It’s not uncommon to hear stories of mistakes resulting in graduates students missing paychecks. This is a major problem because most students live month-to-month and can’t wait for a missed check to be fixed in the next pay cycle. Despite the commonness and dramatic impact of missed pay in graduate school*, it’s common to see these issues written off as isolated incidents and not part of a more systematic problem. As a counterpoint to this idea, here are just some of the responses to a single tweet about this problem.
If you’d like to add your own experiences either post them to Twitter (responding to or quote tweeting the original tweet or tagging me @ethanwhite; I’ll keep updating this post as new experiences come in) or post a comment on this blog post.
I can't even describe how many times I was screwed over in grad school because of mistakes on behalf of the university. I've missed rent, overdrafted my account, and gone without groceries because my direct deposit was mishandled. It was outrageous, truly. https://t.co/BgiEAshTlV
— Chela White-Ramsey (@DrWhiteRamsey) September 2, 2018
I went a month without pay 3 times a year, the start of each semester.
— Dr. Auriel Fournier (@RallidaeRule) August 31, 2018
— Mya Roberson, MSPH (@MyaLRoberson) August 31, 2018
When my wife started grad school, we went six weeks without a paycheck due to their screw ups. We ran out of food and almost got evicted. My in-laws and her boss saved us. Her boss gave her a full paycheck out of his savings and we paid him back. It was a terrible time.
— Rebecca Brown (@europa59rs) September 1, 2018
I was paid quarterly in grad school and they messed up the paperwork for one check. Nearly ended my grad career
— Chris Cain (@ckc54) August 31, 2018
once my university forgot to pay my salary. I was on atrip in a different country, went to the shopping store on the weekend. was ashamed in front of many people for not having money in my bank account.
— Foad Sojoodi Farimani (@fsfarimani) September 1, 2018
I feel this in my chest, I once went almost a whole semester without being paid and had to use credit cards for everything. No one gives you back the interest https://t.co/KPJO73o9zl
— Pusha C# Ph.D 🙅🏾♀️ (@grisuy) September 1, 2018
The fact that this happens with some regularity in every grad program I have been associated with just boggles my mind. https://t.co/QC8I9VUOiw
— Sarah K. Lucas (@saerobe) September 1, 2018
Remember crying as grad student. Pay wasn't there for 2nd Friday in a row. No food til problem got fixed … so for sure not that wknd. B4 easy e-transfers for loan from mum or dad! Never face that now, but I remember feeling & try 2 keep people's potential circumstances in mind!
— Sara Peden (@SaraJPeden) September 3, 2018
YES. This happened to me four months in a row during my PhD due to 'HR errors' 😤 https://t.co/UgNWDZzYh4
— Stephanie Boyle (@_stephanieboyle) August 31, 2018
This has happened way too many times for me. Like it is happening right now. https://t.co/5OaxvBuSuz
— Mel Mendez❄ (@melaniemendez) September 1, 2018
Every. Single. Semester. https://t.co/vQlc74nIxm
— Malcolm Barrett 🦁 +👨 (@malco_barrett) August 31, 2018
I went 4 months after coming back from a leave of absence despite telling @imperialcollege accounts department countless times. They did nothing to help the resulting credit card debt and supervisor couldn’t care less.
— Simon Dures (@SimonDures) September 1, 2018
Ah, grad school…I went a month without pay because of their screw up, but immediately incurred late fees if I didn't pay them the student rec charge on time.
— Joshua Martin (@jpmartinsci) August 31, 2018
It happened to me several times in May. https://t.co/TCh7DB4cbb
— Frank (@akeener_rogue) September 1, 2018
UC's system was such that it took almost two months to start paying most first year grad students because of delays associated with establishing state residence and getting into the payroll system.
— Noam Ross (@noamross) September 1, 2018
I went 5 months without pay, because my PI didn't realize she needed to sign a paper. She even said to me "can't your parents lend you money?". This was in Spain and I was hired as research support.
— Elena Blanco-Suárez (@westboundsigned) August 31, 2018
Three years in a row GW failed to get some graduate students their first pay check of the year in September after not paying them for three months. No structural changes have been made. https://t.co/xp2WU9LUl6
— Brady James Forrest (@BJamesForrest) August 31, 2018
My Grad Student friend had a payment screwup that lasted 3 weeks. He finally went to the HR office late one Fri afternoon, cleared off the director’s desk w an arm swoosh, plopped down on it, and refused to leave. HR director finally gave him a personal check and fixed the prob.
— Marty Olliff (@MartyOlliff) September 1, 2018
I study in the UK and had mistakes to my stipend happen FOUR times during my PhD. Once, it was two months in a row that I didn't get paid on time. I can't believe this seems to be a regular thing. Disgraceful.
— Joanne Power (@hanniepower) August 31, 2018
True for all grad students…and especially first gen students from low income families. Been there, survived. Lean months with no pay are yet ANOTHER glass ceiling.
— Melissa Chipman (@mchipman5) September 1, 2018
When I did my MS even when they didn't screw up the end of the month was always tight. So many times at the end of the month I'd go to feed my cat and her dinner smelled more appetizing than the ramen noodles I knew I'd be having. Of course they did screw up occasionally too.
— Ian D. Browne (@DocCopemys) September 1, 2018
This happened to me yesterday! Switched from grant to fellowship pay and they didn’t auto switch direct deposit enrollment. So now check is being hard mailed…to my old address b/c they didn’t update my info in the system. Missed check, rent is due today
— Julia Stepanuk (@jstep818) September 1, 2018
When I started my master abroad I went three months without pay, I borrowed some money from students I had just met. Needless to say I kept my expenses to cover only for food and rent. I used to walk hours on a daily basis. After 3 Mo shoes went to garbage bin
— Benjamín Otto Ortega (@OttoOrtegaM) September 1, 2018
As a staff member at a university, I see this kinda thing happen almost on a daily basis. I will say that it is almost always based on someone just not doing their job or leaving paperwork in a stack and not getting to it but is always blamed on a vague “bureaucracy”. It’s BS
— Chris Burton (@ChrisBurton100) September 1, 2018
i still haven’t gotten paid for the month, haha ha hahahahaha 🙃🙃🙃 https://t.co/nZAnyrgSm7
— three mental illnesses in a black panther crop top (@pharyngeals) September 1, 2018
Just happened with my first stipend which is MUST needed 😭 https://t.co/mtuidt5QIx
— Samuel Goodfellow (@Sam_Goodfello_w) September 1, 2018
This happened to me and the prof responsible for not putting our hours into the system tried to pretend that she didn't know why we didn't get paid.
I couldn't pay my rent so I straight up asked her to pay it. Which she did. But asking was so uncomfortable https://t.co/W3KosbISgD
— J. M. Black🧜 (@johannamayblack) September 1, 2018
THIS! Having dozens of our students (new and old!) not get paid correctly this summer, with no apparent explanation, I think the "fix" should be to have HR staff pay the students' bills until they get paid! You have ONE (important) job…get people paid! https://t.co/mXVB28EXWq
— Michael J. Beran (@PsychMikeB) September 1, 2018
ONE TIME FOR THE ONES IN THE BACK WHO TUNE OUT WHEN GRAD STUDENT LABOR IS MENTIONED!
(My friend once had a paycheck issue. Office personnel actually said “Dont worry. I know you got it.”
— Ja'Dell Davis (@MsJaDell) September 1, 2018
Tell me about it! I haven't gotten paid in a month, because an identity theft attempt forced me to redo my direct deposit, and apparently it takes my university something like 6 weeks to redo direct deposit? Also my apartment burned down. lol timing https://t.co/PcxZ6Crkvq
— Bryn Hauk (@brynguist) September 1, 2018
— kiⓋⓋaq (@LarterNikita) September 1, 2018
Last semester my TA contract was signed a week late. I didn't get paid for a *month* because the payroll department couldn't issue pay after you reached their monthly cutoff.
— Wendel Schwab (@WendelSchwab) September 2, 2018
I took a medical leave of absence for a month, ended up going 3 months without pay. Luckily, I had people to help me and a really supportive supervisor – but I'm still in considerable debt, and the stress almost killed me. It's almost as if we have no rights or something… https://t.co/ZITR1wGuTL
— Robert Shaw (@robertshaw383) September 1, 2018
My paycheck (from grant funding, so not subject to the same rules as payroll) was once delayed two weeks without explanation. They seem to forget we need that money for things like rent and keeping the lights on. https://t.co/eKajfycmgq
— Sarah Platt 🏺👀 (@sarahelizplatt) September 1, 2018
I've yet to get my fall contract. https://t.co/05moRB1P9h
— Ali's tryin' to graduate. (@LatinainScience) September 1, 2018
Indeed. Somehow every time my pay date moved, the gap bt paychecks was longer, never shorter. And generally no way to know until I showed up to pick up the check. https://t.co/8Hj11HeKUc
— Melissa Vaught ⚗️🔔 (@biochembelle) September 1, 2018
this is so real. when my grad school messed up on this. i was incredibly lucky to have a supervisor that said “NOT TODAY.”. he used office $ to have a physical check cut for me and dealt with HR to be reimbursed later. supervisors: 🗣 DO THIS if this happens to your grad https://t.co/1deTqG2gtx
— jana 🦄 (@jana_heath) September 1, 2018
Or, as has just happened to me: lose half a paycheck permanently because HR/payroll can't handle the transfer from one identically paid grad position to another. https://t.co/lxv8ngRt3W
— Tabitha (@back2brains) September 1, 2018
I love my university but this is so true it hurts. There were times when you had to wait for four months to get your measly salary. I don’t know why its an unacceptable system in the research academe. https://t.co/PhPlI7ihML
— michelle m (@wanderinwonders) September 1, 2018
I’ve heard of this happening to my classmates way too many times. https://t.co/69w2gOkhko
— Cory (@coryjwhite) September 1, 2018
I have been on the receiving end of this for four times now, twice when I was traveling! https://t.co/xoDtzYt5ms
— Maulik Kamdar (@maulikkamdar) August 31, 2018
This happened to me last summer while I was out of town 🤦🏾♀️ https://t.co/gsubrj4RPw
— Temptaous Mckoy, PhD Candidate (@SocraTemp2) September 1, 2018
"We'll fix it next pay cycle" is not an acceptable response. https://t.co/tgL2FmLqj7
— Dr. Manushag N. Powell (@NushPowell) September 1, 2018
Yep. I once missed 2 paychecks bc my paperwork was file incorrectly. Thank goodness I had some savings.
I emailed every day after the 1st missed check but eventually ppl stopped responding. So I went to HR in person & stayed until they found my paperwork & processed. https://t.co/l7GFDMb0yC
— Alexis Payne (@alexianumberone) September 1, 2018
This is the 9th semester in a row where I’ve missed a paycheck, loans haven’t disbursed on time, or I haven’t been enrolled in my health insurance on time (= out of pocket bills). I’m lucky; to be fair: there are two amazing women in my business/HR office who fix EVERYTHING. https://t.co/DhEmk34GF7
— Torrie Edwards (@tkedwar) September 1, 2018
Apparently this still happens at the University of Florida, per this tweet. https://t.co/XNkWsGMHjT
— Mike Bowen (@DrMBowen) August 31, 2018
This happened to me! I asked what was up, they said they would sort it out at the next pay cycle. I used the phrase, "if I am not reimbursed within the next 24 hours I will pursue and all legal actions available to me in order to receive my pay" Payment was lodged that afternoon.
— Nicholas Tierney (@nj_tierney) September 2, 2018
My favorite incident with this was when a grant I worked on didn't pay me for three months at the beginning. THEN, at the end of the year term of the grant, the admins forgot to stop paying me, so then clawed back three months of salary all at once. https://t.co/HNCiZ9DQfr
— John D. Martin III 🏳️🌈 (@jdmar3) August 31, 2018
I've experienced this at two Russell Group universities and on neither occasion was there any help offered (I can't even recall if apologies were given. More of a shrug). https://t.co/4iTBicoKWt
— Kate (@gingerly_onward) August 31, 2018
— Aadita Chaudhury (@ThylacineReport) August 31, 2018
This was BY FAR the major reason I sympathize with a need for a union at uChicago. It is brutal to have a paycheck delayed when one is on a quarterly pay cycle, as most students are here. https://t.co/rBEcLOFyyZ
— Mo Siddiq (@MoSephius) August 31, 2018
I know at least two graduate students who had to wait months (in one case almost a year) to receive their 'monthly' stipend. They were lucky enough to have other support from partners/family, but that isn't an option for everyone. This sort of thing should NOT happen! https://t.co/eq0qclxAyK
— David Minkley (@lolseal) August 31, 2018
— Seun Aremu (@tolaaremu) September 2, 2018
I thought that happened only in my department.
— Paola Ravaioli (@P_Rava) September 3, 2018
(1/) Was going to add my personal experience last night, but I was too mad. In my time as a student, I've been severely underpaid or just not paid 4 times. Not once has the resolution process been transparent or expedient.
— Ryan Lagerquist (@ralager_Wx) September 2, 2018
(4/) Also, two missed paycheques happened while I was traveling — once at a conference, once after I moved to Oklahoma for grad school. In both cases, had to borrow money. In both cases, told payroll people about my situation so they would understand effects of their mistakes.
— Ryan Lagerquist (@ralager_Wx) September 2, 2018
— Bishop of Blackness (@MarlonMillner) September 2, 2018
— Katja Laug (@livretta) September 2, 2018
Before I saw your tweet, I thought it was just me worrying a missing paycheck — clearly the secretaries at department’s office don’t care, HR and payroll don’t care, either. Now I know this is a widespread problem, somehow I feel better.
— Frank (@akeener_rogue) September 2, 2018
*As a number of folks have noted this issue is also a real challenge for lots of folks both at universities (adjuncts, postdocs, and even professors) and beyond. I couldn’t agree more. That said I think there are some unique things related to graduate students that make the occurrence of these mistakes more common (like the fact that at many universities they are “hired” at least once and often 2-3 times/year; more on this soon) and I also think it’s OK to highlight and attempt to fix general issues within specific populations.