Several weeks ago, I wrote an email to my supervisor asking for the purchase of a computer for me. He denied it it and told me that I don't need a dedicated computer.

So, I though, I can apply to the dean for a possible finnace. So, I sent an inquiry letter to the dean's office before submitting a formal application.

Hello and good day!

I am a PhD student under dr. X at the Faculty of Y.

For the purpose of my research I need a GPU-enabled computer.

  1. dr. X lab has a GPU-enabled computer which is decades old; it occasionally (i.e., every 1-2 months) shuts down automatically, and we enter the room and manually restart that computer again. This is an annoying process because there is no specific time for this automatic shut down.

  2. In order to use the lab's computer I need to login remotely and debug the source code manually in the text-based terminal which is time consuming and frustrating.

  3. I mainly use Visual Studio as the software development IDE for the last 20 years or so. This IDE is super user-intuitive, super fast, and feature rich. There is no option for me to run Visual Studio on remote computer. NVIDIA CUDA offers many Visual Studio specific support.

  4. Finally, there is a portability issue; I cannot carry the computer around which is very much needed for my convenience.

Therefore, it would have been great if I could have a GPU enabled laptop which I can use as long as I am a PhD student. Then, when I am done with my PhD, I can return the laptop to the Faculty.

Could you please tell me if there is any option for the Faculty of Y to finance such a laptop?

Kind regards.

Mr. Z.

So, the dean's office forwarded that latter to my supervisor and my supervisor told them to ignore my email. He also wrote me that I will not get a computer no matter what.

Dear Z,

the secretary of the Dean's Office sent me your request for approval.

I don't think it's justified. Personally I can't imagine our Dean buying a high-end laptop to every PhD student we have.Therefore I answered to disregard your email.

I'd also like to mention that the request you sent puts me in quite clumsy situation. Please consult with me such emails before you send them.

Best regards, dr. X

Dean's office later wrote me that they could purchase a machine for me. However, they need my supervisor's approval.

Dear Mr. Z,

I would like to inform you that dr X should approved your request. After that he can initiate the process of purchasing new equipment for you.

With best regards,

Ms. A

Anyway, as of today, my computer purchase has not seen any light.

My question is, Are my arguments in favor of purchase a computer valid?

  • 1
    The last email could be read that they could purchase a machine for you, but the funds would be taken out of one of your supervisor's grants, the deans office would just go through the administration process surrounding a computer purchase Oct 25 at 21:32

3 Answers 3


It's impossible to answer this question with certainty, because you haven't included the original email you wrote to your supervisor and we don't know what arguments you made there. This reply assumes they were similar to those you made to the dean.

Universities have to operate within budgets, and both students and professors often have to make do with less than they'd like. Anybody approving expenditure requests needs to distinguish between what's inadequate, what's necessary, and what's excessive, and aim to approve "necessary" but not "excessive".

In this case, you need to persuade people who probably did their own PhDs twenty years ago, when that "decades old" lab computer would've been state of the art and with less sophisticated tools than you're asking for. You need to persuade them that this is necessary and not just a luxury request. Focussing on how the current situation is "annoying" and "time consuming", the "convenience" of a laptop, and how you would prefer to use the tool you're familiar with, risks coming across as "luxury".

If I were approving this request, some questions for me would be:

  • Does this department have a policy on IT requests of this kind? What does the policy say and how does this request fit into that framework?
  • Is this compatible with the departmental IT configuration, and who is responsible for support? (IT support generally like to minimise the number of different hardware/software platforms they're supporting.)
  • Does this student need a new GPU, or do they just want it? Quantifying the difference it makes could be useful here.
  • ditto, Visual Studio.
  • Why is a manual restart "every 1-2 months" such a big deal?
  • Have they done some work to distinguish between what they want and what they need, and identified a cost-effective option that meets their needs? Or have they just gone straight for the option that has everything they want, without trying to identify cheaper options? (e.g.: have they looked into whether a GPU-enabled cloud instance might be a cheaper option")
  • Is this request genuinely driven by the needs of their PhD project, or is this an attempt to get the department to fund their new gaming/crypto-mining laptop? (Not that a laptop is a very efficient way to mine crypto, but if somebody else is paying for it, that hardly matters.)

It might not be necessary to cover all these points; depending on context, some of these answers might be obvious to your supervisor without needing to be said. But if I were a student again, making this request, I'd be trying to cover as many as I could.

  • 4
    +1, though I suspect the first question would be "does the student's advisor support the request?" If they don't -- regardless of the reason -- I can't imagine the proposal getting further consideration.
    – cag51
    Oct 25 at 23:15
  • @cag51 yep, I was thinking of this in terms of the supervisor reviewing the initial request. Escalation adds a whole new set of questions. Oct 25 at 23:28

I don't really know where to start.

Your boss told you "no". Then, you went to their boss or likely their boss's boss, complained to them about something your boss is responsible for (not them), implied that your boss needs some training in how to finance purchasing computers, and omitted the important fact that you already asked your boss and your boss told you "no".

Most people find it very rude when someone goes "over them", to speak directly to their boss to get their way. This should only be done when someone has seriously wronged you, and you need to involve their supervisor to get things fixed. If you went all the way to the Dean, you have possibly even gone more than one level over your supervisor, a worse faux pas.

In your email to the Dean, you've implied that the problem is that you don't know if there are funds. You haven't let them know that actually, your problem is that your boss told you "no". This makes it look to the Dean like your boss doesn't know what they're doing; that puts them in a bad position. Your boss has very gently told you all of this by saying "the request you sent puts me in quite clumsy situation. Please consult with me such emails before you send them."

The third email doesn't say they could purchase a machine for you; it says it's your boss's job to initiate the process, which probably includes paying for it with their own funds. They're trying to tell you politely "this is your boss's job, not ours". Your boss doesn't think you need a computer, it's your boss's job to decide whether you need a computer, therefore you do not get one. That seems to be how it works. In the meantime, you've offended your boss by ignoring their authority and possibly making them look bad in front of their superiors.

It sounds to me like you have access to a decent machine but want something different for matters of your convenience. It doesn't matter if people on the internet think you should have a computer; it matters if your boss does, and you've already asked them.

  • 9
    @user366312 You tried to circumvent the professor in charge of the lab where you are a student by taking your request to the dean. That is a very bad thing to do and my own advice to you is to apologize at once.
    – Bob Brown
    Oct 25 at 21:48
  • 6
    @user366312 All of your points 1, 2, 3, 4 are complaints, directed to your boss's superiors, about something your boss is in control of. 1) is a complaint the computer you use needs to be restarted. 2) is a complaint that you need to login remotely. 3) is a complaint that you can't run VisualStudio. 4) is a complaint that it's not portable.
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 25 at 21:48
  • 13
    @user366312 - You may want to reflect on the fact that instead of saying "thank you," you responded with "you are answering from the typical burocratic BS point of view." If such is your attitude, then there is no point in anyone here engaging with you; you will simply discard all advice that isn't what you want to hear.
    – cag51
    Oct 25 at 22:03
  • 13
    @user366312 Please do not compare "not having a new computer of your desired specifications purchased for you" to slavery.
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 25 at 22:12
  • 5
    @user366312 This answer is correct. Your request was very inappropriate and at least at the universities I know of, the deans office would not be involved at all. Oct 25 at 22:53

The email you sent to the dean was too technical. The dean's office is not likely to have experts on hardware that will understand what a GPU is beyond a passing understanding, and they do not know enough about your work to know if your request is justified. The fact that your issue is so technical, is perhaps a sign that it is too low-level for the dean. It sounds like your energy would be better spent discussing with your professor whether the existing equipment is sufficient to complete your tasks. However, now that you've annoyed your prof, I would hold off on that conversation for now.

I think it's probably too late now to approach this calmly without letting things cool down. However, for the future, one way to approach this would have been to go to your professor with statements about how the research work would be affected by getting better equipment (make this about the work, not about you). Eg, "with a GPU I could do runs X times faster." Once you make your case, you then need to accept that ultimately the decision is not yours (since it is not your money). There may be factors that you are not aware of (such as availability of grant funding) that will lead your professor to disagree with you, and if so you need to accept that. However, by presenting a logical (and ideally quantitative) argument about how better resources can improve the work output, you will hopefully at least start a discussion that might lead to putting this on your professor's radar, or at least getting more information about why the lab is set up the way it is.


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