Budget Cuts Impact Ph.D. Students

The implications of the UC-wide budget cut affect all of us. The effects are seen in the consistently rising tuition rates and the notorious underfunding of various departments throughout different schools. What we don’t always see, though, is what goes on behind the scenes: for teaching assistants on campus, the uncertainties they face are less positions open, less resources available for research, and less opportunities to finish out their Ph.D.s.

This is where David Fouser comes into the picture. Fouser is a Ph.D. candidate, currently working as a teaching assistant for the Humanities Core course.

The history department, his particular area of study, has been hit by the budget cut in two significant ways. First, it has become more difficult to fund graduate students and this lack of funding, according to Fouser, is the number one reason that students don’t finish their degrees.

“If a student doesn’t finish their degree, that really doesn’t help anyone out,” Fouser says.

Second, the budget cut places extensive pressure on the library.

“History students really rely on libraries,” Fouser says. “We don’t really have laboratories the way that science students have. So all of our information comes from libraries, and if we don’t have the money to have access to a new digitized collection, or keep up subscriptions to journals to find the latest books that have come out, that affects our ability to do our work.”

“Another way that this hurts us is that interlibrary loan is considerably slower since they cut staff,” Fouser adds. “So if I need a book that I can only get from another university, [and] it takes two or three weeks to get that book, then for two or three days that makes me less productive.”

Although he is not personally aware of any teaching assistants receiving pay cuts, the lack of positions available for these graduate students is just as detrimental; what has been created is a causal relationship between the number of classes offered at UC Irvine and the positions available for graduate students. It comes as no surprise that as the number of classes decreases, so do the number of jobs available to Ph.D. candidates.

However, if there are no positions open for teaching assistants, they need to turn to other avenues that are unfortunately just as budget-restricted.

“Without T.A. jobs, you need to find things like grants and fellowships, and the university just can’t support that many students that aren’t doing something like T.A.[ing] a class,” Fouser says.

With a lack of adequate external sources, the question is how everyone who needs funding will be able to receive it, especially when the competition for this financial support has only gotten increasingly fierce.

Although Fouser has figured out a schedule that works for him, it comes at the cost of prolonging the time it will take for him to receive his Ph.D.

“[In my situation] I T.A. during the school year, and then I save as much as I can so that I can research in the summer. If I had been in some kind of perfect world and the university funded me completely whether I taught or not, then I think I’d finish my degree faster because I could just take that money and go straight to Britain, do my research, [and] come home and write,” Fouser says.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Research can only come from more work providing him with the needed funds — and the hopes — that he can pan out enough to get the job done.

With an already-competitive market, difficulty finding tenure track positions, and limited help from the tight budget of UCI, Ph.D. candidates must spend more time attending school in order to complete all of their research. It seems that they only have two options: save up for their research with their own money or manage to receive a grant or fellowship —  which Fouser clearly states as very competitive. There is, in the end, too much supply for not enough demand.