Friday, October 29, 2010

26. Some graduate students are more equal than others.

If the salary list in Reason 23 hasn’t already convinced you that there is nothing egalitarian about universities, you should be aware that the situation within graduate programs is no different. Resources are limited, so when departments dole out fellowships, assistantships, and other funding to graduate students, some students receive more than others. When recruiting, departments offer multi-year funding packages to the students whom they would most like to bring to campus. In some cases, this is essentially a promise to provide support to students from the moment that they arrive on campus until the day that they graduate. Other students are offered less, such as funding for the first year with no guarantee of further support. These awards commonly come with an assurance that “most students” continue to receive funding for two, three, or four years (see Reason 17).

Then there are the students who are admitted to graduate programs and offered no funding at all. If they decide to begin the program, they will be expected to pay full tuition and fees, and somehow support themselves as well. Again, in these cases there may be a “promise” of future funding, but even making it through one year of graduate school without funding is a heavy financial burden. Those without assistantships (as onerous as they can be) are also frozen out of the teaching opportunities that are so important on academic resumes. Students in the same program, sitting in the same classes, and on their way to receiving identical degrees can have wildly different levels of financial support from their department. Consider the effect that this has on morale.


  1. Not to mention the inequality within fellowships. NSERC has awards that range from $52,000 per year for two years all the way down to $21,000.

    But if you're a student without a fellowship - you're royally screwed. Because you will have to spend more time doing things that are unlikely to get you manuscripts, like TAing or working in the campus bar. This initial disadvantage results in a cumulative disadvantage both at the postdoctoral level and when competing for jobs.

    Academia wears a mask of truth and fairness, but the system breeds inequity.

  2. I don't belong to Anglo-American academia, but I see what you write here & in the other posts is in common with situations in many universities all over the world.

    However, grad schools, I think, have become more egalitarian in a sense: they are now like any other cooperations, investing in those who are bright and useful for the future of the organizations.

    Academic professions in arts used to be gentlemen's jobs, kind of aristocratic. Many sons of wealthy families, if not suited for law, business or medicine temperamentally, go to Oxbridge or Ivy League colleges via public schools in UK or expensive private schools in US, using the money of their rich fathers. They could afford to go through long years of grad school and wait for a teaching job to come around. People respected them partly because of their scholarship, but also partly because of their gentlemanly pedigree.

    Nowadays, if you are really really bright and motivated, you can get grants and assistantship; you can go to Harvard or Oxford even if you are poor. Also think about bright women in the past who did not get any help simply because they were not men. For them, the present academia may be a better place than it use to be.

    The cold fact is that the present academia is very close to any corporation or public body. People earning wages or being awarded grants in the humanities departments must continuously justify their worth in the university and in the society outside. On the other hand, everyone in universities, from deans to a secretaries, is entitled to demand fairness and equality found in a commercial companies or city halls according to how useful he or she is to the organization. A kind of equality, I suppose.

    1. I went to grad school in engineering, and I'm here to tell you, it wasn't a meritocracy by any stretch of the imagination - it was a politically correct racialist festival, where rules applied to some and not to others.

  3. Ah, the myth of meritocracy. Given how long it hasn't worked, it amazes me that people still believe it.

    As Sallust once said, Fortune rules in every human affair; but as Machiavelli said, a little under 50% or our fortune is our own to direct. If you're not already one of the chosen few, you sell yourself and that's all there is to it -- you still may not find success, mind you, but at least you're not wasting your energy arguing about an unattainable ideal.

  4. At AU all phds get the exact same fellowship from the university--4 years, tuition and about 20,000 a year, half stipend and half assistantship--and they let you keep it even if you get additional outside funding. We forget how lucky we are sometimes...

  5. I was expecting someone to complain bitterly about affirmative action, Title IX, quotas, subsequent grade inflation; women's, black, etc. studies; queer theory; and all the other assorted worthless mishmash of muticulturalism that has engendered so much of what this blog appears to be about. I keep looking but find only vague innuendo or doubling down. Heap big taboo I guess.

  6. ^^^^^ Ummmm, WTF?

  7. Very many good departments offer the exact same funding to students across the board. I know that it doesn't work this way everywhere, but I really wish people would stop making such blanket statements that potential grad students have no clue that there is something better to look for. There is never a reason to have to come out of pocket for grad school in the social sciences other than maybe if one is aiming to attend a Top 5 school; in EVERY discipline, departments exist that offer full tuition and stipend, so it is up to grad students to apply to those departments or expect nothing more than what this blog claims is the norm. The takeaway point should not be "Don't go to grad school!", but rather, "Don't make stupid decisions about where to go to grad school!"

  8. Trying to find funding is like being a street corner dame waiting for the John. You better be physical or mental eye candy. You're delusional if you believe there is no favoritism. Wanna get paid more than your peers? Pretend you know more than everyone else or just grow a pair and demand better funding.

  9. After pushing through a PhD and now working in business what really surprises me is that we would expect or want things to be equal. I was a "lucky" one who got a nice NSERC in my PhD and a CGS SSHRC in my Masters but it wasn't because I won the lottery. I had better marks than my peers, I published more papers than my peers, I wrote better research proposals than my peers, I networked better than my peers and was given stipeneds for all sorts of conferences. I was "taxed" by my department for winning these awards which was fine as there is a finite amount of money. But who complains you don't get paid for what you publish then says that not everything is equal when it comes to funding? Do you want to get paid for what you publish and how well you do your work or do you want everything to be equal? Surely we can only complain on one of the two at the same time. Lets all pretend that academics is at least in a small bit like the real world where potential and work quality and quantity should bare some weight when we discuss compensation. If we want to completely ignore the outside world than we should be surprised or complain when people say "you're still in school" because we're obviously doing it to shelter ourselves from the outside world

  10. A somewhat unique spin on this - I was going after a degree in chemistry and was joining a group the same time someone with a Master's was doing the same. The professor gave us different projects and you could just tell he was treated differently. Started getting RA's instead of TA's and it simply went from there. I liked the guy too, great colleague, just shows you how some are more equal that others.

  11. What if the "more equal" students are falsifying their research?
    What if the "more equal" students have falsified their CVs?
    What if the "more equal" students are simply displacing more honest colleagues?