I'm a named researcher (but basically a Postdoc) on a funded project in the UK which pays my salary. I've got a good CV and currently do 4 hours of teaching per year.

The principal investigator (PI) has asked if I would take over their teaching, marking and project students in exchange for renaming my contract to 80% research and 20% teaching. The increased estimated total workload would be 140h, mostly before Christmas. Seems like a raw deal as I get nothing apart from CV experience, in return. What would you do?

The PI said they would use the money saved on my contract to pay for someone else to do something unrelated to my work (but still on the project). It's not clear to me what 20% of the project I wouldn't be involved in anymore and I think I would be expected to do it all anyway.

I asked for a salary increase: No. I asked for a lectureship: No.

My choices:

  1. I'm thinking about asking for a funded PhD student if I get a fellowship in return for doing the teaching.
  2. Do the teaching as a "favour" but don't change the contract.

What's my leverage and what are the pros and cons?

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    This seems too specific to your individual situation to answer here. Good, answerable questions can be generalized to other situations. – Bryan Krause Oct 11 '18 at 18:22
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    What happens if you say no? – Austin Henley Oct 11 '18 at 18:27
  • @AustinHenley Good question. I don't know. Is there a reason to say no? – HCAI Oct 11 '18 at 18:31
  • Reason? You would be earning less, and doing other things than the contract you signed. If you're ok with it, then fine. But you mention salary increase, so it seems like the teaching would be a burden to you and you're not keen on doing it. So overall you situation would become worse. – user68958 Oct 11 '18 at 19:32
  • More work - more money = oh hell no. – JeffE Oct 12 '18 at 2:56

As I understand it, after you've been hired, the person who hired you wants to change your contract in a way that would be more advantageous for them. Well, they can ask, but...the whole point of a contract is so that you (and your employer) can be held to the parameters you agreed upon.

I must say that although I've been in academia for my entire adult life, I still find myself baffled by some people's academic cultural expectations. You are considering taking on what you view as 140 hours of additional work in the remainder of the calendar year. That's almost a month of full-time work. It is absolutely absurd to me to do that amount (or anywhere near that amount) of work "as a favour." Are you not a highly trained professional? Don't highly trained professionals (in particular!) get paid for their work? Again, even as a lifelong academic, I've always thought so.

On the other hand, most academics I know are at a lot less than 100% research. It sounds like you currently have a temporary, "soft money" academic job. Do you want a permanent academic job? If so, that will probably involve some teaching. (Right? This is probably field dependent.) In that case, getting teaching experience is not just a CV-stuffer: it is actually valuable for your future. Getting used to a balance of research and teaching is of some value, at least in my neck of the academic woods, where most tenure track faculty eventually teach at least 1-2 courses per semester while maintaining their research activities.

But back on the first hand: if you are currently at 100% research and are happy with that, then I understand how you are viewing this as time away from your research and are not thrilled. If that's how you feel, then that's how you feel, and I think you should just say no, explaining that you are really excited about doing what you are doing and would like to continue with it. You gave your PI some chances to come up with something in exchange, so it's not as though you will come off as completely unwilling to help. Being unwilling to take over someone else's work in exchange for nothing is really not a character flaw.

Finally, I don't quite understand the financial aspects of the situation. Why would you teaching the class generate funds that are not generated by the PI teaching the class? Maybe I'm missing something here.

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    Sounds to me like the PI wants to take unpaid leave and needs to find someone to cover the teaching. – StrongBad Oct 11 '18 at 19:32
  • Hmmm it's 16h teaching this semester starting next week. Prep, marking and projects make up the rest. I'm not keen on it, but not because I couldn't do it, but because the way I've been asked. Everyone knows that the workload involved in teaching is severely under inflated. If I had been offered a gesture, I would probably have said yes. – HCAI Oct 11 '18 at 19:55
  • As for the money released by me doing the teaching. The school would pay me 20% of my salary so freeing up the money on the project which could be used to contract another researchers time. – HCAI Oct 11 '18 at 20:00
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    @HCAI but the money they are paying you has to come from someplace. Either the PI is taking a pay cut or there is extra teaching in the department and the PI is doing off topic teaching and giving you the on topic teaching. – StrongBad Oct 11 '18 at 20:06
  • @StrongBad I see what you mean. The school is going to pay for my teaching but where it comes from I don't know. I doubt the pi is taking a pay cut. – HCAI Oct 11 '18 at 20:26

The first thing to realize is that this is not additional workload, or at least should not be. It is a change in allocation of 20% of your time (about 400 hours). Now one issue with that change is your estimate that 140 of those hours will be before the end of the year. Given limited marking and project student supervision during that period, that could translate into 100 hours of teaching over 10 weeks which is something like a 3-0 teaching load in the US. It is not fair to dump that on anyone, especially a new teacher, the week before teaching starts. It is unreasonable to think you would get any research done during that period.

If the 140 hours is only 10 hours of teaching, 30 hours of prep, and a bunch of low prep student supervision and marking, that is very different.

I asked about contracts once when I was in a similar, but different, situation. Does a contract matter

As for leverage and pros and cons, it depends what you want. Maybe it will lead to a back door faculty position. Maybe it will get your contract renewed.

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  • Yes it's as per your second paragraph. What sort of back door do you think it means here? – HCAI Oct 11 '18 at 19:57
  • @HCAI you would be on an R&T contract. Presumably they could keep renewing your contract for 3 (maybe 5, I don't remember the details of UK labor law) years and you would become permanent faculty without them running a search. But unless they are saying something to that effect, I wouldn't count on it. Even if they say it, I am not sure I would count on it, but it might be worth 16 hours of lecturing. – StrongBad Oct 11 '18 at 20:03
  • A week before teaching starts? How do you figure? – Azor Ahai -- he him Oct 11 '18 at 20:21
  • Hmmm I've been a postdoc for 5 years so already have a permanent contract subject to funding. I'm not sure this means anything in real terms though? – HCAI Oct 11 '18 at 20:21
  • @AzorAhai the OP doesn't say when the teaching would start, but it doesn't sound like they will get much prep time. – StrongBad Oct 11 '18 at 20:27

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