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Foreign student funding (USA) halfway through degree


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Hello, all.

Occasional lurker, first-time poster. I promise to return the favor by weighing in with posts of my own to help others now that I am in my second year of my PhD. I am looking for any advice or help -- begging almost.


I have a friend, not a US citizen or permanent resident, facing an inability to pay to stay enrolled when she only has one comprehensive exam in her minor field (they are given out in September and January) and a thesis to submit.


She is here from the Republic of Korea.  She very rarely (read: almost never) gets out because she works so much. She has a master's already and is very qualified.


She is in her third year, but her appointment letter for assistantship work did not guarantee funding past her fifth semester. I don't know the exact details and she is a bit embarrassed and shy...I get it. When you move back into academia, get a masters with a mind for a PhD and are approaching 30, you look at your offers and take the best. Applying is very time-consuming and expensive, between SAT scores, mailing transcripts, asking for letters of recommendation . . . and the whole process from application to first day of classes is about a year. I applied to ten schools and only got accepted into two in the end. In retrospect I know what departments and what schools were bad to apply to, being poor matches, and what the field expects and all that and the culture, but when you move back into academia at a later stage in life and now you're looking at finishing your PhD at 35, then possibly at 36 is a little scary . . . and you could apply to a new set of schools and get the same or worse offers the next year.


Unfortunately, she has not been renewed. There has been no grievance process or poor reviews. Our department says it does not have the funding. (There is actually a tangled story behind the scenes involving our union's bargaining, administration lying about funds, re-allocating funds disproportionately to certain cohorts in certain fields...that deserves its own post).


Because she is on an F-1 Visa, she is not eligible for federal student loans (not that there are state ones), and several funding opportunities outside of our department in special area or topic centers (it's a large university) are reserved for US citizens now resident in the state.

feel responsibility as a representative for our union in funding and workplace problems. Up until now, we have had very few issues and most were details about appointment dates and inter-departmental miscommunication. Other students have come in without any funding and secured funding. Others are in their sixth, seventh and even *eighth* years and are getting renewed. Our university and our department seem to game or keep in mind every metric for university rankings and prestige except graduation within the projected four-year path, never lighting a fire under anyone.


My friend immediately considered working part-time outside of the school. Looking at the pay and commute times this would entail, it would likely delay her graduation and cost a bundle in the long run. She has some money to make it through a semester living expenses-wise, but not enough to cover the exorbitant tuition American universities charge. I find it obscene that for one exam (albeit intense!) and for a thesis, a student is on the hook for the pay. After the test, the only hard requirement is to informally meet her advisor as she writes her thesis and then submit it for approval.


We have discussed her taking time off, going into a suspended status that our university allows, as she writes the thesis, paying a minimum ~$750 to keep her registration with the university active. However, there is no escaping that the way formal deadlines are set up, she can only graduate by paying for two more whole semesters, full price, to get credit for her second field comprehensive exam and the thesis. (Our department requires two sets of comprehensive exams for everyone.)


We need the diversity in our department when nearly half of our department is native to our state; I am interested in her thesis idea (after chatting with her on an earlier direction and then her final proposal); finally, it would break my heart for the academic field to lose her and for our group to lose her as a friend.


Thank you for reading this far.

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I failed to mention how bad my department is with money. It seems that half of their extra funding packages, sometimes without any teaching workload in the beginning, go to basically unproven 22-year graduates with BAs from the university or nearby. Not they're unqualified exactly, but you have to wonder what it is the department sees in them. There's also the sad, cynical dimension of monetary awards and biased grading to retain certain quotas per sub-field and woo applicants. I know that I'd readily sacrifice the bump in pay I got for this year with my higher workload, continue the same work at my old pay. However, to retain certain sources of funding, the university must retain its high nominal tuition even though a tuition waiver for my friend for one year costs them almost nothing...and the rest of us could never spot her the difference.

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