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Fellowship forces you to quit your job?


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So I have a question-- I just got the official letter that I was accepted to a PhD with funding. The letter also says that so long as I am under my fellowship (five years) I am forbidden from holding employment within or outside of the university. I have two MA degrees, and at both of these schools, theoretically MA students aren't allowed to work more than 20 hours a week. I do work that much, and no one has ever checked up on it, and my advisers know. So I have had experience with work restrictions, but never have had one mentioned in an acceptance letter before. 

 

So is this "forbidden" thing a technicality, or is this phd program serious? And once I hear back from all the schools I applied to and might need to make a decision between this university and another school, should I outright ask my adviser about the issue? It could be something that sways my decision, as this school and others were fairly level on my list.

 

It's not like I want to waitress or something...I have a really good job at another local university that I could keep because the two locations are really closeby. I have had this position during the course of my two MA degrees, and it's sort of remotely related to my research. I'm not looking to work 30 hours a week, because this is a big commitment, but is there any harm in me working like 10-15? I know I can handle it.

 

I'm scared if I ask my future adviser about it and he catches wind of me wanting to keep the job, it will eliminate any chance of me working on the downlow. I'm pretty sure that some students in the department do have outside jobs. I've met them before, but I don't know the status of their funding.

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So is this "forbidden" thing a technicality, or is this phd program serious? And once I hear back from all the schools I applied to and might need to make a decision between this university and another school, should I outright ask my adviser about the issue? It could be something that sways my decision, as this school and others were fairly level on my list.

This is a requirement based on federal law and the employment status of grad students. Support that originates in public funds has certain strings attached. One of the caveats is that you are expected to be working on the projects funded by taxpayer money, not a) not "stealing" time/support by working on the side (obviously I disagree with the premise, hence the quotation marks) or b ) being taken advantage of by your university and forced to work multiple TA/RA jobs. This is going to be common across all grad programs where the funding originates from public funds. The way to get around this is if your money comes from a private organization or your university's endowment, but in either case they may (and often do) still write up a contract that specifies the same thing. So not that I've ever seen consequences more severe than being forced to quit a job or get booted from a program, but you are entering a legal contract when you accept funding, and are assumed to be abiding by the terms of contract. Additionally, if you are audited while receiving fellowship aid and working a second job, you could find yourself barred from using educational tax credits that you would otherwise have been eligible for. The way I normally see people get around this is to only work off the books, with no 1099 or W-2, but this is technically against employment law. I'm not saying you cant do it and get away with it (many do), but you should consider whether you feel ethically OK with this scenario.

Edited by Usmivka
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Doing a PhD will almost certainly be a more intensive experience than your previous MAs, so I'd question the wisdom of doing an additional job on the sly. At best it would hamper your research productivity. 

Hiding the job from your advisors and the rest of the Department for 5 years would tough, too. People would surely notice that if you were untraceable at set points during the working week. 

 

Without knowing the specifics of the fellowship I can't really comment on how serious the "don't work rule" is. If the fellowship gives you enough money to live on then I wouldn't bother with the second job. 

 

If you are set on working as well, perhaps take a year off from your second job while you settle into the PhD program and concentrate on the research... 

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So the only usual exception I've seen is for jobs that are contributing/related to your research.

 

And since you're working at a local university, depending on what you do there, that might be allowed.

 

Usually, you would need to get permission from whoever oversees the fellowship at your university to hold said external job, and they have to deem it worthwhile.

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I agree that you should expect this clause everywhere from every grad school for the reasons that Usmivka said. If you have a fellowship (if it's a "real" fellowship, instead of just standard internal funding with a fancy name) then you probably do not need the extra money in order to make ends meet. So if you are well funded, it is probably much less stressful on your life to not have to worry about working 10-15 hours per week (and hiding it too) on top of the large amount of hours required in most PhD programs.

 

But it sounds like you might want to keep this job for academic reasons? If so, I think it's probably a good idea to talk about this with the department. I think if you really want the job, maybe you can negotiate some compromise. For example, maybe you can "decline" the fellowship (in some way that allows you to keep the prestige) and/or reduce the amount of funding provided by your grad school in exchange for working the other job. If it's a teaching job, maybe you can get them to waive your TA requirement (and remove whatever funding comes with it) so that you teach at the other University instead. If it's a research job and you're in a field where students normally RA for someone other than their thesis advisor to get funding, maybe you can replace your RA with the other job instead. I'm just saying suggestions that come to mind but whether or not any of it is viable depends on the funding structure of your program. The only way to do this properly is to talk to the department. This is assuming that you want to keep everything on the books. And I think you should keep it on the books if your main goal for the keeping the job is academic reasons -- you would want to be able to talk about your experience in your CV, when applying to other jobs later on etc.

 

Personally, I wouldn't think it's worth it to work on a side if I'm in an adequately funded PhD program but I do think that "no outside work" rules/laws should instead stipulate a minimum amount of hours you're required to spend on school stuff and leave the remaining hours to do as you see fit. So personally, I wouldn't think it's unethical if someone worked purely outside of their normal PhD working hours (e.g. teaching a night class at a community college) even if the rules/laws say otherwise. The exceptions I can think of are extra fellowships that don't make up your normal funding package and you chose to apply for/accept (e.g. NSF-like grants) and rules that prevent outside work due to a conflict of interest. That said, while it might not be unethical, in my own opinion only, for someone in your shoes to take an outside job, I also don't think it's wise / worth all the energy and effort.

 

If you really want to earn a little bit of extra cash (I know that some "fellowship" level funding might be pretty low) then I think the easiest way to earn extra money as a grad student "off the books" is private tutoring! It probably pays more, per hour, than most side jobs that one can find and you can set your own hours. 

Edited by TakeruK
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Thanks!

 

Some clarifications-- the job is a computer-based researched position that I have worked my way up in, since originally attending the university for my first MA. My funding package stipulated "at least $20,000 for 5 years", the first year service free, and the four years after that could be service related or not. This is what the funding is (from the letter):

 

 

During your first year, the fellowship will be in the form of a Dean's fellowship during the 8-month academic year. In subsequent
years, your fellowship may be a teaching fellowship, a doctoral research assistantship, a dissertation fellowship or a
combination of these fellowship options.
 
It also said if I got more funding (ie NSF) I should tell them.
 
I would like to keep the job because 1) I enjoy it 2) I am in charge of a long term project that I care about 3) extra money wouldn't be bad and 4) the research is related to my eventual dissertation work (I know I am being vague, doing so on purpose). I can't work under the table because the position is through a university. I also have an adjunct position teaching at another school, but I am ok with giving that up, so obviously I am not trying to maintain a full work schedule while in school. I just really care about the job and would hate to give it up without trying (but I obviously will give it up if I need to).
 
So, I am getting the impression that if I hide the job I could get in huge trouble-- especially since they clearly said not to outright in the letter. Next question: how do I approach asking to keep the job? Do I ask the dean or the department? My future adviser is the director of graduate studies. Or should I talk to other students in the program, first?
 
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Yeah, I would just be totally open about it and stress what you said: " I am in charge of a long term project that I care about" etc.  I had a similar issue at my university where up until 2010 all people on Assistantships or Fellowships were mandated to get a letter/waiver signed by their Dept saying that they could work, etc - - - if your Dept didn't feel like giving it to you (which they actually wouldn't in some cases), then your Dept could, by withholding the letter, stop you from working outside.

 

Now, I'll agree there are very good reasons not to work outside of your assistanship/fellowship contact, but you're right - - - somethings are not a big deal in terms of time and if you are good at time management you can handle it.

 

My Dept (unlike 99% of others, from what I heard) was super strict about this and didn't want anyone working outside the assistantships/fellowships.  But, it turns out University rules changed and those on assistantships (but not fellowships) no longer needed their Dept's permission to work outside the Dept after 2010.  When my Dept originally heard this, they weren't too keen but realized that they had to follow the rules.  Has the earth imploded, has the sky turned black, have locusts taken over the world since some of us started working outside (to supplement a not-so-high assistanship)?  No.  And I'm glad the Dept saw that.

 

So, in summary - - just be 100% transparent and honest and work through whatever you need to do.  You'll get there one way or another.

 

Hope this helps........

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Hmmm - I might talk with some current students too to see whether this a policy that dept/school is serious about and enforces.  It seems like it would be because they mention it in the offer letter but you never know.

 

In my program, people do work part-time jobs on top of their assistantships, but it is not the level of hours that you are thinking about (usually less than 10 hrs) and often our faculty send us part-time opportunities that they think will be a good fit for us based on methodological skills or research interests.  I don't think everyone works another job, but a majority of the PhD students in my program do it at some point.  Granted I'm in higher ed, so being at a university and having certain skills, you get a lot of requests to do paid, side projects that are really relevant to what we are studying.  Many students also come in to the PhD program having worked in the field for several years so they have external connections who are offering them paid, part-time work as well. 

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Can I assume that since my funding offer did not mention this, it's OK for my to keep working part time at my current job?  I searched the website and re-read my offer letter after I saw this post, and I didn't see anything about this. 

 

For reference, I am planning on attending UMN this fall (PhD), but the stipend is not even half of what I make now, so I'd like to keep working a little on the side if at all possible, but now I'm almost afraid to ask.  If anyone has received a fellowship from UMN and held simultaneous external employment, I'd be interested in hearing about that.

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Sadie_Bea, you should also check the rules and regulations at both the School of Graduate Studies (or whatever it's called at UMN) as well as your Department. The offer letter isn't the only thing that you're bound to while a student/employee at a school. 

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