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I have been fortunate enough to get accepted with 5 years guaranteed funding to my 2nd choice graduate school. While the guarantee is great, the funding is only for 9/months out of the year. Would it be rude to ask them to guarantee summer funding to me for the first year until I can write a grant to get on a RAship? I know I should be more appreciative, since not everyone gets funding, but just an increase of about ~3k a year would make living there so much better and I do not want to accept an offer at a lesser institution just because of money.

What would be the most polite way of doing this?

I want to make it clear that I am not trying to get more money for the sake of getting more money, moreover that I am just not comfortable with so little money and such a high living cost in that area.

Thank you for your time.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

You can always ask, and the polite way to do it is simply to ask politely, while indicating that you have a strong interest in enrolling in the program. The best circumstance is that you have a financially superior offer from another program which is of equal or slightly better quality. Then the graduate program in question may see a small amount of additional funding as a reasonable expense to ensure your enrollment. (If the other program is more than a little bit better, then everyone will be expecting you to go to the better program...unless you have personal reasons to want to go to the less good program, in which case you do not need a financial incentive.)

user45756 "guaranteed" that such a request would not lead to summer funding. Of course no one person could possibly make such a guarantee, and I have very occasionally seen additional funding given to graduate students to help attract them to a program or keep them in a program. But user45756's answer is still accurate in spirit: in the overwhelming majority of cases you get what you get.

However the expression The squeaky wheel gets the grease is very applicable to academia: people who ask for a little bit more* tend to get a little bit more. Your request for summer funding is unlikely to magically result in a higher starting salary, but it may well result in your being placed higher on lists for various summer funding opportunities. I think it is a good idea to say something like "I understand that additional funding may not be possible, and I very much appreciate your offer. However, I am sincerely concerned about quality-of-life issues while enrolled as a graduate student, and I would very much appreciate being told of any other funding, scholarship or teaching opportunities that are or may become available."

*: It is true though that people who don't know the culture well enough sometimes ask for a lot more when they think they are asking for a little bit more, and that often causes them to be taken less seriously or ends negotiations. (Imagine if you had an assistant professor job interview at a public American university and, after shaking hands with the department chair, told them that you were holding firm at a $100K starting salary. It is more than likely that you've just talked yourself out of any possibility of a job offer.) There is a real art to asking for something in a way which makes clear that you will be grateful for any response that you get, not that you feel absolutely entitled to getting your precise demands. A graduate student asking for extra funding should make extra clear that they are "just asking" and will be grateful for any response they will get. I remember one long-ago friend who was hoping that the MIT mathematics department would "get into a bidding war" with some other department of comparable quality. Of course that didn't happen, and though he did start a PhD program somewhere quite good, I could tell from this behavior (I was a first year graduate student at the time) that he didn't quite get the academic culture. I believe he dropped out within a year. (And then I lost touch with him, but I am willing to guess that he now makes much more money than I do...)

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Thanks for the response; I am quite grateful for their offer after all. It's a bit of a tricky situation; the higher ranked school (top 15) is a public university so it cant offer the same funding package as the lower ranked school (top 30). The funding package from the weaker school is double, and is in an area where cost of living is considerably lower. –  Neo Feb 14 at 5:38
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@Neo: If you have a better offer from another school, you should include that information in your request. However, since the university in question is both public and more highly ranked, in my opinion that means that they are very likely to tell you that you have to decide between short-term quality of life and the long term well-being of your career. (And I would advise you to take the pay cut and go to the better school.) Still, as I said, asking nicely may help you get to the front of the queue on future funding. Good luck. –  Pete L. Clark Feb 14 at 5:45
    
I think your right, probably the better thing to do is devise a plan (and a grant) with my would be advisor and hope for the best. So thanks for answering my questions/advice. –  Neo Feb 14 at 5:51
    
I'd like to add that they guaranteed me 21 months of straight funding. so... plenty of time to work on a grant. –  Neo Feb 24 at 22:34

First off, congrats! That is very good news.

I can commiserate with you on the expensive living in grad school (I'm in NYC...). Maybe in other fields it is more common, but I haven't seen very much negotiation in Economics. It seems that there is sometimes a little talk between the student and school to make sure that they even get the funding, but the funding packages we receive seem relatively fixed. I do know that we can get more funding by working as research assistants or teaching assistants. If your funding is a fellowship (basically no catches, you get the money without being required to do anything extra) then you should ask about getting funding by working as an RA or TA. Also, have you received your funding letter? A lot of the schools that I have friends at only have a month or two that you don't actually receive funding. Your best bet is to check with the secretaries or PhD coordinators at your school.

All that being said, probably the best way to find out more is to email some of the other grad students at that school and ask what they have done to stay alive during the summer months when there isn't funding.

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I have never heard of graduate students negotiating salary. Where you go to graduate school matters a lot in your career; I have seen many sub-par people from top graduate schools obtain pretty good positions afterwards just on the merit of the fact that they go to a great school; so, another student on your school's waitlist would be just as good as you would be in the future, if they were admitted in your place, assuming that you are not exceptional (which I am assuming, since you said that you are thinking of going to your 2nd choice school). That is, the institution holds all the cards.

At postdoc or tenure-track level, negotiation happens because you have expertise that no one else can replace. But right now, you are quite replaceable, so it doesn't make sense to negotiate.

You could ask, but I can guarantee right now that negotiation will not happen.

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"You could ask, but I can guarantee right now that negotiation will not happen." Come on, you can't guarantee it. Many graduate programs offer different levels of funding to different students and make various other efforts to recruit students of one kind or another. And the OP is not asking for a higher salary per se but rather for one year of summer funding. If someone who was accepted to the department of mathematics at UGA made such a request, then it is possible that it would be granted, especially if the applicant had a better offer from an equal or better program. –  Pete L. Clark Feb 14 at 5:08
    
@PeteL.Clark Fair enough. I suppose it depends on the field and the level of school. Personally, if a student made such a request to me, I wouldn't see it in such a positive light, but depending on the circumstances, I could also see myself trying to secure some funding for the student. –  user45756 Feb 14 at 5:39
    
Based on the additional information provided by the OP about his/her situation: in my opinion, it turns out that you are almost certainly right. –  Pete L. Clark Feb 14 at 5:48

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