stipends changing

July 19, 2007 at 9:07 am | | grad life, stipends, teaching

Charles has been posting his calculations about graduate student pay partially because he is moving and partially because our department has recently had a clandestine change in the pay policy for teaching assistants (TAs).

From the plots below, you can see that, over the last few years, while a TA position pays more or the same one year to the next, the pay increase above the base research assistant (RA) stipend has been decreasing. (HTA and ATA are two different types of non-first-year grad student TAs.)

stipends_real.JPG stipends_ratio.JPG

The real reason for this is that, in 2007-2008, graduate student TAs will now be paid less by their PIs during the quarter they are teaching. And, because our Department Chair went to bat for the students to the University, TAs will be paid above the minimum rate.

It actually makes sense that a PI shouldn’t have to pay his teaching students as much, and that the department should pick up the tab. But that’s not the way Stanford Department of Chemistry has done it in the past. I suspect we’re now in line with how most other schools pay TAs.

Motivated by unhappy granting agencies and an auditing University administration, the faculty decided to fix the students-being-paid-more-than-100% issue by, effectively, paying TAs less.

Frustrated grad students have been reacting to rumors of this happening for the last few months, and then it sorta happened while our back was turned.

Personally, I think it makes sense that a PI not pay a student full-time while he or she is TAing (on top of paying the student’s full tuition and overhead on the stipend)—I don’t want my PI spending more time working on grants. And students should TA for the sake of TAing, not for the extra pay itself. But it’s alway too bad when the University, the Department, and the Faculty make decisions that negatively affect student without even warning them of the impending change, or without explaining the reasons for what feels like a pay cut.


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  1. But the thing is really that our PIs do not pay us fulltime. If we were 100% RA appointments, I would agree that they should pay us less. We have only 50% RA appointments. Our other 50% is supposed to be “student” which is complete ridiculous as we take nothing more than fictitious classes all year long (even the 6 they make us are take are for the most part a joke). If the granting agencies want justice, they should stop paying tuition to the University.

    In engineering, they are given 100% RA appointments in the summer and many leave to do a lucrative internship. You could of course argue well they have to pay tuition while they do their masters. Which while true a good summer internship could come close to covering a years tuition (basing this off my engineering friends who had good internships). So they could minimize the debt they leave with should they choose to do it.

    Comment by Griffin — July 19, 2007 #

  2. Many pH.D. engineers at Stanford don’t do a master’s at all, so they pay squat – they are fully funded all 5 years.

    Comment by charles — July 19, 2007 #

  3. I hate the argument that the poor PIs have it tough, btw. You can’t change a policy overnight without explanation AND actively trying to hide it without pissing a lot of people off.

    The PI’s job is to fund his lab. I want my PI to work as much on grants as necessary to fund his lab. If he can’t afford to fund his lab, the solution is not making his grad students take a paycut. It is to hire fewer grad students.

    Comment by charles — July 19, 2007 #

  4. actually, the courses we sign up for are not classes, but education from our PI and lab. so effectively, the PIs pay our tuition that goes toward their teaching/mentoring us.
    that said, they shouldn’t have to pay the university tuition. but it takes a TON of money to run a chemistry department, so unless you can think of another funding source, i doubt much will change in the near future.

    Comment by sam — July 19, 2007 #

  5. Sam,

    you shouldn’t conflate the costs of “running a chemistry department” with the cost of your tuition.

    The chemistry department is partially run from overhead on everything you buy and the overhead is high.* The university structure mostly lives from returns on investments of their endowement. Undergrads do not cover more than ~50% of their total cost to the university. Professors are generally paid on a 9 month schedule (argument is when they dont teach in the summer they dont get paid directly by the school). The last 3 months they get from their grants.

    * As a side note, you guys may not know that Stanford’s overhead used to be much much higher in the 80s. Then there were some scandals about how that money was being used and the engineering faculty led a revolt against the university administration that successfully reduced the overhead. Naturally other ways had to be invented by the university to siphon a chunk of the grant money from the PIs. I think that this is when they began to charge the PI for 50% of our “tuition.”

    Comment by ilya — July 19, 2007 #

  6. my point is only that the university isn’t going to be jumping to send more money towards the department.

    Comment by sam — July 19, 2007 #

  7. Ilya is right. Most of the funding comes from overhead which sits around 60%. Everything we buy and out stipends have 60% added which goes to the university (except capital equipment and fabs).

    Comment by Griffin — July 19, 2007 #

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