Top 10 Factors Influencing PhD Stipend Amounts

PhD stipends have become the most important source of funding for candidates who are pursuing their doctorate degrees in various disciplines. They try as much as possible to negotiate a higher PhD stipend so as to meet up with the huge doctorate funding demands. However, in the course of negotiating a higher PhD salary, there are some factors influencing PhD stipend amounts they can get.

These factors contribute to the final amount that doctorate candidates earn for their research or teaching assistantships. Before starting doctoral studies, students must secure a livable stipend to fully dedicate themselves to their academic and research pursuits. Both prospective and current doctoral candidates need to have a comprehensive understanding of the various factors that influence the amount of PhD stipends.

To help all potential PhD candidates who will come across this post, we are going to discuss comprehensively these 10 factors that determine the amount of a PhD salary. Before then, let us understand what PhD stipends are and why doctoral stipends are very important to PhD students.

What is a PhD Stipend?

A stipend is generally regarded as payment for a student’s involvement in a full-time program of study and completion of course requirements, with students spending an average of 16 hours a week on campus. This includes in-class time, time spent teaching, and one-on-one interaction with professors and other students. PhD stipends are an attractive means of support for students working towards the completion of a doctorate.

A PhD stipend is a specific form of salary paid to a PhD candidate by a university or agency in return for the candidate performing services of some sort for the institution, such as teaching undergraduate classes. A PhD stipend is paid to a candidate who, in return, performs services (researching, teaching, etc.) and the payment is normally predetermined and is not subject to tax, unlike a conventional job.

What is the Average PhD Stipend Amount?

The average PhD stipend amount varies across countries, universities and disciplines; however, the common consensus is that the amount should be enough to cover the cost of living for the duration of study. For example, a report by Vitae – an organization that champions the personal, professional, and career development of doctoral researchers and research staff in higher education institutions and research institutes – details the average stipend in UK HE institutions is between £12,000 and £15,000 tax-free.

The same report lists the average annual gross salary for full-time postgraduate research students in the UK as £13,489. In another report by the Cumming School of Medicine, the Minimum Doctoral Stipend for students enrolled full-time in the PhD program is $23,000 and the maximum amount is $33, 000 annually guaranteed for 5 years.

In some cases, the factors influencing the PhD Stipend amounts can lower or heighten the amount a candidate receives as a doctoral stipend. In some cases, the amount of the PhD stipend can be as high as $50,000 or even more. Hefty variations in employers often mean variations in the amount of money, and this is also the case for stipends with no standard rate set for PhD students.

Factors Influencing PhD Stipend Amounts
10 Factors Influencing PhD Stipend Amounts

Factors Influencing PhD Stipend Amounts

Many factors influence PhD stipend amounts. PhD students’ stipend amounts and the method for determining them have been a continuous subject of conversation for a long time. Many components influence the stipends and these can contrast enormously starting with one discipline then onto the next and from one organization to another. To improve the clarity of the conversation, our task pinpoints those components that influence the size of the stipend.

#1. Academic Discipline

Your choice of academic discipline may have a substantial effect on the PhD stipend amount you receive. Academic programs that possess robust industry affiliations or hold the potential for patentable innovations frequently garner increased research funding, which may result in students receiving potentially larger stipends. On the contrary, fields that are significantly dependent on public grants may face greater constraints on financing, which could affect the levels of stipends.

In general, stipend levels tend to follow hierarchical academic labor markets. Very broad generalizations can be made, with engineering, medical, and biological sciences usually at the top and the humanities at the bottom. The reason is that students in these fields were more likely to work for the university and receive research or teaching stipends, and they were also more likely to receive a fellowship. Hence, consider your academic discipline or the field of study you choose as it is one of the major factors influencing PhD Stipend amounts.

#2. Geographic Location

Geographic location is one of the major contributing factors influencing PhD stipend amounts. The cost of living varies in different geographic regions. In general, urban areas are more expensive than rural areas. The proximity of the university to the candidate’s home or region of origin is a potential factor influencing the stipend amount. Universities may attract local and regional candidates with lower stipend offers than international candidates.

Local candidates often have other means of financial support and may not require a large stipend to sustain them through their graduate work. Students coming from regions of the country with a higher cost of living may request higher stipends than those coming from lower-cost-of-living regions.

#3. University or Institution

There are considerable differences in the stipends offered by different universities for students in similar disciplines. Tuition fees and stipend levels vary widely among institutions; this figure is well over $30,000 at the majority of universities with PhD programs and over $40,000 at private institutions. At institutions where tuition costs are lower and funding is more plentiful, it is generally easier to obtain a higher stipend, since the total cost to the department/advisor is less.

At public institutions in the United States, out-of-state students are sometimes able to obtain a waiver of the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition, meaning an increase in stipend ‘effectively’ by the amount of the waiver.

Highly ranked (Research Institutes) universities will have larger numbers of research assistantships available, due to the higher research activity and research funding at these institutions. In the United States, the average stipends according to the 2004 NSF survey in the six highest-paying academic fields ranged from $15,000 at the lowest quartile of institutions to $30,000 at the highest quartile. The average stipend at the top quartile of institutions is around 50% higher than that at the lowest quartile.

#4. Funding Source

The funding source of a student’s PhD can often have a significant impact on the stipend amount received. In many countries, there are a limited number of “university-funded” studentships available to students of all nationalities. The money for these studentships will often come directly from the university’s own funds, or in some cases, the research councils may provide a block grant to the university for funding studentships.

The value of studentships can vary, but in general “university funded” studentships are often higher than those from other sources. This is an advantage to UK and EU students, who are eligible to apply for either a “university funded” studentship or a research council studentship.

#5. Level of Experience and Qualifications

A higher PhD stipend amount may result from your previous accomplishments. PhD programs may occasionally provide increased stipends to candidates who possess noteworthy research experience or robust academic credentials. This may consist of publications, presentations at conferences, or previous research fellowships. In essence, a program may be more inclined to invest in you if you contribute more than you require.

Obtaining prior doctoral-level experience is worth an increase of approximately $3,300 above a masters-level new hire, although years spent in the field post-degree affect salary a bit more at about a $1,350 increase per year. On average, a newly hired PhD with a terminal bachelor degree can expect to make on par $49,500 with the national average for faculty members in science, engineering and health sectors, each subsequent degree obtained nets an approximate $5,500 increase beyond the previous degree.

#6. Research Area and Project Funding

One of the main factors that affect the amount of stipend a PhD candidate will receive is the research area in which they are working on their project. The amount of funding that a research council will provide for a particular research area will depend on its perceived priority at the time. Research areas which are currently popular, which have the potential to lead to breakthroughs, or which are facing problems in terms of recruitment of good researchers, are likely to receive a higher level of funding.

This is all good news for the PhD student— if the research area is one in which there is a high level of interest and more funding has been earmarked, it may mean better facilities, research support, and a higher stipend. On the other hand, if the student’s research area is not perceived as a priority at the time, they may struggle to get project funding and have to consider self-funding their studies. This would involve payment of tuition fees and living expenses, usually in exchange for the opportunity to gain teaching experience.

#7. Cost of Living

The cost of living has a significant impact on PhD salaries. In order to ensure that students can adequately meet their fundamental necessities, universities located in expensive urban areas provide greater stipends. This facilitates the attraction of highly skilled researchers, irrespective of their background, and mitigates the influence of location on program selection.

Do not be deceived just by the name of a university; it is important to consider living expenditures while evaluating stipends in order to choose the program that most effectively caters to your financial and intellectual requirements. While stipend amounts themselves vary by discipline and institution, a critical factor in determining the effectiveness of a research stipend is the local cost of living. An ideal situation is to have stipend levels that allow one to live on the local economy and at a standard commensurate with others in the community.

#8. Market Demand for Skills

The market demand for skills plays a significant role in determining the stipend amounts offered to PhD students. In fields where there is a high demand for specialized skills, such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), stipends tend to be higher to attract top talent. Conversely, in areas with lower demand or oversaturation of graduates, stipends may be lower as institutions may have less incentive to offer competitive financial packages.

Moreover, emerging fields and industries experiencing rapid growth often offer higher stipends to incentivize students to pursue research in these areas. For instance, disciplines like artificial intelligence, data science, and renewable energy may offer higher stipends due to their relevance and potential impact on society and the economy.

Understanding the market demand for specific skills within a particular discipline and geographical context is crucial for PhD students when evaluating stipend offers and making informed decisions about their academic and career paths.

#9. Academic Performance

PhD stipends are often linked to academic performance, such as obtaining a certain grade in the end-of-year exams. Students with a consistent record of high academic performance will seek to acquire a higher stipend. In some cases, the pay can be twice the amount of the average student. High stipends are given to students who have already published credible papers in academic journals.

The money can come from research grants given to the department for the student to carry out further research. In the case of medical students, they may be paid a higher wage as many funds come from the hospital in their attempt to recruit the best students to a PhD program.

#10. Funding Availability

Funding availability varies widely depending upon the country in which students are studying for a PhD and this marks the last on our list of top 10 factors influencing PhD stipend amounts. In many countries, obtaining a doctorate will be possible only if the student is able to secure funding to cover the tuition fees and living costs. This will limit the number of doctorate students since there is often limited funding available.

In some European countries, PhD funding can be obtained through studentship schemes, teaching assistantships or research assistant work. Successful applicants for a PhD studentship will receive a stipend (salary) which is used to cover living costs, in addition to having tuition fees paid and receiving some funding to cover research expenses. PhD studentships are highly competitive and are awarded to only top quality students and/or those able to demonstrate a research idea that is perfectly aligned with the research interests of a potential supervisor.


Gaining insight into the factors influencing PhD stipend amounts enables you to carefully manage the application procedure. To ensure a successful PhD journey, it is important to carefully evaluate program funding, research focus, and cost of living. By evaluating these aspects, you may choose a program that provides the required financial assistance. It is important to note that a larger stipend does not necessarily indicate a superior program; a well-financed school in a cost-effective area might be just as appealing.


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