I am working for a professor who started out recently. Most new professors get start-up funding from the department which helps them pay for their first students. Right now I am working in the lab with another PhD candidate; both of us have been funded by departmental funds until now.
The PhD is working on a project which has no funding. I am working on a corporate-funded project for my thesis. Now I am the PI for this project internally. So I did the whole project as my thesis and I was listed as the PI on consent form (approved by my university IRB) when I carried out the final testing of my product with the corporate sponsor.
Here is where things turn shady. When I carried out my testing, we paid the participants through my research funds (the account number for the project is listed on some departmental documents that I had to sign to get cheques for test participants). In my GRA contract, it was specified that my funding was coming from the departmental account and when the PhD candidate showed me their contract, it was getting funded from my project account (the stipend account number was my project account number and I have confirmed this with a student departmental assistant). Their stipend was coming from my project funds.
I spoke with few other people in the department, and came to know that when the department gives seed funding to new professors, there is a limit in stipend they can give. So to give the PhD student more funding, my advisor is using my research funds (for which I am PI) to pay this stipend and thus is getting double my stipend. I am still getting funded by the department, so I get a lot less.
Screwed-up thing is this project is highly successful as I did a lot of hard work and I am not getting any financial incentive. In fact, it's all going to the other researcher who is nowhere involved in this project. The sponsor is giving my advisor funding for a second phase next month and also offered me a full-time job at their corporation. I should probably mention that I don't have a good relationship with my advisor and we fought multiple times in past due to some other issues but the PhD candidate gets along very well. They are like family friends and have very good social interactions.
I am graduating this December, so it probably won't matter anyway, but is this ethical? Can I speak with my department chair about this? I had asked my advisor multiple times to increase my stipend but they said they cannot. The questions is not about money — it's more about betrayal by your own advisor who you trust to be fair.
I still have the copy of the departmental documents used to order cheques for testing showing my account project number and a copy of the PhD candidate's contract.