Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What You Don't Know

It came to my attention yet again recently that many grad students don't know that professors at many universities in the US are not paid by the university in the summer; we have 9-month base salaries. I have written about this before (I know, I say that a lot in this blog, but the blog is ~6 years old). I don't think it matters a lot if students know or don't know the details of how professors are paid except that it might help them understand the behavior of some professors in the summer.

Most of us don't take the summer "off", and most of us don't like being asked to do department service in the summer. Of course advising is a 12-month/year responsibility, but I know some professors who think nothing of spending lots of time working with their own grad students in the summer but balk at having to participate in a large number of prelim exams or defenses for our colleagues' students in the summer (a few here and there might be OK as long as the student is diligent about scheduling well in advance). etc. etc.

What I want to know is: if you are or have been a grad student in the US, do/did you know whether the professors have a 9-month or 12-month base salary? Does/Did it affect how you view/ed the types and amount of work that professors (including your advisor) do/did in the summer? Did you, or are you likely to, take a prelim or final exam in the summer and therefore need your committee to assemble?

67 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm a physical chemistry grad student in the US, and was completely unaware of this. I'd heard that it was the case at community colleges, but assumed that professors at research-oriented schools were paid full time, since no one takes the summer off from research.

(Except apparently the French: at a conference last August, the Europeans present suggested we try to reschedule it for July this year, because--as was evident from the attendees--no one in France was willing to come to a conference in July.)

human said...

I know a lot of my grad student colleagues have had conversations that went like this.

Professor: In addition to the things we have already discussed and which you have already planned for, you need to do X, Y, and Z in preparation for your prelim defense.

Student: Okay, but it will take me longer to do more work than originally planned. I would need to schedule the defense 2 weeks after the end of the semester.

Professor: No, you have to defend before the end of the semester.

Student: ...

human said...

Oh and to answer your original question, I did know this, but it is because I worked as staff at a university before entering my Ph.D. program. I would not be at all surprised if many of my grad student colleagues didn't know this.

That said, whose fault is that? The professors could easily say, "I am not paid for work during the summer and so I am not willing to do that."

Of course, if professors assert that people should not be required to do work for which they are not paid, then it opens the door for grad student employees to do the same thing, which is I suspect a big part of the reason why professors in my program don't go there.

Anonymous said...

I don't really buy the idea that profs are only paid for 9 months. I know you dont technically receive a paycheck in summer but why not just consider the paychecks you do receive as having a bonus added on top of it. Compared to many other occupations with lower income, profs' annual salaries can be considered equivalent to 12 months worth of pay. Especially science and engineering profs. Its all relative and whether you find this a problem is entirely in how you choose to view your salary as either 'too low" or adequate.

martin said...

So as a non-American, how does this work? Do you receive pay checks for 9 months and there is a three month period where you don't need to go to work and you don't get paid?

Phillip Helbig said...

Right: It's the total yearly pay which matters, at least with respect to comparing salaries. On the other hand, if the university does things this way, presumably that means that during the summer holidays no university-related work needs to be done.

Anonymous said...

I knew, but it didn't matter. I was also only paid for 20 hours of teaching a week.

The line between service and research is blurry.

studyzone said...

I taught high school for several years before returning to grad school to earn my PhD, so I was well-aware of the 9-month salary. What was new to me was the concept of "soft" vs "hard" money - I couldn't wrap my brain around the fact that some faculty (both tenure-track and contract) drew most, if not all, of their salary from grants and not the university - that seemed like a precarious way of life. I'm now teaching at a SLAC, and back on the 9-month salary (paid over 12 months).

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 01:32:00 - How can you not buy that professors are only paid for 9 months? Professors have entered into an agreement with their university that specifically states when they work. Admittedly, most professors work over the summer on THEIR research, but they are not required to do this by the university. Would you expect other professionals to work every weekend because, compared to occupations with lower incomes, their salary would be considered equal to 7 days worth of pay?

nicoleandmaggie said...

I do not mind doing anything that I would do during the school year for graduate students over the summer. It's nice to take a few hours out to do a defense in the summer in a way that it's a PITA during the school year.

Service is a totally different animal. Yes, there is a difference between 9 month and 12 month because administrators (here at least) get those 3 extra months of pay. They're doing service year round.

Cardinal said...

To anonymous at 1:32, the absolute size of the salary is irrelevant. If your employer pays you for X hours or days or months of work, they can't then require you to work for X + Y.

I'm a Canadian who did a PhD in the US. I never had any idea that faculty salaries were only for nine months of the year, and indeed I didn't even learn this until I had been working in Canada for three or four years, when I collaborated on a grant with some American colleagues. As a grad student I'm pretty sure my supervisors met with me in the summer; certainly my PhD defence happened in the summer.

In Canada the typical t-t salary runs July 1 to June 30. Our federal granting agencies do not include a faculty member's salary in the grant calculation. Of course, it all comes out of the same pot in the end because both the granting agencies and the universities are publicly funded.

Anonymous said...

I knew about the 9 month salary thing, probably because I've been reading your blog almost as long as you've been writing it ;-) but it hasn't stopped me from scheduling my annual committee meetings in the summer. If one of the members complained, I would change that, but so far no one seams to have a problem. In fact, I think many of us aim to have our committee meetings in the summer, especially in the couple of weeks right after the term ends- the faculty are usually easier to gather since one doesn't have to work around their teaching schedule, they have bit more time on their hands so they can provide more feedback, but they haven't yet scattered to the four corners of the world for vacation or conferences.

plam said...

Yes, while I was a grad student in the US, I was aware that faculty were paid for 9 months only (although I'd also assume that most got summer salary from their grants).

I don't remember when my qualifying exam was, but I think it was in the middle of a term. My defense was a week before Christmas, even if my advisor suggested having it on Christmas day.

Given that US universities explicitly say that it's a 9-month salary, I don't see why the recipient of the salary should disagree. There is a contract and the contract says certain things about the expectations of the job. Why should the employee construe the contract in a way that's more advantageous to the employer? In which job does that make sense? One might do something for a student, who would otherwise be caught in the crossfire. However, I'm not in favour of showing loyalty to the employer, as employers are very bad at showing loyalty to employees.

Sometimes it's advantageous to schedule things before the end of a semester in terms of paperwork and money, although this applies less in the case of prelims than final defenses.

One thing I've wondered about US faculty is the following: it seems to me like there aren't many ways to legally get paid while going on vacation. How does that actually work out? (Here, the contract says that faculty are entitled to 1 month of vacation per year. No one actually counts vacation days, but people do go on vacation, often in August or in a non-teaching term.)

Anonymous said...

I knew as a grad student. Both my prelim and my thesis defense were in the summer. However, my advisor and all of the other committee members received summer salary from grants.

As a prof, I have no problems being on either in the summer - for either my students or others. (However, again, I receive summer salary from grants.) In fact, I find it is actually easier - as there are fewer other commitments. I view these exams as being directly related to research - and therefore, my summer salary. Also, if you are willing to be on your own student's exams, you should be on other student's exams. Otherwise, how can you ask the same of your colleagues?

Anonymous said...

I knew this when I was a grad student in the physical sciences. However, I believe (correct me if I am wrong) that professors can pay themselves out of grants for the summer. Hence, it didn't make any difference to me whether a professor was payed by the university or not.

In any case, my lab and advisor were at a government research lab, and so it wasn't relevant to me at all.

Anonymous said...

I don't really understand the distinction / there doesn't seem to be a distinction in departments where profs are expected to do very little teaching. If Research is job #1, and research is pursued for all 12 calendar months with 1 course thrown in there for a random 4 month period how does it make sense to say you are in any way "on a 9 month salary".

In field biology/ecology it's IMO especially silly to talk about 9 month salaries since summer is when the most important (field) research gets done! So while you might not be able to schedule a summer defense it's not because the prof is going to say "I don't get paid to work during the summer," it's because they will be in Malasia or Nicaragua or where ever.

Laura said...

Like Anon 12:10am, I wasn't explicitly aware that professors at research universities were only paid for 9 mos. It didn't occur to me because, as Anon 1:32am points out, I have an idea of what professors' salaries are, and it seems more than adequate for 12 mos. Of course, my view re: salary may be based on my status as an underpaid grad student.

Re: scheduling defenses during the summer, I've never done it, but it just never worked out that way. Also, I'm usually pretty busy myself during the summer, since I tend to travel and participate in workshops during that time. If I were a professor, my willingness to attend a defense during summer would vary according to my schedule (travel, etc.) and the student.

Anonymous said...

yes, I know that is the case. As a grad student I am paid the same way. I have always treated my 10 month pay as being my pay for the year, it is just paid out to me over 10 months. When I looked at grad school offers, that is how I treated it. I don't see why I wouldn't do the same as a professor; the 9/10 month system is stupid since it is a 12 month job.

Cherish said...

I defended my MS over the summer, but it took a bit to coordinate schedules as one of my committee members took an extended holiday to Ireland. However, none of them gave any indication that there was a problem with a summer defense.

I do have to agree with human above: how many students are expected to put in far more hours without the benefit of overtime pay? Or worse yet, there are many schools that aren't top tier that fund students, most of whom are foreign, strictly on TAs. These students often have no summer funding, either. Many of them either live on savings, with help from family, or end up working full time once they finish their classwork and are trying to finish their research in their 'off time' (if they manage to finish at all). It's rather lousy to say that one can't do anything for them over the summers when most are in a far more difficult financial situation than the professors who are supposed to be advising them and still benefit from their free work.

Anonymous said...

TAs and RAs in my program only get paid 11 months out of the year, but most labs have a 2-weeks/year of vacation policy, meaning we aren't actually allowed to take off the time that we aren't paid for. That said, the professors work year-round, and don't generally bother to tell us whether they are paying themselves a summer salary off of a grant or not.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 1:32am

You are correct in some aspects. My 9mo salary (engineering) is greater or equal than a lot of 12mo salaries in life sciences/humanities at my school (our salaries are a matter of public record as state employees). I have always made a point to budget that my family can survive on my 9 mo salary, and the extra months if I earn them go to bigger things (home renovations, vacations, etc).

The problem comes in that we CAN get paid for summer months from research grants. So, if we are being paid to do research specifically, it's really hard to justify spending that time to do anything else. As a grad student I did all of my exams/thesis during the year - partly because our department had deadlines that encouraged this (prelim due by end of fall semester of 3rd year for ex)

An additional complication that FSP hasn't talked about in this post is that at many schools part of our 9mo salary is earned from grants (our college budget only covers a % of our 9 mo salary). Wonder how many students know that??? Somehow we're supposed to earn more grants (SO easy these days!) while teaching as much/more than ever.

ok, back to enjoying my summer 'off'

Anonymous said...

I'm a grad student in ecology, and I am aware that my advisors are on 9-month salaries. I'm glad I know because it helps me appreciate their general lower level of availability in the summer.

Summer prelims and defenses in my department are highly discouraged. But I don't think it's primarily because of the 9-month salary, but rather the fact that many people (professors and students) are away during the summer doing fieldwork. It would be logistically very difficult to assemble a committee during the summer. And if you were able to assemble your committee, there would be very small audience at your prelim/defense talk. When defenses do happen during the summer, it's usually the week before classes start in the fall, when professors are back from their fieldwork and preparing lesson plans for the semester.

Anonymous said...

Also, just because the university isn't paying the professor, don't people pretty routinely pay their summer salary out of their grants? That would certainly justify the increased focus on their own students/research (since that's explicitly how they're getting paid), but I agree with anon at 1:32 am that this is kind of a fallacy.

Anonymous said...

I did know that, but I thought professors' summer salary was written into their research grants. Is this not the case?

Curby Alexander said...

I had a different experience with my major professor in the summer. My parents were faculty at a junior college, and they rarely went to campus in the summer. I assumed this was the norm, and it was reinforced by the faculty in my Master's program. When I entered a doc program, I assumed I would have the summer "free" to catch up on some writing projects, teach adjunct at a community college, goof off, etc. My advisor, however, did not skip a beat in the summer and fully expected all of his grad students to show up to campus everyday for meetings, help him plan conferences, write proposals, gather literature for lit. reviews, etc. At first I was completely blindsided, but the doc students who had been in the program longer than me said he saw this as a trade-off for funding our schooling. I sucked it up and got to work. I did schedule my comps and meetings with members of my dissertation committee in the semester because I knew most of them were hard to catch in the summer.

Anonymous said...

As a grad student I knew this, and my advisor was very strict about no proposals, defenses, etc in the summer. He would (slowly) read stuff from us, but summer was his time. In his defense, he only took one month completely off and used the rest of the time to get a head start on grants for the next year and work on pet projects.

As a student it drove me a little nuts, but now I like that policy and plan on implementing something similar.

Anonymous said...

My doctor makes more than enough money so I think she should give me free medical care when I ask.

Anonymous said...

So since a few years ago, with effort reporting, we are required to sign a document which says that during the summer months, if we are paid from research grants, then 100% of our time (no matter how much that is) is spent on research for those grants. The university requires this of us because that is what the law says we are supposed to do, so if we are audited and get in trouble for doing something unrelated to those grants, we (the faculty member) will go to jail rather than the university getting in trouble.

So, I think the university has some nerve asking us to do anything else but research in the summer, when it has made us sign saying we will not do anything else, precisely to cover its own ass and dump all the risk on us (meanwhile happily collecting overhead on those grants). I just got a request to show up at some alumni function, no way will I do that! Student defense is a little less offensive, but still no one should assume I am going to be available in summer necessarily.

Anonymous said...

I did know about the 9-month pay schedule as a grad student, but rarely if ever thought about it - it did not seem to affect anything about how my advisor worked. Except for no teaching/more travel in the summer, everything was pretty much the same.

I did schedule my PhD defense for the summer. No one seemed reluctant to do it then but it was a little harder to find a time because of everyone's travel schedule - I started asking for schedules early and we set a date well in advance. I was 8.5 months pregnant when I defended, so I think everyone agreed that it was a good idea to get it done before the baby arrived.

Anonymous said...

My university pays me a 9-month salary (which I can have paid out over 12 months so that I get a paycheck in the summer), and I can get some summer support from grants (up to 2 months from NSF). My total salary is fine, but I think there is an important, admittedly technical, distinction. When I am paid by NSF in the summer, depending on how my "effort" is accounted for, I am technically not allowed to do anything except work on the research supported by that grant. I am certainly not (technically) allowed to do "service" work for my department or university, even if I wanted to. It matters to professors where their salary is coming from for these technical reasons, even if most of us ignore this.

The grad students who say they don't care where professors' salaries come from because they (the students) do more teaching or research than they are paid to do (20 hours of each) are raising an irrelevant issue for this topic: how much we work relative to what we are paid is not the same issue.

Anonymous said...

A little off topic, but a couple of people have tried to draw analogies to grad students only getting paid for 20 hours a week despite working 40+ hours a week. This is not a good analogy. Graduate students are not paid full time because they also register for research credit hours for a grade. 6 credit hours is around half-time. So 6 credit hours of research plus 20 hours paid TA/RA equals a full work week.

I do think that grad salaries are way too low. But I disagree that they should be paid for 40 hours of work per week, because they are *students* who are learning how to do research at the same level/proficiency as faculty. Hence the graded research credits towards a degree, rather than paid time.

GMP said...

When I was a grad student I had no clue about the 9-month contract. Now that I am faculty, I realized my students didn't know it either so I told them. I also told them about the concept of institutional overhead and fringe benefits, so they would know why I constantly have to write grants and have an idea how much money needs to be raised to support a group of my group's size.

I only take 2 weeks of vacation per year, and I only started doing so after tenure. I have been fortunate to always be able to cover my summer salary from grants and I focus 100% on my students and research during that time. I am perfectly OK with attending people's defenses, I consider that part of research and I rather enjoy it. But, I will not do any service that does not pertain to research in the summer; for instance, I am one of the undergrad advisors, and advising is explicitly only offered during the academic year. I will still correspond with undergrads via email in the summer if they need something, but I refuse to schedule undergrad advising meetings in the summer.

Summers are also times of intense travel (peak conference season), plus at least for me it's the time to finalize all the manuscript drafts that have been in limbo, ensure the students make some progress since they don't have classes in the summer, and get a head start on fall proposals.

People who say I should work for 12 months and be paid for 9 because my salary is "big enough" crack me up. My industrial counterparts make significantly more money and don't have to raise their own travel money. Also, I really don't understand people who portrait faculty as lazy layabouts who leech off of poor starving grad students. I already work way more than 40 hours per week, and if I were to factor those hours the professorial salary would not be particularly hot. My grad students are paid on research grants during the academic year and the summer, so no one is ever starving in my group.
Students often forget to factor in how much their education really costs -- I need to raise $50K per year per student to pay an RA's tuition, benefits, and stipend, even though the beneficiaries of this money are tied up with classes and make little progress on the project that funds them for the first couple of academic years in grad school. Summers are key to get some research done with new students.

So let's lay off of the lazy overpaid prof routine, it's blatantly untrue and it's really tiresome. I invite anyone who has doubts to try to live my life; within two weeks you'll be begging for a vacation. And a raise.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think I knew more about how this worked than my advisor in some ways and I advised some part hard money researchers on how they might change their salary basis to circumvent pay freezes and effectively get a raise.

I think it is still a faculty responsibility to participate in exams/defenses (of course with all of the reasonable scheduling politeness). Faculty are often surprisingly unaware of the difference an exam in late August vs early September can make in terms of benefits/fees etc. . . at some institutions. This can be a big deal when living on a grad student stipend, and faculty should respect that and make every reasonable effort to participate in exams at a mutually agreeable time regardless of the month.

Summers are a change of pace, and there should be less administrative stuff to deal with (I don't count student exams as administrative), and I am a *huge* proponent of vacations, but professors do not really have the summer "off".

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty surprised by some of these comments.

I guess I just assumed that everybody had the same attitude. Yes, the salary is "officially" for 9 months, but a professor's job extends over 12 months. That's just the way it works. What about over the course of a week? Professors are paid a given salary, but are EXPECTED to work far more than 40 hours per week, or at least, often need to to remain competitive. Isn't it the same for 9 vs 12 months? Professors work all the time - that is just the expectation, right? Same with grad students and post docs. Everyone works far more than what they are "paid" for. Public holiday? Not in academia - everybody works public holidays. Right? Is this just my research group? Also, to run a research program, a lot of things need to happen: students need to be advised (and in exchange, colleagues' students need to have committee members assistance), grants need to be written, papers need to be written, (and in exchange, papers need to be reviewed), conferences need to be attended, equipment needs to be maintained, and the university/department needs to keep running (people need to be hired, decisions need to be made, etc.).

I am surprised that so many have the attitude that everything should shut down over the summer, or that work should be focused 100% toward a given grant during this time. I am used to professors juggling multiple grants and students and projects, and may only be paid from one particular grant (because it wasn't appropriate to take summer salary from another grant), yet all projects must move forward, and perhaps during the school year, a certain project or responsibility was put on the back burner in favor of something else. Maybe one put in a disproportionately high amount of effort into grant A (from which summer salary is paid) during the winter semester, but now needs to catch up on grant B over the summer (but from which no summer salary is paid?) What if one is engaged in service activities that are much more appropriate over the summer? Isn't the goal to just have everything roughly balance out? Isn't the goal to succeed at one's overall objectives in the end? How does one get anything done with such a by-the-books attitude?

Daimia said...

I'm a grad student in the US and I had no idea. I know that many professors take off for a week or two but didn't know that they don't get paid at all. I know of two students who defended during the summer and I'm about to schedule my introductory committee meeting next month (if I can get all my members in at the same time- so far 3/5 are yes.

Don't they get paid from their grants though? If a grant is for 5 years, wouldn't the money be split up into 60 months for the salary? Grad students have to be paid for 12 months in my program which means they would need some level of supervision or at least the ability to meet with their mentors for various reasons during the months of summer. Interesting post.

Anonymous said...

"How does one get anything done with such a by-the-books attitude?"

Anon@10, and others, the issue really is this.

As professors our #1 priority in the big picture is to come up with exciting new ideas and new research. Yet it is very difficult to do this in any given month and week because our jobs require 101 different deadline-bearing tasks, so there is no time to think. If you read FSP you probably have some sense of what these tasks are - but grad students generally do NOT know the half of them and do not really understand how busy we are.

So now, in the summer, because we have worked hard writing proposals and raised the $, we have time when we are paid just to do research. We NEED this time to think and write etc., because during the academic year it is near impossible. On top of that the university makes us sign a document saying that is ALL we will do in the summer. Now you (the university) want me to do service work? Not gonna happen.

I do agree a defense is different, and I'll do those in summer - in fact I do plenty of things I'm not "supposed" to do. But I want everyone to recognize that they are asking something of me that they really have no right to ask.

Anonymous said...

As an undergrad who did research, I was aware of this.

However, I did my PhD and postdoc at a Medical School and am now a faculty member at a Med School. For the record, at the three medical schools I have worked at, the faculty get paid a 12-month salary, because our jobs are primarily Research with very, very little teaching.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the university only technically pays profs (and grad students- which I why some of us are making the comparison) "for 9 months." Really though, how many of you profs out there negotiated/accepted that salary figuring that was your income for 9 months? It's a stupid concept.

I am constantly baffled by the notion of summer salary- I have better things to do with my grant money than pay myself- that is why I work at a research oriented university that pays me to do research. The one exception I see to this would be if you need to fund a sabbatical or something.

Given that I as a grad student am expected to be working all summer (and get paid on the exact same schedule as a prof), I'd be pretty peeved if a prof refused to work cause they aren't paid in the summer (and have NEVER heard this excuse)

Anonymous said...

I think Anonymous 12:24 put it very well, how I feel about this too. In the summer I do lots of things I am not officially supposed to do because there are important things to do, many of them involving students, but it would be nice if more people were at least aware that I was essentially volunteering my time for this. It's beside the point whether my 9 month salary is considered enough (particularly by grad students) or even my 9 month salary supplemented by summer salary from grants.

Anonymous said...

Grad students in my department get paid for 12 months, but summer is covered by grants from the advisor (and sometimes the other 9 months as well, but summer is always paid by the advisor). The students therefore focus on research during the summer. We don't ask them to do any department service during the summer. During the academic year, there are student reps on committees and students are involved in various other department activities. Imagine asking a student paid an RA from a grant to do some department service work in the summer. They shouldn't be asked, but if they do the service, they are volunteering their time. It's the same for professors being paid from grants during the 3 summer months when the university doesn't pay their salary.

Alex said...

9 month salary vs. 12 month salary is all a big fiction. Summer salary from grants is, in practice, a reward for getting grants. Yes, yes, I'm aware of the things written on paper, but step back, stop reading official documents, and look at how things actually work.

Suppose you work really hard for 9 months out of the year. Come summer, you head out for 3 months and do no academic work, including research. Do this for 5 years.

In year 6, go to the University with your tenure application, show them the great work you did in the 9 months/year that you were paid to be there, and see if you are allowed to continue collecting your 9 month salary in subsequent years.

The salary might be labeled "9 month" but the ability to collect it is dependent on 12 months of work. Maybe that's unjust. Maybe it isn't. Maybe it's legal. Maybe it isn't. Those are all valid points to examine. My only point is that the "9 month" label is inaccurate.

You can say that the difference between research and teaching or service is that research is a more flexible, self-directed activity. You'd be correct, on every level, in saying that. However, it is also (in most places) a job expectation, and we are evaluated on it, even if it is performed in months for which no salary was drawn from whatever source.

So, what should a person do or not do in summer? Well, we should be flexible towards others, and it should be reciprocated. It is reasonable that in this more flexible time devoted to research but without formal time assignments, people will take some time off in the midst of it. So don't be insistent that somebody make themselves available to you on a constant basis. OTOH, just as we are trying to get some research done while also catching up on some relaxation, students, students are also trying to get some research done. And students and faculty are part of the same academic community, supposedly working together. So the professor who flat-out refuses to be of any help to a student is as wrong as the student who feels entitled to the same level of access as during the school year.

Anonymous said...

Since so many people keep factoring in grants as part of salary, I'd like to point out that humanities faculty seldom have grants. My salary is only my nine-month salary, and summer teaching, to earn a little extra money, is predicated on enrollment. I do my best to catch up with my writing in the summer, since a 4/4 teaching load leaves little time for anything else beyond service and graduate student commitments during the school year. And, yes, my institution, which is NOT a SLAC, has research expectations for all of us.

Given my extremely low base salary, which is even lower when I spread it over twelve months, I feel little obligation to be in the office during the summer. However, I am available to students electronically. I don't think the university can ask for more than that.

Anonymous said...

This is anon@12:24: I want to add that the effort reporting rules (at least here) are much more ridiculous than anyone would think they should be. The rule is that if I am paid 100% from a grant in a given, month, I am supposed to work 100% on that grant. But that doesn't mean 100% of a specific number of hours per week, it means 100% OF THE TOTAL TIME I SPEND ON ANY AND ALL UNIVERSITY-RELATED ACTIVITY. So, I explicitly can NOT (according to the rules) say "well I have spent my N (40 or 50 or 60 or whatever) hours this week on research, so now I can spend some time doing X on a volunteer basis" (service, teaching-related things, proposal-writing in particular is not covered...) because now my total is N+X hours, and 100% of THAT has to be spent on research. It sounds crazy but that is really what the rule is.

So actually, when we agree to do anything other than research, not only are we volunteering our time, but we are doing so in a way that the University has made us sign a legally binding document saying we will not do - we are being asked to lie under oath, essentially. This is what pisses me off so much.

NB: talking to my students and postdocs counts as research, no problem doing that in summer; and no, I don't worry for 2 seconds whether the amounts of time I spend on each project correspond at all to how much time I have billed to each grant. That would be entirely ridiculous. The whole effort reporting thing is ridiculous because it gives us no credit for the research we do during the academic year, and makes up this fiction that we are just working on a particular grant for 1 month in the summer for 100% time and 0% time the other 11 months. But that's what the university makes us sign!

Anonymous said...

Anon@ 1:05: I don't know your seniority or job title but you (and some other posters who express similar sentiments) come across as clueless about the realities of academic careers.

"Really though, how many of you profs out there negotiated/accepted that salary figuring that was your income for 9 months?"

I did. I assumed I would raise the other 3 for summer salary and my total salary would be 12/9 of my 9 month salary. And that is exactly what has happened (every year for the last decade plus). Without those 3 extra months, my calculation about living where I do and working at the university I do would be very different. I believe most of my colleagues would say the same - this may vary by field, but it is the norm in mine.

"Given that I as a grad student am expected to be working all summer (and get paid on the exact same schedule as a prof), I'd be pretty peeved if a prof refused to work cause they aren't paid in the summer (and have NEVER heard this excuse)"

You are missing the point. I don't "refuse to work" because I am not paid in the summer. I am paid to do research in the summer, so I make that my top priority to a degree that I can't during the academic year. I refuse to do some things which are totally unrelated to research. The university requires me to do an ever-increasing amount of bureaucratic nonesnse the rest of the year, while still expecting me to keep coming up with lots of genius ideas. At some point I need to defend an actual allocation of substantial blocks of time, not just a few minutes between meetings, to come up with those ideas. The fact that I have myself earned the $ to pay for it, so that - as far as the university itself is concerned, this is their rules not mine - I am not on their dime, just makes me feel more justified in this.

Icee said...

I did my comps in the summer, only after asking my advisor if it was even appropriate to ask my committee if they wouldn't mind doing it then. After he gave me the okay, I asked my committee members if they would prefer that I did it in the summer or if they'd rather wait till fall. They all wanted summer because scheduling is so much easier.

Most grad students i know have no idea about the 9 month thing, however.

Anonymous said...

I'm quite surprised by some of the comments here in that I can't imagine a professor who didn't pay her own summer salary through grants having graduate students. I would never recommend that a student work for an adviser who relied entirely on their 9-mo academic salary. I guess this varies by field, but in mine (Physics), someone who didn't bring in summer salary would not be considered research-active.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty frustrated by some of the grad attitudes here. I like GMP's points too - students need to at least understand some of the pressures faculty are under even if they don't know all of them. Students often seem to assume that summer is open for defenses etc without actually checking on this. I'm glad to do it but as a field biologist whose main conferences are also in the summer we're talking about a few weeks of availability and it's not because "I won't work" I'm working on what my grants pay me and my students to do. Also - yes it can cost a student a lot more to have to defend in September rather than August as someone above pointed out but that's why they probably should have defended in May rather than assuming everyone was waiting around for them in August.

Anonymous said...

Our students are not allowed to defend in the summer by the university though I know faculty do participate in other student committee activities in the summer. If a student must defend in teh summer, it costs their advisor substantially more money and lots of paperwork headaches than if they just waited until the first week of fall term.

Anonymous said...

Many students don't know this. I make it clear to my students that I don't get paid by the university over the summer. I think it would help to have more transparency about this so I like this post.

Something else I did not know back in grad school: Professors (at least at my phd and present university) do not have vacation time or sick leave. I have a lot of health problems and I just don't have sick days. It's accommodated but not counted. Same for vacation time. It's assumed you need to be on campus during semester and summer you're not paid anyway so you can take off (though of course few actually would). I can't complain about the system because I think we get much more flexibility than most other jobs but I was really surprised to find out there was no official sick leave or vacation time for professors at my university.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting how discussions related to professor's pay always brings out the comments from unhappy grad students about how little they are paid, how much they work etc., as if they would feel better if their professors had even worse pay than we already do. I wonder if those same grad students ever turn into professors who think their pay is mismatched relative to the amount they work. Or are these the students who voluntarily leave academia because they want better-paying jobs?

Cherish said...

At anon at 10:58:

I guess I can't speak for the other commentors, but profs earning less wouldn't make me feel better. However, I can't help but wonder if those profs who say they are only being paid for 9 months and therefore won't attend defenses or student committee meetings are suffering from a horrible case of "kick the cat". It's not the students' fault that they aren't being paid and the students are probably just as bad off. (A little empathy would go a long way.) I, however, think that saying one cannot make it because of physical unavailability, like vacation, field work, conferences, or the obnoxious "will do nothing but research" statement are perfectly legit. That's different than blaming the university and taking it out on the student.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 10:58

It's funny how when grad students dare to suggest that we expect our expectations to be the same as professors with regard to working in the summer we get dismissed as whiny, ignorant grad students.

I'm not complaining about how much I'm paid. Yeah, it's hard to live on, but I knew exactly what I was getting into from the start. In my field, grad students are almost never paid by their advisors; we TA. We are paid for 10 months. We are also expected to work summers (unpaid) and explicitly asked about our summer activities when we have progress evaluations. So, yes, I have a problem with my advisor paying herself off a grant while expecting me to work for free. The reality is that none of us are paid in the summer technically, but we all know that's when research happens and it's expected. If I'm working unpaid, then yes, I expect my advisor to not be awol all summer either. I compare the two because we have the same pay schedule and work expectation for the summer- and I expect equality in that regard.

olympiasepiriot said...

Not a grad student nor a professor, but when I was an undergraduate student, it sure seemed like most professors I knew spent a lot more than 8 hours a day or 9 months a year working. I wasn't certain of how they were paid, but their standing in the department seemed to be a function of their ability to get grants.

In addition, personally, I generally found it a mistake to take classes with professors with lots of grants, PhD candidates, and research projects. (But, too, one had to stay away from someone with none of these things.) They were far less available and didn't put any energy into their undergraduate classes. There was one notable exception to this and I adored, just adored, being in his class. One semester he draw the short straw and taught an enormous 100-level physics class with a once-a-week homework tutorial and lab. He had a reputation for brutal exams, but also everyone said he was a great teacher. So, I figured (after some other experiences that resulted in me withdrawing from classes) that I wouldn't mind hard exams if I actually sensed I had learned. It was the best class I had in my entire undergraduate experience. He personally lectured AND taught the 15-person tutorial section I registered for...somehow managing to also juggle his 7 candidates and his (magnetism) research.

Anyhow, my observation of how much time had to be devoted to work in the groves of academe -- as well as the emphasis on getting grants -- enforced my feeling I wasn't suited to it. It looked to me if I was going to have to "sell" my work to get grants, I thought I might as well just go at it in the arena of capitalism.

AJK said...

One interesting feature about summer salary and grants that I've heard: at Stanford, faculty can only put 1 month of summer salary on each grant. I don't know if this is a way to keep them honest about splitting time between projects or (more likely) a way to induce them to maintain a large number of grants. Is this standard?

Anonymous said...

I knew almost from the start that, if the profs got paid over the summer, it was out of their own grants. My advisor would whine about that, though after I found out his base salary was >4x my stipend and his expenses only roughly double mine my sympathy dried up like a dead fruit. For some reason though, I never realized that this was why thesis defenses and orals were so rare in the summer months. I knew it just wasn't done, but, in the summer, everything else slowed down so it never occurred to me to make the connection. I just looked at those months as a blissful period when there were no seminars or classes and we could just get things done.

I think part of the reason I missed the connection was because my department frowned on any school-like activity during any break, be it fall, spring, or summer. Also, we students were not registered for dissertation hours during the summer either; we got paid some extra $$ to compensate the loss of credits.

Anonymous said...

I'm a physics grad student. Yes, I know that profs are only paid for 9 months out of the year (unless there's summer pay from grants, or mentoring for an REU, etc.).

How do I know this? I married to a math professor who only gets paid 9 months out of the year...

Anonymous said...

P.S. Even when my husband, the math prof, doesn't get paid for working in the summer, he still goes to campus everyday and does research. He doesn't take the summer off just because he's not getting paid.

Anonymous said...

There are many, many different salary models at universities. Some institutions give the summer salary on a grant to the PI as an incentive to write grants. Some institutions consider this to be unfair (or are forbidden to do so by state policy), and yet still expect faculty to put summer salary on a grant, and use those funds toward the faculty member's total salary. Some institutions do not permit faculty to put summer salary on the grant, but still pay 9-month salaries, etc. etc.

Anon at 9:21 talks about "working for free." Most of the work is your own research. Do any of the grad students reading this appreciate that most of you are getting paid to get an advanced degree?

Anonymous said...

@anon 5/30/12, 6.29 am

So let's say the university paid you $150k spread out over 9 months, you would still claim you shouldn't work over the summer because you're not being paid for summer, but if the university paid you $75k spread out over 12 months then you would?

Anonymous said...

What would happen if universities paid faculty for 12 months of the year (whether the same total annual salary as the "9 month salary" just spread out more, or for an additional 3 months) and consequently there was no such thing as professors paying themselves from grants in addition to what they get from the university. What would this world look like? Would it benefit students and trainees more if there was more funds to support them and their research? Or if the trainees could - gasp, heresy!- get paid more.

Allison said...

I was aware of this as an undergrad, but I honestly haven't ever given it much thought. When I was an undergrad, what I needed my professor for was research, and since her summer salary was for research, nothing changed from my perspective-just the number of hours I worked. Now, as a grad student, I'm at a medical school and everyone gets paid 12 months... and it seems like just as many students defend during the summer as any other time. I never really paid attention to what time of year people defended when I was an undergrad, so I can't really compare. Interesting, and not something that I've thought about much.

unlikelygrad said...

Given that my father is a professor, I have always been very aware of this. Summers were lean at our house when I was a kid.

Most of the people on my committee do field work during the summer so trying to schedule *anything* with them between June and the end of August is a fruitless endeavor anyway.

Anonymous said...

@anon 6:07

I'm the anon you mentioned. I did say that I was fine with the funding situation- more money would help, but yes, I am getting paid to get a degree. I just don't see why the standard changes when you're a prof- so your 9 month salary means you don't have to work for 3 months, but I have to do things for my advisor under the same condition?

You do realize that the argument you make that we get paid to do our own research, so we're lucky to get paid could easily apply to profs- actually isn't that the justification for paying profs a 9 month salary in the first place?

Anonymous said...

At first I didn't know about this and was surprised to see my advisor travelling so often. But then at some point not only did he tell me about this 'not getting paid for summers' story, but he also offered me an option to take holidays when he wasn't around. But I rarely did that. However, being an international student, when it was time to defend my phd thesis, I couldn't help but schedule my defence in summer. And to my agony, it was extremely hard to find professors with similar summer schedules.

logisticalmiasma said...

I'm a grad student now, and I had no clue about this. I'll keep this in mind when it comes time to schedule my prelim.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what the base salary is around here, but I don't think it would affect anything. I know my supervisor is doing research, so I don't plan on working on anything that would require a lot of work on her end until the fall semester starts. I might send her a draft of my literature review or something just to show that I'm still alive, but I'd make it clear that I wouldn't expect any comments on it immediately. I know some people who will have to meet with their comp committee to set up their reading lists so they can get some work done, but they don't plan on finishing the actual comp in the summer.

Serena C. said...

I don't think I was completely aware of it, but I was often confused when professors told me they were taking off several weeks for vacation (like 7) or they were spending a summer at another institution or laboratory. It seemed a little odd that they would be "allowed" to take two forms of pay for one set of research...but the 9 month pay thing now sounds more reasonable with fellowships in the loop.