Money Matters

Odd jobs

In the seven years he's pursued his master's and now a doctorate in psychology, Jesse Matthews, 32, has never gone a week without hustling at some kind of job on the side.

First there was the temp customer service job for ExxonMobil. That blossomed into a two-year, full-time gig, during which he took night classes. Then for a year, he had a job checking in with discharged patients from a managed-care facility, followed by a year at a Veterans Administration hospital outside Philadelphia, where he monitored homeless vets with substance abuse problems. After leaving the VA, he took a position as a counselor at a school for learning-disabled students, where he remains today.

He always carried a full load of classes during those years, and he was usually waiting tables at a restaurant, as well. "No one could believe that I worked so much and was in a doctoral program," says Matthews, now a clinical psychology student at Immaculata University in Pennsylvania. "I needed the money, though."

Matthews isn't driven by a thirst for material objects. "I'm married with three kids," he explains. He eventually dropped the restaurant work so he could spend weekends with his family, though he still does odd jobs around the neighborhood, painting homes and staining decks.

Of course, not every grad student requires as much income as Matthews. But for today's loan-weary scholars, extra cash can go a long way. After all, everyone needs to cover the phone bill and occasionally eat something other than cheap takeout.

Fortunately, the funds aren't always so hard to find. There are oodles of flexible, money-making opportunities out there. You just need to know where to look.

Do the hustle

When it comes to finding even a part-time job, it pays to have connections. There's no better place to look than inside the network of your classmates and professors. Many psych programs pay students for research and fieldwork in clinical studies. As Sean Moundas found, the jobs often pay decently and accommodate busy school schedules and may even offer valuable experience.

For 2 1/2 years, Moundas worked as a clinical interviewer while earning his master's in school psychology at Yeshiva University in New York. His job was to question families about substance abuse issues for a study run by a group of psychologists at Yeshiva — work that was intellectually stimulating and "up my alley," he says. He earned about $20 an hour, and he could usually count on getting five to 10 hours a week.

"I was able to do a lot of it on the weekends, which was good since I was in school and had internships," says Moundas, now a postdoctoral intern at Tufts University.

Most schools offer plenty of other chances to moonlight for cash. Many psych students do statistical consulting for professors and other grad students, work that can pay $75 an hour or more, depending on qualifications. Other students tutor their peers, either informally or through, say, the university writing center. Jobs like these sometimes turn up on school and department listservs, but the best way to find one is through word of mouth. A good first step is letting your professors, advisers and colleagues know that you're looking for school-related work.

The more enterprising you are, the more flexible and better-paying the job can be. When Karly Kaplan was pursuing her doctorate at the California School of Professional Psychology, she managed to complete her dissertation in an unusually swift nine months, even though she was in school full time and working a part-time job.

"The dissertation piece wasn't the hardest part of graduate school for me," says Kaplan. "But I noticed my colleagues were struggling." That realization led her to create a business as a dissertation coach, helping psychology and counseling students settle on a viable project, hook up with the right professors and stick to strict deadlines.

Now doing a postdoctoral internship, Kaplan says the money she's earned as a dissertation coach helped float her through her graduate years. "It could be a living [in itself] if I chose to do more hours."

Other options

Of course, not everyone wants to think while they earn extra cash; some of us would rather enjoy a paid distraction from studying. Fortunately, many part-time jobs offer a mental break from the psychology world. Babysitting, for instance, can be a paid escape from campus, sometimes affording a few quiet hours after the kids have gone to bed. Such opportunities abound on Craigslist, though some parents are more comfortable searching for sitters on neighborhood listservs.

If you're looking for something steadier, consider a nights-and-weekends gig at your local restaurant or bar. One former psychology graduate student from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who spoke on condition of anonymity, supported himself throughout his master's pursuit by working security detail at some of the city's clubs. The downside? Holding a demanding outside job was frowned upon in his program — some programs even forbid it if you hold an assistantship — so he felt compelled to hide his outside work from his professors and students.

His covert labors were worth it, says the student, as he earned at least $100 a night and actually looked forward to work.

"It just helped me balance out the tough weeks," he says. "[Between] school work, the teaching and the research, it was nice knowing that in a couple days I could see a concert, or we'd have a cool deejay coming in."

In fact, he enjoyed the work so much that he eventually had to quit. Hanging out in the VIP lounge in the wee hours started to take its toll on his early morning classes. "I knew it was time to get out," he says.

Another popular part-time job that requires only a short-term commitment: medical trial volunteer, or, in common parlance, guinea pig. Just about every medical school needs participants for clinical trials. The pay can vary widely depending on the time requirements and physical demands, but a student who finds the right studies can earn money for almost no work at all.

One New York City psychology grad student says that over the last four years, she's earned close to $3,000 by participating in about 15 studies. Some paid as little as $25 for an hour of her time, while others paid hundreds of dollars for weeks-long commitments. Nearly all were advertised on Craigslist in the "volunteers" section, or on fliers on community boards around campus and near hospitals.

Though the money can be good, this student says you need to know exactly what you're getting into: One of her trials had negative side effects — the study required her to take exploratory medicine for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The meds actually induced hyperactivity in her. "It was really unsettling, but very safe and controlled," she says.

Aside from all the extra cash, "the studies are interesting," she says, "especially if it's in your field."


Dave Jamieson is a writer in Chicago.