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Negotiating a higher stipend?


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I know that in other fields it's common for accepted students to present competing offers to their school of choice in an attempt to increase their stipend. Is this done at all in Statistics departments? I have an offer from UCLA, and am very interested in the research there. However, the stipend would pretty much only cover rent. I have offers from better-ranked programs (similar dollar amount, but much lower cost of living), and some higher dollar-value offers as well. Is there any chance of negotiating a higher stipend? 

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It may be common in all fields for people to ask this, but I'd be really interested in hearing any success stories if they exist, for a few reasons.  The department knows the cost of living in the area and offered its standard stipend anyways.  There are tons of qualified applicants who would be happy to replace you.  Giving preferential stipends to some applicants would create an environment where everybody feels entitled to more money.  If the department had fellowships to offer, they've probably sent them out.  I just don't see this being a successful strategy, but if you know you won't attend with the current offer anyways, obviously you have nothing to lose and it can't hurt to try.  If you do, I'd probably just phrase it in a way that doesn't sound like an ultimatum, that you're really interested in the department but the financial aspect makes it hard compared to other offers you have, and is there any additional funding or summer support available etc

 Even the Ivies aren't offering stipends of $40k/year, so anyone going to grad school in NYC/Cambridge/Berkeley/LA is going to have to accept a lower standard of living.  It does suck that this happens.  I was in a similar situation before with Minnesota stats a few years ago, where their stipend was literally like $1000/month and barely covered rent.

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@bayessays Now, this is specific to Yale and some of the programs I know about, but for the PhD in Law, my offered stipend was in excess of 50k and that was several years ago. Also, I know in several departments where the current annual stipend is a shade under 38k. Obviously, at 38k in New Haven you have a fair amount of purchase power....

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17 minutes ago, Boolakanaka said:

@bayessays Now, this is specific to Yale and some of the programs I know about, but for the PhD in Law, my offered stipend was in excess of 50k and that was several years ago. Also, I know in several departments where the current annual stipend is a shade under 38k. Obviously, at 38k in New Haven you have a fair amount of purchase power....

Yale's stipend for statistics PhDs is $32k/year, and I didn't mention New Haven.  $32k/year minus taxes will cover a studio apartment in New Haven, food, with a couple dollars left over. Clearly some programs offer livable stipends, and some offer very generous stipends for the area.  But programs at Columbia, Berkeley, and Harvard are not regularly offering >$40k a year.  My point is that even these high stipends are only paying for your basic expenses, so accepting a public school's $20k stipend in a HCOL area is going to require lowering your standard of living or taking out loans.

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37 minutes ago, bayessays said:

Yale's stipend for statistics PhDs is $32k/year, and I didn't mention New Haven.  $32k/year minus taxes will cover a studio apartment in New Haven, food, with a couple dollars left over. Clearly some programs offer livable stipends, and some offer very generous stipends for the area.  But programs at Columbia, Berkeley, and Harvard are not regularly offering >$40k a year.  My point is that even these high stipends are only paying for your basic expenses, so accepting a public school's $20k stipend in a HCOL area is going to require lowering your standard of living or taking out loans.

Yup, as I qualified the programs I personally have knowledge of, economics and law, might be a bit above the norm.....but I get your point.

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I have never heard of prospective grad students being able to negotiate a higher stipend, in any field. In any case, this is almost certainly not possible in Statistics. As @bayessays pointed out, the stipend is determined by the department and pretty much all students get paid the same (except for a few students who may be on a fellowship or some special scholarship, but these students do not get to negotiate amount for those either). 

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Thank you all for the insight. I have many friends who've (successfully) negotiated higher stipends (in Law, for example) - truly it does happen! However, if you say that this is not common practice in Stats, I believe it. I actually had one Stats department ask me to send them a competing offer if I had one before they finalized my package, but this is consistent with the idea that any additional fellowships/scholarships would have already been considered before the offer reached me. 

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21 hours ago, Stat PhD Now Postdoc said:

I have never heard of prospective grad students being able to negotiate a higher stipend, in any field. In any case, this is almost certainly not possible in Statistics. As @bayessays pointed out, the stipend is determined by the department and pretty much all students get paid the same (except for a few students who may be on a fellowship or some special scholarship, but these students do not get to negotiate amount for those either). 

See:http://pfforphds.com/negotiating-phd-funding-offers-this-grad-student-did-it-successfully/

Also, I have personally seen it done across peer institutions...

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1 hour ago, Boolakanaka said:

See:http://pfforphds.com/negotiating-phd-funding-offers-this-grad-student-did-it-successfully/

Also, I have personally seen it done across peer institutions...

Very interesting -- this is very useful information! I haven't personally seen it done in Statistics before (negotiating for a higher stipend), but maybe it is possible. In my own case, I and several of my cohort received fellowships that were funded by the graduate school rather than the department (and this fellowship was more money than the TAship). But I didn't specifically negotiate with the Graduate Coordinator or ask to be considered for the fellowship. The department simply nominated me for the graduate school fellowship once I had accepted their offer.

I would be interested in hearing if there are any success stories of negotiating a higher stipend from the department in Statistics. Or if it's more like, while the department(s) couldn't offer a higher stipend, the student was able to to successfully secure some fellowships that offered more money than the TAship would have.  

Edited by Stat PhD Now Postdoc
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I successfully negotiated a more generous funding package in statistics from nearly all the programs into which I was accepted.  If you have several offers, I would not hesitate to inquire about additional funding, especially if a certain program might be preferable to others if you could secure more funding.

Edited by Noulli
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I just read the post cited by @Boolakanaka, and that is pretty much exactly what I did. Once you see the various offers, you have a much broader sense of the funding landscape. As opposed to master's degrees, which often seem to treat people more fungibly, a PhD takes the form of an investment in the individual, at least from what I have observed, and it seems that many programs are quite careful in selecting the people to whom they make offers of admission and are thus amenable to some negotiation, provided it's done appropriately.

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In my ~10 years doing admissions, I've never seen a student try to negotiate a higher stipend. So, it's not commonplace, and if you haven't thought about doing it, you're not missing out.

Sometimes, if a student is really on the fence, we'll try to come up with additional money, but this almost always comes in the form of additional (lump sum) fellowship awards. Base salaries (i.e., stipend amounts) are often dictated by university regulations, and so are difficult (sometimes impossible) to change. Also, from an accounting perspective, it's much easier to budget an up-front fellowship payment than an increased salary over an indeterminate (4-6 year) time period.

Honestly, a student negotiating a stipend would rub me the wrong way. We are trying to make the most attractive offer we possibly can while juggling concerns about equity and fairness. Further, Ph.D. programs generally lose money so it's not like we're holding back on stipend amounts to boost profits. If you feel that the stipend offered by a program isn't livable, then you probably shouldn't go to that program. If it's just about trying squeeze more money out of a program, it isn't worth it.

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Perhaps the most "tactful" way of going about trying to secure more funding is to reiterate one's interest in the program but ask if it is possible for one to be considered for any additional fellowship awards. This seems non-confrontational and non-controversial enough. Plus, I would just leave it brief -- I'm not sure that listing a bunch of reasons why or discussing competing offers would be very compelling, because: a) cost of living varies so widely in different areas and because issues like rent eating up most of the stipend, needing to accommodate a partner, etc. are not unique issues faced by just one student, and b) PhD programs can probably just recruit another exceptional student who has a similar profile from their waiting list (or even fill their desired slots with the others offers they've made) if a student is going to be like, "I would like x, y, and z for me to go to your school." What's that adage? "All men are replaceable."

Edited by Stat PhD Now Postdoc
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I have heard success stories from both English dept (will not discuss here since it is far from stats), and stats dept. Fortunately, I know a friend from where I get accepted into, and he had a success story there. He was trying to make decisions between one place with higher stipend, lower living cost, and the other place with lower stipend, higher living cost (the dept he negotiated). He was having a hard time deciding and he was told by his undergrad stats prof (also research adviser) to negotiate. He simply emailed the admission chair about the situation and got some additional fellowship on top of that. 

The story is pretty recent, from about two years ago. I will not mention the dept name here but it is definitely doable in this case. Since I am on the same boat as he was two years ago, so it is probably doable for me as well (dept admission chair is still the same person). 

This is just an example of success, but I don't know what if you fail. If that dept is the dept that you finally decide to go to, I would not risk upsetting the chair/professors by annoyingly begging for some more money. I think maybe just being super polite and straight to the point in your email would help. 

 

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