34

I am a first semester master's student. A professor has sent me an e-mail with an offer to tutor a bachelor class (this would be a paid job). I do not know him personally but he told me in his e-mail that I was recommended to him by a professor whose class I took this semester.

Now here is the conflict: I did my bachelor's at a different institution and in my country, it is normal for universities to require students who switched institutions to take 1-2 bachelor classes in the first semesters of their master. Among the classes I am required to take is the very same class the professor offered me to tutor. As a tutor, I would be teaching exercise classes and grading other student's solutions to the problem sets.

Can I decline this offer for the above reason or could it be seen as making excuses? I do want to pursue a career in academia so I am afraid that this could be misunderstood as me not being willing to tutor classes or do work for the deparment in general.

  • It would help to include which country you are in. – beldaz Jul 27 '18 at 22:38
104

You need to tell the professor. I would suggest that you tell them you want to tutor the class and believe you have the skills and knowledge, but that you are being required to take the class for credit. Then ask if it might be possible for the tutoring to satisfy the requirement.

  • 55
    +1 In my university, it's quite common to be able to get the credits for the course you're tutoring - after all, that way you probably learn the material much better than other students. – JiK Jul 27 '18 at 12:05
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    +1 I was about to answer that I have in fact done this - allowed a student to grade/tutor for me (in discrete mathematics) in return for course credit he needed. All with permission of the chair and nigher-ups as necessary. – Ethan Bolker Jul 27 '18 at 17:14
  • @JiK Teaching something is indeed an excellent way of learning, but most students at my institutions want to get taught by someone who has shown that (s)he has mastered the material. A tutor who takes that course at the same time, would have real trouble with her or his authority at the sessions. For that reason I would not hire someone like that. – Maarten Buis Jul 30 '18 at 12:06
  • @MaartenBuis I totally agree with your statement, but I am not sure that is what the previous comment meant and is clearly not what I meant. I think the comment was saying that you can get course credit by taking the class OR tutoring the class, not by taking the class AND tutoring the class. – StrongBad Jul 30 '18 at 14:00
  • @MaartenBuis If a professor already offers the job for a student, it can be assumed that the student is qualified enough, no matter where the bar is. Whether the student needs the official credits for his degree and how to get them is another question, and this SE question is about that case, not about whether the student is qualified. – JiK Jul 30 '18 at 15:42
20

To more explicitly answer the question the OP asked: When I am hiring, and would accidentally put you in the position you described, I would appreciate if you told me, and would have absolutely no problem with you declining. I would consider putting you in that position a mistake by me, and it would not reflect badly on you.

If you indicate that in principle you are interested, I may look at other courses I teach and see if I can switch tutors between classes to make it fit, or keep you on the list of potential tutors for next semester.

19

Tutoring such a class while taking it for credit seems like a conflict of interest that should be avoided. You might want to let him know that you are taking the class and want to avoid the conflict. You can and should thank him for the opportunity and ask if there is some other class you could tutor or another way you could be of service.

Tutoring in the strict sense (giving advice and feedback) is no conflict, but you shouldn't be involved in any grading activities for a class you are taking.

If there are several tutors for the class, the professor might also divide the work so that the conflict can be sidestepped. You only tutor. Others are involved with grading and such. That assumes you already have the knowledge and skill to do that, of course.

  • What are the interests which conflict? How could this cause a problem? – Behacad Jul 27 '18 at 19:09
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    @Behacad, if you grade a course and at the same time are being graded for the same course you could, if not scrupulous, make yourself look better than the others by making them look bad. The potential is there, which is the conflict. – Buffy Jul 27 '18 at 23:41
  • 1
    He mentioned tutoring, but I don't think grading? You do raise a good point, although only if grading is in any way subjective. – Behacad Jul 28 '18 at 3:18
  • @Behacad, Actually, he does mention grading. – Buffy Jul 29 '18 at 11:07
0

You should absolutely not tutor the class you are taking yourself, at the same time.
If you will be taking the class at another time and already have all the knowledge (but not the passing grade needed yet), then you might take the job, but make sure to discuss with the professor that you didn't pass this class yet.
You yourself should be sure that you have the knowledge needed for the job before taking it. If you don't, that is a perfectly well excuse, just make sure to point out that you are willing to tutor in general.
If, on the other hand, you take the job and it turns out mid-semester that you have no idea what you are doing, that is bad...

  • 2
    Why not? If the professor is aware that you're taking it, and arranges it so that you don't end up doing anything that is a direct conflict of interest, and if you have the necessary knowledge to tutor it, I don't see anything wrong with it. It sounds like the OP already knows the material. – Peter Shor Jul 27 '18 at 15:08
-1

I think it is not rare, especially for courses that are cross-listed as both undergrad and grad courses, that one of the grad students is the grader for the homework, and even has office hours. Typically, that grad student is the advisee of the professor and he's fulfilling his stipend responsibilities at the same time.

As long as you fully disclose, there's no problem. (I'm in the U.S.)

  • 1
    -1. While it may not be rare for US grad students to tutor grad classes, I've never heard of them taking the class for credit (as a student) while doing so. This would require the student to grade their own homework, among other problems. It may be reasonable to let the student tutor instead of take the class, though. – cag51 Jul 27 '18 at 21:15
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    @cag51 You haven't heard if it, and that earns a downvote? When I was a grad student it was quite common. In a grad course, the homework doesn't really matter, so the conflict of interest angle is moot. – B. Goddard Jul 28 '18 at 3:07
  • Fair enough, downvote retracted (or would be, if SE allowed it). – cag51 Jul 28 '18 at 3:17

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