A Tax That Would Hurt Science’s Most Valuable — And Vulnerable

Dec 4, 2017

By Adam Frank

As the tax bill moves through Congress, an issue has risen that hits dangerously close to U.S. efforts in science.

The problem focuses on a provision that would tax graduate students for tuition waivers that universities set up long ago. These waivers were meant to foster advanced education in the sciences and elsewhere. The change in the tax law would mean graduate students would be hit with whopping tax bills for “income” they never received. For more on the proposed changes and reaction to them go herehere and here.

Today, however, I thought it might be useful to briefly review how graduate education in the U.S. works. This might help to explain why changing the tax code can have profound impacts on science (in what follows I am going focus solely on the sciences).

A student will spend anywhere between five and seven years completing the work for a Ph.D. in the sciences. It begins with a year or so of intensive classes. During this period, students basically give up on the idea of sleep for months at a time to grind through one impossible homework set after another.

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