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Can getting external funding for fees increase my RA/TA stipend ?


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If I have an RA/TA offer that pays / provides a remission of all fees + provides a small stipend, and I apply for an external funding / scholarship that only agrees to pay some of my fees - are schools usually open to then correspondingly (or at least in part) increasing the stipend amount or is this not normal practice ?

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It really depends on the school/department. At my current department, every student is paid exactly the same stipend. If you have any external money, then the internal sources are decreased so that you end up with the same overall amount. The only way to get a larger overall stipend is to get an external award that pays ALL of your tuition, fees, and a stipend greater than the department's stipend amount.


Some other departments that I had visited/talked to said vague things about potentially increasing your stipend if you bring in external money. But all they could really promise is that you won't get LESS than what you would have got without any award. Some schools also have stipend caps as well.


The way my school put it in perspective to me is that the actual cost of a graduate student to the department/university is much larger than the amount we see on our stipend cheques. There are a lot of fees/overhead that we don't see. I think the real cost of a grad student is somewhere between 3 to 4 times our stipends, depending on our international/domestic status and the school's overhead fees. There are also overheads in the grants that the profs have to get in order to pay for grad students. So an award that is even as high as $20,000 to $30,000 per year does not necessarily make a sizeable impact in the overall cost of a grad student (which I estimate, at my school, to be about $100,000 per year). 


It's worth it to ask though! At any rate, most schools expect you to tell them about any external award, so you can just ask about how this may or may not change your stipend when you let them know about your award.

Edited by TakeruK
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In many schools the tuition and fees portion of your award isn't "real" money in that the department just gets a chunk of money from the university to use for that purpose, then uses it to "pay" the tuition and fees. So, at least in the two programs I've been in, getting an award for that doesn't lead to taking home more money.

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I think if the "opportunity cost" of an award is low (probably true since you probably have all these essays and stuff from PhD applications), you should apply to everything you're qualified for. Even if it doesn't represent a real increase in your own stipend, it still saves money somewhere! I'm not saying that you should be altruistic either, if your department saves money on you, it's in your own best interest! Here are some advantages:


1. Prestige of the award -- if it's a big name award, it will look good on a CV. Winning awards also helps you win more awards in the future (e.g. post-doc fellowships?). In addition, if you intend to stay in academia, a large part of your success will be your ability to write funding applications and succeed in getting them. If you have a proven history of securing funding, you will be much more attractive to people looking to hire junior faculty members or post-docs. You might even want to work for a "soft-money" institution in the future too.


2. Less cost to your advisor = more freedom. If your tuition/fees would have come out of your advisor's grant but now you have your own external funding, this can save your advisor a lot of money. In a program where you might not get matched up right away, this could help convince a prof to take you on as a student, since it will cost them a good deal less money. In addition, you might be able to have the freedom to pursue your own side-projects with other faculty members at your school or even elsewhere. 


3. Less cost to your advisor/department = more benefits. Again, if you picked  a good advisor/department, it's likely that the money saved by your advisor will go back to you in some way. Maybe they can buy you a nicer desk/computer/chair. Maybe they can use that money to buy out your TA requirements and you'll have more time to do research. Maybe they will be able to send you on more conferences, or you might not have to share rooms with as many people etc. Travel is expensive! So far, my total travel expenses in the last 2.5 years of grad school have totaled over $5000. If you are really lucky, you might even be able to negotiate your advisor to set aside some money in a "research fund" for you to use at your discretion. Maybe this is more likely if you get a large sum of external money when you're a proven researcher though, instead of just starting out.


Personally, I would probably spend the time to apply to any award that is worth at least $10,000. But what is an acceptable "opportunity cost" for you could be different.

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