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Grad stipends vary greatly

By Dave Watt

A recent salary survey indicates that graduate students in the Departments of Urban Studies, Architecture, Political Science, and Linguistics and Philosophy are paid much less than those in other departments.

The base salaries for graduate students range from a low of $622.22 per month in the architecture department -- with some students bearing full responsibility for paying their tuition of $7800 per semester -- up to a high of $1275 per month, with tuition paid, for PhD students in the Media Laboratory who have passed their general examination. Some students with outside fellowships or stipends get paid even more. [See graphs, pages


Like nearly everything about graduate student life at MIT, stipends are set by each department. However, the dean of the graduate school, Frank E. Perkins '55, provides guidelines for stipends in the Schools of Engineering and Science.

In February, Perkins sent a memo which recommended that research assistants in the School of Science be paid $1085 per month, while teaching assistants be paid $1200 per month. As is customary, tuition for RAs and TAs in the School of Science is paid by the Institute.

The School of Engineering further distinguishes between master's students and PhD candidates, and between "contact" and "support" TAs, in setting stipends. Perkins' guidelines recommended that RAs studying for a master's degree receive $1050 per month, while those working for a PhD receive $1160.

Contact TAs, who theoretically spend more time working with undergraduates than support TAs, should receive $1200 per month, Perkins suggested. Support TAs should be paid $1100 per month, he said. MIT pays the tuition for students in the School of Engineering, as in the School of Science.

Given that many students in the School of Architecture and Planning have to pay their own tuition, and rents in the Cambridge area typically run at least $350 per month, it is hard to imagine how students could survive on as little as $625 per month without outside support.

Some urban planning students have left because of the money shortage in the field, and architecture students sometimes graduate mired in debt. Nevertheless, many students in the School of Architecture and Planning find ways of coping.

One student's story

The urban planning department pays TAs $667 per month, some of which is usually used to pay for tuition. The low pay drives many students in urban studies to seek work outside MIT while continuing their studies.

Eileen F. Babbitt G is a sixth-year PhD candidate in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning who has not been on MIT support since her second year. During her first two years at MIT, the department paid her tuition, but since then, she has had to work outside MIT to pay her rent and tuition. "It's probably slowed things down by a couple of years," she said.

The Department of Urban Studies and Planning does not pay PhD students' tuition after the first two years, Babbitt said. Now that she has finished taking classes, she attends MIT as a non-resident student, which requires her to pay tuition of only $1170 per term.

She said her advisor, Professor Lawrence E. Susskind '73, works hard to find jobs for his students, because MIT TA and RA positions do not pay enough. "If he ever finds out about work available, he always works with his graduate students to make sure they're not destitute," Babbitt said. In addition to working part-time, she received a MacArthur Foundation grant which helped to pay for some of her dissertation-related expenses.

Babbitt knew in advance of the financial hardships of working in a public-policy related field. "Money wasn't one of the objectives [for entering this field]. I've been prepared to deal with it," she said.

"We don't have the volume of [federally-sponsored] contract research that provides research assistantships," explained Professor Phillip L. Clay '75, assistant head of the urban studies and planning department. Urban studies tries to provide the same level of support for all students with the same level of need, he explained.

Architecture's aid rules

quite complex

The base stipend for graduate students in the architecture program is misleading, according to Professor Leon B. Groisser '48, the department's executive officer.

Students receive financial aid from the architecture department, based on financial need, to pay for some of their tuition, and then receive additional money from TA appointments based on merit.

Groisser characterized the system as "complicated and individualistic." The department allocates money "student by student and blow by blow," he said.

Groisser conceded that architecture's funding system has some undesirable results. "Certainly people who come out of here with debts larger than we want them to come out with," Groisser said. He also admitted that some students probably find the system impossible to deal with.

But Groisser defended the funding scheme. "No one is preventing [students] from coming to school based on money," he said.