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It would seem more logical for a graduate student of microbiology to be working at a lab or perhaps as a teacher's assistant.

Is it ever explained why she needs to work as a waitress to pay for her tuition?

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"Working at a lab" is a full-time job: it's not something you can do part-time to make some cash while you're studying. – David Richerby Sep 8 '15 at 21:01
Maybe it would indeed be logical, but I saw a pedagogue drive a cab, a literature student sell clothes and I myself am an engineer which used to sell books and magazines at the station's book store when I was at University. Somehow you have to make money... – glglgl Dec 26 '15 at 10:33
up vote 15 down vote accepted

It is never explained that I know of. But Pasadena is in the middle of an area with several top notch universities (A couple of UCs, USC, loads of CSUs and of course CalTech) so there must've been loads of graduate students and perhaps not that many appropriate lab jobs.

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I think mainly it's simply a funny/random place to be working. – DisgruntledGoat Dec 3 '13 at 17:37
+1 for pointing out the glut of student labour. – EleventhDoctor Mar 4 '15 at 8:23

In addition to the other answers, it's also worth pointing out that she only worked at the Cheesecake Factory until the Season 4 finale. Per the Wikipedia:

Bernadette worked at the Cheesecake Factory with Penny to pay off her debts in graduate school, studying to become a microbiologist. She met Howard at work as Penny introduced the couple. In the present, Bernadette has received her Ph.D, and was offered a job at a big pharmaceutical company named Zangen. Although her exact income is never specified, it is stated that she makes very good money (a "butt load") at a pharmaceutical company and that it greatly exceeds Howard's income.

I don't think her choice of work environment is that unusual. Bringing a little bit of my own personal life into this answer, I've dated two different women who were in the process of completing PHDs. Whilst one eventually worked in an academic environment towards the end of her degree, for the majority of their courses both worked in restaurants/cafes/retail.

Why? It was easy money and much more importantly it wasn't academically stressful, leaving them time to think, plan and even work on their PHD work whilst at their second jobs.

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"it wasn't academically stressful, leaving them time to think, plan and even work on their PHD work whilst at their second jobs" - +1 and isn't there even an episode where Sheldon decides that he needs a mindless / non-academically-stressful day job so that his mind can process things passively, and he turns up at the Cheesecake Factory to "help" as an unofficial waiter? – user568458 Sep 8 '15 at 9:23

Well the writers needed Bernadette to meet Howard somehow. If Penny was to set them up, Penny and Bernadette needed to know each other. Hence, she works at the Cheesecake Factory.

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Yes, it is a plot device. This doesn't really answer the question. – krsteeve Mar 27 '14 at 19:14

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