A professor who I collaborate with on a project (not my advisor, he's not even from my university) asks me to help him to write a major grant proposal that is due in a week.

In an initial phone conversation with him, he said it would be great if I could help him for around four hours every day. I asked him whether (if I did everything he wanted) I could be hired as a postdoctoral scholar if he got the grant, and then asked about the salary and duration of the postdoc (just to make sure there wasn't a mismatch of expectations, because a two year postdoc is much more comfortable than a one year postdoc, etc). We eventually settled on him paying me at an hourly basis, and with no guarantee that I'll get funded even he gets the grant. We were both very happy with this arrangement, though I think we both felt that in the future, it would be better to come to an agreement faster so that more work can be done (we spent half an hour reaching an agreement).

If this situation happens in the future, how can I balance the need to avoid a mismatch of expectations with the need of providing as much help to him as possible?

  • In my answer (below) I estimated that you'll work for 20 hours, based upon "four hours every day" until the deadline which is "due in a week," hence, 20=4*5. Is that estimate correct?
    – user2768
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 13:56
  • 1
    Yep, that's correct.
    – wwl
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 14:02
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    If the prof was annoyed at spending a half hour negotiating with you, he should have asked for your help well before a week before the due date. Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 18:30
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    I have a hard time grasping the benefits for you as a PhD student / early career postdoc in writing a grant proposal where you will not be one of the people applying (so no "I successfully applied and obtained grant X" line on your CV), with a person applying for a project they are unsure they want to include you in. I guess the experience could be useful, but I wouldn't even know how to verbally communicate to somebody how and why exactly I was involved in a grant proposal where my name was not included in the proposal. Is there a professional benefit for you that I missed (not payment)
    – penelope
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 13:47

1 Answer 1


You negotiated for 30 minutes to agree upon a 20 hour contract (four hours per day, for one week). That's an overhead of 2.5%. I doubt you can do much better...

  • 3
    In man-hours, it is an overhead of 5%: 1 man-hour of negotiation for 20 man-hours of work.
    – Alexander
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 6:48
  • @Alexander, the OP stated "we spent half an hour reaching an agreement," not 1 hour.
    – user2768
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 7:43
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    @user2768 2 men × 0.5 hours = 1 man-hour Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 8:25
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    But it doesn't make sense to treat the 30 minutes the professor took as overhead; this is time they spent to offload a much larger task to someone else. In effect, spending large negative time on it. Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 9:23
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    @JackAidley It is surely still an overhead, since offloading has a cost.
    – user2768
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 9:37

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