Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The ghost in the lab

It’s the beginning of a new year, and Husband has run out his time on his training grant. So for the first time in five years he’ll be paid by his PI.

The change in funding source shouldn’t bring dramatic changes to ones income, but it always does. The most obvious example is going onto a private fellowship. These often pay slightly above NIH scale, and can provide a little bump to your paycheck. But there are much trickier ways in which the funding source can affect your net pay.

For example, the last two years Husband was on a NIH training grant. For some reason, getting paid on a training grant (at least at Husband’s institution) isn’t treated like regular income. Taxes, Social Security, Medicare weren’t taken out of his paycheck. But it’s still taxable income. So Husband dutifully paid his estimated taxes each year, but got to pocket money that might otherwise have been taken out for SS and Medicare.

Moving onto his boss’ grant, those things will now be taken out of his paycheck, to the tune of something like 8% of his income. That’s a huge net loss for us. A couple hundred dollars a month.

The bright side, we thought, was that Husband would finally be allowed to participate in the institution’s retirement plan (with associated fund matching). So yesterday Husband marched in to the benefits office to sign himself up.

No dice they told him. He is considered a new employee and won’t qualify to participate in the retirement plan until he had been at the institution for a full year.

Um, he’s been there for almost 6 years.

Crap like this happens all the time and it’s complete bullsh*t. I don’t understand the principle of penalizing your grad students and postdocs for successfully acquiring their own funding. At both of our institutions your position is classified according to who’s paying you, and it changes the number and types of benefits that you qualify for.

No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.


s.r. @ top rated public U said...

Totally sucks. Ya know what else sucks? NIH just changed the maximum amount they will pay for a grad student in an R01 grant (it may apply to others, but this is the type I'm familiar with). Tuition reimbursement/stipend/benefits cannot exceed (forget exact figure) $39,XXX per year. At my university, this means you are hired at a very low step and can't even move up in the steps as you advance in your degree! Take home pay ~$1,200 a month at that step. I'm fortunate that I am currently on a grant that was funded before the rule change, but if my funding gets switched to another grant later on, I'll get 'demoted' and lose at least $400 a month in take home pay. I'm fairly confident this won't happen to me, but it's really terrible. I feel for my classmates.

Ewan said...

Just yesterday, I was told by my College folks "it's nice that you've applied for external funding, including for a graduate student. Just fyi, if he moves onto your external funding, he may be responsible for the cost of his own tuition. In the current financial climate we no longer guarantee tuition support for those students not receiving a university assistantship."

Yeah. Blew my mind. Isn't this what I am *supposed* to be doing?

PhizzleDizzle said...

I know the exact situation you are talking about - at my institution you could not get dental insurance if you were on a fellowship - you couldn't even buy in on it. it was automatically provided for non-externally funded graduate students (after 1 year), but if you did a good thing and were on fellowship, no dice. So, once I got off my fellowship, and was like, "YAY, i can get my teeth frickin cleaned," I STILL had to pay for it because I had not been an "employee" for > 1 year. Such crap.

Good luck with the new budget.

EcoGeoFemme said...

So crappy! EGM faced a similar situation wrt to SS/Medicare after he was in the U.S. for 5 years.

The bean-mom said...

When I went onto a training grant at my postdoc institution, my salary actually went *down.* Yeah, get a fellowship and see your salary decrease.

It's all crazy, I tell ya.

Sorry to hear about the situation with your husband's institution...

Jenn, PhD said...

Ugh. That totally sucks! We faced similar issues here in PhD city with my husband's fellowship changes and it's a royal pain. Just another way that grad students / postdocs aren't treated like worthwhile people or "real" employees.

chall said...

The incentive is to.... ehh... not apply for grants?! Then not really get offered a faculty position and then become unemployed?

Seriously, this makes me so angry. Not only on a 'I don't qualify for insaurance' but "where your funded from qualifies your life, alothough it LOOKS like you are the same at the dept." and WHY?!?!? would you want to ...

I remember now, because we all enjoy doing science so much that we shouldn't be bothered by things like reality and equality. duh. *bang head in table*

ScienceGirl said...

This sounds too familiar. "We have no money, why don't you apply for external funding." "Oh, and by the way, external funding means you have to pay your own tuition AND you don't qualify for health insurance." If anyone was hiring, I'd be looking for a job right now.