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I'm a PhD student at a university that is in the process of evaluating updates to stipend policies and one of the students involved in providing feedback on said policy updates. During a meeting a few weeks ago with the PIs in our department, our department's official policy on minimum student stipends and how they should be adjusted if the student wins a funding award was discussed. As a student with a large funding award I learned I should have been topped up by $5,000 above my original stipend amount, however, my supervisor had only topped me up by $500 annually. As my supervisor was in the meeting as well they are aware they have not been matching policy and acknowledged they need to fix things.

While my supervisor is trying to figure out how he can manage his lab budget to change things going forwards he hasn't said anything about making up for mistake of the last few years. I've had my award for 2.5 years now, meaning I'm effectively out $11,000 he should have been paying me all this time. I know lab grants are tricky and finding money for students in existing ones can be quite hard, but this should have been budgeted in if he had followed the policy properly.

How do I go about asking my supervisor if he is considering paying what are effectively back-wages from the past two years without ruining our relationship? It's been very good up until now and while I don't want to put a strain on it that money would really help me a lot financially.

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I don't see how you can do anything other than schedule a meeting and have the conversation directly.

You're probably best off if you assume this was an honest mistake and treat it as such in your conversation, as accusations otherwise might prompt defensiveness. You'll have to decide how you want to act going forward depending on what the response is like - it's possible your advisor will do everything in their power to remedy this for you, and it's possible they won't. It seems like a good sign that they agree and understand that something is wrong, though.

I'd say that while this is ultimately the advisors' responsibility, I'd also note that professors are not really experts in this sort of thing, they're experts in their field, not HR. Departments usually have support staff in HR or as part of graduate programs to help professors keep track of their students' salaries/stipends/benefits. It's quite possible they handed this off to an administrative person "Hi, CS won this award, can you make sure that this is taken care of with their stipend?" Other people could have also caught this mistake and didn't. In some cases, professors may even have students in different programs/departments with different policies applying to each one, so I think it's forgivable that they not be on top of everything.

This also seems like the sort of policy that would be available to students, so I'd certainly advise to make sure you're being an advocate for yourself and reading any materials available to you about compensation and benefits due to you in this position and all positions you hold going forward. It's almost always easier to fix such things ahead of time rather than retroactively.

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I would first contact the graduate coordinator in your department. They prepare many of the contracts, for e.g.- TA contracts or funding plan for the year, etc (at least in my department they do). Let him know about your situation. He might be able to resolve it himself or might contact your supervisor on your behalf or he might refer you to the HR.

If this doesn't work, then I will setup a meeting with my supervisor to talk about it.

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    Although it's probably a graduate coordinator or someone in a similar role that will eventually turn the mechanisms that directly remedy the problem, I think it would be better to start with the supervisor and go to this person together.
    – Bryan Krause
    Dec 10 '21 at 21:31

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