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I started my PhD degree for applied math at the US, in fall 2023 without funding. When I started, the program director said that if I do a good job on course work in the semester, I might get a TA position for funding. So I worked hard, and I earned a 4.0/4.0 in fall 2023.

When winter break started, I asked the director via email whether I can get a TA position. She said she wanted to see my CV and to write a brief statement of interest for why I should be considered for TA support. I have a lot of experience in teaching, I was a private academy teacher for 3 years in Korea, etc, so I think I am attractive for the TA position.

Just an hour after I sent the email, she said I can't be a TA since there is no budget and "we will not be able to award TA appointments to any of our ongoing students this spring 2024."

I think what she is saying is a lie since the department can award TA positions. It is ridiculous. So I am really upset, I think I was fooled. I know that I might not get a TA for funding, and I am willing to spend my money for Spring 2024, but I think she is trying to fool me... It seems like she already assigned the whole budget, and just pretended to give me a TA by making me send my CV.

So I want to ask other people like the dean, to what is going on. Is it a wise idea?

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    Is this at an English-speaking university? Commented Dec 28, 2023 at 22:35

3 Answers 3

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I would not recommend taking any PhD position in the US without funding for any duration of time; I think you should not have accepted this situation from the start, and now your options are not great.

We can't say whether your director is lying or not, but the word "might" refers to a possibility not a guarantee. At winter break, it's possible that there was a miscommunication and the director assumed you would be applying for a TA position for the next fall rather than spring; presumably, TA positions for spring would already be filled by that time.

I think you should consider it unlikely that you'll get a funded position at any point until you have a specific offer given, and proceed knowing that. Unfortunately you've already gone past the typical application deadlines for the next year. You could see whether you can be considered for a fall 2024 TA now even if spring 2024 is not available to you. I don't think there is likely to be much value in escalating anything; you are not owed or guaranteed a TA position. If other people have those spots already, they aren't going to take them away to give it to you.

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As noted, accepting a position with no avenue for basic funding was not a good choice.

However, you should understand how funding typically works before throwing accusations or going beyond the chain of leadership.

Your program director/department chair has no reason to lie to you. In fact they would likely love to have everyone funded. There is no benefit to not having funded TA lines. These are given out by the College and represent a specific funding stream. Most chairs are constantly trying to up their number of TA lines to grow their department. More TA lines can mean higher enrollment which creates more revenue. Also department chairs cannot sit on unused TA lines as that means their number gets cut in the budget next cycle. So if they have them, they use them, or they lose them.

The most likely scenario is that your chair asked for your CV and justification, quickly contacted the college to try and advocate for another TA line for you based on what you provided, and were basically told there are no additional lines.

So what will you achieve by going above your chair? Probably just annoying people because the college creates the TA line and the chair and graduate program coordinator administer them. So if there are no lines, then there are no lines.

What you need to do is try to find research fellowships that will pay your stipend. Those can come from various offices in the University. The office of research may be a start... but they are highly competitive, and often more limited for international students.

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It is a bad idea to do a PhD candidature without funding to begin with. Regardless of whether there is any dishonesty here on the part of your Director, it is not great that they have dangled the possibility of a TA position in front of you and then taken it away after you had met the stipulated requirements. Under such circumstances, I recommend you apply elsewhere for funded positions.

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