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Negotiating Offers, Stipends, Etc


SleeplessInSomewhere
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Hello everyone. I received an acceptance letter into a Sociology PhD program, hopefully the first of more than one.

I've heard of people saying that those who secure more than one offer can leverage that to negotiate more funding. I'd really appreciate any insight anyone has to share on that. How do we negotiate? What is considered a reasonable stipend, and what's the average for Sociology doctoral students? How much of an increase is reasonable to ask for? Do we mention how much money other schools are offering us to incentivise them? I know that graduate students are far from wealthy, but it would still be good to try and maximize our chances of having liveable wages.

That, and also what about summer months funding? Is it generally the norm that most programs don't fund you for the summer? When you're not funded for the summer (at least in the initial offer) what are the options usually available?

Is it generally preferable for us to try and seek a fellowship as opposed to an assistantship?

I'd especially love to hear from current PhD students in Sociology programs who have negotiated/attempted to negotiate their offers when they were first admitted.

Thanks!

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Congrats on your first admit!!

I am not a current student but want to share what I've heard from the programs I researched this cycle. Summer funding definitely seems to be less common, and external fellowships or internships are valued because they don't cost the school anything and they bring some additional prestige to the program. Assistantships may be an option over the summer, even in other departments if there are faculty working on relevant projects/teaching relevant classes. I do think a lot of this is program-specific and something to ask faculty and current students about. If summer funding isn't guaranteed, what is the track record of students getting external funding? What kind of support is there for students to identify opportunities and put together applications?

Have you looked at http://www.phdstipends.com/results? There might be entries from the programs you applied to, or you can at least see the range of stipends reported to get a sense of what's reasonable. Stipends for programs in a very high cost of living coastal city that I know of range from ~$22-26K for 9 months but vary in availability of summer funding. The "service" expectation of students during the program varies widely, too. 

As far as negotiating, the advice I've seen is to 1) be honest (don't inflate offers, etc.), 2) be prepared for "no," and 3) craft an ask that is along the lines of, "[This program] is my top choice, and I was also offered admission to my [other program] with $X funding. Would [top choice program] be able to match that?" But... I have no idea if this is good advice, I hope someone with experience will weigh in!

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Absolutely negotiate. But wait until a bit later once you have all your offers in hand, as your best leverage will be other offers. I negotiated ~$33k extra money in total over the initial offer (so a touch over $5k/year), plus three fellowship quarters (a.k.a. three quarters with no teaching). My program is very open about negotiations being acceptable, so keep that in mind.

First, "reasonable" is relative. The cost of living at my program is ridiculous. If the program is in the Bay Area, LA/Orange County, NYC, or Boston, you will need more money to live off of than if you go to OSU just for rent. The $19k (roughly) stipend I was offered at OSU was plenty to live off of; the $22k stipend I was offered at UCI was not. Research the cost of housing in the area so you know how much more you need in order to survive. I knew I needed roughly $2k extra per year in order to make it through the program given various medical expenses and the like, so that was my baseline. However, I also know that you don't want to start with your minimum — figure out something reasonable you can ask for that's a bit above what you'll settle for. So here's what happened:

  1. I had two extra offers to use to negotiate, both in programs in other related fields. I only wanted to negotiate with my top choice program, because if they give you what you ask for, you better commit. It doesn't look good to have them give you what you want and then turn down the offer.
  2. I kept my program informed about competing offers after getting in, including sending them the actual offer letters. I did this because they asked. If your program doesn't ask, I'd send the letters in a negotiation email later.
  3. When I knew I wanted my program, I sent a very nicely worded email discussing that I really wanted to attend the program, but had some concerns about the cost of living. I also brought up that in order to advance my research, I was concerned about having to teach every quarter. (Both of my other offers came with at least a semester of fellowship, one of them with two full years.) I asked for a year of fellowship quarters, including at least one of them in my first quarter at the school so I had time to adjust. I also asked for a $4k stipend top-off a year (or summer funding — I said I didn't care how it was labeled, as long as it didn't come with additional work).
  4. The school countered with the fellowship quarters I asked for and a $5k one-time stipend top-off.
  5. I sent a follow up thanking them and telling them I'd have to consider my options and whether or not that amount was doable. Then I waited. As you get closer to decision deadlines, programs get more desperate to have you.
  6. Two days before the final deadline, I followed up to ask if anything changed. They said they'd look into it. They countered with another $8k distributed over 2 years, bringing the offer to $13k total. I said thank you, and I'd see if that worked and hoped I'd be able to attend.
  7. The next get I got offered an additional $20k from the grad division. Who knows how that happened. Either way, before they took it back, I accepted the offer.

So in summary, be super nice, explain that you really want to go, and gently mention something like cost of living that will be difficult. I also recommend asking for fellowship quarters if they aren't a default in your offer.

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21 hours ago, lkaitlyn said:

This is incredibly helpful, thank you SO much, and I hope you're happy with your graduate program so far!

 

Absolutely negotiate. But wait until a bit later once you have all your offers in hand, as your best leverage will be other offers. I negotiated ~$33k extra money in total over the initial offer (so a touch over $5k/year), plus three fellowship quarters (a.k.a. three quarters with no teaching). My program is very open about negotiations being acceptable, so keep that in mind.

First, "reasonable" is relative. The cost of living at my program is ridiculous. If the program is in the Bay Area, LA/Orange County, NYC, or Boston, you will need more money to live off of than if you go to OSU just for rent. The $19k (roughly) stipend I was offered at OSU was plenty to live off of; the $22k stipend I was offered at UCI was not. Research the cost of housing in the area so you know how much more you need in order to survive. I knew I needed roughly $2k extra per year in order to make it through the program given various medical expenses and the like, so that was my baseline. However, I also know that you don't want to start with your minimum — figure out something reasonable you can ask for that's a bit above what you'll settle for. So here's what happened:

  1. I had two extra offers to use to negotiate, both in programs in other related fields. I only wanted to negotiate with my top choice program, because if they give you what you ask for, you better commit. It doesn't look good to have them give you what you want and then turn down the offer.
  2. I kept my program informed about competing offers after getting in, including sending them the actual offer letters. I did this because they asked. If your program doesn't ask, I'd send the letters in a negotiation email later.
  3. When I knew I wanted my program, I sent a very nicely worded email discussing that I really wanted to attend the program, but had some concerns about the cost of living. I also brought up that in order to advance my research, I was concerned about having to teach every quarter. (Both of my other offers came with at least a semester of fellowship, one of them with two full years.) I asked for a year of fellowship quarters, including at least one of them in my first quarter at the school so I had time to adjust. I also asked for a $4k stipend top-off a year (or summer funding — I said I didn't care how it was labeled, as long as it didn't come with additional work).
  4. The school countered with the fellowship quarters I asked for and a $5k one-time stipend top-off.
  5. I sent a follow up thanking them and telling them I'd have to consider my options and whether or not that amount was doable. Then I waited. As you get closer to decision deadlines, programs get more desperate to have you.
  6. Two days before the final deadline, I followed up to ask if anything changed. They said they'd look into it. They countered with another $8k distributed over 2 years, bringing the offer to $13k total. I said thank you, and I'd see if that worked and hoped I'd be able to attend.
  7. The next get I got offered an additional $20k from the grad division. Who knows how that happened. Either way, before they took it back, I accepted the offer.

So in summary, be super nice, explain that you really want to go, and gently mention something like cost of living that will be difficult. I also recommend asking for fellowship quarters if they aren't a default in your offer.

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58 minutes ago, SleeplessInSomewhere said:
22 hours ago, lkaitlyn said:

This is incredibly helpful, thank you SO much, and I hope you're happy with your graduate program so far!

 
  •  

Absolutely negotiate. But wait until a bit later once you have all your offers in hand, as your best leverage will be other offers. I negotiated ~$33k extra money in total over the initial offer (so a touch over $5k/year), plus three fellowship quarters (a.k.a. three quarters with no teaching). My program is very open about negotiations being acceptable, so keep that in mind.

First, "reasonable" is relative. The cost of living at my program is ridiculous. If the program is in the Bay Area, LA/Orange County, NYC, or Boston, you will need more money to live off of than if you go to OSU just for rent. The $19k (roughly) stipend I was offered at OSU was plenty to live off of; the $22k stipend I was offered at UCI was not. Research the cost of housing in the area so you know how much more you need in order to survive. I knew I needed roughly $2k extra per year in order to make it through the program given various medical expenses and the like, so that was my baseline. However, I also know that you don't want to start with your minimum — figure out something reasonable you can ask for that's a bit above what you'll settle for. So here's what happened:

  1. I had two extra offers to use to negotiate, both in programs in other related fields. I only wanted to negotiate with my top choice program, because if they give you what you ask for, you better commit. It doesn't look good to have them give you what you want and then turn down the offer.
  2. I kept my program informed about competing offers after getting in, including sending them the actual offer letters. I did this because they asked. If your program doesn't ask, I'd send the letters in a negotiation email later.
  3. When I knew I wanted my program, I sent a very nicely worded email discussing that I really wanted to attend the program, but had some concerns about the cost of living. I also brought up that in order to advance my research, I was concerned about having to teach every quarter. (Both of my other offers came with at least a semester of fellowship, one of them with two full years.) I asked for a year of fellowship quarters, including at least one of them in my first quarter at the school so I had time to adjust. I also asked for a $4k stipend top-off a year (or summer funding — I said I didn't care how it was labeled, as long as it didn't come with additional work).
  4. The school countered with the fellowship quarters I asked for and a $5k one-time stipend top-off.
  5. I sent a follow up thanking them and telling them I'd have to consider my options and whether or not that amount was doable. Then I waited. As you get closer to decision deadlines, programs get more desperate to have you.
  6. Two days before the final deadline, I followed up to ask if anything changed. They said they'd look into it. They countered with another $8k distributed over 2 years, bringing the offer to $13k total. I said thank you, and I'd see if that worked and hoped I'd be able to attend.
  7. The next get I got offered an additional $20k from the grad division. Who knows how that happened. Either way, before they took it back, I accepted the offer.

So in summary, be super nice, explain that you really want to go, and gently mention something like cost of living that will be difficult. I also recommend asking for fellowship quarters if they aren't a default in your offer.

Expand  

Glad it helped! Note that I was pretty lucky in how things worked out. Especially during COVID budget cuts, I'd imagine fellowship funding will be more scarce at different schools, including my own. But definitely at least try! There's no harm in asking for things, especially fellowship quarters, which are much easier for the school to give you with decreased undergraduate enrollment.

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The woman who made the phdstipends website also has a podcast called personal finance for PhDs. She also is on an episode of Hello PhD podcast talking about how to negotiate, and what to look for in your offer letter- e.g. summer funding, teaching time, how fees get taken out of your stipend... v helpful.

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On 1/15/2021 at 6:53 AM, cec2021 said:

The woman who made the phdstipends website also has a podcast called personal finance for PhDs. She also is on an episode of Hello PhD podcast talking about how to negotiate, and what to look for in your offer letter- e.g. summer funding, teaching time, how fees get taken out of your stipend... v helpful.

Ahh thank you!! Just followed her podcast on Google podcasts 😍👍🏼

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey y'all. Now that I have received 2 offers, I am ready to turn my attention to this thread. I am a little anxious because I have not gotten the funding offers from either school yet. I know the what will be my second choice school's offer because of a zoom call with a faculty member after acceptance. For my first choice school the professor I was in contact with before applying has contacted me to say that I will receive an RAship in my offer. I am thrilled about the RAship, but still worried about funding from that program. The standard funding is lower than my #2 school and the cost of living is much higher. I'm trying to take ikaitlyn's advice and be patient. My recommender/current professor advised me to make a spreadsheet with every part of the offers- stipend, work expectations, health insurance, fees etc. 

It has been a little over a week since admission to the first school that I heard from. Do y'all think it would be appropriate to follow up with the graduate coordinator about the official offer and dates for the virtual visit weekend on Monday? 

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8 hours ago, cec2021 said:

Hey y'all. Now that I have received 2 offers, I am ready to turn my attention to this thread. I am a little anxious because I have not gotten the funding offers from either school yet. I know the what will be my second choice school's offer because of a zoom call with a faculty member after acceptance. For my first choice school the professor I was in contact with before applying has contacted me to say that I will receive an RAship in my offer. I am thrilled about the RAship, but still worried about funding from that program. The standard funding is lower than my #2 school and the cost of living is much higher. I'm trying to take ikaitlyn's advice and be patient. My recommender/current professor advised me to make a spreadsheet with every part of the offers- stipend, work expectations, health insurance, fees etc. 

It has been a little over a week since admission to the first school that I heard from. Do y'all think it would be appropriate to follow up with the graduate coordinator about the official offer and dates for the virtual visit weekend on Monday? 

It's always reasonable to ask, but it took over a month for me to get my funding package after I was notified of acceptance (last year). I think they were waiting to hear back about fellowships I was eligible for. You're not going to get off on the wrong foot with anyone by asking politely, though. And congrats!

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