:

        I hear you about being ready to move on! Not wanting to go into academia takes some pressure off, and also means you don’t have to go on the job market as far ahead of time, so that is good too.

        I’m not sure about freelance work – I’ve never done any, so I’d really be starting from scratch in finding out where to look and what to do. Part-time I’d definitely look into to start out with, though. There also may be other circumstances making finding work difficult for a few months, so I am strongly considering TAing for the first semester to try to build up a larger financial cushion before taking the leap.

        1. Emily says:

          Some of the jobs I’m interested in, including the one I applied for, have a long lead-time (6-10 months) on applications, and I’m actually kicking myself for not applying to some stuff over the winter that I didn’t think I would be available for but now likely will be. But for the types of jobs that I’ll apply for locally, yeah I don’t think the job postings will be as far in advance. My advisor recently sent me a job posting that looked really interesting, but they were hiring immediately. Good to know for later but not right now.

          When do you have to commit to the TAship if you’re going to take it?

  3. Kelly says:

    Congrats!! That is super exciting. Even if you weren’t ready to be done, sometimes a “forced retirement” from grad school is the best thing to happen. Otherwise it can drag out longer than needed or helpful!


    1. Emily says:

      Definitely. That’s the attitude I’ve adopted – Kyle is not so pleased for me, though.

  4. Mrs PoP says:

    I had a job move on me – and was given the option to follow it either to SF or NYC with no pay changes. No thank you! Just the taxes would have drastically reduced my pay, not to mention the higher COL in those locales would have made it less easy to save.

    Instead I quit – it was actually a bit weird because I almost had to move temporarily in order to stay long enough to get my bonus payout that was equivalent to a year of base pay. It came down to a matter of a weekend. But I didn’t even have to temporarily move.
    Mrs PoP recently posted..Trip To Australia: The Money Stuff

    1. Emily says:

      My advisor is moving to a super high COL city – thankfully there are small raises involved for the students, but not enough!

      So that means you got the bonus and didn’t have to move? That’s awesome!

  5. I haven’t had a job move on me, but my supervisor ran out of her funding when I was in my fifth year of my PhD, so I didn’t have a stipend for the last month or two. She still paid my tuition/continuing fees, but not having cash coming in is a pretty big incentive of getting through the dissertation process as quickly as possible 🙂 It also sort of popped out of nowhere like “oh yeah, this needs to be done in two months, by the way”. Not the greatest planning. Ah well.

    That’s a lot of life changes going on, and it’s definitely a new and busy time. I recently went through the same issue about blogging being a hobby or an income stream, and I settled on it being a hobby, with a teensy bit of money trickling in (very small amount of affiliate income).
    Alicia @ Financial Diffraction recently posted..Pay Day Limbo.

    1. Emily says:

      Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry that happened. A lot of people are telling me that my advisor “can’t” cut me off this way and that there must be other options, but when I probed him about departmental funding or anything else he said there were not other options. Plus, I actually want to graduate. Is losing your stipend why you started working before you defended?

      I think blogging is very gratifying as a hobby/tiny income and I am definitely not prepared to ramp things up. I mostly like it for how it connects me to my existing community and my online community.

      1. Alicia says:

        Well, you would think there would be some overflow funding in terms of situations like that (my supervisor was coming up to tenure and basically the funding started to dry up), but there wasn’t. I would want a slush for at least a term of bare-bones stipend from the department (I was paid above the minimum).

        I guess she had a certain number of months of funding for me and I ran out of them. Then my defence was supposed to be in November, but it didn’t end up happening until January. So I should have received stipend for January and February but because I had another job she didn’t pay me. I didn’t realize it was because she ran out of funding on my research area until six months later… I just thought she was being very inconsiderate to use my ability to get a job as an incentive not to pay me.
        Alicia recently posted..Pay Day Limbo.

        1. Emily says:

          I was thinking about it and I would only cost the department something like $8k for the time I had in mind – $3k for tuition and 2 months’ stipend. That doesn’t seem like much to me at the most well-funded department in the country for my field. But I must be missing something!

          That is a bit weird that your advisor shielded you from that information – both the time limit and the reason to cut off your funding. My advisor is like that, too.

  6. Looks like things are in high gear for you, that’s great!

    Also, I think that’s a wise and practical approach to focus on leveraging your hard-earned education to becoming an employee. Having a career is important to building your finances, and frankly I think the whole anti-career sentiment in some personal finance blogging circles is over the top.
    Tie the Money Knot recently posted..Does the Spouse Who Earns More Money Have More Say?

    1. Emily says:

      I didn’t mention this in the post, but… I have way more income potential by staying in a field/job related to my PhD than I do by working online exclusively. Like, I can’t even imagine becoming a PF blogging rockstar like some people I know in the online space, but their income reports don’t seem impressive in comparison with the starting salary of the job I just applied for, for instance. I’m definitely not assuming I’m going to get a high-paying job and I know that lifestyle means a lot… but for me, I’d rather pursue the employee path for a while and see how I like it.

      1. Leigh says:

        I totally agree with this! I don’t know how I could replicate my day job income with online income, especially when trying to replace benefits. I would probably need to bring in $250,000-300,000/year freelance to be a comparable income and at that point, I’d rather be finding a different job within my existing career. I’d only consider moving to online only income if I didn’t need to save much more money.
        Leigh recently posted..I don’t like churning credit cards.

        1. Also agree! And I get paid way more to freelance in my area of expertise than I would in pf, though there are probably fewer opportunities.
          nicoleandmaggie recently posted..How would you do the division?

        2. Emily says:

          There are very few people who pull in that kind of money from online income, I think. But if you were essentially FI already it might be fun to give it a shot.

  7. I was married very young and we were still in our college days. My hubs finished only a two year diploma course and decided to find a job in Saudi, where my in-laws are working too. But they want him to finish a degree course, so they sent him back home. During those days, our life was so hard because we both still studying, but thankfully we did it, we finished our course and now my hubs is an already a Software Engineer.
    Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way recently posted..When does Buy and Hold not Work

    1. Emily says:

      That’s a great story of short-term sacrifice to get the long-term win!

  8. Good luck! It sounds like you’re making great choices.

    Re: last few months of my PhD: I do remember lots of very late nights eating pizza with my grad school friends before walking home in the dark.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Big change can be ok too

    1. Emily says:

      That sounds nice. 🙂 Kyle and I have had a few late nights at school as well, but not with other friends. I think the company would be good but I’m not really friends with anyone else who is writing up now.

  9. Grad school is not easy business. It totally makes sense that you would take some space to rest after completing that Ph.D. It is no small accomplishment, and honestly you may perform better at your new job if you get some down time first. Good luck and thanks for sharing your experiences here!

    1. Emily says:

      I agree – I think the break will bode well for having lots of enthusiasm and energy for my next job.

  10. Kim says:

    That’s alot on your plate, but I have no doubt you’ll be able to keep all the plates spinning until you’re done. I would certainly take some time off and enjoy it. You will likely not have that again, hopefully, for a long time!

    1. Emily says:

      There’s no choice but to keep the most important ones spinning! Yes, I probably won’t have another significant break until I have a baby, and I don’t expect that to be much of a break!

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