A Letter to OHSU from Nick

I am in research because I want to contribute to curing diseases, in a space motivated purely by the public good. As a transgender and autistic person, I've fought hard to get here. I especially believe the field of neuroscience needs more neurodiverse researchers. One more sudden expense or health problem could force me out, because I can't pay.

I was denied for care credit. I was denied for food stamps. I survive off food banks. I developed severe anemia, likely due to malnourishment. My insurance wouldn't even pay for iron pills. I am hungry and weak most of the time, I have dreams about food, and sometimes I wake up chewing my pillow.

I couldn't see my aunt before she died, because I couldn't afford plane tickets to NY.

My job requires dissecting brains, working with dangerous & expensive chemicals & equipment, performing complex statistical analyses, writing computer code, and a deep understanding of molecular biology. I am 30 years old, with 11 years of education and experience, including a master's degree. How can it be, that in order to contribute more to my field, I need to live so desperately?

Here is my journey -

2011-2016, BS in animal biosciences with a research focus, Rutgers

  • Scholarship and family help. No debt. Coming out as trans was a disaster, tore apart my family. The stress helped put me in the psych ward. I somehow finished my degree, refusing to give up on science.

2016-2018, MS endocrinology & molecular biosciences, Rutgers

  • Teaching assistanceship. I lived in my car. When it got cold, I slept on the floor in the classroom where I taught. Sometimes I slept under a coffee table in someone's apartment. No debt.

2018, Americorps volunteer.

§  1k month living stipend, food stamps, OHP. I rented a large closet in  a full house. 1k debt.

2018-2022, Research Assistant, OHSU

§  2k month in my bank account.

§  Focused intensely on my work, ate at cafeteria.

§  3hr bus commute (parking would've been 300/month), renting a room in a full house, I struggled to prepare 3 meals/day.

§  VA cafeteria breakfast: $14, OHSU cafeteria lunch salad + meal + drink: $25. Eating at work costs $780/month, or >9k in 1 year.

§  I accumulated debt of 7k in 4 years, mostly food.


2023, PhD student, OHSU

  • 2200/month in my bank account. Exhausted and sick, I moved close to work. This is how the numbers add up. Notice how "Food" is not part of my budget.

Rent + utilities




Car insurance + gas


$300 + $150


Credit card payment*

*mostly interest



Sudden expenses

Dentist: repairs, fillings, root canal - 1300
Dr visits and blood panels - 400

Car: someone hit me, headlights, tires - 1500

$3200 total (145% of monthly income)



$60 payments


Medically indicated

Crown for root canal- 1k
Sleep apnea test - 1k

$2000 total (90% mo. income)


Can't afford