Pretty much what the title says (I know this question is quite strange).

I have some extra money (my research stipend is fairly generous, and I get paid by doing TA work on top of it) that I'd like to spend to increase my research productivity. I am thinking of hiring an undergraduate to help me with odd jobs (not actual research). This is the "job" description I've come up with:

Calling all maths students interested in research!

Want to learn what a PhD involves, get hands-on experience, and be paid for your time? Keep reading.

I’m a second-year student in X, working with Prof. Y. I’m looking for help with some research-tangential tasks. This would be a flexible role, both in content and schedules. It’d probably involve a few hours each week, whenever it fits our schedules (maybe one hour/day Mon to Fri, or ~5 hours every Saturday).

Tasks you would be responsible for:

  • Helping with the design of my research posters (eg, see my previous posters here), and printing them (which can be done for free in the Faculty).
  • Help with the design of my presentations (both technical research presentations and science communication tasks). You can find a list of my past talks here, with links to slides and videos.
  • Proofread my research manuscripts and other research-related documents (eg, cover letters for applications), for grammar mistakes and to improve the language style.
  • Help me with my research planning and accountability (e.g. setting goals with me and make sure I achieve them).
  • Occasionally typing maths into LaTeX (my handwriting is good!).
  • Very occasionally drawing pictures in Tikz (eg, see these diagrams in my previous paper).
  • Help with Overleaf/LaTeX documents, eg formatting my references.

This list is not set in stone. If there is anything here that you would prefer not to do, please let me know. If I find other tasks that I’d like you to do, we’d discuss if you’d like to do them or not.


  • Be at least a second-year student, but a third-year would be ideal.
  • There is no definite minimum grade required, however, you must demonstrate high academic standards.
  • Be a highly motivated individual.
  • Demonstrate a specific interest in working with me (at the very least be considering pursuing a PhD, better if in X).
  • Excellent time-management, organisation, and admin skills.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills in English (native-speaker strongly preferred), including scientific terms.
  • Familiarity with LaTeX and willingness to learn Tikz.
  • Familiarity with PowerPoint or similar (I now use Google Slides for my presentations).
  • Be able to meet in-person during term-time, at least once a week (We’d decide later how to proceed out-of-term, perhaps less frequent remote meetings), for at least this coming academic year.

What you’d gain from the opportunity:

  • Direct insights into the work and life of a PhD student, and how academic research works in general.
  • Soft skills that are useful in both academia and industry (eg, communication and design skills).
  • A payment of 10 pounds per hour.
  • Life-long regular academic mentoring from me.
  • The opportunity of obtaining good letter of recommendation from me (if you do a good job, of course).
  • This is not a traditional research assistant position (you won’t do any research). However, I might host a summer research student this summer or next summer. If so, you’d have priority over other applicants, should you be interested.

I know this is an uncommon job advert, so please get in touch with any questions! If it helps, I’m thinking of this role as something in between an executive assistant and a personal assistant. To apply please email xxx your CV and a short text explaining your motivation for the role.

I can expect there would be quite a lot of interest from undergraduates in my university. I was also an undergrad here, and I would certainly have said yes. My questions:

  1. Is this ethical?
  2. Would it be ethical if I didn't offer pay?
  3. Should I tell my supervisor before doing this?
  4. Is this reasonable?
  5. Any other ways I could get a similar (ideally more) benefit? Eg, hiring a professional proofreader for my manuscripts, hiring a graphic designer for my posters/talk designs, etc.
  • 2
    3. Yes, definitely discuss with your advisor. Personally, I would argue that there should be a better use for this money. Also, I would never make a life-long commitment for mentoring as payment for a student job. I would only offer to mentor people who I know.
    – user9482
    Aug 25, 2022 at 9:00
  • (which can be done for free in the Faculty) --- Did you mean "... by the Faculty", or is there a word inadvertently omitted that comes after "Faculty", such as "lounge" or "workroom"? Either way, the person reading this might not know how to interpret it -- Are you considered "faculty"? Would the student be considered "faculty"? Are you and/or the student allowed to use faculty printing privileges? This isn't something we need to know here, only a suggestion that a word or two of additional clarity in the actual advertisement might be helpful. Aug 25, 2022 at 10:41
  • @Roland thank you! I'll remove the part about the (lifelong) mentoring. Do you mean other ways (which?) to use the money for a goal, or just other life upgrades in general? Aug 25, 2022 at 10:41
  • 3
    Friendly warning: I highly suspect you will spend more time making this happen than it will actually save you. You might help your "research assistant" in the process, but I worry you're going to waste time, on balance.
    – Ian
    Aug 25, 2022 at 17:17
  • 2
    you mention your stipend - are you just planning on venmo'ing them or actually hiring them as a university employee? Aug 25, 2022 at 17:37

2 Answers 2


All of your “research-adjacent” tasks are actually a part of “research”, and develop skills that are essential to an academic career. Your view that you can outsource the grunt work of research so that you can focus on the “fun” part of thinking about cool science seems rather misguided.

Whether or not it’s ethical for you to outsource these activities to an undergraduate, I’ll leave to others to discuss. But if nothing else, I think you’ll be undermining your own development as a researcher and scholar if you don’t do those tasks but outsource them to someone else. So about question 4, no, it’s not particularly reasonable.

  • Thank you, this is the sort of answer I was looking for. I still think that I could do with some help with certain things (eg proofreading, as I'm not a native speaker) and that it's fine for some individual activities to be outsourced (eg, I've heard of groups hiring a software developer to make sure their package is usable). Aug 26, 2022 at 17:36
  • @ThrowAwayAccount You don't need to hire someone for language editing. There are companies and freelancers offering that.
    – user9482
    Aug 29, 2022 at 5:15
  1. Why wouldn't it be ethical, you are hiring an assistant (a bit like a secretary)?
  2. Unpaid work is almost always exploitative, and unpaid interships luckily mainly a thing of the past. Yes, no pay = unethical.
  3. Definitely.
  4. While creating an assistant job per se is not unreasonable, offering someone life-long counsil just for a student job seems pretty unreasonable, as does requiring the person to want to persue a PhD in the same field, when the job is basically layout/proofreading and organizing stuff.
  5. As 10 pounds per hour is quite low pay, I wouldn't imagine finding someone that does more/better work that is not a student.
  • Thank you! I'll remove the part about mentoring. My reason for requiring them to be interested in research is that I don't think they'd be otherwise motivated to do this. It doesn't have to be necessarily in my subfield of mathematics, but I do need them to understand mathematical writing Aug 25, 2022 at 10:39
  • we had a team-assitant at our microelectronics research institute that did a great job even though he was a sociology student.
    – Sursula
    Aug 25, 2022 at 10:58
  • 2
    Taxes, minimum pay and mandatory benefits might play a role. If OP gets a stipend he may not be allowed to use it for hiring someone. The university administration should be consulted.
    – user9482
    Aug 25, 2022 at 11:20

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