It has been 4 months that I have started my master's degree in North America. I got my funding letter from my supervisor when I was in my home country, in my letter it was written that I will be a fully funded student. Now I am here and he does not pay that amount money. even for my first semester, I paid all of my expenses and tuition fee from my pocket. I finished those amount of money that I brought from my home country. now my supervisor does not pay properly. Life became difficult for me, even the university restricted my access to add and drop due to the hold. I am a good student who cares about studying, I hate thinking about money and tuition fee. I am not the guy who can study and do research like this. My prof pays other classmates more than me. This situation really disappoints me and overwhelmingly hard for me. Several times my parents wanted to send money but I did not let them. (transferring money is difficult from my home country.) I feel like crying these days and I could not stop it. Do you have any recommendation or sample letter? how can I make him understand?

+edited: I tried to talk my classmates about this issue. But when I am explaining this issue to them they think that there is something wrong with me and my classmates do not offer any collaboration with me such as publishing something or studying together. This payment issue affected my self-confidence completely.

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    Sorry to hear about your difficult situation. It sounds like your relationship with your supervisor has fallen apart. However, your question does not give enough detail to give much of an answer. – Thomas Nov 21 '18 at 9:41
  • Please see the question How should I phrase an important question that I need to ask a professor? and the answer for the example letters. – scaaahu Nov 21 '18 at 9:48
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    Your root problem is the funding. You need to talk to the professor and the administrator to find out why you are not paid. I don't think a letter will work. – scaaahu Nov 21 '18 at 10:00
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    Have you discussed this issue with the administration in your University (e.g. Head of Department)? – Dmitry Savostyanov Nov 21 '18 at 10:21
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    You said that you haven't talked to the head of department because you are afraid of ruining your relationship with your professor. Firstly, it's entirely appropriate for you to talk to the head of department (or someone else like the director of graduate studies), so you shouldn't get in trouble. Secondly, it sounds like your relationship is already quite poor, so I don't see how it could get much worse. – Thomas Nov 21 '18 at 18:18

Based on a conversation in the comments, so you have basically no reason to see this as anything but a mistake. You were never told you would be paid anything less than you were offered. You have not communicated to anyone that you are being paid less than you are supposed to be paid. Most likely no one knows you are not being paid correctly.

You have done a very silly thing by letting this go on so long. Go talk to your advisor face to face as if your advisor is a normal human being, let them know you think there is a mistake because have not been paid the amount you expected to be paid, and ask who you need to talk to in order to get this fixed or whether you have misunderstood something. If you cannot meet face to face, you can say the same thing in an email.

There is no need for this to be damaging to your relationship, there is no need for you to accuse anyone of mistreating or abusing you, there is no broken relationship already. It sounds like there is an administrative error that needs to be corrected. Administration in a university is complicated and involves people that don't know you or your advisor personally at all, they may have nothing in their records to show what you should be paid. The likelihood of mistakes increases dramatically if you are supposed to be paid from more than one source.

Only if your advisor refuses to correct the mistake and refuses to let you know who you need to talk to to correct the mistake should you assume any malice.

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    @Scientist Advisers do not hand the money to students directly. Students are payed from the research grants of advisers by University. Funding letters are written by advisers on behalf of the University. Hence, the University/School administration has to be involved. – Dmitry Savostyanov Nov 21 '18 at 22:44
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    @Scientist I think OP is confused. This is a common situation in NA: a portion of the salary is paid by a department source, another portion of the salary is paid from the advisors grant. Both pools of money come from the university directly, and only indirectly from the advisor. The advisor will probably only see the actual amount come out of his/her accounts when they review their grant finances which may be annually or semiannually or whatever. Please check OP's comments on your answer. This is not China, it is Canada. – Bryan Krause Nov 21 '18 at 22:59
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    @Scientist Indeed if OP is getting screwed somehow, they need to escalate and make sure they are taken care of, but your advice which seems to assume already that they are being taken advantage I find very dangerous for the OP. They need to make sure they have acted responsibly from their end before they go lobbing accusations. – Bryan Krause Nov 21 '18 at 23:01
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    @Scientist Please direct me to where the OP indicated the advisor is dismissive. From comments and the edits to the original question, OP has only addressed this with other students (remarking that they are not paid as much), not their advisor. The students were, unsurprisingly, not that helpful, because this is really none of their business. – Bryan Krause Nov 21 '18 at 23:06
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    @Scientist You advised that their relationship with their advisor is exploitative and broken and that they should quit, and referred to a common "scheme": if the OP is feeling victimized incorrectly, your answer would suggest to them that those feelings are justified rather than suggest they investigate whether they are or not. If they follow this advice they will surely ruin their relationship with their advisor and university. – Bryan Krause Nov 21 '18 at 23:08

This is a really unfortunate situation to be in, I'm sorry to hear about your situation...

I would discuss this with your advisor and the administrators immediately. It could be that there is some HR issue/misunderstanding (either on their part or on yours). It is often the case that some salary is contingent on you completing some initial courseload, taking up teaching duties etc., it could be that the gross amount stated in the letter does not include taxes/tuition fees. If this was not properly explained to you it is a bit odd, to say the least, but it never hurts to make sure that you are not misreading something.

There are ways of approaching this topic diplomatically and without antagonizing your advisor/HR (assuming that there is not ill intent on their part). Approach them, with the hardcopy of the letter in hand, and your latest payslip. Politely ask whether there has been a misunderstanding: my letter says I am to be paid X but I was in fact paid Y; is there a reason for this discrepancy?

If you are still 100% sure that someone acted with ill intent/is negligent and won't correct their mistake, I would contact someone: if your university has an international student union (many North American universities do), or better yet one that is affiliated with your nationality, this is a good place to start. If your university has an ombudsman (person whose job is to mediate between students and university), reach out to them.

If such bodies do not exist or are unresponsive, reach out to higher-ups in the university (head of department, dean for undergraduate studies etc.).

If that fails, contact a consulate/a lawyer.

It is important to maintain a paper trail! Try to do things in writing (e.g. email) if you can, and note time/date of phone conversations/meetings that occurred.

Trying to mediate and reach an agreement without involving legal/consular means is going to reach your desired outcome faster, and will likely cost you a lot less.

Good luck!

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    +1 Because this answer is almost the same as what I was going to say. Would you mind adding "with your pay slip" after "Approach them, with the hardcopy of the letter in hand" because the OP said "now my supervisor does not pay properly". It sounds like what the OP got paid is not what she/he expected. – scaaahu Nov 21 '18 at 11:33
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    It is also possible that there was a simple error that the administrator treat her as an out-of-state student, but in fact she should be treated as an in-state student. So, there was a big tuition difference. At any rate, the OP needs to find out why. – scaaahu Nov 21 '18 at 11:48
  • I'd remark, from personal experience, that the Consulate won't charge anyone anything to mediate this, and should be among the first options. Given the situation of the OP and the sheer nature of the academic sphere a lawyer is likely the least productive resource. – Scientist Nov 21 '18 at 12:24

It sounds like the big problem is rooted under your unwillingness to communicate problems to others. If you haven't said anything to your advisor or the department, they are likely unaware of the situation. Your advisor may not be checking financial statements on a regular basis and may not know that you're not being paid properly. The administrators in your program who process the enrollment may not know there's a problem. Or it could be as simple as the paperwork getting lost by the payroll department in the main administration and them not paying you.

But if you remain silent, nothing will be fixed. There is a proverb:

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

If you have a problem, you need to speak up, or your silence will be treated as a sign that's nothing wrong.

In this particular situation, I'd start by going to the assistant who is responsible for graduate students. For a program in the US or Canada, there should be someone on the administrative staff—not the faculty—in your department who handles sending out letters and emails to students.

(As for working with other students, I don't see how they're in any position to make a difference here, or what studying or collaborating with you has anything to do with funding.)


I am sorry you find yourself in such a situation. Unfortunately, salary abuse of overseas students and postdocs is becoming increasingly common. Typically the whole "scheme" relies on your silence and submissiveness, which means the most efficient way of defending yourself is by being vocal about this.

You say you're avoiding approaching the topic directly because you want to "preserve your relationship" with your adviser. As you noticed currently your relationship is openly exploitative. There's no way of changing that without displeasing your abuser. In fact I believe your relationship with your adviser is already broken, regardless of whether this person smiles back at you at the intersections and/or taps you on the back.

You must find out the extent of this situation. Reach out for other overseas students and postdocs and inquire them directly. If they seem to avoid the topic altogether, they are likely in a similar stand. Go immediately to the administration and open out. Find the Principal. Have you considered contacting the Consulate of your country? Usually the right phone call can solve almost any situation.

You might like to read about my recent similar experience as a postdoc.

Since you're a Master student, if you conclude the situation won't change, I strongly suggest you to quit, take some time off to digest this mess, and try again elsewhere. Life's long and you don't want to let the bad attitude of others to ruin your plans.

Start now! Good luck.

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    It is not immediately obvious that the professor is abusing the student, and positioning things like this is not helping the asker, in my opinion. The professor could have made an honest mistake (e.g. ticking the wrong box on some form HR sent them), or HR made the mistake, or the asker misread the offer letter. – Spark Nov 21 '18 at 11:14
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    @YairZick I think it's more likely that the school admin mess it up. And it is less likely that the OP misread the offer. The reason I think so is because the consulate (I presume it's the US) should have checked the offer letter and told her how much money the OP should have brought with her when they gave her the student visa. Please see my comment below your answer. And I don't completely exclude the case that the OP's professor mistreated her. I really think the OP has not made her case clear. – scaaahu Nov 21 '18 at 12:04
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    @Scientist The OP hasn't said anything that makes me confident they have any idea how these things work, for example they are talking about their advisor paying them: no advisor pays anyone, they are paid by the institution. They are talking about the advisor paying others more than them: unless they are different types of positions, this is really unlikely. They mentioned how much time has passed, but importantly they have said nothing about what they have done during that time - it's possible no one, including their supervisor, is even aware this is an issue. – Bryan Krause Nov 21 '18 at 17:53
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    @nikki2 Have you just started with a face to face conversation? Do you actually get paid from your supervisor himself? It's common for students to be paid off of grants. It's not common for that money to come from anywhere but the university. Even a professor's grants go through the university. Administrative issues where people aren't getting correctly paid or are missing health insurance etc are common, but they won't resolve themselves automatically. – Bryan Krause Nov 21 '18 at 18:19
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    I can easily imagine salary abuse going on in China. But OP is in North America --- is it not a safer country with more rigid rules? – Dmitry Savostyanov Nov 21 '18 at 22:46

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