My master's supervisor delegates most (if not all) of his work to his senior PhD student. Let's name this student X.

  • X creates all the assignments, midterms, and exams for the courses this professor is teaching (which is not in the TA job description)
  • He often fills in for this professor's office hours
  • In fact, this professor once got him to take his place and give a lecture on 10 minutes' notice
  • Anytime there is an administrative chore (such as ordering textbooks, arranging tests in the accessibility center, deciding whether to accept a student's excuse for missing a midterm, etc.) this professor always delegates it to X.
  • X has written a significant portion of this professor's most recent grant proposal, even though X will not be part of the project.
  • I almost never see this professor; effectively, X has become my master's supervisor (this doesn't bother me, since I like working with X, but I'm sure he would rather focus on finishing his thesis).
  • Incidentally, a few weeks ago this professor also got me to update his CV to cover the last 6 years of his work.

The list goes on, and also note that this professor also delegates the "usual things" to X, such as reviewing papers under the professor's name or making an appearance at certain events.

Is this type of thing acceptable (or at least borderline acceptable)? If not, how could I prevent it from happening to somebody else without making a scene? For bonus points, how could I improve X's situation?

Why does this matter to me? Because X will be graduating before me, and this professor is telling me that I will be taking over his duties (just as X took over the duties from the student before him). Although I obviously have the right to refuse anything unreasonable, this particular professor becomes very unhappy when anyone refuses something.

  • 7
    Why don't you do your PhD somewhere else after graduation? You do not have to tell your Prof now. Nov 10, 2018 at 17:26
  • 5
    I would hire student X. He/she sounds bloody capable! Nov 16, 2018 at 5:33

3 Answers 3


It is really hard to judge a case like this. It could be anything from a wonderful academic training situation to extreme abuse. It would depend on a lot of things not stated here. What is the agreement between X and the professor, now and for the future? What does the professor actually do with the time freed by X? Is it to X's benefit in any way - say via joint research? Does the professor have such a stellar academic reputation that anyone standing in his/her aura is bound to be a success. Or, such a stellar reputation that they can get away with abusing students without anyone complaining?

If the professor treats the student like a colleague and they have agreed between them that the extra work will put the student into an excellent position for the future, then all is well. If the situation is delaying the student in some way, or impeding his/her research or future then it should be condemned.

But if you are to step into such a role, you need to make sure that you agree to it and accept whatever tradeoffs there are. If they are to your benefit, then it would be worth considering, though not necessarily accepting.

You should have a conversation with X to see what the long term view is. You should have a conversation with the professor to set appropriate limits and expectations.

One of the extremes, of course is Stephen Hawking. His students were willing to do everything for him. Happy to do it. Thrilled to be there. Even when it was hard.


I don't know from which country you are talking about, but where I live we have a few major ways to do Ph.D

  1. A fully paid "project" position where you dedicate all your time working in a project and you do your Ph.D "on the side"
  2. A fully paid "lecturer" position where you are really close to the university, doing exercises and even the exams
  3. A not so well paid scholarship where you have complete research freedom and you can actually do whatever you want without being involved in projects or lectures

In this case it seems X is a 2. Ph.D student where some of your points are completely fine in my point of view. I know that one of my sensiors which actually work for more than 15 years in the institution I work, did all those points you mentioned. He said that it was troublesome sometimes and he then went to the professor and said "I have too much work to do I can't do this review" and it was fine. This depends on the relationship between him and the professor of course. I guess this is just something you do to earn money...some of those might be ethically questionable, like reviewing and putting a different name on the review...but in the end it is a very good learning experience for the Ph.D student.

To sum up, I would say that results matter and the Ph.D student which you are talking about is actually graduating soon, which is a good sign. This is actually the reason why this person works there and gets paid for.

My advice is to ask X about the relationship between him and the professor:

Is it an abusive relationship? run.

If it is not, do it if you feel you are up to the task. You will learn a lot.


That sounds like a very unhealthy relationship. Some of the answers on this stack exchange, surprise me. The professor is not always right. It's not alright for the professor to sit back not do his/her job description and force all the work on their student. This doesn't sound right. Even if the student is a TA they are a TA they shouldn't be required to work beyond the hours they are contracted to work. They should not be doing the professor's job. They should be having their own office hours and depending on their contract they should grade and they should lecture on rare occasions. They should not be doing the professor's office hours. The undergraduate students don't pay thousands of dollars a semester/quarter to only attend office hours with a graduate student and not the professor. In addition fixing his resume is what tips the iceberg. They should do their own gritty work.

  • Who says this is in a country where you have to pay to go to school? Also, I have taken a few lower-level classes where office hours are TA only Nov 15, 2018 at 22:14
  • They might not be paying out of pocket directly, but they do pay through taxes somehow. The professor gets paid somehow by those students, nothing is for free. I could just as easily say that if the professor gets paid at all for lecturing/teaching then they should have their own office hours. No one should get paid for free without doing the work.
    – user88517
    Nov 17, 2018 at 19:14

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .