I am a junior faculty in one of the top-tier research US institutions. I just joined the department and hired two GRAs meanwhile. In addition, I would like to appoint one more individual in my research group who could be appointed as a research engineer/technician. His/her role would be to support my research program and assist my GRAs on their PhD work. I am wondering whether there are any legal issues/conflict of interests if he/she is one of my family members. How will the department see this recruitment?

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    is this the hill you want to die on? Even if legal and allowed, it would probably be frowned upon and could have unexpected consequences. I would suggest handing over the selection process to a third party, but even then the suspicion of wrongdoing might linger. In some cases, suspicion is enough to royally screw someone. – Fábio Dias Aug 26 '18 at 21:07
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    Are you picking them because they're the best person you know for job, or to help them out? Even if you prefer them as a candidate, wouldn't the institutions' policies require you to advertise the position? and then also recuse yourself from interviewing other candidates? – smci Aug 26 '18 at 23:44
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    @FábioDias Avoid answering questions in comments. If you have an answer please use the box marked Your Answer so it can be vetted by the community. – pipe Aug 28 '18 at 5:32

The rules differ from country to country, university to university, and department to department.

On a practical note, I would not want to be in a supervisory role towards a family member. In that role I need to be able to make unpleasant decisions, like tell someone if (s)he did a bad job, handle complaints, or even discontinue employment. That is hard enough as is, but if it involves a family member...

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    At least in the US, you're probably not even going to be allowed to be the supervisor in charge of someone. You may be the one who says what needs to be done, but all HR things (salary, disciplinary issues, etc) will likely have to be handled by someone else. – Wolfgang Bangerth Aug 26 '18 at 21:17
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    @WolfgangBangerth Interestingly at my university (in the U.S.) the conflict of interest rules only extend to spouses and siblings. Or at least they did before someone got in trouble for using that loophole. – Fomite Aug 27 '18 at 23:09

Many, if not most, universities have policies that would forbid this, or require extra scrutiny.

Search your university's hiring, HR, and conflict-of-interest policies to see if they address this (it could be under "nepotism"). Even if you don't find anything forbidding it, don't go ahead yet - check with your department chair and/or HR administrators. Make sure you can make a clear case as to why your family member is qualified, and why the direct hire would be better than an open application process. Don't go ahead with the hire until you have explicit informed approval from someone who has the authority to approve it.

If the money for this position comes from an external grant, you should repeat the above steps with "university" replaced by "funding agency".


All the existing answers point in the same correct direction, but are in my opinion too mild.

This is an horrendous idea. Don't do it.

It's irrelevant whether your chair / department / university / funding source formally allows it. It does not matter if your family member is the most qualified candidate. You will run into suspicions of nepotism, which are virtually impossible to ever fully get rid of. People will talk. You don't want any of that at a place that you quite likely will spend the rest of your working career at, and you most definitely don't want any of that so early in your career and prior to getting tenure.

If your family member is qualified and in need for a job like this, strongly recommend them the next time of your colleagues is hiring for a similar role. Don't take them on yourself.

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    Agreed. Let's be realistic about the following feature of modern professional life: even if something isn't bad, if it looks bad to a sufficiently wide audience then it is likely to be bad for you in the future. Not all workplace evaluations are formalized and objective; on the contrary, we are informally, subjectively evaluating each other all the time. (I didn't say it was a good thing...) – Pete L. Clark Aug 27 '18 at 15:17
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    @PeteL.Clark I guess that's a feature of life in general ... – xLeitix Aug 27 '18 at 15:36
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    Nepophobia: where a brilliant candidate can't get a job or promotion because he/she happens to be related to people of influence. It's a real thing and can be quite damaging to organisations and individuals. – gerrit Aug 28 '18 at 10:32

While I think the advice here and here is sound, let me make another observation. If the reason you want to hire this person is because they are a family member rather than in spite of it then it is probably a bad idea in any case, even if legal. Otherwise, it is a bit more ambiguous.

One way to avoid some, but not all, of the conflicts, if you think they are indeed the best person for the job is to see if you can defer the decision to hire to one of your superiors, say the head of the department. If your superior agrees that they should be hired, not just that they can be hired then go ahead. This won't solve the day-to-day supervision issues, nor the issue of what would occur if they had to be fired, of course.

  • A question arose on me after seeing this. For instance, if one person take a GRA for another faculty and just be a co-advisor for instance, and the same process should take place for family member, as another person would actually be his/her advisor, of course, if these took place sincerely. Will that amend the suspicions or like? – user91300 Aug 27 '18 at 7:38
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    @GürayHatipoğlu Family relationships can always raise suspicion. More so in some place than others, I guess. It is best to help family members from a bit of a distance in general. – Buffy Aug 27 '18 at 11:12

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