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Negotiating Funding Packages


Spirit-Seer

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Is it appropriate to negotiate funding for a PhD, even if the package is "survivable"? When seeking private employment, it seems like negotiating one's salary is a matter of course. Is the etiquette any different when it comes to negotiating funding packages?

More specifically, I am accepted at two wealthy, Ivy or Ivy-esque schools, A and B. University A has offered me a very generous funding package amounting to around a guaranteed $40k for 5 years and minimal teaching responsibilities. University B has offered me a funding package amounting to around a guaranteed $33k for 5 years and a bit more in the way of teaching responsibilities. The cost of living seems to be similar (and expensive!) for both places. I definitely prefer the academic / philosophical environment at University B more; would it be appropriate to email their graduate admissions contact and suggest that I want to make my decision solely (or as much as is possible) on the basis of these academic / philosophical factors, and to then suggest that this might be easier if my funding package were increased?

On the one hand, since University B's package is already enough to live on, I don't want to come across as rude or entitled -- but even $33k might not go as far as some might think in certain environments. On the other hand, I would feel remiss to accept University B's package as it stands if there were some chance that they could improve my living situation over the next 5 years.

Is anyone else in a similar situation? Or has tried negotiating and have it either succeed or fail?

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Be frank about your situation for yourself:

  • If the funding remained unchanged, would you turn down B?
  • If B altered its funding, what would be sufficient for you to accept B over A?
  • Do you really want to accept B, but just feel a strong sense of FOMO (fear of missing out)?
  • Are the packages for A and B equally good all things considered, but B has financial room for improvement that could tip the scale?

Advice from Eric Schwitzgebel:

  • Don't expect too much wiggle room in negotiations about funding. But if a comparable department is offering you a better package than the school that would otherwise be your first choice, it can't hurt to politely mention that fact to the chair of the admissions committee.

http://schwitzsplinters.blogspot.com/2007/10/applying-to-philosophy-phd-program-part.html

With all that in mind, what do you think you'd want to communicate to the DGA?

Edited by Duns Eith
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33 minutes ago, Duns Eith said:

Be frank about your situation for yourself:

  • If the funding remained unchanged, would you turn down B?
  • If B altered its funding, what would be sufficient for you to accept B over A?
  • Do you really want to accept B, but just feel a strong sense of FOMO (fear of missing out)?
  • Are the packages for A and B equally good all things considered, but B has financial room for improvement that could tip the scale?

Advice from Eric Schwitzgebel:

  • Don't expect too much wiggle room in negotiations about funding. But if a comparable department is offering you a better package than the school that would otherwise be your first choice, it can't hurt to politely mention that fact to the chair of the admissions committee.

http://schwitzsplinters.blogspot.com/2007/10/applying-to-philosophy-phd-program-part.html

With all that in mind, what do you think you'd want to communicate to the DGA?

Regarding the bulleted points, at present I am inclined to choose B over A, but given the disparity between the packages (and the fact that A is also an excellent place to pursue some of my AOIs and philosophy more generally), I haven't sufficiently reflected on this inclination to say definitively that I will or want to choose B. Part of the issue is that A and B have slightly different (but related) strengths, and I haven't personally decided which path I want to take (my application kind of straddles these two AOIs). A further complication is that I haven't visited A yet, but I feel that if I were to negotiate with B, I should do that sooner rather than later to give them a chance to discuss internally.

If B were to increase its package even by $1k I think it would be sufficient to take B over A. Perhaps it sounds silly but there is some psychological comfort in being shown that I am really wanted by a department. I don't mean to suggest that this whole process is some sort of game; at heart I am essentially concerned with my living conditions, as it will be quite expensive to live and attend B (and likewise for A, but A's package seems to acknowledge this expense more frankly than B).

So, I think I would want to say (to B ) that I am having difficulty choosing between A and B, that I am inclined towards B, but that the decision would be much easier for me if B were able to offer any sort of extra remuneration. What do you think of something along those lines?

Edited by Spirit-Seer
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I had to make a similar choice. It was $29k from a top school in a very high cost of living area with low TA work and very good research overlap vs. $37k from a top school in a very low cost of living area with moderate TA work and not as good research overlap. I ended up choosing the lower stipend for the better research fit and now that I've graduated and experienced the job market etc, I don't regret it one bit. In terms of how much money I could have saved, I probably walked away from $60k total over 5 years. However, the "value" I have received in terms of the job I have now and the research direction has already paid for this difference and I think I will continue to benefit more than $60k worth in the coming years.

Note: I did try to ask if I could have more money because I had an external funding package from the Government of Canada (my PhD school was a US school). The school did not change my stipend because they have a policy of paying everyone exactly the same no matter what. That sucked for me personally but I think it's a really good policy for morale etc. I did get some financial support for an emergency expense later while enrolled and they said the fact that I had saved them some money with an external award earlier helped free up money to help me. 

Especially at top ivy-esque schools, there may be less room to negotiate actually. They might have the same policies as my school (no differences in stipend) but also they might not want to pay their students more. To be clear, my experience at my school was awesome and I really enjoyed working with almost everyone there. But like all places, there are some people that aren't as pleasant. One of these people told all of us students that the school can totally afford to pay us more, they just choose not to. So be prepared for people like that too.

9 minutes ago, Spirit-Seer said:

If B were to increase its package even by $1k I think it would be sufficient to take B over A. Perhaps it sounds silly but there is some psychological comfort in being shown that I am really wanted by a department. I don't mean to suggest that this whole process is some sort of game; at heart I am essentially concerned with my living conditions, as it will be quite expensive to live and attend B (and likewise for A, but A's package seems to acknowledge this expense more frankly than B).

I will be honest in hopes of being helpful. This is silly. You got accepted to a top tier PhD program with full funding. That's definitely a sign that you are wanted. If you didn't know, grad students actually cost a lot more than our stipend value because of overheads and such. A grad student at my PhD school costs around $50,000 to $100,000 per year. Or, it takes a $1 million endowment to fund a grad student. The fact that they have chosen to invest in you in this way shows that you are wanted. Top tier grad schools with tons of money don't become top tier grad schools with tons of money because they accept people that they don't want. And to walk away from School B over $5000 over 5 years seems unthinkable to me!

12 minutes ago, Spirit-Seer said:

So, I think I would want to say (to B ) that I am having difficulty choosing between A and B, that I am inclined towards B, but that the decision would be much easier for me if B were able to offer any sort of extra remuneration. What do you think of something along those lines?

I wouldn't ask it this way. Given the circumstances, I would be more honest. Tell them that you want to choose their school and you plan on doing so. However, you have been looking at cost of living and you're worried. Tell them School A has offered X dollars and you wanted to know if there was any way of increasing your current package.

That is, I don't think this is a "negotiation". It is a "request" instead. I think schools are more likely to respond positively to you if you tell them that you will choose their program. I would only phrase it the way you suggest if you would for sure choose A over B if B doesn't increase the stipend because B's stipend is not livable right now.

Just my 2 cents!

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12 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

I wouldn't ask it this way. Given the circumstances, I would be more honest. Tell them that you want to choose their school and you plan on doing so. However, you have been looking at cost of living and you're worried. Tell them School A has offered X dollars and you wanted to know if there was any way of increasing your current package.

That is, I don't think this is a "negotiation". It is a "request" instead. I think schools are more likely to respond positively to you if you tell them that you will choose their program. I would only phrase it the way you suggest if you would for sure choose A over B if B doesn't increase the stipend because B's stipend is not livable right now.

Just my 2 cents!

Thanks for your perspective! I think your suggestion to think of this as a request rather than a negotiation is very helpful. I suppose my main concern was with regard to the perlocutionary effects of even having the gall to ask for more funding, given that the offer is already substantial and competitive with similar programs. I think everyone (myself and the department) can see and know that the amount offered is certainly livable, but I am nonetheless concerned about the cost of living. So, that being said, I agree that it would make the most sense to simply ask if there is any way that they can improve my package.

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