#Dispatches: COVID Impacts by Career Level, Part III ~ Grad Students/Postdocs


#Dispatches From the Frontlines Monday series crowdsources questions to get a broad indication of how our readers are coping with various challenges.

The question right now: How has COVID impacted your career? Due to the massive number of responses, I will be dividing responses by career level.

Two weeks ago I began with Assistant Professors. Last week I shared responses by NTT/Adjuncts/VAP. Today I’ll feature Grad students and postdocs, and then tenured faculty/administrators will follow next week.

Bolding added for emphasis.

New #Dispatches Question will be opened for responses in a few weeks’ time.

NOTE: Please remember that we invite respondents to list their own identifying details. We mostly do not edit these. Respondents share what THEY feel is significant about their identity.



This is harrowing reading….


This summer, I was planning to collect data for my dissertation overseas; however, because of the outbreak, I am unable to travel and collect data in person. As a result, I had to change my data collection plans and am now in the process of revising my instruments so that I could attempt to collect data remotely. That said, it is not easy to find 60+ participants who are willing to participate in a lengthy experiment without compensating them. I have applied to a few grants but sadly did not receive them (I still have 3 more to apply, but they are extremely competitive grants). So right now, I have to decide whether to postpone my data collection to Fall and miss the job market for Fall 2020 OR attempt to collect data remotely and pay them out of pocket so I do not miss the job market. [Grad Student, Social Sciences, I’m a non-American PhD candidate at an elite US university. Straight, woman, married]

I have had to come to terms with the fact that my dream job working within a university setting may now be out of reach, and have had to start considering jobs in community settings instead — which, in my field, are typically more lucrative, however I really enjoy the university setting and it has been a hard pill to swallow that I may not be able to have the job I envisioned for at least the next year (and possibly many years?)Post Doc, Social Sciences, 32 yr old, cis, white, hetero, partnered woman]

I delayed my defense simply because I had so much trouble concentrating for six weeks and was fending entirely on my own (no local support, no car, using public transit). I moved back with my parents for financial reasons. Now I’m back on track to finish because, well, I don’t have anything else to do. My advisers, mentors, friends, and parents all have urged me to stay and use up my final semester of guaranteed TAship for the fall because they can’t see much hiring (if at all) for the next 6-12 months and the TAship is bird in hand. I do plan to defend early in the autumn semester so I can use the rest of the time to (hopefully) land something that will allow me to move out of my parents’ and be financially independent by January 2021. I am taking the “wait and see” approach. I am terrified of having to fight a difficult (general) job market once again (I did so in 2010 when unemployment was at least 10%!) and my dream sectors are higher education and non-profits, which are, well, now severely damaged. [Grad Student, Humanities, 34, white, straight unmarried female, no kids]

I am in my last year of a two year postdoc. This coming year was supposed to be my “big year” on the job market. Advice from my advisor was that I should try to patch together adjunct teaching jobs until the market rebounds. However, I have young kids and don’t want to jump around the country following Visiting AP jobs. Instead, I am plotting my exit from academia to do birth work and using this year to get the certifications I need and turn my dissertation into a book (previously, I was chopping it up into articles). It is liberating and clarifying to ask the question: what is it that I want, if I am no longer focused on making myself more appealing for academic jobs? [Post-Doc, Social Sciences, 30-something, queer, cis-gender woman, married, and have two young children]

If I had choices, I might stay closer to home (aging parents and such.) But now I feel I have even less choices than before; I’ll take whatever I can get! So not sure how to advise.[Grad Student, Education, 49 year old, graduating with EdD in June 2020, married, fairly middle class I guess]

I had planned on graduating in either the Fall or Spring (depending on how quickly I could finish my dissertation). The past school year I had talked at length with two of my advisors about considering the possibility of leaving the academy, and had begun looking for outside work. This summer, I had been accepted to two internships – one with a federal government agency, and one with my Senator. Both were cancelled because of pandemic. I will not be able to apply to either again next year because they both required you being a student the following school year. (I could put off graduating another year, but I’m already five years in, and I would really like to just be done at this point). I continue to adjunct teach, but I’m deeply upset that two potential areas for future employment outside of the academy have essentially evaporated before my eyes (at least, that’s how it feels). [Grad Student, Humanities, 33, white, female, with long term partner (together for 10 years) – he graduated with his PhD a year ago and is on the academic job market while adjuncting.]

I am very worried that the country where I do field work won’t allow foreign visitors (especially from the US, given the outbreak here) for the next year or even longer.  I am lucky to be 9 months into a 3-year postdoc, but I was hoping to have results from new field projects by the time I apply for jobs.  It seems increasingly unlikely that I’ll actually get to do those projects any time soon, meaning that I’m looking at back-up plans that I could do at my home campus, in the lab.  But my main backup plan requires a lot more research money than I have, so I would have to apply for funding for those, which may or may not be successful and even if it were it would take many months …  And my backup plan would be a switch to a topic that I’m less excited about and which would put me on a path towards a different type of job, teaching different types of classes and having different types of students.  Currently I am crossing my fingers and toes that the one and only job opening in my field right now happens to work out.  But that would be a miracle. [Post Doc, Stem, 31, female cisgender and straight-ish, single, postdoc in STEM field]

Honestly, I am feeling very lost. My current position is scheduled to end in September and I have been looking for jobs since last year. I have not even gotten through the first-round in most cases. I started looking for non-academic positions but given my citizenship, it makes it hard for me to find a job in the US (despite having spend the last decade in the US) or in the UK where I am currently at. Industry is also going through hiring freeze. My current career plan for the worst case scenario is to return to where my family is now and find any job.  [Post Doc, Social Sciences, 30 year old, female, straight, non-US/UK/EU citizen] 

I have to move house because I can no longer afford the rent I’m paying right now. I also had to get an emotional support animal earlier than I thought I would[Grad Student, Social Sciences, Black, Harvard PhD student, 24 years old, mentally ill, single/unmarried, no children, no student debt, lower-middle-class family, high CoL area]

Second source of income is in-person so no longer possible, very concerned about money, eating canned soup daily, will not get paid from school again until 1 october.  no one from school has asked how we grad students are doing, financially or emotionally. [Grad Student, Humanities, over 50, white woman]

Partner moved in with me to escape covid hotspot (Long Island), they were in the process of applying for disability when the pandemic hit so obviously that’s on hold now. Since March I’ve been supporting two people on a graduate student stipend, landlord pressured us to mutually dissolve the lease we had already signed for next year, forcing me to find a place to move during the pandemic. The apartment we’ll be moving into will be more expensive than my current one, and between helping my partner pay for medication and needing to have a housing deposit ready I’ve now missed paying two months of rent.  [Grad Student, STEM, 30, cis white man]

I’m a doc student at an Ivy League school. Since the pandemic broke, I’ve had to pay rent for a studio I could no longer use (in an expensive university town) even though I couldn’t get back into the country because of travel restrictions. My Ivy League school in Boston wouldn’t release me from my rent until I moved out all my belongings. I had to hire movers and packers to move out remotely which cost me a lot of money. At the same time, I had to pay rent/living costs in another non-US city where I ended up staying. As a consequence, I used up all my personal savings and I’m broke. Thanks to the pandemic, I lost the opportunity to work during the summer. Meanwhile I’ve had to deal with US visa rules which are unstable and volatile. Spent the whole summer attending visa sessions, seeking legal counsel to understand new rules that are coming out every other week pretty much. The international office in my university is understaffed and takes weeks to respond to simple visa questions. I regret my decision to do a PhD in the US, and would advise others to stay out of the US for now.  [Grad Student, Social Sciences, female, single, international student]

I lost my funding and with it my university healthcare. All while expecting my first child. I was forced to move and have struggled to find remote work I can do while pregnant and high risk. [Grad Student, Humanities, 28 year old PhD candidate, female, pregnant]

I applied to 14 dissertation completion/predoc fellowships. 4 were cancelled due to covid, I had one campus visit and was going to receive an offer (which could lead to a TT position), but the opportunity disappeared. I now have no funding for my final year and no health insurance. Also going on the market this fall with little hope. [Grad Student, Humanities, 30, white/Mexican, heterosexual cisgender woman, married, mother to one child. First generation, from a working class background.]

Lost my original post doc due to refusal to conduct psychotherapy without appropriate PPE[Post Doc, Social Sciences, Female]

Finding it difficult to secure formal employment for regular income.[Grad Student, Arts/Music/Theater, 30, black, female, straight, single.]

Since there is a travel ban for all European countries I can’t go back to the US and I will lose my GTAship, which also means my job. I am forced to request the leave for the semester. [Grad Student, Humanities, 27 yo, White, european, female, lesbian, single, international student]

As a result of COVID-19 related travel restrictions and cancellations, I was not able to attend 2 key conferences in my field. I also was not able to participate in paid summer work that would have been beneficial both financially and professionally. I haven’t had access to research materials for months and am anxious about how this may slow my progress to my degree. And right now, my department is saying that all grad students with non-teaching appointments may lose their positions and be put back in the classroom, but the final word on this will not come down until very late July or early August. All of these scenarios have affected my current financial security as well as my ability to successfully compete for jobs in the future.[Grad Student, Humanities, 1st gen grad student]

I’m at the verge of losing my job. This means that my family will have no source of income starting in August/2020 (we’re a single-income household). Also, it looks like I’ll not be employed anytime soon.[Post Doc, Humanities, Latino, cismale, gay, married, single-income household]

Due to covid I have more credit card debit and I am staring down the barrel of another year in the program because my dissertation data collection has been indefinitely suspended. Which, of course, means that is another year without an adequate income.  [Grad Student, Social Sciences, 29, white, female, straight, single]

While I have been fortunate enough to continue getting my base stipend from my school (which is barely enough to pay the bills but it at least does that), I lost my other job tutoring due to campus closing. I had planned to work another 2-3 jobs over the summer to build up savings and pay down some debt, but all jobs fell through and I was only able to secure a job editing pro bono (“we pay in experience”). I am now faced with a looming $1200 “tuition fees” payment due in August with no current way to pay it and no financial cushion to cover emergencies.[Grad Student, Humanities, 36 year old white woman with 20 years of management experience outside academia. Divorced and living with a roommate, with no family within a 400 mile radius.]

Feel somewhat bad about this – but positively. I was redeployed to work clinically which pays well; I still earn my PhD stipend; I’ve been given another well paying part time job as a research assistant on a covid grant; very few places to spend my money. But I am exhausted and burnt out. [Grad Student, Stem, 24 male Pakistani straight single]

I had a job lined up to start in September (offered in November); it was retracted. I am back on the job market now… [Post Doc, Humanities, 33 yrs, female, straight, married, German national]

While my TA position is still intact, it comes with being forced on campus which seems extremely dangerous. My parents have been laid off so I must help provide for the family once unemployment ends. [Grad Student, Stem, Hello, im a 24 year old muslim female in physics.]

Short-term: we have been saving lots of money on gas, conference travel, restaurants, etc. Mid-term: the pandemic has killed my last long-shot hopes of a TT job, so I have to restart a freelance business after five years away. Not much security there, but no worse than anywhere else at this point, and at my age freelancing 3-4 days a week is probably a more reasonable choice than pursuing full time academic employment anyway. I have few needs, so I’ll make do. [Post-Doc, Humanities, Middle-aged white Canadian man in a long-term relationship]

Salary cut [Post Doc, Public Health, Non-Hispanic White 35 year old woman and married]

I have had little or no income, eating from food shelves, struggling to make rent and car payments.[Grad Student, MPH, 41 white and native American female, married,  5 kids, disabled]


About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.