This page is not always IExplorer friendly - Consider giving Mozilla Firefox a try...

On getting robbed by my department – PhD blowout

February 17, 2012

Yesterday I heard from a colleague that all the money on my PhD project account (ca. 10 000 USD) had been withdrawn. I sent an e-mail to my supervisor and was told that “Yeah, it’s true. That’s the way things are now. “Old” projects are drained to pay for overhead.” Overhead?!! I do not use any of the F***** University facilities and I am not employed there anymore! Can anyone explain how this is right, because I sure as hell do not understand it!? 

(Read about overhead costs here)

Ok, I’ll write through this in a hurry and leave moderations for later. I am just so very very angry right now, and the few reactions I’ve gotten from other PhD students leaves me to believe that I’m not alone in this mess. 

What’s happened: 

A while back I applied for a personal grant from a fund that supports young scientists studying Arctic marine botany. I spent some time doing research and developing a solid plan for both field and laboratory work. My application was approved and I was granted 60.000 NOK (close to 10 500 USD). YAY!!

I was out of the country when I received the message, and my supervisor handled the communication with our department at the University. My supervisor and the head of the economics office discussed whether the grant should be placed at my personal account or at our project account at the University. They arrived at the conclusion that the personal account was best avoided, largely because of personal taxes. Fuelling the account at the University and spending some on salary would mean that a certain amount had do be paid to the Biology department (30% I think?) as “overhead”, but it would still leave more money than if I had to pay taxes. And, it would be easier to use the money on the facilities at the University… So far so good.

Now, we had a hard time with field and mesocosm studies going out of wack (- which sometimes, well, it just happens…), and trying to do most of the labour myself got really hard. I asked my supervisor if we could spend some of our project money to hire some students to help out with the routine work but was told that “we would be better off saving it”.

Shortly after I got sick – go figure, and was on leave for three months. In addition to that, the problems on our project grew, leading to a serious delay. In short, I was scheduled to finish my PhD about a year ago, but I’m still pounding a way…

Had we spent the money on labour OR had I put the fund money into my personal account one year ago there would have been nothing left to drain… I can’t help but feel like PhD students are getting screwed by their own departments. From my point of view it looks pretty damn ugly.

I’m currently employed at a national research institute, where I am luckily able to continue my work at least some of the time. Not everybody has got that opportunity!

As I said – I wrote this in a rant and will probably do a couple of follow-ups as I learn more of what this mess is really all about.