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I would like to take some time off (more like reduce 50% study workload) from the life of a student on his way to a PhD.

So far I have been living off tuition waivers and payment for assisting my guide write papers and grade for his classes and I make a bit above $17/hr on the average (I get paid by the hour and the rates change on the kind of work I do).

My specialization is in sentiment analysis from text data: machine learning and large data processing.

I am interested in working in a corporate environment for some time, and had applied to a few companies, on my guide's recommendation.

This arrangement would mean, instead of working at school all the time, I split my time into half between my professor and another company.

A specific company interests me as they do similar work that I am doing in my research, and my potential boss (who interviewed me) and I are both excited about starting work together, but I have been offered $21.75/hour.

This was after I asked him to reconsider his initial offer of $17/hr (companies know how much I or any research assistant makes at our university as it's public information)

My expectation was atleast $35/hr as people who work on that same problems as full time employees make $50+/hr, but they are mostly PhDs.

It is hard for me to justify my impact on their business side of things, but I would be working on similar problems as a full time employee, and making similar contributions.

Accepting the new job would require me to travel atleast 2x 20 miles roundtrip to San Bernardino, CA or take a 2x 2 hour bustrip from campus, among other things.

It would also require significant rework of my class schedules (possibly impacting the time for me to earn my degree as I might have to turn down classes during usual work hours)

This would be my first internship experience in the US.

Questions:

  1. I am not sure if I would get any benefit besides the hourly payment as an intern. What are the benefits I can expect while working for this company (or any other software company)

    For example, could I ask them to reimburse my bus fare or fuel costs in addition to the hourly pay?

  2. What kind of an "employee" is an intern? (Read about exempt and non-exempt employee, but that's all very confusing)

  3. Since this is the second time, since my interview, that I have requested, and been offered a higher rate, should I continue to ask them for a value near a $35/hr rate?

I already have a bachelors degree and am on my way to an integrated masters and PhD degree.

I am afraid of pissing them off or coming accross as an opportunist - specially when I would really like to work with them.

Since I am a student on F1 Visa I am hour capped at 20hr/week and 40 during breaks/week with no overtime. This job though would have some adhoc hours like any IT job.

4

Interns are not hired to do work, they are hired so that people at the company can get a look at their abilities in a real situation (not an interview) before hiring them for real. This way instead of 30% of your new hires being a dud, it's more like 5%, because the bad ones were filtered out in the intern process.

If you are self-motivated and good enough, then it's quite possible that you will start getting real work while you're at the company, as opposed to throwaway assignments that nobody cares about. Once you're in that position, it means they trust you to actually accomplish something, and you will be viewed as a hopeful hire. Assuming you like the company, getting into that position is half the value of the internship.

So I'd take it as-is with one caveat - ask them about schedule flexibility ahead of time, explicitly for the purpose of making sure your class schedule works. If they're a decent place to work for they will probably grant you that point outright.

EDIT: One more note. If you've got a favor to burn, save it. Use it if you like the place and need to ask them for an H1B sponsorship, or any other kind of immigration assistance.

  • Great answer. What are the chances of getting hired full-time at say an equivalent of $50+ an hour if you were working as an intern at $22/hr? That difference is what worries me. – f1StudentInUS Nov 6 '11 at 3:08
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    Interns are expected to be paid dirt - comparatively speaking - and sometimes aren't paid at all (depending on the industry). You aren't in the real job market because you're a student and don't have the magic three letters after your name, so this is not a signal of your value in the real market. If this were a proper full-time job, you'd have a problem. – jprete Nov 6 '11 at 3:14
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I am not sure if I would get any benefit besides the hourly payment as an intern. What are the benefits I can expect while working for this company (or any other software company)

Probably none. Changes from company to company but usually only full-time employees are entitled for benefits.

For example, could I ask them to reimburse my bus fare or fuel costs in addition to the hourly pay?

You can always ask:-) If it's not in the offer - better ask now, you'll get paid what is written in the offer you accepted. Highly unlikely though.

What kind of an "employee" is an intern? (Read about exempt and non-exempt employee, but that's all very confusing)

As intern you're non-exempt. As a professional (i.e.: Not part of internship) you would be exempt.

Since this is the second time, since my interview, that I have requested, and been offered a higher rate, should I continue to ask them for a value near a $35/hr rate

Have you asked them for $35? Or just for more? Anyway, I don't think that if they raised the offer from $17 to $21.75 that there's a chance for you to get $35 from them.

  • I guess they expect me to counter as they have not sent me an offer letter bus asked me if the rate is acceptable, but I want to have a good professional impression on them and this looks like the haggling I do at the local Vietnamese shop! – f1StudentInUS Nov 6 '11 at 2:37
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    Haggling for salary is not different in principle from haggling over the price of a rug or a car, but companies remember the first rule of negotiation much more clearly than most applicants - namely, always be willing to walk away. – jprete Nov 6 '11 at 3:07
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    @f1StudentInUS - I agree with jprete. You can only haggle if you're willing to walk away if your terms are not met. If you're bluffing - they'll call your bluff without a blink. – littleadv Nov 6 '11 at 7:41
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They likely have an intern (job title) pay-scale that maxes out somewhere below $30/hr in order to meet the FLSA (that exempt vs non-exempt stuff you were seeing). As a PhD student, you could probably negotiate up into the ~$25/hr range, but from a benefits standpoint, they might not be able to pay you $35/hr without making you an exempt, full-time employee.

  • How would they hire a contractor for $100+/hr then? How am I different from a contractor for their payroll and state viewpoint? – f1StudentInUS Nov 12 '11 at 20:19
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    Contractors are completely separate business entities. They are supposed to provide their own equipment and office space, they have to pay their own payroll taxes (both the ones that you see and the ones that only the business sees), and they have to bill the accounting department to get paid. Essentially, all the things that the company does for you as an employee are things you do for yourself as a contractor. – jprete Nov 12 '11 at 20:26

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