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The company I work for is funding a project led by a professor at an engineering department in a US university. I was recently accepted by the university and they offered me a departmental fellowship for my first semester with subsequent semesters being funded by the advisor's grant money (which includes a stipend and full tuition). Also, my employer put me on a scholarship that covers my tuition and a very low stipend for the duration of the PhD even though they are also paying the advisor grant money for the project. I am currently in my first year in the PhD program working under the advisor on the project. I realized that the stipend I receive from my employer's scholarship is barely enough to pay for the rent and all the other students working on the same project are being paid an RA departmental standard stipend which is double that of my scholarship stipend. I brought this up indirectly to my advisor in the hopes that he will offer me an RA that at least augment my scholarship stipend to a livable wage similar to my peers (which is the department's policy) however he would give me vague answers and then complains that my company still hasn't paid their grant installment for this year/or how other students are having a hard time finding affordable housing..etc. I just feel like I am being treated like a bargaining chip, even though I am a student and bringing outside money that pays my tuition in full and half the departmental standard stipend. Should I be upfront with my advisor and ask/email him to augment my stipend and hire me as an RA just like my peers who are working on the same project? What if he refuses? To whom should I talk? I don't want to take out loans to compensate for the low stipend since I live in a high cost of living area.

I also checked the grant contract written by my company, it mentions no restriction in me receiving a stipend. I don't want to bring this up to my company management and make things sour between me and my advisor since we get along well and his advising style checks all my preferences.

Edit: The admission letter that I signed and accepted states the following:

"in view of your superior academic achievement and credentials, the **** Engineering department is pleased to offer you financial support for your graduate studies, contingent upon continued satisfactory academic performance. Our standard support package includes a minimum annual stipend of $*** (double my current stipend) plus the payment of tuition and fees, including the graduate student health insurance plan."

Then the letter goes on say that" the department supports students for the first semester ,followed by support in the form of a Research Assistantship from the contracts/grants of the student’s advisor."

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    The key point here is: are you paid what you were promised? If yes, then you don’t have much of a complaint, however unfair the situation may appear. After all, you agreed to start under these unfair co Jan 1, 2023 at 6:41
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    @ZeroTheHero I just updated my post. It seems to me that my advisor is exploiting a gray area to avoid paying me. I contacted the grant officer at my department, and they told me that if an advisor is not paying you a stipend is usually a soft rejection and they would put student into TA until they find another advisor or else master out.
    – GuptaJ
    Jan 2, 2023 at 20:02
  • " Our standard support package includes a minimum annual stipend of $*** (double my current stipend)" is this difference due to taxes (i.e. the double is the gross salary, what you get is after tax)?
    – EarlGrey
    Jan 2, 2023 at 21:20
  • @EarlGrey No, the after-tax stipend is double the stipend I receive from my scholarship.
    – GuptaJ
    Jan 2, 2023 at 23:25
  • I am not clear that this is your advisors doing- there may be some administrative mix-up in the department…
    – Dawn
    Jan 3, 2023 at 0:41

3 Answers 3

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I don't see any right to be paid similarly to your peers financed by different programs.

I did my PhD with a scholarship and my colleagues were paid way much higher because they applied for more competitive positions and had to work hard to accomplish other tasks assigned to these positions. I did not apply for those positions because I prefer to focus on my PhD. It is just fair!

If you want to have the same wage, simply apply for these positions (or what you called RA departmental standard stipend).

Of course, it is completely legitimate to ask your company/professor to raise the stipend but without claiming this right which is based on an unfair comparison.

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    The department policy is that all students are paid a minimum stipend which is very common in lab-based programs in the US. This is what I meant by standard stipend; I am being paid below the minimum!
    – GuptaJ
    Dec 31, 2022 at 17:40
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Whether other students are having a hard time finding affordable housing has nothing to do with your financial situation. You need to make it clear that this is about your ability to sustain yourself in the program.

Possibly, there are other means to finance your PhD. Can you do some teaching and get extra funding from the department?

Also, why hasn't the company paid the instalment? Is your professor not asking them to pay?

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I would approach the department financial admin or the director of graduate studies for clarification on your situation. It seems there has been some oversight and you are not being paid the correct stipend.

Your advisor may be vague because he doesn’t have a good grasp on the situation. Many advisors have only a vague understanding about policies for students who have multiple streams of money (here, it seems to be company stipend+department tuition remission+something from advisor funds but that seems unclear). You need to speak to others who may have a clearer idea. To be politic, I would probably mention to the advisor that there seems to be an issue with your stipend not meeting the department minimum, and you are going to investigate where the confusion lies.

One hypothesis might be that you are actually receiving the correct amount from all university sources including your advisor, but since your company has not paid their installment you are not receiving the company scholarship and this may need to be paid to you in a lump sum once the funds come through.

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  • Adding: the grant officer may not be the right person in this case. Their knowledge will depend quite a bit on their background and where they fall on the department org chart.
    – Dawn
    Jan 3, 2023 at 1:43

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