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I am a second year masters student in Computer Science. I also work for a software development company which sponsors a scholarship that I want to apply to.

I was concerned about the ethical aspect of applying to this scholarship, I contacted the communications department via e-mail and asked if it is against the rules and/or unethical to apply. Response said that company employees can apply, which means, I can apply. The answer did not state anything about the second part of my question - would it be unethical?

I also know that the CEO of my company will be the head of sponsorship committee.

I know I have the highest average grade among students who can apply (it is 99%), I also have solid work experience and CV given my age. Criteria for deciding the scholarship are:

  • grades;
  • CV (emphasis on professional experience);
  • motivation letter.

I want to be honest and write what I want the scholarship for:

paying for some programming courses and certifications in technologies not related to my work, so there is 0 chance my company would pay for such courses; buying technical literature.

Possible negative consequences for me:

  • CEO becomes offended and takes my letter as a hint that my salary is too small;
  • CEO thinks I am rude and blunt and did not understand that applying would be unethical.
  • CEO wanders why I want to learn technologies not used by our company

Possible positive consequences:

  • This is a chance to show my CV and motivation letter to the CEO of a 400 person company and to have him notice me.
  • I get the scholarship as well as recognition among colleagues and management. Combining work and masters studies is not that easy, and I have shown good results at both (shows I have time-management skill).

Should I just ignore this specific circumstance and write my motivation letter as if there was no connection between my employer and the scholarship? Or should I not even apply?

  • Part of this question (the part about the ethics of applying for the scholarship) is posted on Academia. – ff524 Sep 11 '14 at 16:53
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    You are furthering your education... You aren't doing anything wrong. I am actually a little concerned that you feel this way - is there something else going on? Don't downplay your schooling. Just because you want to take courses that may not be related to your work now, doesn't mean they won't be in the future. If an Accountant wanting his/her MBA, and the company paid for an MBA, do you think the CEO would get angry because there may be a marketing class that had nothing to do with accounting? I don't think so. Formulate your letter honestly, and be confident. It's what it's there for – Mark C. Sep 11 '14 at 17:22
  • If employees are eligible, you're eligible. Period. – keshlam Sep 13 '14 at 4:45
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By all means apply for the scholarship, I don't think it would be seen as unethical. If anything your employer may see it as a great thing, one of their employees is taking an effort to better themselves. Any CEO worth his salt will recognize that a skilled employee can potentially equate to more profits for the company, so you may find that they're all for you applying for the scholarship.

To address your worries about the letter:

•CEO becomes offended and takes my letter as a hint that my salary is too small;

If your CEO sees this as some roundabout way of you asking for a raise (which I don't think they would), then they likely don't have their head on straight. The higher-ups of most companies got to where they are by a lot of schooling, they realize that students aren't wealthy, and they realize that every dollar helps. A scholarship is a great way of saving a lot of your hard earned money and the CEO will realize that, they won't see it as some maniacal, backwards way of asking for a raise, so no need to worry there.

•CEO thinks I am rude and blunt and did not understand that applying would be unethical.

As I mentioned above, the CEO will more than likely see this as you trying to better yourself for the company, which is never a bad thing.

•CEO wanders why I want to learn technologies not used by our company

If the CEO is wondering this then he probably shouldn't be at the head of your company. People branching out and learning new technologies is one of the staples of computer science and the IT industry as a whole. Look at it this way, you learn a new programming language that isn't used at your company, you're working on a project and find a particular algorithm or method is taking hundreds of lines of code with the technology used by your company, with this other technology you can get it done in a fraction of the time, less lines, and it's more efficient. This would make the management of your company very happy.

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Should I just ignore this specific circumstance and write my motivation letter as if there was no connection between my employer and the scholarship? Or should I not even apply?

I see absolutely no reason to avoid applying. And there's no reason to avoid mentioning your employment in your letter.

It's not against the "rules", and I'd be hard-pressed to imagine any CEO I've ever worked for would take offense to someone who was currently working in their company being good enough to be scholarship-material. It reflects well on them as well as you.

While I don't think you can expect favoritism due to your employment status, I'd expect you to be considered equally with all the other non-employee applicants.

Years ago, I got a small scholarship from a company I was working for on a part-time basis. After graduation, I went full-time in the home office. The company President spoke to me shortly after my full-time hire and said something along the lines of "this is what we were hoping for when we gave you the scholarship".

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    @MoustachMan I'll just add that as long as you disclose the fact that you are working for the company somewhere in your scholarship application and even in a letter attached to your scholarship application, you are in the clear. Let them sort it out - That's what they get paid to do :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 11 '14 at 17:05
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It seems like you are an ideal candidate based on the criteria described: great grades, professional experience in a respected organization, and legitimate motivation for self improvement. Competition would not be open to empolyees if the company felt it was unethical for employees to compete.

  • The sponsor company would simply state that company employees are ineligible to compete. The matter of ethics is irrelevant. – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 11 '14 at 17:37
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Good for you for asking the question. They gave you a specific and direct answer. Take them at their word. The scholarship is specifically open to current employees. There is no reason that you can't use your experience at the company and understanding of the company to help your write a better application.

Whether you want to reveal that you are in this course of advanced education is a different matter. That they offer the scholarship and make it open to current employees suggests that little harm can come from it. And unless you have been intentionally keeping it a secret, your manager and colleagues likely already know about it.

Finally, to answer the question in the title ... applying for the scholarship likely won't impact their perceptions, but knowing that you are pursuing advanced education certainly will. Most likely, the CEO will be impressed.

You did not mention your immediate manager/department. If your situation is not known to your manager, it may come as a surprise. Department managers are often parochial, and this one may not like the idea that you are looking to leave/move up/move on. Whether that risk mitigates the value of applying for the scholarship is beyond me to know, but my bias is to apply.

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I can see why you think it is unethical.

All it is saying that you are a person that is motivated, wants to do better, become a better asset to the company.

As to studying technology that the company that currently does not use - this may not be true in the future and also earning some techniques/thought processes could be applied to the company in more imaginative ways thus making you an even better asset.

Also any straight thinking human likes to see people get on in the world and in the future you may be able to enable a person to get to the next rung of the ladder.

So in summary - Apply for it - it is not unethical.

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