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January 20, 2010 10:33 PM   Subscribe

Deal or no deal with my future: should I take the money I'm offered, or risk it for a better grant?

I'm in a PhD program in Canada, in the humanities. This week I received the news that a grant that I'd applied for last year, that was put on a wait list, had been approved - great!
However, it might not be as good as it seems: accepting will mean that I have to give back funding that I got from my department and university - so much that I might actually make less money if I accept it. My department says that they'd make sure that I wouldn't lose money for accepting it - but I can't get that in writing, and they're in the middle of a budget shortfall (one person in the office mentioned that they "didn't know where they'd get the money").
The problem is that if I accept this award, I am disqualified for a pending award application - which could be for more money (120% of the orig. offer), but I might also not get anything - in which case my finances wouldn't change, but I'd have to teach instead of just working on my thesis (which might be good for job experience but poor for prestige).
My department described me as "very highly ranked" for the pending application - but it's also a highly unpredictable process - should I take the sure thing, or risk losing no money - but time, and lots of face?
posted by Bergamot to Work & Money (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Which one will look better on your CV? Is the smaller monetary amount from a prestigious funding agency? It would probably look better, for example, to be able to say "I received funding for my research from a FOO grant," instead of just a departmental award, which future interviewers might assume was only awarded because your department guarantees everyone funding. (Not saying the would be the reason they'd give you the award, but interviewers would have no way of knowing if your departmental award was competitive or not.)

Also, does the smaller award give you enough to live on? If so, take whichever best allows you to focus on your research. No one gets rich in grad school, and if it's a question of money vs time to build your academic reputation, choose the latter.
posted by MsMolly at 11:38 PM on January 20, 2010

If they know you've been offered outside funding this might affect your chances at this 'pending award application' if it is also internal money.

You should sit down with your adviser and probably follow your adviser's advice.
posted by pseudonick at 11:51 PM on January 20, 2010

You're in a Humanities PhD program. You should do whatever maximizes your long-term academic job prospects even if doing so reduces your short-term income, because your long-term academic job prospects are already relatively poor.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:54 AM on January 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

If the new grant is externally-funded then you should accept this one and try to work out a way to make up any short-fall with your Department. As others have already pointed out, external funding looks much better on a resume, and will gain you significant kudos in your Department. But do check with your supervisor, as pseudonick suggests.
posted by gene_machine at 2:12 AM on January 21, 2010

I also meant to say that being "very highly ranked" for a pending application means very little; the cut-off point for funding might very very high, if, as you suggest, they're in financial straits.
posted by gene_machine at 2:14 AM on January 21, 2010

When I started grad school I was offered two prestigious outside fellowships, and didn't know how to choose one of them without losing "bragging rights" to the other. I solved this problem by listing both of them on my CV and putting the word "declined" in parentheses next to the one I turned down. This is common practice in academia, and gives you a way to make the best decision about your finances and still get the professional capital that comes with winning the other grant.

That said...

My department says that they'd make sure that I wouldn't lose money for accepting it - but I can't get that in writing, and they're in the middle of a budget shortfall (one person in the office mentioned that they "didn't know where they'd get the money").

Who have you spoken to about this? If the funding committee is faced with a tough choice between you and another applicant and they find out that you have received external funding, that could be a rationale for awarding the departmental money to another candidate. You also don't want to come across as if you're gaming a financially strapped department for more money, and taking funding away from other students who haven't received external fellowships. Be very careful about who you discuss this with and ask your advisor for counsel.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:55 AM on January 21, 2010

I *think* I know what awards you are talking about. I'm confused as to why you'd be out of the running for the second award. (Okay, this is assuming I am correct about which awards you are talking about.) If you are on the waitlist for smaller award, this means it is an award for 2009-2010. If you're application is pending for the second, isn't that an application for 2010-2011? I can understand them revoking some of the funding you had from the previous year if you take up the waitlisted award, but I don't understand why they'd cut you off from the first one. It is true you cannot hold both at the same time but I don't think this is what is happening here.
posted by synecdoche at 5:35 AM on January 21, 2010

I'd take the grant I'd been offered; congrats. Teaching while working on your dissertation is the last thing I'd do in your situation. You'll have a hard time writing and focusing if you're teaching at the same time, even if you're only TAing one or two classes. Teaching is a big committment.
How big of a difference in funding are we talking? Will you be able to live off the grant money? Is it a question of going into debt to get this grant? If so, talk to your advisor and whomever deals with the funding (may be a dean or another administrator). But take foxy_hedgehog's advice: lay it out as a matter of "I cannot survive
on the grant stipend" if that's truly the case. Funding for a grad student is more about survival than it is about making money.
posted by k8lin at 5:40 AM on January 21, 2010

Dance with the lady that 'brung ya. Stick with the funding you've been given and let your work speak for itself.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 5:55 AM on January 21, 2010

I favorited Jacqueline's answer, but want to make sure to emphasize it again. Think long-term. I'm getting my PhD in mathematics, where there tend to be many more jobs than your area, and I would definitely consider the CV impact much more important than the monetary impact in this situation.

That said, due to the variance of academic jobs you'll be applying to, I'd disagree with people telling you not to teach. In my field teaching experience in graduate school is assumed, and without it many schools would have just tossed my application.
posted by monkeymadness at 7:16 AM on January 21, 2010

I solved this problem by listing both of them on my CV and putting the word "declined" in parentheses next to the one I turned down. This is common practice in academia

I disagree that this is common practice. I've only seen it a couple of times and it rubs me the wrong way. It is the sort of resume puffery that leads me to take a more critical look at whatever else the candidate is claiming.

If it became common practice it would be a real problem, as it would provide an inducement for people to apply for grants that they have no intention of accepting, which I think would be unethical because it increases the review costs and lowers the chance of those who need the grants getting them. (I'm not saying that foxy_hedgehog did that at all, but if this became a common practice, then lots of people would.)
posted by grouse at 7:41 AM on January 21, 2010

Grouse, I see it a lot in my field. Usually, however, there's a reason offer for declined. I was in the happy situation where I won two substantial grants last year, but each had the provision that I could only take the money if I did not have any other grants coming in of a certain amount. I took the bigger one and list the second on my CV followed by "declined in favour of . . ." Every CV I've seen where a similar situation occurred lists both.

This might be particular to my field and location where there aren't all that many different grants available, but I've always been told to do so because universities (and grant committees) like to see that you are capable of winning grants. I don't think there's much chance of people applying for money and not taking it for the sake of a line on the CV in this case.
posted by synecdoche at 8:11 AM on January 21, 2010

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all these answers, guys!
Synecdoche, you're right about the years of the competition. What I should have made clear is that the two are substantially the same award (that is, they're both from the same government body), but this award comes in two versions / amounts (the latter being more prestigious). I'm less concerned with the financial difference than I am with the fact that the latter award looks better on a CV, and yes, I can include a line on my CV saying that I received and declined the former award (it's not at all unusual in my field, and no one would apply for this award expecting to decline it!)
I include the fact that my department/university funding is higher only to make the point that I lose no money either way, so if I decline the former in hopes of either having it replaced with its equivalent, or improved upon (with with the not-huge but present) risk of losing it altogether (except as a "declined" entry on my CV).
I don't yet have an advisor, and as foxy_hedgehog points out, the awards I hold would go to other students in the department - this means that the grad advisor etc. have an interest in getting me to take the sure thing (they're not entirely concerned with my best interests).
The pending application has received overwhelmingly, atypically favourable responses from everyone who has seen it, but it's not a sure thing.
(Also, k8lin, you make a good point - but I'm definitely one of those people who accomplishes a lot more if I'm busy, and teaching would keep me on campus and engaged, as well as being more important if I end up on the non-academic job market, I think - so even that's not a clear benefit!)
Thanks again, everyone - I'll let you know what I decide!
posted by Bergamot at 9:38 AM on January 21, 2010

If you *know* that your departmental funding is guaranteed for as long as the duration of the two external funding possibilities then I would wait. The potential extra money could help keep you going for the post-funding years of your PhD (of which there will statistically be at least a couple).

Aside: this is normally not the time of year at which news about the major Canadian graduate scholarships comes out. I'm quite curious about grants you're talking about...
posted by louigi at 11:50 AM on January 21, 2010

Response by poster: louigi: I might as well be specific - I've been offered a 2009 sshrc 4 year doctoral fellowship (I was waitlisted, and yes, this is absurdly, unbelievably late for them to be offering!); I'm told I have a decent chance at getting the sshrc CGS in the 2010 competetition. Normally I would definitely go with "bird in the hand," but since my departmental funding is actually more money (though more teaching also) than the fellowship, I'm tempted to see if my confidence in this year's application is founded (it's an awesome application, I know my letters are effusive, and my grades were A+s...) Maybe I'm being silly, but I'd hate not knowing how it'd turn out!
posted by Bergamot at 12:03 PM on January 21, 2010

Okay, I have to say, go with the bird in the hand, especially when it comes to SSHRC. SSHRC is notoriously difficult to predict. Even if your professors say you're as close to a sure thing as you can get, it means very little once your application gets to Ottawa: your application could get into the hands of somebody who simply doesn't like some scholar you cite, or thinks that the subject you're exploring isn't worth his or her time of day, or is tired after reading several dozen applications and doesn't give yours the attention it deserves. In your situation, it sounds like the funding isn't the issue--you're good either way. But you do absolutely want that line on your CV especially if you want to pursue academic work in Canada.

I would talk to people in your department, though. Even if you do not have an advisor yet, there is surely some sort of graduate chair you can speak to who will have experience in these matters. But, if it were me, I'd take the money I've got rather than wait for the CGS.

(Congratulations, by the way.)
posted by synecdoche at 1:22 PM on January 21, 2010

Take it, take it, take it now. You can't be sure if you'll get the money in the spring, especially with the way grant money for the humanities especially has been dwindling lately. Even if you didn't get the CGS but get a regular SSHRC in the spring, you'd screw yourself out of $20000 for this year. It's such a huge risk to take to hope for CGS -- I'd rather get $20000 over the four years for sure than face the possibility (even though it's slight) of getting none at all (and having to do that bloody application process again).

You might want to check if you have the possibility of being bumped up to CGS. I think this has happened in the past, but probably not this late in the game. Wouldn't hurt to ask your grad chair or the people who administer awards on campus.
posted by pised at 1:34 PM on January 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all for your advice - I took the "bird in the hand," and now I can celebrate my SSHRC!

posted by Bergamot at 10:02 AM on January 22, 2010

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