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Post-grad research assistant salary

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by eorenta2, Oct 12, 2017.

  1. eorenta2


    Mar 12, 2017
    I'm going to be graduating in May with a bachelor's in psychology. I want to go into a Clinical Psych PhD program, but several professors that I have emailed basically told me there's no chance they would accept someone straight out of undergrad and I should try to work as a research assistant full time for a couple of years. From what I've seen, I can expect to earn no more than $30,000/year as a research assistant. For those of you who worked as a full time research assistant between undergrad and grad school, how did you make it work earning such a small salary? I'm going to try to work in a major city with a pretty high cost of living that's about an hour away from where my parents live, so I really would rather not live with my parents but if I had to I probably could. Is it possible to live off of a research assistant's salary?
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  3. Ollie123

    Ollie123 10+ Year Member

    Feb 19, 2007
    Sure. That's actually pretty good compared to what you'll be living off as a grad student;) As for how, the usual advice applies...roommates, generally frugal living, etc. Its not luxury, but people manage on far less. If you are moving to an area with a high cost of living, that definitely makes things more challenging - the area I was in the COL was quite modest. I think my 2 bedroom apartment I shared was $800/month. I made 25k and with one roommate that was enough to subsist (though I did not have car or student loan payments - if I did that would have been more challenging). If its really tight, you can always do work on the side too - the nice thing about RA gigs is they tend to be quite low-key relative to what is coming down the line. I had plenty of time and energy to do some work on the side in mine.

    Based on your numbers, I think I am paying my RAs far too well...
  4. ClinicalABA

    ClinicalABA Psychologist 5+ Year Member

    Aug 31, 2011
    New England
    That's not a totally atypical salary for people with a psych undergrad- maybe a little below the mean for full-time employment, but probably within an SD, at most. As Ollie123 mentions above, you'll do what many (most?) people do- live frugally (not necessarily "cheaply"), sacrifice, and compromise. Don't know/want to assume your circumstances, but people raise families on smaller salaries. Not easy, but it can be done. Also- an hour commute and living with your parents may be a really good trade-off (for you, not necessarily for them;)) for a year or so if it increases your chances to get good research experience that makes it more likely that you'll get into a funded Ph.D. slot. I've had many a job with an hour or more drive time (I'm at about 20-30 minutes now), and taking the train/bus in city can often take as much, if not more time. Once you get to know yoru co-workers, you might be able to set up some kind of barter deal where you get to stay local every once in a while in exchange for dinner and desert or drinks. Had a classmate in grad school who moved 90 miles away, and she stayed at our place onece a week and always brought desert and a bottle of wine. While it'd certainly be nice to make more money, you should be able to figure it out on 30k/year. It'll potentially be good practice for when you're making 20k as a grad student or on internship!
    MamaPhD likes this.
  5. PsychPhDStudent

    PsychPhDStudent 7+ Year Member

    Sep 5, 2009
    I managed on an RA salary, but a couple caveats: I had no student loans, and my parents helped with the "startup costs" of moving, basic furniture, etc. I had roommates. I also worked a couple side gigs (mostly tutoring) for fun money.

    VA research assistant jobs often pay pretty well. If there's a local VA Medical Center, look there, too.
  6. Temperance

    Temperance 2+ Year Member

    May 27, 2015
    What I ended up doing was creating a budget based on the projected income. First, I calculated my take-home monthly pay based on what I would enter on my W-4 for federal and state withholding. From there, I split my money. Basically, I had set aside 30% for rent and searched for sublets around or under that amount. For everything else, keep track of your usual spending per category (e.g., daily living [food, clothing, personal supplies], transportation [vehicle payments, insurance, gas, bus fare], debts, entertainment [hobbies, travel]) and build your budget around that. You can get examples on the Internet, as well; EveryDollar has a nice pie chart that can serve as a starting point. One major way to reduce spending is to not eat out except for rare occasions. You'll be healthier for it, too.

    If you end up getting a job outside of your local area, then try asking if you can get relocation benefits. On a research budget, it may not be possible to get a large amount, but it's worth asking in case you can soften the blow of the startup costs that @PsychPhDStudent mentioned.
  7. akb1011


    Oct 12, 2017
    Hi. I am kind of in a similar situation as you... I am majoring in biopsych and thinking about getting an RA job after college. I am just wondering if you have any prior experience or if you are just going to try to get the job right away? I do not currently have any research experience in undergrad so I am kind of worried about getting a job after school.
  8. eorenta2


    Mar 12, 2017
    I've been working in a lab for the past year and am doing a senior thesis, so I do have some decent research experience. I would recommend trying to get research experience in a relevant department for the remainder of your undergraduate years, and if you can't find a job as a research assistant in your department you could try others as well. If you can't find a position in a lab, try to take a research methods course and then just really talk that up on your resume/CV. If you're already out of undergrad and you aren't able to find a full time job as a research assistant you could always try to volunteer at a lab as well. That would suck but I've heard of people doing it and if it gets you the research assistant job you really want it might be worth it :)
  9. eorenta2


    Mar 12, 2017
    that was really helpful, thank you!
  10. eorenta2


    Mar 12, 2017
    Thank you everyone for your help; it's great to get reassurance :)
  11. psyched2graduate

    psyched2graduate 2+ Year Member

    May 28, 2015
    My friend makes ~$42,000 at a reputable AMC in a high COL area. I imagine he's on the high end as far as post-bacc positions go. Even so, I know he lives with roommates and opts to walk to work.
  12. Central_Perk


    Sep 17, 2016
    You might also want to look into medical clinical research. Neurology and psychiatry are the obvious choices, but fields related to psych such as endocrinology, cardiology, and pain management can also provide good experience. If the position is funded by pharma companies, they generally pay decently (40k+). I took a research gig in an hour drive away (in good traffic, which there almost never was) and lived at home with my parents for 2 years out of undergrad. The commute sucked but free rent is hard to pass up.

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