I am a PhD student at a large state university system. The system hosts a program that encourages undergraduates to get involved in research on a volunteer basis (suggested weekly commitment: 6 hours during a 'regular' academic semester). The projects hosted on the system varies greatly (from data collection to data analysis to manuscript preparation), and I am considering using it to recruit an undergraduate to assist in a systematic literature review. If I recruited a student, they would stand to gain:

  • Practice in conducting data extraction for articles for a systematic literature review
  • Practice manuscript preparation
  • Authorship (nb: if it leads to an accepted publication)
  • etc...

When I was an undergraduate, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to participate in the research process. However, I was paid for the contributions (in both cash and credit-hour situations). I feel extractive utilizing labor that is volunteered. I have spent considerable time trying to find an in-house university scholarship/funding source for this activity, but to no avail.

While I realize this system must have been vetted and supported by numerous academics with research experience, I feel strange using it. Is it ethical to use this volunteer system? Or should I simply put more time into finding a funding source for the student?

I was also considering setting aside part of my PhD salary for the undergraduate student, but I realize this has tax and legal ramifications beyond my knowledge.

Updates from initial comments:

In general, I agree with the answer posted by @AnonymousPhysicist here. So the question really is, should I still make use of this resource? I would be interested in prioritizing the student well-being, uplifting their success, and trying to leverage the project into tangible monetary and career-advancing rewards for them (conferences, presentations, thesis project, references, etc).

  • All the projects (nearly 200 in the 2019-2020 academic year) on this system were based on the premise of volunteering (no cash payments or course credit)
  • The primary purpose of the program is to foster undergraduate interest and participation in the research process, and to encourage students within the university to pursue careers in research
  • My PhD stipend is meager, but I can't complain given what's going on with COVID-19
  • So you're saying they receive neither money nor course credit? Aug 16, 2020 at 1:35
  • One possible way to think about it would be the legal standard for unpaid internships: is the primary purpose to educate the student, or to get work done? Aug 16, 2020 at 1:37
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    "I was also considering setting aside part of my PhD salary for the undergraduate student" If you are one of the 99.9% of PhD students who is poorly paid, don't. Aug 16, 2020 at 1:40
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    @RobertBahensky A 6 hour commitment is about the equivalent of a 2 credit hour semester class. An unpaid project favors students who don't need to otherwise work to fund their schooling.
    – mkennedy
    Aug 16, 2020 at 3:46
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    @RobertBahensky Obviously, mentoring a motivated undergraduate is good for the undergraduate, and is in general good for the mentor. As you acknowledge, it discriminates against certain students. I and others argue that perpetuating that discrimination is worse that the good that comes out of working with whatever students happen to be available. Aug 17, 2020 at 20:16