When grad school funding doesn't materialize
April 25, 2008 10:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm a grad student who was promised some funding this year that has yet to materialize. What can I do?

I was promised this funding in writing ("should you become my student, I will provide an additional $8000 in funding for your second year"). The second year started 8 months ago. I reminded my advisor then, and he said he had forgotten about it but would scrape the money together for me, but it might be a little while.

Now he says he has found the money but can't figure out a way to get it to me. I have a government scholarship, and my advisor's grant comes from the same government funding agency. Since I am already funded by this agency, I cannot receive any additional money from his grant.

I have a good relationship with my advisor. I am certain he did not mislead me or anything like that; like many profs he is simply busy. I have a feeling that I will not see this money unless I really lean on him, especially since I am hoping to finish in August; but what can I say except "make it happen"? That's not very helpful. He does seem to be genuinely stuck. I guess I could also go to his boss, but I don't want to make things difficult for him; his tenure review is coming up soon and I don't want to damage his reputation.

I don't really need this money; I am getting by just fine. But I have had to live pretty frugally these past 8 months and hell, it's $8000. If it were less money I would let it drop, but this would be huge for me. What should I do?

(anonymous to protect my advisor's privacy)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could your advisor pay you the $8000 as summer funding? Most fundings are for the academic year, so it's possible to be paid an additional amount for summer work.
posted by jujube at 10:44 AM on April 25, 2008

My husband had a similar problem - both him and his advisers were funded by the same government agency. The other people working with the advisors were paid by them but my husband could not be. There is no work around to this. They did have a little extra grant money from a different source that they paid him for extra TA/RA work outside of regular tasks. His promise was not in writing but the university usually offered the standard "top-up". Basically the scholarship that he received was much larger than the top-out that he missed out on so we just accepted it. Good luck.
posted by saradarlin at 10:46 AM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

These sorts of things happen all the time in academia. I've been paid out of obscure grants many many times. Yes people sometimes say "Well, I have no idea how to pay you from this grant..." but there's ALWAYS a way around it. Academics are bad with money and departmental accountants are just wonderful at shuffling money around to make it work.

Example: A few months ago, I got part of my salary from a different department, that could not employ me (because of my current position) blah blah and the accountants did some magic and it worked.

It's great that you had such a good relationship with your advisor. Tell him exactly what you said here, that 8k isn't chump change and you could really use it [But he knows that]. If he can't figure out how to do it, tell him to talk to one of the accountants for the department. They could, for example, give you the money from a different source (some slush fund account) and then recoup from this grant as overhead or something.

Just in case it doesn't work out after all that, try not to be bitter (assuming your boss makes a good faith effort). Academics are terrible with money and sometimes they just don't know what to do. And if you plan to stay in the field, this is a small battle you should pass on.
posted by special-k at 11:02 AM on April 25, 2008

I am a professor. You are going to have to become a bother to your professor to get enough of his attention to fix this.

"Dear Professor X:

I still have not received any of the funding promised in my acceptance letter of [date]. What can I do to help solve this problem? Would it help if I dealt directly with the business office to find out how we can expedite this? Would it help if your chair or dean contacted them to get this expedited? You can let me know who to contact, or if you are not sure I can begin contacting people and see where it leads. I understand how busy you are and I am willing to do as much of the leg work as I can to resolve this protracted situation.

Let me know who to contact. I will drop by your office on Thursday during your office hours to talk it over. And thanks again for all you done for me!


A letter like this lights a fire under his ass while retaining your mandatory grad student persona of perfect obsequiousness.
posted by LarryC at 11:12 AM on April 25, 2008 [10 favorites]

Larry C has it. You need the money and he'll have to do something to get it to you.
posted by ob at 11:42 AM on April 25, 2008

Someone in the grants office should know how to get the money to you. Make friendly with one of the more experiences grants officers and they may find a legal workaround for you.
posted by mds35 at 12:13 PM on April 25, 2008

But don't sidestep your advisor when approaching the grants office.
posted by mds35 at 12:13 PM on April 25, 2008

I have this exact same problem right now. You say you don't want to lean on your advisor or make things difficult for anyone, but face it, your advisor, and possibly your department, is putting you in a difficult situation, so at some point you have to let that go and start asking questions to figure out exactly what the problem is.

The general strategy I've been using is being just enough of a bother to keep things moving along, while continuing to be nice to everyone. And you do really have to lean on everyone you think can help get things done--your advisor, the department, the grant office, whomever. LarryC has a nice letter template you can use to start.

Also make sure your advisor really isn't just shitting you. From what you say, I doubt this is the case, but you might have the rare advisor that is truly incompetent or dirty. I did go to my department in confidence, just to make sure that he actually talked to them about this at some point and wasn't just stalling for time until I finished and couldn't get the money anymore. (I'm in a one-year program that finishes next month, and my advisor doesn't have a ton of money, so that was a definite possibility.) Once you are sure everything is being handled in good faith or not, you can decide further how to proceed.

Good luck--it took me a few months into the term to get things sorted halfway, and I'm still working on it. I was supposed to be paid in January--right now I only have half my money. Things happen slowly in administration sometimes, and from what I hear, this happens to a lot of people.
posted by melvinwang at 1:57 PM on April 25, 2008

This happened to me. My letter promised me funding. In my case, my adviser pulled me into his office on day 1 and said, "I know the letter promised you funding. I don't have anything."

You can, well, make it happen.

I'm choosing not to do this for similar reasons as I imagine you'll eventually choose not to do it, but this is a contractual obligation. My graduate admissions go-to guy told me that if I want the money, he and the Dean will make my adviser cough it up, no matter what.

Of course that means creating a disharmonious relationship with the adviser and in academia, that can be really bad.
posted by arnicae at 1:57 PM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think leaning is your only option.
If he's the flaky sort, maybe just say: it would really help me if we could work this out in the next week or two, since I have to make summer plans that depend on this money -- so could the two of us pick a time to just sit down in your office and work it out at that time (make the phone calls to the grants office or whatever)?
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:00 PM on April 25, 2008

Follow-up from the OP
I just happened to have a brief meeting with my advisor. It seemed like a reasonable time to bring up the question of funding, so I brought it up, and basically got shot down at every turn. Essentially:
- External funding from an industry group fell through - he was hoping to pay me from that, but can't.
- Another industry group might provide funding, but this is sort of contingent on my performance in an upcoming presentation about my work.
- Definitely can't pay me from his grant.
- I volunteered to do any leg work - chasing people - going through the department, etc. He said it's not a matter of lack of time, he's already investigated all avenues. I asked if there is anyone I could get in touch with. He said no.

I tried to emphasize the fact that I really do need this money and that I have been living frugally. His response -- which really pissed me off, though I didn't show it -- was that other students are living more frugally than me. It's true, I guess. My 17K scholarship puts me slightly ahead of the average. But it's not much to live on, especially since I had to pay about $4000 in tuition. If I hadn't made about $4000 from being a teaching assistant this year -- something he advised me not to do because "I didn't need the money" (by the way I won a teaching award this term) -- I probably would be underwater.

OK, so my relationship may not be as great as I let on. It's "good" but not perfect. His response was basically a shrug, and now I feel like he will think I'm greedy if I push it. I don't feel I am being greedy.

I still don't want to make things nasty. But... I happen have a congratulatory lunch with the department chair next week (due to my teaching award) and I am tempted to bring this up. This feels like a bad idea but I feel kind of slighted right now. Anyway thanks for the advice so far, I would appreciate anything more you can add.
posted by jessamyn at 2:43 PM on April 25, 2008

My first instinct is that if you wanted to pursue it, the DGS and not the chair would be the person to talk to. BUT I'm not sure if the situation realistically allows you to pursue it (you are the only one who can gauge the politics of your situation there), AND I'm not in science so my advice about funding may not be as useful as the advice of someone who administers science grad student funding.
So - if you trust your DGS, I would think about a confidential meeting with him/her in which you tactfully raise the question whether you have any recourse.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:08 PM on April 25, 2008

I agree with LobsterMitten, I think you should have a confidential meeting with someone above him, preferably a dean or someone pretty high up. But yeah, I also agree you have to step lightly if you think you'll need a recommendation, etc from your advisor.

Another solution would be to try to get your department to advance you the money contingent on your advisor paying them back. This may or may not be an appropriate solution either. At my school, some departments do this while others don't. It may depend on how trustworthy they deem your advisor, and whether or not they believe he can get money in the future, as I'm sure some departments have probably been totally burned by this in the past.

Either way, you will have to talk to someone higher up, so I'd start with that for sure.

By the way, I am in science, and I totally feel your pain. In general, people shouldn't be promising to fund people with money they don't have. That is seriously irresponsible because students have to commit to advisors pretty early in their graduate careers, and commit for a long time. And work suffers when students constantly have to worry about whether they can pay bills on time because of uncertain funding situations. I don't mind getting worked to death--that's the average life of a grad student, haha--but I feel like a promise should be a promise, especially about funding.
posted by melvinwang at 6:47 PM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hmmmm...this is getting tough. Are you an MA or PhD student? What is your field?

If you are a PhD student in a field where the recommendation and support of your advisor is essential for landing a job, you are just going to have to STFU and forget about the money. If you are in a professional field or something where your advisor isn't the key to your future go ahead and press it.

(Your advisor is jerk, by the way.)
posted by LarryC at 8:03 PM on May 6, 2008

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