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TL;DR: I finished my bachelor of mathematics this year and I will not be able to enroll in the master program I wanted to get into until January 2024, so I will be a NEET (not in education, employment or training) for 6 months. My advisor for my masters will be the same I had for my bachelor, and my master will be a continuation of the work we previously did.

I was intending to use this "free time" to learn practical stuff, but my advisor seems to take for granted that I will keep working on my dissertation topic during the next six months. I would like to ask him to give me this time for myself, since I'm still not being paid, but I don't know if it's reasonable of me to do so, since doing it will delay the publication of a joint paper.


My original plan was to enroll in the master program offered by my local college this August and to keep working with my advisor, but he delayed the writing of my dissertation because he kept wanting to explore more topics and writing down the new results (he did so even when knowing I wanted to keep working with him and was willing to do the job while being enrolled in the master program). This made my dissertation to be twice its original size, and made me miss the dates to enroll in the master program. I haven't even defended my dissertation, and I will be a NEET (not in education, employment or training) for the next 6 months. The fact that I still need to make my defense and complete some paperwork stoped me from finding a regular job (as a secretary, waitress etc) to start making some money.

I intended to use this 6 months to learn some useful stuff (like honing my Java/C++ skills and familiarize myself with some data science techniques with R databases) because, after finishing my master, I'll probably will not enroll in a PhD program and instead will look for a job out there. I don't know if I will have my family's support since I know they want me to do a PhD, that's why I want to start saving money (currently I don't even have a bank account).

My advisor went to a trip during this summer, and recently wrote back to me. The way he was talking makes me think he is taking for granted I will keep fully working with him during the next 6 months. He even asked me to start preparing a poster and a talk for a congress this fall. We have enough material to start writing a paper, and I believe he wants to start writing, polishing it and filling some holes on the theory. I know this will take a lot of my time. I appreciate his guidance and being his student, and I know he appreciates me as a student and the work we've done so far, but I'm a 23 years old person with no income and would like to keep working with him when we both are being paid for doing so. And this will not happen until I enroll in the master program and get a grant.

Is it reasonable to ask him to let me free during the next 6 months? I would not like to harm the work relationship we have, but I neither want to keep working for free. So I fear to be perceived as being greedy for asking those 6 months for myself (but I also feel he is being greedy for wanting me to work when I'm not being paid).

Of course I can try to both keep working with my advisor while also learning what I want, but from experience I know he likes to schedule up to 2 meetings per week (that can last up to 5 hours) to discuss, and that doing the work I need for each meeting (reading a paper, finishing a proof or writing down the final results) is very time-consuming.

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    what is a NEET? Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 21:55
  • Are you defending/finishing during this term, or in the fall? If you're enrolled for the fall term (even if you're not taking any classes), could you ask if he has any funds to pay you?
    – mkennedy
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 22:13
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    @ZeroTheHero : NEET stands for not in education, employment or training.
    – Amelian
    Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 0:06
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    which country is your university/advisor based?
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 12:07
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    January is 5 months away, less holidays. As a bachelor candidate / accepted master's student, you might look for an internship in your field for those 4 months, but should not even consider "secretary or waitress etc". Many companies are used to taking an intern for either a summer or single semester, and your timeframe exactly overlaps with the fall semester. Most positions will be filled, but you may still find one.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 22:33

3 Answers 3

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Maybe. I think you're thinking about things wrong though. Grad school is not necessarily a job. You may get paid to do lab work - and some of what you do might fall under the "job" category. But your project is your project.

So there are two ways of looking at this. On one hand, you are doing work "for free" for your professor. You don't want to do this and you have other plans. That's fine - I'm not a fan of unpaid labor either.

On the other hand, this work is really for you. Coming into a graduate program with a mature project (one that might even have a paper submitted) is a good head start. It would almost certainly put you ahead of others in the program and I think would lead to more opportunities down the line. I would guess that this work benefits you more than your advisor. Plus 6 months is a long time to just drop a project. You're planning on continuing this with the same advisor and so putting it aside for that long (without a decent reason) doesn't sit well with me personally.

I think before you make any decisions, you should talk to your advisor. Just tell him how you feel. Maybe he can hire you as a research assistant for the 6 months. If that is impossible then maybe consider working less intensely. Establish a boundary - say 10 hours a week - and make sure you are clear about not going over that. Or maybe take a month or two off then start up working again, I think that's a more reasonable break.

Whatever you do, I'm not sure you can drop off the grid completely without ruffling some feathers. Obviously this is a work-in-progress and it sounds like your project. Leaving it for 6 months (or expecting your advisor to do the work in your absence) is a bit unreasonable. I'm sure there is a middle ground that you can find. It doesn't have to be all or nothing.

A couple of side points - working on this would be learning "practical stuff". Research and writing are literally practical skills.

The fact that I still need to make my defense and complete some paperwork stoped[sic] me from finding a regular job...

If you don't want to work prior to starting school again (or while you have to deal with your defense) that's okay - but lets not pretend that you couldn't just find a regular job.

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    Thank you very much for your insight. I guess the best thing to do will be to keep working on it, even if the pace is slower than usual.
    – Amelian
    Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 19:10
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In the US, for a variety of reasons, the amount of access you will be allowed may well be determined by if you're legally considered a student or not.

Flip the question the other way -- should the school entertain your work if you're not a student? If you're not a matriculated student, then you are not paying for all sorts of things, including the time faculty spend supervising your work and progress.

You may not have access to any of the school's library resources, you may not have legal access to any of the school's site licenses. There may be liability issues around whether you're allowed to work in a lab.

All this said, if the school allows it, and if you consider this the most valuable use of your time (nobody but you can make that determination), there is no reason why you shouldn't get a jump on your Master's work.

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You have not tagged a country, so I am answering with the circumstances of my country Germany in mind.

If the defense of your bachelor thesis is required to graduate (it usually is here), then you would still be a student until you have everything checked for graduation, defense included. It sounds though as you already got your diploma without defense, which would not be possible here. However the details on that part, working on a project for a professor/university without that project being an official part of your studies or you having a work contract with the university (commonly called 'Werksstudent' or 'hilfswissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter') is unheard of and not even legal here.

For a personal anecdote: I did both my bachelor and master thesis with the same professor and even on the same project. But there was of course a roughly 1.5 year gap in between where I solely completed other courses required to graduate and did not even look in the direction of said project. Keep in mind though I never aimed to stay in academia, only got my degrees and went on into industry.

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