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So I have joined my first job in research as a research assistant on an industry-academia collaboration and I am supervised by some professors and a representative from industry is managing the project.

I am employed full-time and am one of the biggest "expense" of the project so to speak as far as the funding allocated to the university goes. It is worth nothing that as division of funding goes, our industry partners received more than 3x what the university received.

Anyway, my employment will come to end soon. However, this project partly funded my degree (I don't want to sound insensitive or ungrateful but the funding received for my degree was a trivial amount), which is totally unrelated to my research assistant work, and that is still ongoing.

The problem is that our industry partners, at the last second, indicated that I might be asked to give out presentation of the work done to the funding body. I have no information about the style of presentation; obviously, effort in preparation for a 10 minute vs a 2 hour presentation is substantially different. However, I will be unemployed soon and have no indication on whether this presentation will actually happen or not or when it will happen. Also one would be right to think that the details are vague as communication between my supervisors and industry partners has been really vague. Sometimes communication happens in 2-3 month gaps because the industry partners does not respond to attempts at communication but there is nothing I can do about individuals' behaviours.

Anyway, my professors want to show good will with our partners and are suggesting that we comply with the presentation. However, I have serious commitments like progressing on my degree and new employment. Sure, I can make some time in my new schedule but I don't think it's fair to expect me to do that. I also want to indicate that I have good relationships with my professors and that they are helping me with my degree, so I do not feel in a position to disagree with them.

So I am interested to know if it is normal to keep on working on projects beyond the project termination date, especially given my circumstance. I'm not aware of what my rights or obligations are in this scenario. Of course, each circumstance is unique, but I would appreciate any tips or pointers of how I can reason about this situation without harming relationships or becoming a dramatic situation.

  • looks like bad project management, when the final report of the project needs work/expertise of people hired for this project, who cannot be paid anymore for this task. Are you partly responsible for this or was the project report forgotten in the project plan and who managed the project? – user48953094 May 30 at 18:29
  • All project reporting is OK, not a problem. It is that there is possibility of work beyond project reporting that concerns me. Project report was not forgotten and the project was managed by industry partners who are slow to communicate (2-3 months to reply to emails) – gilevegox May 30 at 18:39
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    I don't collaborate with industry, so I won't leave an answer. But you have no obligation to work for free. And should not. It's not clear if your degree is over, but if your job ends June 30, and they need a presentation in August, then it's unreasonable to expect you to do it, especially if it involves travel. You should tell them that since your contract is over before the presentation date, you won't be able to do it. Part of supervising is planning for staff departures. – Azor Ahai May 30 at 18:46
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    Working for free devalues the labor of everyone in this "industry," and harms all of us. – Azor Ahai May 30 at 18:48
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    The degree isn't over, so how does that affect the implications of your comment? I want to make it clear that work on my degree and work on the project are two different tasks but under the same funding agent. – gilevegox May 30 at 18:49
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If your degree is not finished and your advisor feels you should comply with the request to give a presentation, you may not have a strong voice in the matter.

To put it bluntly, college professors are used to getting work from students for bargain prices. And, because they control the gateway to a degree, they usually get what they want. That is a sad reality of academia. Not all professors are like this. But some indeed are. This is why academia.SE is full of questions to the tune of "My advisor/professor took advantage of my labor. What should I do?"

I would consider two points here:

  1. If you have a good relationship with your advisor, address these concerns to him/her. In writing (email) is even better than verbally perhaps. Mention that you cannot do extensive work for free. Express your opinion professionally. You do have a voice here (albeit one that might be ignored).
  2. Be willing to compromise. If your professor still asks you to comply, outline some parameters you would like to have in place. (Two examples below).

    • I would be willing to work 10 hours a week on this presentation, but I do not feel that I can devote more time to the project and still complete my degree in a timely fashion.
    • I want to partition some of my time towards seeking full time employment for after graduation. Is their an avenue for me to do such?

In short, you have a voice in this matter, but your professor might disregard your opinion so as to retain an industry connection. This is part of the politics of academia as a student.

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In my limited experience "working for free" at the end of a project is not how things should be, but is also not uncommon. It's a concern that you can raise, but if it's not a huge amount of work it may be best to just get on with it.

In my mind I'd draw a distinction between "They want me to give a presentation on work that I already did" - which should take you a maximum of a few days to prepare - versus "They want me to finish off research that isn't complete so that I can present about it", which could be another level of commitment.

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