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So in my first year of my PhD I was strongly encouraged to apply for fellowships. I submitted fellowship applications happily, but at some points was concerned about how urgent it seemed to my advisor for me to win a fellowship. Examples of this behavior would be saying its very advisable for me to apply to certain fellowships that frankly wouldn’t be worth the effort it takes to apply. This and some other comments leave me wondering about how secure my RA position will be for the rest of my degree. Maybe its just the quarantine making me crazy.

What is the best way to ask an advisor about the funding situation, and would such a question be inappropriate.

For context, I’m in a usually well funded field, where it is common for advisors to be able to fully fund their students, often without them having to TA every semester.

  • What do you mean by not worth it to apply? They're less than the RA/TA rate? – Azor Ahai -- he him May 5 at 19:18
  • Yes. I guess all money is good money but if something covers only a quarter of my stipend it makes me consider whether the time spent applying is worth it. Especially in the scenario where I do have funding – user74671 May 11 at 3:18
  • Money begets money. The more fellowships you have, the easier it is to get more. So typically it's a worthwhile investment. – Azor Ahai -- he him May 11 at 14:12
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Things are in flux, but you have a right to plan your future with some confidence. I suggest the direct approach. Ask him if there is any funding risk and how to quantify it. If your advisor thinks there is any risk and advises you to seek funding, then you need to just do it. Even if you fail, but show diligence in the search you will probably be better off if funding gets tighter.

You probably have several years to go, so prediction is an imperfect thing. But the further you go, the closer you are to the end, and so the easier it is to keep your funding stream.

Hope for the best that the current problems are temporary and that the world returns to normal. But don't depend on that happening. Work with your advisor as much as possible.

Just ask. Express your concern. If your advisor is at all reasonable it won't be an issue.

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  • Thanks. I think the direct approach is the right one. I’ll add that my concern isn’t related to the pandemic but in general. I’ve had these concerns previously. – user74671 Apr 5 at 18:38
  • Furthermore, I’m glad to apply for funding. But it is a different outlook if I NEED to find my own funding vs whether it would just be nice to have. – user74671 Apr 5 at 18:40
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You should ask your advisor about funding. It's not weird to do so.

Even if he has stable funding for you and your project, some amount of effort to win independent funding (even small amounts that 'frankly aren't worth the effort to apply') is a good idea. Learning how to write proposals and applications is valuable. Depending on your field it may be very important to have these lines on your CV; in a lot of biomedical fields, you'll be at a big disadvantage come postdoc time if you don't have a GRFP or an F31-equivalent from your PhD.

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