Info sessions — Maximizing your graduate/fellowship experience

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CarrieMcCarthyPortrait

Carrie McCarthy is a Ph.D. student in Chemistry, working in Prof. Richard Brutchey’s lab. Read on as she shares the beginning of her experience as an NSF fellow, and how Graduate School info sessions have helped her.

At USC, the Graduate School coordinates both internal and external fellowships awarded to graduate students. The internal Graduate school fellowships, as well as the bigger external fellowships, include much more than a nice stipend to put toward the cost of your ever-present need for caffeine throughout your graduate career. These fellowships also include health and dental insurance, tuition and fees (12 units per semester), and further access to research and travel funds. USC has around 3000 Ph.D students, and of these, about 500 are fellows. That’s a lot of stipends, insurance, and tuition to keep track of! Luckily, USC’s graduate school has Meredith Drake Reitan, Associate Dean of the Graduate School and Kate Tegmeyer, Fellowship Coordinator to handle the task!

I recently attended a seminar for new fellowship awardees lead by Meredith where she explained some of the more important information about being a fellow. I was really interested in how it was possible to keep all of the fellowships and benefits organized for hundreds of fellows. While the Graduate School coordinates all of the fellowships, they don’t actually give the money out to fellows directly. Instead, they arrange each fellow’s payment schedule and forward that (along with the money) to disbursement, which is where fellows collect their stipend from. I also found it interesting that while international fellows receive tax forms and are taxed based on a rate that’s been agreed upon between the U.S. their home country, domestic students may or may not be taxed. It’s up to each fellow to get tax advice about how to file their fellowship.. For health and dental insurance, the Graduate School forwards your information on to the USC health insurance office because each fellowship package includes the general USC insurance plan.

What I learned at this seminar is that while the graduate school does an excellent job of facilitating graduate fellowships, it’s important to be an active fellow, by being informed about how the system works. Be proactive about getting to the resources for tax preparation, insurance information, and knowing how your funding is being processed within USC. As a fellow myself, I have found that these pieces of information aren’t spoon fed to you as soon as you receive the fellowship. My best advice is to attend the seminars that the Graduate School arranges because it is there that you’ll be presented with the important topics that don’t necessarily cross your mind when you learn that you’ll be getting funded.

For more information about how to apply for fellowships or what you stand to gain, contact the Graduate Student Advocate for Fellowships (gsa.fellowships@usc.edu)