Thursday, July 16, 2009

Funding Update

Updating on my shitty graduate student funding situation. AdvisorB is now involved. And a bit horrified at what AdvisorA is doing. And, in acknowledgment that I really need AdvisorA to stay on my committee and be my research advisor, AdvisorB is going to handle most of the financial discussions with her. And no, it's not a good idea to rely completely on AdvisorB, but it's better than pissing off AdvisorA so much about money that she makes my life difficult re: graduation, too. Much better that AdvisorB is available to be the bad cop. (I'm also talking to a lot of other people and desperately trying to find other options in my department, as far as gap funding and the like, so it's not that I'm idly twiddling my thumbs while I wait for AdvisorA and AdvisorB to work it out.)

Also, AdvisorA is now denying that she ever promised to continue funding me after the large project ran out. I know this isn't true. AdvisorB knows this isn't true. And it's one of the shittiest things I've ever heard, since it appears that she wasn't interested in me as a student, but just as labor on that one project, because it was convenient (and my participation is what allowed her to keep that funding in the first place!).

As I told AdvisorB yesterday, I feel completely betrayed that AdvisorA is violating the traditional (though, admittedly, not universal) social contract that exists between graduate students and advisors. The social contract goes something like this: the student works insane hours for the advisor for many years, doing whatever she's told and helping to fulfill the promises made by the advisor to the funding agencies. The student gets paid very little and gets little out of the experience except, well, experience. Think "apprenticeship." In exchange, the advisor agrees to fund the student during that critical final year, when the student needs to be doing work not covered by grant money, like tie-everything-together work and write-the-thesis work, even though the advisor is no longer getting cheap high-quality labor out of the student during that year. This social contract guarantees several years of cheap labor for the advisor, while also guaranteeing that the student can afford to pay rent while she finishes her thesis and graduates.

Good system, eh? Except that a social contract isn't anything that's ever in writing. Students do their part for many years on the assumption that their advisor will hold up their end of the bargain when the final thesis push happens. But sometimes students (ahem, me) get screwed. I did my part, and now my advisor is essentially cutting me loose and refusing to fund me for my last year while I finish up.

I've had several conversations with AdvisorA since I last wrote about this situation, and I've come to the conclusion that she's not a liar and she's not sexist; she's just really stupid and irresponsible, and she's embarrassed about being stupid and irresponsible. She didn't plan ahead, she really is short on money right now, and she's guilty and embarrassed that she let it get this bad. In an effort to make herself feel better, she's lashing out at everybody else, desperately trying to find somebody else to blame for her poor planning. When she told me, "I shouldn't have to fund you now, because you took a leave of absence to have a baby, so you clearly don't care about academia," what she was really thinking was, "I should have planned better, but now I'm out of cash. I want to fund the students at my new university first, but then there will be nothing left for you. I totally saw this coming, but I forgot to plan ahead and do something about it. I'm stupid. But I don't want to admit to being stupid. Let me try to find a way to make this your fault, so that maybe you'll get upset and just walk away." Um, yeah.

Her latest suggestion: I should take another leave of absence from school, for the next year. I should spend the first three months working full-time for Boss Lady, during which time I would save as much money as I can, so that I will have money to live off of during the following year, when I'm not getting a stipend (or any other income). Then I should spend the rest of the year finishing my thesis at home, living off of the money that I made while working for Boss Lady. Then I re-enroll at school for just long enough to submit my thesis, paying my own tuition and still not receiving a stipend. In other words: I should postpone my graduation for several months, and I should fund my last year myself, leaving AdvisorA completely out of the equation. This is an excellent deal for her: she got her years of cheap labor out of me; she gets to list me as one of her academic children; but she doesn't have to do that annoying funding-my-thesis thing. It's a horrible, horrible deal for me: I have to work for several months on unrelated stuff that I'm not interested in, just to squirrel away some cash, after which I have to once again transition back into my thesis work; I have to do all of my last year from home, without much contact with other humans, because I won't be an official student; I'll graduate several months later than planned, which will make job hunting even harder; I'll take additional financial hits like my student loans coming due and my insurance going up, because I'll lose my "full-time student" designation, not to mention having to pay some amount of tuition out-of-pocket.

My search for a viable solution continues. AdvisorB talked to the head of our department, who is a highly influential and highly respected guy, and their current plan is to jointly call AdvisorA, remind her about the student-advisor social contract, and attempt to guilt her into funding me. (Yep, the current plan relies entirely on guilt as a solution.) Meanwhile, I'm applying for TA positions for the upcoming fall. And, in a nod to the kind of luck I've been having lately, almost all of the courses that I would remotely want to TA meet at times that will conflict with daycare pickup or drop-off times. I might end up having to TA, but I will apparently be the worst TA in the world, making life miserable for an entire class of undergraduates. Spread the misery.


  1. Ugh, ugh, and more UGH! I'm glad to hear that AdvisorB is helping out with the situation. And I think you nailed it with your assessment of AdvisorA. I doubt she's being malicious... she's just being irresponsible and inconsiderate. It's too bad you are the one paying the price.

    Fingers crossed that you arrive at a comfortable solution very soon!

  2. Boooooo. That *sucks*. Like Sunny, I'm glad AdvisorB has gotten involved and really hope it works out in a way that isn't a disaster.

  3. Oh Nicky, I hope guilt works....I really do. Good luck and here's to the success of AdvisorB!!!!

  4. My assessment...Advisor A is a Bitch. No make that a Biatch. Is she in Seattle? If so I'll go beat her up and I'll bring Sunny with me for back-up.

  5. That's awful! I'm glad that AdvisorB has manned up and started helping with the funding problem (even if the current solution relies on guilt). I hope everything works out! Good luck!

  6. What a #$%&^. I am hoping that AdvisorB comes through with a much better suited plan


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