We are graduate workers in the math department, and we are concerned about the security of graduate student funding.
The average time to graduate our program over the past six years is around 5.25 years. While many students are able to complete the program in five years, there are some fields of specialty which require more time to become a competitive candidate for research post-doctoral positions. The students take an extra year to submit publications and to write a stronger dissertation, all of which are necessary to obtain desirable academic jobs.
The main source of funding for graduate students in the math department is through teaching assistantships. All undergraduate students are required to take math, and our work as TAs is integral to the University’s academic mission.
Students who have obtained outside funding can bank the quarters for the sixth year; however, there is no official policy on sixth year funding if a student has not received outside funding. Those who do not are under tremendous pressure of insecure funding, which can make it difficult to make progress towards our degrees.
The main source of outside funding for math students is the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, along with other department grants also funded by the NSF. Such fellowships and grants are only open to US citizens and permanent residents. So, uncertainty of sixth year funding disproportionately affects international students. In addition, the recent government shutdown caused delays and uncertainty even for NSF grant recipients.
The math department does its best to fund all students who need a sixth year, because it is the best way to ensure we are successful. But without a guarantee, it adds unnecessary stress during the time when we should be most focused on our research.
We the members of the Math Department call on Northwestern University’s administration to guarantee six full years of funding to all graduate student workers.