For an assignment, I was paired up with a professor who also has an administrative role within my college. The assignment was unique to me, with a competitive process to be chosen for the assignment (or put on to a different one). The assignment was to produce some software for the college.

The assignment did not require me to completely finish the software. The assignment has now ended, and the professor has informed me that he expects me to receive a good grade.

Outside of my studies, I make a living doing the same work that was required of the assignment (hence why I took it). The professor has asked to meet me to discuss completing the software to the college's specification. The professor is also the one currently marking the assignment. He has offered me an extremely modest sum of money for this - I would never work for this low rate under any circumstances in my job.

I'm concerned that refusing to work for such a low rate will jeopardise my mark as there is a conflict of interest. I do not have any feelings either way for the college and do not feel that I am obligated to complete the software, other than to appease the professor, and the college is very wealthy and so could afford to pay me a reasonable rate. Furthermore, during the course of the work I will graduate and no longer be a student of the college.

I am looking for advice on how to approach this. Would you suggest that I complete the work for, basically, free? Otherwise, how can I sensitively reject the work without affecting my grade?

  • 2
    If your professor behaves ethically, your decision on whether or not to accept the job should have no bearing on your grade. Now, since you know the professor and we don't, I think only you can make a judgment as to whether you expect him to behave ethically. Commented May 17, 2019 at 23:49
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    It doesn't really have much to do with your decision, but to help explain the low pay offer: many colleges have standard pay scales for student employees that are designed around jobs like working the desk at the library, grading freshman homework, etc, and therefore don't go very high. It may be bureaucratically difficult or impossible to pay a student more than the scale specifies. Also, even if the college is wealthy overall, this particular project still has a finite budget, and its completion may only be worth so much to them. Commented May 17, 2019 at 23:55
  • In support of @NateEldredge's point, I was offered the same pay rate as a graduate student researcher as a new graduate would have got. I had over 32 years industry experience, and it was a fraction of the rate I was making on the job I left to become a graduate student, even ignoring benefits and stock options. Commented May 18, 2019 at 0:05
  • @NateEldredge To expand upon your comment, I am trying very hard to get a few bucks to compensate students who give up a Saturday to serve as facilitators at a university workshop. It is proving to be [expletive deleted] impossible.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 2:22
  • "To avoid any conflicts of interest, I would prefer to wait until I receive my project grade before making any decisions about continuing work on the software." (Consider by analogy: "...I would prefer to wait until I am paid for the previous contract before...")
    – JeffE
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 14:39

2 Answers 2


While the comments already provide some advice, let me add a bit with some possible options. First, you should be properly compensated for your efforts. Sometimes that can include course credit. Sometimes it can just include relationship building with a professor - looking toward the future. Compensation need not be monetary in all cases. This is likely why you did the project in the first place. So, you might examine what it is "worth" to you to do a favor for the university, or just for this professor.

But there are other options. Telling the professor what your normal rates are for such work is valid. If you need that income to live and the time the project would take would lower your income if not compensated, then he needs to know that.

But there might be a possible way to just step away from the project. For example, you could suggest that some other student(s) might benefit from carrying on the project and may not need to be compensated financially for their work. The experience itself can be valuable for them, where it is less so for yourself.

But, if the university really needs professional level work done on this project, then they should expect to pay professional rates to get it done. The fact that you are also a student, in addition to being a professional, shouldn't give them reason to exploit you.

I'll add, however, to address your main concern, no ethical person would blackmail you into doing something by holding grades over your head. If that is how the university behaves you should work to step away as soon as possible.


This answer is based on a comment by JeffE.

You should separate your student project from your professional services. Tell the professor that, to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interests, you would like to cleanly end the student project, and get your grade, before any discussion or negotiations related to future work you might do.

After that, some of the ideas in Buffy's answer apply. Your professional rates may be too high for the professor's budget. In that case, discuss options such as you briefing a student programmer on what needs to be done.

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