Two months after the Graduate School guaranteed a sixth year of funding for students in the humanities and social sciences, natural science students are still waiting for their turn.
The Graduate School did not extend the same policy to science students when it announced the new policy, reasoning that the structures used to fund the sciences are differently organized.
However, with many science students pushing for their own guarantee of sixth-year funding, the Graduate Student Assembly is planning to pursue equality across the disciplines.
“I’m really jealous [of humanities and social science students],” said Danti Chen GRD ’15, a student in Applied Physics. “The assumption is that it’s much easier to get funding in the sciences, but right now that’s not the case.”
According Joori Park GRD ’17, the current GSA chair, sixth-year funding for science students was initially part of the proposed reform, but the efforts ultimately focused on the other two disciplines because their funding structures are very different.
Entering doctoral students in the sciences are typically guaranteed five years of funding, though this varies by department, according to Richard Sleight, associate dean of the Graduate School.
However, after the first few years of study, science students are often fully supported by the principal investigators in their labs, which is not the case for students in other disciplines, students interviewed said. Additionally, many science students do not rely on teaching for their income, unlike students in the humanities and social sciences. For these students, sixth-year funding will be provided as of next fall, through teaching positions or equivalent stipends.
Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley said science students also receive fellowships from outside sources such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, whereas humanities and social sciences students are mostly supported by the Graduate School because grant support is rarer in their areas of study.
Twenty of 22 science students interviewed said they are not concerned about their own funding situations, with 11 adding that they believe it is easier to find funding in the sciences than in other disciplines.
Still, nine of 13 students who commented on the Graduate School policy said they believe sixth-year guaranteed funding should be extended to cover science students as well, with some going even further.
“I would like to see the funding term extended beyond [six years] to whenever they finish their study here,” Xinming Zhang GRD ’17 said. “Without funding concerns, we students would be much more willing to undertake riskier and longer-term projects, which are usually more important and innovative.”
Others suggested the policy should be extended to science students in the interest of fairness.
Still, Cooley said that given the differences in funding structures, a uniform sixth-year funding policy would not appropriately address the needs of science graduate students.
But Park said the GSA will continue to pursue the initiative, adding that Graduate School administrators have agreed to attend to these issues in the near future.
“Sixth-year funding for science students is just as important to providing sixth-year funding for humanities and social science students,” Park said.
Students said guaranteeing a sixth year of funding is also important because many students rely on their principle investigator’s funding — a source which can be unreliable.
Sleight said it is relatively rare for faculty members to lose funding to the extent that makes supporting their graduate students impossible, and that under circumstances like these, the students’ funding situations are addressed on a case by case basis.
Cooley said some departments have reserve funding they can use to support students whose principle investigators lose funding. For departments that do not, either the Graduate or medical school steps in, she explained.
“We always find a way for students to remain in their lab and finish their degrees,” she added. However, several students said this has not been their experience.
Daniel Gadala-Maria GRD ’15 said he has friends who have almost had to leave Yale or needed to essentially restart their doctoral research over when their principle investigators lost funding or left to work in other industries. Chen also said that while her department is currently funding her, the funding only lasts for one year, and she is not sure what will happen when the year is up. Chen, who expects to graduate in the fall of 2015, said she is unsure of how she will be funded, as departmental funding only extends through the fifth year.
In some cases, if a principle investigator does not get tenure, students might have to change to a different lab that could guarantee their funding, according to Brittany Angarola GRD ’17, the Cell Biology Department’s GSA representative.
Additionally, several students cited confusion surrounding this policy.
Rui Dong GRD ’17 said as an international student, NIH funding is not available to her, and other sources are scarce.
“Honestly, we have trouble finding funding no matter what year we are in,” Dong said.
Some of the motive behind not funding a sixth year for science students may come from the Graduate School’s stance that Ph.D.s should not take longer than six years to complete.
Cell Biology professor Karin Reinisch said her department offers cash incentives to students who graduate in less than six years, adding that faculty members believe that Ph.D. research should not take longer. The department also offers the Ferris Chair’s Prize of $10,000 to a cell biology student for exceptional doctoral work completed within four years of matriculation.
Julie Park GRD ’18 said incentives like these encourage students to graduate as early as possible — even though their research, by nature, cannot be rushed.