Thursday, November 30, 2017

Stop Bad Tax Bill That Could Kill Postgraduate Science Education

Graduate students (people studying for their masters and PhD degrees) are a huge part of the workforce of modern science. They run the experiments, maintain the laboratories, enter and analyze the data, write up the results, etc. They also help their professors with teaching. And of course, they eventually graduate and use their expertise working in important fields like research, business and industry, government, and academia. Thus, graduate students contribute immensely to the progress and promulgation of science, allowing our scientifically informed, technologically advanced, economically productive society to flourish. Our graduate students ought not to be messed with.

It's not easy being a graduate student, though. For one, it's hard to even get into graduate school. First, you have to do four years of college to get an undergraduate degree, and you have to do it with excellent grades, GRE scores, and lots of extra research internships to get the experience and recommendations needed to secure a spot in graduate school.

A reason there are few spots in science graduate school is that most professors take on graduate students only when they have enough research grant money to pay those students' tuitions and stipends. Some professors are science superstars who manage to bring in enough money to fully support several graduate students at a time. But most are like me and struggle to get enough grants to support even one or two graduate students, even with help from small scholarships and tuition waivers that some lucky students get for themselves. It's rare for graduate students to pay their own way through school, and they shouldn't be asked to, because: A) they're doing real scientific work, which should be paid for, B) they're already in debt from their undergraduate years, and C) unlike kids paying for law school or medical school, they don't have lucrative jobs waiting for them when they're done; they're just doing it for their love of science.

Unfortunately, a provision in the US Senate's new tax bill will make it much harder for graduate students to make ends meet, if the bill passes. Currently, the students are taxed on their stipends (the money they actually get paid), but because they're paid so little ($15k/year is common) they're in a low tax bracket that allows them to keep enough money to survive. Students are NOT currently taxed on the grant money that directly pays their tuitions; a large amount that the students never see. This new bill would start taxing students on the value of their tuitions in addition to the value of their stipends, forcing them to pay a middle-class-sized tax bill with a poverty-class-sized income. That would basically make it impossible for students to survive the 2-6 years of postgraduate study that it takes to get a masters or PhD degree, and/or would require colleges and professors to somehow find vastly larger amounts of grant money to support the students that they can barely support as it is. Not cool.

This tax change would be devastating for students, professors, and those who benefit from science (which is everyone). That said, the provision affecting graduate students is just one part of the much larger tax bill, which happens to be awful in many other ways, as well. It basically amounts to a "Reverse Robin-hood" strategy of stealing from the poor to give to the rich. Look it up on a reliable news website like, then, if you haven't already done so, please contact your senator to complain. You can look up your senator's contact info here:

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