This question is specific to Canada (but you could also say North America)

So if I am a sponsored PhD student (externally from my government), and I happen to work/research on a project funded through my PhD supervisor (for example by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation), is he legally required to pay me (regardless of my external sponsorship)? In other words, if my supervisor gets funding from a certain organisation, does this organisation stipulate that whoever is working on this project get paid because it is illegal to work (even if it's part of a degree) for free? This is what I understand from current PhD students, so is this understanding correct?

What are your experiences, particularly if you were sponsored?

  • Depends on contracts so ask on law but without contracts..,
    – Solar Mike
    Aug 31, 2020 at 5:17
  • 2
    I have never heard of a situation where volunteering is illegal. Inappropriate or unethical, yes, but not illegal. Aug 31, 2020 at 7:24
  • Most research are externally founded. I hardly can imagine a situation when most research exclusively done by people who are directly paid from it. In most countries grants wouldn’t even cover everyones‘ salary who is involved.
    – Greg
    Aug 31, 2020 at 12:41
  • @AnonymousPhysicist When I was an exchange student in Canada (American nationality), I couldn't volunteer in a lab, only work for pay. This was a huge annoyance because they kept issuing my work permit incorrectly, so I couldn't do anything with the lab I was hoping to collaborate with. Because I was working closely with the immigration office to fix the work permit, I had to be really careful about not violating this labor law to get it fixed. Aug 31, 2020 at 14:23
  • 1
    @AnonymousPhysicist: Typically, inappropriate volunteers are considered victims. Hence, it's more common to have laws restricting employers from making use of volunteers than it is to have laws restricting volunteers directly. For example, unpaid internships are often illegal in both Canada and the United States.
    – Brian
    Aug 31, 2020 at 15:23

2 Answers 2


At least in the U.S., the answer is "no." In fact, in general you can't be paid twice for the same work under any graduate student arrangement I know of. You could turn down your external sponsorship (a terrible idea) and then be supported by your supervisor, but you can't have both. With the external sponsorship, you're not working for free, you're being paid by the sponsors to study and do research, and it's typically a good thing that this overlaps with research someone cares about.

One exception may be if the funding level for the sponsorship is less than the graduate student stipend that the grant supports, in which you can be paid the difference. (I have seen this in the U.S.)

I don't know about Canada specifically, but my past interactions suggest that the procedures are similar, so I'll post this in case no Canadians respond!

  • Thank you for your response and detailed explanation. My sponsor is my government (hence outside Canada), I can't see why this would be seen as being paid twice (not arguing, only thinking out loud). In this case, where is funding money going if work is mainly modelling (i.e. no materials, equipment etc)
    – user128931
    Sep 2, 2020 at 5:47
  • @bikkil Suppose the graduate stipend is C$ 30k. You get C$30k from your sponsoring goverment. Getting another C$30k from the grant, and so C$60k total, means you're being paid twice (paid double is perhaps a better term). Running a research group, or administering a grant, isn't like hiring people to pick strawberries -- there's not an obvious relationship between salary and "the output." One assembles a team to tackle challenges that haven't been tackled before, paying the stipends of students whose stipends need to be paid, hiring other people, etc. Sep 2, 2020 at 14:12

In other words, if my supervisor gets funding from a certain organisation, does this organisation stipulate that whoever is working on this project get paid because it is illegal to work

I have never heard of anything like that. What is however frequently the case is that the sponsor expects some reporting and/or provided the monies based on an agreement regarding who will work on the project (if not which individual, at least how much work would be conducted by a seasoned researcher as opposed to a PhD student). To the extent that your supervisor is not entirely upfront with them about that (and for example, claims to be spending x% of his time on this project when he is only spending y% supervising you instead of doing the work himself), it could be a form of fraud. It is quite common however and it doesn't get you any money.

You must log in to answer this question.