How much is the salary?
The salary is $27,200 per year, and you also receive fringe benefits including health insurance. You pay a little bit toward your health benefits (about $40-100 per month, depending on the plan), pre-tax, plus about 20-22% in federal, state and local taxes, Social security, etc.
Here, that is enough to live off of. We all went out a lot and there were not real complaints about not having money. I think we also helped each other out a lot as well. I would not suggest an additional part-time job—that’s equivalent to death by insanity, and you just won't have time.
Everyone in the program lived comfortably. You will learn to budget it well. There are many discounts available through access services, too. (Pre-tax bus passes, discounted cable service, etc.)
Tax refunds - you can file federal taxes for free through TurboTax. If you are here for 11 months and claim only yourself (1) withholding allowance, you would pay ~$155 / month in federal taxes and typically receive the full amount back in your federal refund (Withholding calculator). Your state refund would usually be a few hundred dollars, also dependent upon your withholdings (the lower the # of withholding allowances, the more is withheld from your paycheck for taxes, and the more refund you receive.) If you live in Cleveland, you don’t have to pay city taxes (they are taken out of your paycheck); if you live outside of Cleveland, you have to file and pay taxes in that city (usually costs about $400).
It's important to remember that you are an employee, and will use your health insurance to access healthcare providers. You have a choice of providers, and if you anticipate you'll want particular services (i.e. allergist) you may want to compare those services in choosing a provider. Some scholars seek behavioral health care and the Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program office can provide recommendations for psychology/psychiatry providers experienced with students.
Is Cleveland expensive (e.g. gas, food, rent)?
The cost of living is very low. Rent depends on how close you are to campus and the area where you want to live. There are rents for 1 bedrooms from $300-$900 and 2 bedrooms around $500-$1400. Everyone I spoke to was paying $800 for a 2 bedroom apartment. One scholar who is now a grad student lives exactly 1.2miles (20-25min walk or 3min drive) from campus, with a 2 bedroom, 1200sq ft for $780/month heat and water included. The electric runs about $20-$30 dollars per month and gas (only for cooking) runs $15-$20/month.
How good is the public transportation system?
It depends on where you want to go. Around campus there are shuttle buses that are free for students and employees of CWRU. The Rapid Transit (RTA) will take you to many of the places people like to go (i.e. Westside Market, Downtown, Airport) and the University Circle stop is located on campus. There is a typical bus system, with convenient stops. You can purchase a pre-tax bus pass through Access services, too.
Any suggestions on cheap and relatively close to campus apartments?
I live on Hampshire Road, Cleveland Heights, in an area called “Coventry.” From there to campus is about 20-25 min walk. Places in my area (i.e. street names Hampshire, Euclid Heights, Lennox Road, parts of Mayfield) are relatively cheap because you are further from campus (1-1.5miles), but you are located close to a supermarket and some really nice places to go out. A road called Overlook is a bit closer to campus. In these areas you are surrounded by mostly graduate students.
There is also Little Italy (5-10min walk from campus). The housing is very cheap and the area is pretty safe. You are surrounded by mostly undergraduate and some graduates. The apartments aren't the best around, and aren’t always posted online, but they are usually pretty cheap.
There is Shaker Square. The apartments are pretty nice, largish (800-1,200 sq ft) they are relatively cheap ($600~$900 for a two bedroom in Shaker Heights side, less in Cleveland) and it is a 30-45min walk to campus. Many graduate students, medical residents and postdocs live here. The 48/48A bus goes directly between Shaker Square and campus ~10min ride.
More expensive but really close (5-15min walk) option would be Waldorf Towers or The Triangle. Waldorf caters towards the medical students and, for some reason, The Triangle, caters to dental students (so it seems).
How did you budget your time in the Fall semester? Did you find your schedule overwhelming?
Dr. MacDonald and Joseph were very good at helping us with that. In the fall you will feel like things are overwhelming and that you have more work than there is time to do it in, but you will survive and get through it. Between the two of them, they have more than 20+ years of experience for getting others into grad school. Besides, having the Associate Dean of Graduate Education (Dr. MacDonald) and the head of Multicultural Affairs (Joseph) as mentors has its advantages. You may not agree with everything they tell you to do and you may resist (I certainly did at times) but they have your best interests at heart all the time. One of the best things they taught me was the importance of networking. You will learn that your grades and GRE tell the schools if you can do the academic work but your recommendations, personal statement, research experience tells what kind of scientist you will be. I networked like they taught me and I focused on getting "A's" in my graduate level courses. They will also provide you a tutor if needed. Just be prepared to work hard and don't hesitate to say to your mentors (Personal Instructor, Dr. MacDonald and Joseph) whether you need help academically or dealing with stress. When you are done, you will be ready.
Was your Personal Instructor understanding and helpful?
They come in all different flavors. My PI was great! You have to match what you want to learn and your personality type. Some need a PI that will be there often and others like a more independent role. It is not just the PI you need to concern yourself with. You will also need to look at the dynamics of the lab. The grad students, postdocs, research assistants, and lab supervisors are the main people you will interact with. You will do a lot of rotations at the beginning and have mentoring to help you figure that out.
You are required to do at least 3 mini-rotations at the beginning and have mentoring to help you figure that out. Although the PREP site lists a number of examples, there are well over a hundred labs you might work in. You could look at the BSTP faculty site that describes PhD trainers in many but not all areas. You could look up faculty in particular programs. Many of us liked just about everything, so narrowing it down was hard. That's why you will do more than one rotation. I would rotate in very different labs and get a feel for the techniques and research going on in each lab.
Dr. MacDonald will help you a lot in this department. He is not too keen on PREP Scholars going with assistant professors because they are still learning how to mentor. He is VERY protective of his PREP scholars. He will really push to make sure that you have a mentor that matches your wants and needs.
Do you want a small lab where there are only a few grad students or one with a lot of students? Sometimes even if the PI is not available, he or she will have very good post-docs or students that will be willing to work with you. One of the PREP Scholars had that experience and loved it because of the research and the availability of the grad students in her lab.
Look for availability; organization skills that match your personality; etc. Also ask lots of questions from the grad students without being shy.
Remember that PREP scholars must work with R01-equivalent funded investigators, so they are actively pursuing interesting research. You might look up the PIs on PUBMED and see their recent publications. This is a general way of seeing they are productive or not, but it will get you off to a great start.
Do you have to go the graduate school immediately after the program ends?
No you don't. Each grad school and/or program has a different start time. But, after the fall, things get a WHOLE LOT easier. You will grow closer to your class of PREP Scholars as well as the PREP Alumni who chose CWRU as their school of choice in the past. At least that is how it worked out with us.