General Education

The 7 Best Side Hustles for Busy Grad Students

The 7 Best Side Hustles for Busy Grad Students
Grad students are often first in line for research assistant jobs, especially those who've made good impressions on the supervisors or faculty overseeing their work. Image from Unsplash
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Elen Turner August 28, 2019

These jobs are flexible enough to accommodate your schedule and in many cases, will even allow you to take on work in your field.

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Regardless of whether you're in graduate school full-time, part-time, online, or on-campus, life as a graduate student is very different from the standard college experience. As a grad student, you'll generally have greater freedom to explore your academic interests and be in control of your schedule. Although some graduate courses require you to be in classes or a lab at certain times, you can complete research-based courses in your own time, within specific parameters.

While completing a research-only Ph.D. in the humanities, I found that the best approach was to treat my studies as a full-time job. But even though I was fortunate to be on a full scholarship, my Ph.D. only covered my basic living and course costs. A part-time job was necessary to pursue any leisure activities and put a little money aside for when I finished my studies.

As an undergrad, I cleaned a motel during the school year and worked in a cafe and bakery over summer breaks. As a grad student, I didn't want to be doing similar work. Many grad students support themselves by serving, bartending, or working in retail, and that is fine—you do what you have to do. But it's an incredibly smart move to choose a part-time job that not only helps  pay your way through school but looks good on a resume. 

At the same time, you'll need to find something that suits the little spare time you have and lets you focus on the most important thing: Your studies. These part-time jobs are flexible enough to accommodate your schedule and in many cases, will even allow you to take on work in your field.

7 Part-Time Jobs to Boost Grad Students' Income

1. Research assistant

Although funding streams can be a mystery to students, college professors in every field are always on the hunt for financial sources to write their next book or ground-breaking study. This notion is especially true in research-intensive institutions. When universities and research institutes receive funding, they recruit trusted assistants, which is where you come in. 

Grad students are often first in line for research assistant jobs, especially those who've made good impressions on the supervisors or faculty overseeing their work. In my experience, it's rare to see research assistant jobs advertised. I worked as a research assistant to five different professors: two at the end of my bachelor's degree, three during my  Ph.D. program. Only one of these roles was an advertised position where I worked with someone I hadn't previously known.

The best way to get a research assistant job is by making a good impression during your first few months as a grad student. My strength was not being the smartest person in the room (I have never been), but by impressing faculty and staff in other ways. I met deadlines, was thorough, and always showed up. Once my supervisor recognized this, she handed the work over to me. With a strong advocate supporting me, other professors also passed work my way later on. 

2. Teaching assistant

Teaching in your subject area is a great way to gain valuable experience and skills, especially if you plan on becoming a professor. 

In some graduate programs, students are required to teach a certain number of units or classes as part of their scholarship conditions. In others, they earn money in exchange for their time and work. College teaching jobs, especially entry-level and adjunct positions, are notoriously poorly paid. But, if you need the experience, teaching is an excellent way to make a bit of money while deepening your knowledge of your subject area even further.

Some schools offer specialized training or seminars for grad students, which is a bonus. As a student, I participated in my university's graduate teaching program, where we were mentored and observed to help improve our teaching. 

However, a significant downside of teaching is that it takes up a lot of time, which you may prefer to be putting into your studies. In my case, I did all my teaching in my final two years of my Ph.D., when I was at my busiest writing a thesis. Solid time management skills are essential as a graduate student, possibly even more so for graduate students who teach on the side. 

3. Tutor

Tutoring is another great way to earn money as you complete your degree. High school students, in particular, seek extra help with the core subjects like English, math, and science, as well as foreign languages. If you're a native speaker of or fluent in a language like Spanish, French, or German, there are countless opportunities to put your skills to use. If you have English language teaching skills or qualifications, you may consider tutoring international students

You can find tutoring positions advertised in local papers or online community forums. You can also do the advertising yourself by making use of the old-fashioned noticeboard. Advertise your services with eye-catching fliers posted at strategic spots, such as in libraries, student cafes, dorms, or gyms.

4. Freelance writer and/or editor

I currently work as a full-time freelance writer and editor. It never occurred to me to pursue this path as a grad student, but I wish it had. It takes time to become established, and you may not make much money right away, but don't rule this option out. With time and effort, it's possible to make a good living as a writer. 

The beauty of freelance writing and editing is that you usually choose your schedule, which lets you take on as little or as much work as your bandwidth can handle. Plus, you can find a way to get paid to write about the topics you're most passionate about, whether they're related to your studies or otherwise.

One way to get paid for your freelance writing is to send pitches to the type of magazines or publications that you read frequently. Another is to build networks of fellow writers who share opportunities with you. In my experience, I've found Facebook groups for writers to be the most helpful for growing your freelance writing career.

5. Trial, test, or study participant

As an undergraduate student 15 years ago, I almost always signed up for studies conducted by students at my university's psychology department, as well as clinical trials run by a pharmaceutical company in my town. The psychology studies usually involved an hour spent answering questionnaires or pressing a button after watching something flash on a screen. Back then, they paid about $10 each, which wasn't lucrative but still extra pocket money. The clinical trials required taking generic equivalents of drugs that were already on the market, such as relatively harmless sleeping pills or eczema cream. I once drank powdered milk every day for three months as part of a study on human nutrition study. Of course, clinical trials pay much better.

While experiments and trials aren't something that everyone would be comfortable doing, I always weighed up the risks and benefits, and the benefits won. If you meet the required criteria and the conditions are right for you, this option can be an easy way to earn a few extra dollars and gain probably a story or two. 

6. Fitness instructor

Unless your degree is in health and wellness, rehabilitation sciences, or physiology, it's unlikely that working at a gym or wellness center will relate directly to your studies. Regardless, personal trainer, yoga teacher, and similar jobs are great for grad students. These jobs can typically work with rigorous academic schedules since most classes or training sessions usually happen in the morning or evening. This option is also likely to keep you mentally and physically healthy during a particularly stressful point in your life. I took up a vigorous yoga routine during my Ph.D. program. By practicing four to five times a week, I was able to help my brain rest and give my body the workout it needed.

7. Resident assistant

Aside from college tuition, one of the highest  costs that students face during traditional undergraduate degree programs is housing. Many students stay in college dorms for a year or two as they're an excellent way to make friends and become part of the school community. While staying in campus housing is less common for graduate students, some opt for it if they're new to the area or have spouses and children. 

One way to either receive subsidized or free accommodation—and in some cases, even make money while staying in such housing—is to be a resident assistant. If your master's program is part of a college or university that offers accommodations to undergraduates, check to see if it accepts grad students in their housing. Older, more mature students are often welcome to apply to live in dorms or on-campus apartments as resident assistants or managers and can secure free or heavily subsidized housing, or wages, in exchange for being on staff. Duties might include being on call overnight to handle any potential student emergencies, ensuring curfews or enforcing security rules, and reporting maintenance issues. You shouldn't just consider this work as a way to free housing, as you'll have to work for it. However, it can be much more friendly to the grad student lifestyle than other potential jobs.

Which is right for you?

In an ideal world, grad students wouldn't need to work to support themselves and could focus entirely on their studies. Unfortunately, the opposite is true for most people. When looking for ways to earn extra money, finding a job that suits your schedule and interests will ensure all facets of your graduate school experience complement each other. Better yet, you won't finish your degree broke, stressed, or unhealthy. 

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