Monday, September 21, 2009

Please Share Your Worst Accounting Nightmares

It would really cheer me up a lot if some of you would share stories of your worst accounting woes, especially if some of your experiences are worse than those currently afflicting my departmental colleagues and me.

Get competitive. Send in your worst accounting nightmare story. It doesn't even have to be true, though I suspect there is no need for fiction.

Here are 2 contributions to a group-accounting-woe-wallow:

1. A colleague of mine submitted a large number of receipts for several professional trips. All the expenses were on his personal credit card(s) and added up to quite a lot (thousands) because he had also paid upfront for the travel of his graduate students and a postdoc. The reimbursement was delayed and delayed and delayed for months.

Finally he found out why: He had not indicated how many people were in each hotel room. This is not part of the instructions. This is not a line on the forms. This is not something that ever had to be listed before. This is one of those Mystery Traps that accountants set for the unwary. In this case, the travel was within the US, where it doesn't matter if there are 1, 2, or 4 people in a hotel room; the price is the same: SO WHY DO THE ACCOUNTANTS CARE? And if they do care, why not just ask for the information that is holding up the reimbursement?

2. I recently had to approve a form that lists the people who are receiving salary from a certain grant. In fact, in the time frame indicated on the form, I paid the salaries of one graduate student, one undergraduate, and one postdoc from this grant. The form, however, which contains an automatically generated list of people paid, using information in the university's personnel database, indicated that I had hired no one and was paying no one. I asked the accountants about this. Even though all of these people have been paid in the time frame of the form I had to approve, because the effort reporting time frame of the university does not match the reporting time frame of the form, the people whose salaries are being paid by the grant don't show up on the form that is supposed to report how many people received salary from the grant. Apparently this problem can't be fixed and I have to approve a form that is in error. If I don't approve the form so that it can go on its merry way up the approval chain, the consequences for me and my research group are not good. If I refuse to sign the form because it has incorrect information on it, the consequences for me and my research group are not good.

Hence my plea for Your Accounting Nightmares.

*** NOTE: Owing to unexpected circumstances, I will have limited internet access for a few days and will probably only moderate comments once/day. There might also be an interruption in posts until regular internet access resumes. ***


Dan said...

I claimed only about 60% of the maximum per diem food amount because this is the amount I actually spent. It was rejected because I didn't claim the "correct" amount. After claiming the full amount, claim is rejected again because two lunches were provided by the conference.

Anonymous said...

I signed my forms,filed my receipts, and waited for my money. After a much too long time, I called to find out what happened. I'd made a mistake. I went to the accountant's office to fix it and was told I couldn't sign the form, because I wasn't me. I was someone else, and so until the right person showed up to fix the form, no money would be forthcoming. The accountant knew I was the wrong person because my hair was wrong.

Alyssa said...

I've got a couple.

1. When I visited what became my PhD university, I was to be reimbursed for my expenses. It cost a fair amount, considering how much I made. It took them more than six months to cut me a check. I visited in February, arrived in August to start, and got my check in October.

2. Grad students at my current U. get $$ from multiple sources. We never know how much we're going to get (our yearly salary will add up to the same, but every 4 months is completely different), and never know how much tuition we'll have to pay. In fact, this was so confusing that the accounts person in our department typically got it wrong every semester. If you didn't catch it, they wouldn't change it for you. So, I had to look at each of my paychecks in detail, know exactly where the money was coming from (and how much it should be from each source), and if it was wrong I had to tell them. Basically I was doing their job.

cookingwithsolvents said...

I had a check for over 2k in reimbursements sent to an old address (2+ years) that wasn't even in the computer system any more....because I moved and I get direct deposit. In fact, every other reimbursement I've ever gotten from my current institution came by direct deposit.

WHERE did they get that address? My W-2's come to my current address. They re-cut the check but that took a week(??!!??!). I picked it up at the office. There are 12 people in that office but no one has time to see me if I stop by with a problem.

Greg said...

Wow! Number 2 is really messed up.

Our accounting is pretty anal when it comes to reimbursing for dinners with speakers and interview candidates. First of all they will not pay for alcohol - which is completely understandable. But, they go so far as to calculate the percent of the tip that was for the alcohol and do not reimburse that. They also have a limit of 20% on gratuities - which is again fine. However, one time I submitted a rather substantial bill for a dinner with 6 guests. When all was said and done the total that I submitted was $0.08 over the amount of tip that they would reimburse. Do you think they would just cut a check for $0.08 less? No! The reimbursement was denied and I had to do all the paperwork again with the correct amount.

Bookbag said...

The last time I submitted reimbursement paperwork, it got held up for weeks because accounting thought I had done the currency conversions all wrong, allegedly deliberately, and was trying to rip off the university for thousands of dollars. The allegation was based on the fact that I had claimed the figure 2.000,000 indicated two thousand Euros instead of two; by this logic, my hotel had only cost $.40, and not $400.00. Finally, they checked with a third party and realized that I was, in fact, not lying when I said that Europeans just use commas and decimal points differently with their number.

Anonymous said...

I know a professor, that when he was leaving University A for University B, found out that University A had failed to charge him ten years ago for a large piece of equipment that cost more than a quarter million dollars. Since his relationship with University A was ending, they were now reconciling his accounts and wanted him to pay them back, but his then-current grants were empty and wouldn't have legally been allowed to pay for a large piece of equipment anyway. In the end, University A had to eat the cost, but this dragged on for months.

Ryan said...

I'm a PhD student, merrily protected by an NSF grant. My colleague is not so lucky.

Our department tells students to go on hourly wages during the summer. This way, our PI's are no longer required to pay overhead (at least, not as drastic of overhead) during the summer months, saving considerable money. Supposedly this has been OK'd by the graduate school, but we're dubious about its legality.

Regardless, in order to be on hourly, you have to be taking a class, so my 4th year PhD friend enrolled in a 1 unit independent study... and was then charged a few thousand in tuition and institutional fees, due in a week. Right at that point, the grant that he was working and being paid from dried up, and due to horrific foresight a work-around could not be established for about a month, during which time he had to put the educational charges all on his credit card, which already had a significant balance from his very recent wedding.

He was able to pay off the school charges before interest hit using what little left he had saved after the wedding and rent, but he wasn't paid back for them until much later, which meant that he was living off of about $100 without firm assurances that he would in fact be paid his salary soon (remember the funding had dried up). The only reason he was able to skate through all this was because of the miraculous way the due dates and paydays coordinated with each other.

OH, and during this time no one knew if he still had health insurance.

Anonymous said...

Ah where to start with this one. We have had two travel reimbursement claims returned recently (by returned, I mean sent back through the interoffice mail with its attendant delays) for clarification that could have easily been provided with a quick phone call, or even a google search for the mystery term.

1. "What is TEM and how is this related to your FederalGrant-funded research?" We work with bacteria. They are small. So small that it requires a microscope to see them. In fact, we work on BacterialPieces that are even smaller, requiring a more powerful "transmission electron microscope" to see THEM. Why not just ask me by phone instead of sending the whole shebang back???

2. "What is synchrotron?". Again, we work on really small stuff including proteins, which are smaller even still than our BacterialPieces, requiring even more powerful viewing apparati! Please, please just call me and I'll tell you, or just GOGGLE IT and all will be revealed. Sigh.

thanks for letting me vent.

Ambitwistor said...

Our university has a cryptic electronic status reporting system for travel reimbursements. It frequently tells me that my reimbursement request is "approved, not paid".

What does that mean?? If it's approved, why isn't it paid? I've learned that "approved, not paid" can be followed shortly by being actually paid. I've also learned that "approved, not paid" can mean that there is some problem with the form that needs fixing.

If there is a problem, they don't tell me. I just have to wait for what I deem an appropriate amount of time, and start calling people to find out what the actual status of the reimbursement is. Sometimes it can take months of waiting and back-and-forth before everything can get cleared up. And when there's international travel charged to my personal credit card, that's really painful.

Anonymous said...

Hey, at least you have accounting services. I got informed upon arriving at "On-our-way-to-Tier-1-Status-U' by an administrative aide that it wasn't the department's job to support my research, an assertion that the dept chair refused to address. So remember that bad accounting is better than no accounting!

Sharon said...

My labmate is currently working on a PhD, and got his MS from the same department (in 2004 I think). Last month he was informed that he owed the uni about $1000 because they had paid him two paychecks for his Masters assistantship. At the time he thought they were backpay 'cause the uni hadn't started paying him until several weeks after he started working here, so he never brought up the extra checks.

Aside from the ridiculous timing of the university's demand for money, and the fact that none of this was Labmate's fault (a since fired accounting person for the department was apparently notorious for paycheck screwups) - we've also found out that Labmate isn't the only one the uni is squeezing. Any grad student that they think owes money is getting demands for immediate cash under threat of being turned over to a collection agency... but ONLY if they're STILL at the uni. If someone was lucky enough to graduate and actually leave, the uni's written them off.

The best part is that Labmate went through his records, and realized that he was never given some money the department owed him for an award - so he actually owes <$500 to the uni.

They're really scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to make up for budget cuts.

zoelouise said...

Okay, try this on for size-

For some reason, student wage to be charged to the research grant is, for one pay period, charged to unrestricted account, cleaning out unrestricted account.

Two weeks later, receive statement showing error, bring error to attention of person responsible by going by her desk and showing her the two account statements and requesting reassignment of funds. She says “Okay”. No big deal, right?

One month later, get new statement. Change has not been made. Send person email (creating record of request this time) requesting the change be made.

Two weeks later, stop by person’s desk to ask if the change has been made. She says “Hmm, let’s have a look at this.” She has not looked at it before!!! She says she will look into it and get back to me.

Later that day, I receive an email informing me that the change cannot be made as the error was made in the previous fiscal year- which ended 2 weeks earlier! So, had she bothered to look at it on my first OR second request, it could have been fixed.

I seriously thought my head would explode. There went more than 500 bucks in unrestricted funds. And it really is gone for good.

ME said...

I also have to sign a similar form for payroll but only the monthly payroll shows up on it, rather than all the employees, so my hourly people (tech and undergrads) never show up on it even though they are paid from the grant.

We often get travel report rejected for not having original receipts. If two people share a hotel room or meal and one turns in the original, is it unreasonable for the other to turn in a copy?

My last favorite, when I started you did not need receipts for items under $25 (lunch, parking, etc.). Now we have to get receipts for every expense no matter the cost. I end up not bothering to turn in items that I forgot to get a receipt for (like my $6 sandwich for lunch), so I guess the policy is working in that I have fewer reimbursable items.

Anonymous said...

When I began my position as an assistant professor, money was tight since 1) I had just bought a house 2) my spouse hadn't found a job in new city and 3) we had to pay up front for our moving costs. Knowing this, the department admin said she would do everything she could to speed up the process and I turned in all sorts of forms to her to get it going.

Fast forward 4 months.. having asked her almost weekly to check the status and hearing it is 'in process', she leaves to take another job. (does anyone see where this is going..)

New admin comes in, finds my file in the pile, having never been turned in. She files it and I get the check a week later.

So, maybe not so much an accounting nightmare as a zombie admin nightmare.

TheDiversePhD said...

In our department delays abound, we have the worst accounting record. Try 9 months waiting for money because we sent in the request as a word doc and not a PDF. Hello morons the information remains the same, and no one called us or sent an email.

CSProf said...

You could try threatening the University accountants to denounce them for keeping books incorrectly, and trying to pressure you to make false reports to the governement under the federal whistleblower statues. That ought to make them eager to do wahtever they have to do.

Anonymous said...

Job offer letter did not make clear which number represented my base salary and which number represented my differential salary (I was getting a differential for being on call 24/7 on certain weeks). By the time the confusion was clarified by HR, I had been underpaid by ~$10,000. They paid me back pay as one lump sum, and DH owns his own business--thus our taxes were paid quarterly. I owed the tax man $6,000 extra that month. Then I was scolded by the director for failing to do Accounting's job for them.

Co-workers had it worse: They were called in to repair a broken reactor at 2am, during which time there was a huge blizzard that closed roads, left power out all over the Northeast, and so co-workers could not go home for three days and had to stay at work. No one was even able to get to work other than them, everyone else was stuck at home in a snowdrift, so they had to camp out in conference rooms and eat snack-machine food, operating the emergency generators themselves. The state declared it an official emergency, it was so bad, and under those conditions we are entitled in our contracts to get a hazard differential.

Accounting's response: The state may have considered it an emergency, but MegaPharma didn't consider it an emergency, so go pound sand.

LoonyTalk said...

Our research group recently had a problem with the University Auditor's Office, as they require that research computers not be charged to the grant since "they are not for exclusive use of this project." What this essentially means is that our department has to buy laptops for PhD students out of its own funds (which has never happened in the past) and most of the money on the grant will be left unused... Our Department Head is currently negotiating with the auditors, trying to convince them of the implicit stupidity in such a move!

BB said...

Do you work where I work? Sure sounds like it.

DrDoyenne said...

Not exactly a nightmare, just frustrating:

1. Accountants refused to reimburse us for purchases of bottled water used during field research in a third-world country following a devastating hurricane. Explanations --that there was no potable water, that we would have gotten seriously ill if we consumed tapwater, and that daytime temperatures exceeded 95 F (35 C) requiring 2-3 gallons of water per person per day--fell on deaf ears.

2. A recent travel voucher was audited because I claimed LESS than the full per diem allowed. They were convinced I was running some kind of scam (instead of eating/ staying at inexpensive restaurants/ hotels to conserve my grant money).

I've made some inroads into the bean-counter mentality by taking admin. staff on field trips with me. It's quite satisfying when they ask (sometimes frantically) why we don't have ice, sunscreen, or insect repellant on hand, and I'm able to explain that these items are not reimbursable, but I'm happy to share my personal stock with them.

Anonymous said...

Not a nightmare, but still bizarre. I'm PI on a multi-investigator grant that involves support for several students and postdocs. At one point I received an automatically generated transaction report, showing salary transactions for +$5.40, with a corresponding 18 transactions for -$5.40 on the same day. Net result, no change in fund balance, just a completely opaque accounting statement. If you got something like this on your credit card bill, it would worry you, right? This has happened more than once, and yet when I point out to research accounting that their system is cryptic, they act like I must be too stupid to understand it. (anonymously posted to protect the innocent.)

Anonymous said...

Haha: how about this. I'm summoned to explain why I used university money to buy alcohol at a dinner party that I did not attend. Turns out my colleague included my name into the list of attendees (without telling me) after realizing his bill was too large to justify. What fun!

EliRabett said...


A. Non Mouse said...

How about an accounting blessing? I got a grant for 1/2 my sabbatical salary plus supply $$. I didn't end up using the supply $$, so I got a one year extension. With a couple weeks left on the grant, I went to the accounting office, asking how much I had left (expecting the answer to be $200-$400--shipping is always a black box amt).

The answer: $28,xxx.xx Totally straight faced. I asked again--same answer. They "forgot" to take my salary out of the grant, and since it was technically two fiscal years ago (due to the timing), the accountant didn't want to go back and fix it.

So I had two weeks to spend $28K...

John Vidale said...

One ongoing misadventure involves a 1-yr grant whose funding was delayed a year. I submitted a 2nd grant to continue the work that had not yet started before the first grant arrived. Worse, I gave the 2nd proposal the same name, and the amounts only differed by $50 out of $50K.

Two problems have arisen - the budget people cannot keep the two grants straight, and the overhead changed a half percent between the two years. The agency demanded a revised budget for the first proposal, and the university hopelessly confused the two proposals. This issue got bogged down between three budget people who always tried to make the other two spur her into action, and generally only acted just before a deadline.

Then the dept grants person moved to a different, less stressful job. But not before I sat in her office long enough get the grant started.

Now we're in the endless stage of waiting to hear whether the second grant gets funded. Luckily this is not the problem of the student being paid, even though he wrote the proposals, and he is making excellent progress, so we'll soon be writing another proposal.

Maybe not an uncommon problem.

Anonymous said...

Is this a nightmare? I'm not sure.

I'm a grad student in a physical science at a large Canadian university (full-time enrollment somewhere around 25k). We switched over to a monolithic centralized interwebby accounting system. It was a painful process, and cost us uncounted (literally) manymany millions of dollars. It is still having huge problems. We frequently speculate how many dollars it actually costs to spend a dollar here.

Anyhow, our nightmare? I, and several of my grad student colleagues, have occasionally received extra thousands of dollars in our stipends. Yes, we frequently miss out on pay, and this is usually corrected within a month or two. But this extra pay? It never happened. We dutifully report it to our local department accountants, who try to track it down. Sometimes they do, but more often they insist that it never happened, they have no idea. We are told that it must be our mistake.

We are all terrified it's some kind of trap.

And where is this money coming from? Somewhere, someone is missing all this money. Maybe they don't know it? How much money is this system "misplacing?".

Genomic Repairman said...

I got burned by accounting for the cost of taking grad school candidates out to dinner at a four star restaurant because the number of candidates previously listed and preauthorized for dinner was one less than what showed up (we had one extra candidate). Luckily I got paid back by a foundation account but it took two extra months. And this was a heavy bill, over a grand that sat on my credit card.

Anonymous said...

Here's one. Administrative assistant in charge of ordering and budgeting tells me that I have 'plenty' of money in my grant accounts. So I order 2 new awesome pieces of equipment. At years end, she tells me she made a teeny mistake and I'm $20K IN THE HOLE. How's THAT for a worst accounting nightmare? What was even worse was that she wasn't fired and did the same thing to a few other colleagues' grant budgets, to the tune of about $15K. THEN she was fired.

mixlamalice said...

From France:
Delays to reimburse are usually pretty long (this is the CNRS - national agency - that is in charge of these things), but it seems to be the same everywhere.
However there is something more interesting:

When you go to a conference, they usually reimburse you a certain fixed amount per day, that is supposed to cover basically food, transportation and hotel. This seems a good idea since it prevents people from going to 4 stars hotel and so on.
- if the conference is in France, the amount they will give you is just enough to book a below-average hotel and buy really cheap food.
- if the conference is in England it is even worse. You will probably have to pay some of the trip with your own money unless you are willing to end up in really bad neighborhoods and eat at Subways everyday.
- if the conference is in the US, it is a little bit better than in France.
- but if you go to Brazil, the amount of money will allow you to go to a four stars hotel, take the cab everyday, and go to pretty good restaurants.

So I don't know if the people in charge are not very good at estimating the cost of life in different countries. Or, even worse, if they don't know that the cost of life is different in Latin America compared to Western Europe...

Unknown said...

Hoo boy do I ever?

Not so many months ago I was a grad student traveling to an international conference on my own fellowship dime. I got all the travel arrangements pre-approved, and was told that I would be reimbursed for meals upon my return, so I kept all the itemized receipts. I then submitted these itemized receipts which detailed the meals I shared with my accompanying SigOth. I didn't submit every meal since I obviously couldn't expect my fellowship to cover his food too. I submitted roughly every other meal we shared which came out to well under the per-diem. I got reimbursed for only half of each receipt despite explaining the reasoning behind all of this. What really gets me is that when I and several other grad students attended the same conference together last year, we did the same thing - nobody dines alone at conferences and the restaurants really didn't want to split the check 8 ways so we just took turns paying and it all worked out. This year, no way.

And don't even get me started on the $1000 hotel bill that had to go on my credit card...which they didn't reimburse for several months. I just ate the interest.

I've got some even better stories here:

Hope you accounting woes get resolved in some sensible way ASAP.

lost academic said...

This one actually happened during my undergraduate years, and even though I wasn't really heavily involved in this group normally, somehow I became one of the people responsible for resolving it.

Our math department offers a rigorous high school math competition every fall, which is organized by the math union, including a couple professors, some grad students and mostly undergrads, who spend quite a bit of time on organization, registration, writing and grading along with running the contest which has multiple parts and variable scoring. It's a LONG day.

We all go out to dinner afterwards, for which we use a departmental or faculty credit card. Due to either general paranoia but probably also a problem in past years, the faculty member who gave us the credit card was adamant about not reimbursing for alcohol, and that we shouldn't even purchase any regardless in case it showed on the itemized receipt he would submit. He admonished us before he had to leave early, too. (We get it. Really.)

We went, we ate, we submitted the receipt. Over Thanksgiving break, the department admin or accountant flips out at the faculty member, the organizing senior and for some reason me (I'm not even in the department) for ordering wine. Huh? It turns out that paranoid admin misread the itemized receipt, thinking the name of a reasonably common dessert in French HAD to be a bottle of wine. It took weeks to get the faculty member reimbursed. He apologized for also coming down on us, at least. Not a word from the admin.

Anonymous said...

We invited the head of our professional association, a respected and high up guy, to give a talk at a symposium we organised. After he returned, we asked for his tickets stubs, so we could reimburse him. It turns out he had lost one. Our admin refused to reimburse him!

He had come, given the invited talk we requested, and left. There was no question that he hadn't done what we asked him to. But he ended up paying for the whole trip himself, and I now cringe whenever I see him.

Unknown said...

Here is a recurring nightmare. I have had a small ($40K/yr) education support oriented grant for about twenty years as part of a consortium. The prime moves every five years or so, so new sets of subcontracts have to be negotiated. It takes our lawyers a full year to approve any subcontract, so we never get to spend any money the first year in a cycle.

It turns out that our accountants had neglected to bill the last year of the last contract and the first three of this. Since that also included our changeover to the "monolithic centralized interwebby accounting system" aka PeopleSoft, many of the records only existed in print outs that I had, and in a tape morgue somewhere in the fifth subbasement of the administration building.

The guy who was supposed to do the billing, not only did not know what he was doing, but was smart enough, given the facts, not to want to do it. Since our new prime refused to give us the fourth year money until we billed for the first three, that meant that I had to do the work.

After several back and forths with the prime's accounting system, the University got a check for ~140 K$. It took a year to get to that point. Of course now I have to spend two years money in eight months as the supplement with the rollover came in late.

Worse, I know of others in the same boat for more $$ and the President is going around moaning about a structural deficit.

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

Accounting incorrectly told my husband they could withhold taxes from his NIH stipend. Since my stipend was (correctly) administered as ineligible for standard W-2 withholding, we withheld all our estimated tax burden from his paycheck. 9 months into the year, accounting realized their error and returned all of Dr Hyde's withheld taxes as a lump sum.

So as of October, we had paid $0 in estimated taxes on our combined $80K of income. That was an awesomely fun year to do the 1040. We had to beg the IRS not to penalize us. (Amazingly, they complied!)

Anonymous said...

A dear colleague of mine traveled to a distant and foreign land for some fieldwork with an international group of collaborators. The head of the project covered many of their in-country expenses. When my colleague got back and filled out his reimbursement paperwork, he added a note (as required) saying that the Max Planck Institute had paid for part of his costs, to explain why he was not requesting per diem for certain days. A couple months later, his forms are returned with a note from the travel office asking whether this Max Planck fellow works for [our university].

puck said...

My personal winner so far: a year or so ago I was getting reimbursed by a grad student-run organization that gives small travel grants to students going to conferences. They'll typically reimburse up to $150 or so for ground transportation, things like airport cabs and subway tickets and the like. However, they refused to reimburse my travel by boat to get to and from a meeting every day and to and from an airport, arguing that boat travel was an "excessive expense", and insisting that only taxis, buses, and trains counted as "ground transportation". The conference was in Venice.

puck said...

also: the most frustrating theme I'm seeing through all these is that people, particularly grad students, have to front the money for travel and then get stuck with credit card interest when reimbursements take months. This has happened to me multiple times and it drives me up the fruit loop. The only way I've managed to get around it so far is by riding people mercilessly to get a travel *advance* rather than a travel *reimbursement*. The advances are almost always late, true, but at least they arrive a week or two after the travel is over rather than 6-8 months, as is standard for my university.

Anonymous said...

Is it too late to contribute?

I once ordered a nice (but not particularly extravagant) computer for massive data analyses off a grant. The purchasing overlord denied it because she had just bought a perfectly nice computer at Walmart for only $300 and didn't see why I needed to spend 10x that much.

I have also had my reimbursements denied because I didn't request the full per diem. WTF is up with that?! How can that possibly be a scam? Now requesting the full amount when you didn't nearly come close to spending that much....perfectly legit, but total scam.

Anonymous said...

I'm a graduate student on teaching assistantship. We have some "tuition waiver" for TA's but it comes much later than a tuition bill deadline.
As a result, an "administrative hold" is placed on student account so a person cannot get official transcripts, cannot register or drop classes and so on...
Oh, and a late fee is charged too. It is waived later but there are sometimes problem with this.
And if there is another charge at student account (like in student health center for immunizations or medicines) or library charge then it's not separated from all other charges. Even if I pay for medical treatment or lost books the money go to general account (which has several thousands dollars debt) and the charge becomes over due... The result - one more "hold" which takes substantial effort to remove.

BB said...

Where to start?
Right before I started my postdoc position, my greencard got lost in the mail. So I did not have an official employment authorization in my hand, but I knew the new card would be coming in within the month. The department got me to sign the employment contracts with the (then) current date and said I would get paid for all the time I worked once they got a copy of the greencard. Needless to say, I received my greencard a month later but never got paid for the month that I worked. After trying to follow up on it for months, I had to give up so that I could to the job I was hired to do (science).
I will skip numerous cases of utter mess created while my postdoctoral NIH fellowship was being administered, but I will give two examples: When I switched from being paid from my PI's grant to getting paid through my NIH fellowship, the department was no longer paying for my health insurance (instead it was all coming out of my fellowship) yet I noticed that accounting had made an extra premium payment from departmental funds. When I notified the admin person of the mistake, they expressed shock that I would worry about money that was not coming out of my paycheck. And all this time, I thought federal and state money wasted on private health insurance companies was ultimately coming out of my pocket as a tax payer. Here is another accounting mess: One day I noticed a 1cent expense on my financial statement. When I inquired about it, the grants manager found out that another department had mistakenly taken out a certain amount out of my account then reimbursed the amount minus 1 cents. When I asked if they would reimburse the remaining 1cent, the grants manager said it took them $5.68 worth of man hours to figure this out and it would not be worth spending more time for 1cent. (This sort of thing happens all the time, they make a mistake costing someone hundreds of dollars and then argue that trying to fix the initial mistake costs more so we should forget about getting our money back.) I was pretty pissed thinking I was a victim of a scam where some hacker got rich taking 1cent out of millions of university accounts. Several months later another expense for over $30 showed up on my statement. I inquired again to find out this was the same erroneous withdrawal that was supposedly reimbursed. I am still waiting for this to be cleared and my account to be reimbursed hopefully in full. I could go on about my personal nightmares or a close friend's fellowship account being depleted two month earlier than expected because accounting made wrong payments and now he is being asked to go 2 months without pay or find some other source of funding because the fellowship money is not being paid back. And it is more than common for grad students or postdocs to incur expenses for travel, purchase of supplies, or hosting guests and then waiting for several months to get reimbursed, effectively giving the university an interest free loan.
It is not hard to imagine the total chaos of trying to administer and account for budgets at the whole university level when a department cannot track its own accounts.
It drives me insane just thinking about these.

Anonymous said...

I know it's late, but I have a really good one. I am a PhD student at a large university. Every semester (including summer) we have to fill out a form stating where our salary comes from (grant, TAship, etc). One semester the secretary who is supposed to communicate between accounting and graduate students forgot to send out the forms. The next month ALL graduate students in the department didn't get paid. And then we couldn't get paid until the end of the next month since paychecks are only written on certain days. I could survive, but one of my friends had only $100 to his name on that fateful day of no paycheck!

Anonymous said...

How about a creative 'bait and switch' grant accounting story?
I am a faculty member and senior scientist in a medical school at a major university (call me Prof). Basic scientists in my department are pressured to 'collaborate' with MDs at the med school. For 2 years, a postdoc (we'll call him PhDHe) from a local MDs lab (MrMD) used one of my postdoctoral fellows (PhDShe) for advice and direction on a project, part of which falls in our area of expertise. PhDHe was clueless, so PhDShe told him how to design, score and interpret his experiments. PhDShe also generated and analyzed cell lines that were necessary controls for his project.
PhDShe and I were led to understand that this was a collaboration, and MrMD included us and this project on an NIH program project grant. After the grant was awarded, MrMD informed me (Prof) and PhDShe that we would be removed from the budget so the money could, instead, be split between the remaining faculty. MrMD assured me that he ‘reorganizes’ budgets all the time and it is ok. Because this award is a subcontract, NIH will never know that one of the original investigators was cut from the budget. In addition, the data obtained by PhDShe did not support MrMDs model and will not be included in the resulting manuscript. Thus, the work and intellectual contributions of PhDShe will not be acknowledged, and funds spent performing these studies will never be reimbursed.
I'm interested in hearing from you and your readers about whether they have had similar experiences with MD researchers at their institutions.