Postgraduates chosen for their “excellent potential” to become future leaders in environmental science and sustainable business should consider selling Avon products, pet-sitting and joining clinical trials to cope with the cost of living crisis.
The advice – issued on Wednesday by the prestigious Aries Doctoral Training Partnership funded by the Natural Environment Research Council at the University of East Anglia – provoked outrage among researchers who described the letter as “appalling”, “ridiculous” and “unbelievable”.
An email to PhD students on the programme recognised that many were finding it “increasingly challenging” to live on their stipends, £15,600 a year at present, and attached a three-page document from the UEA careers office setting out options to make ends meet.
Before making specific recommendations, the document warns that many students are not allowed to do more than six hours of paid work a week, because to do so would interfere with them completing their course on time.
The letter describes how PhD students can boost their finances with university level teaching and training, tutoring, and exam work, and goes on to suggest dog-walking, pet-sitting, paid-for clinical trials and selling Avon products as alternative sources of income.
Adriana Lowe, who was awarded a PhD from the University of Kent in 2019, said she was “outraged” at the suggestions. Natalie Starkey at the Open University called the advice “unbelievable”, while Jess Wade at Imperial College London called it “appalling”. Prof Thibaud Gruber at the University of Geneva said it was “freaking ridiculous”.
“This is just another example of how PhD students are completely let down by the system. While they’re called students, they’re producing vital research which in many cases has a direct and meaningful effect on wider society,” said Lowe. “These are people who are advising government on policy, advancing medical research, tackling the climate crisis and so on, and we’re expecting them to live like teenagers despite the fact they’re often adults with kids of their own.”