I am a master's student at a R1 university, who has previously published in reputable conferences (think ICML, OSDI), and have strong letters of recommendation from the concerned professors (or I wouldn't be admitted).

I recently approached a professor whose work matched with what I wanted to do, and they wanted me to work for free instead of for a stipend. This professor has adequate funding, and despite my background, their response was this:

Hi spatial,
Thank you for your interest in working with me, your skills are definitely aligned with the project. I would like to offer you a position in my lab on [insert project name]. However, without prior experience with your work, I can't offer you funding. We can reassess potential funding opportunities in the future.

When asked what "future" meant, they said about two semesters. I would easily graduate by then.

This person wants me to work for free for a year! That sounds outrageous. Maybe now I know why they have no PhD students. I wanted to reply something like

I am not going to be unpaid labor. You should revisit your ethics. Bye.

Of course, everyone is discouraging me from doing this and asking me to be respectful. Why am I supposed to be respectful to this person who thinks students are slaves?

To be honest, I despise this idea of students slaving away in research for months without getting paid, and yet there's the scam of "work for credit" which most professors exploit. That doesn't work in industry, you have to pay your new employee regardless. Why does academia encourage this practice?

  • 7
    Is your master's program fully funded?
    – cag51
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 4:46

16 Answers 16


The pragmatic answer is that it's a waste of time. Do you really think this professor is going to read your mail and say "Egads! I have seen the error of my ways and am overcome with remorse?"

there's the scam of "work for credit"...this slave practice...You should revisit your ethics.

Using charged language like this is particularly unlikely to convince anyone who doesn't already agree with you. I suppose using such language is okay if your intent is merely to scold rather than convince, but frankly, few are overly concerned when they get scolded by a master's student they barely know. And while it's probably unlikely that you will have to deal with this person in the future, you never know what might happen.

Finally, being rude always carries the risk that you misunderstood something and so your rudeness was entirely uncalled for. It’s possible to misread even seemingly clearcut situations. Which you may in fact have done here…see Bryan’s answer and the ensuing comments.

To the larger question, I'm certainly not going to defend "unpaid labor." But I will push back on a few of your points....

This professor has adequate funding

This is not for you to say. What may seem like adequate funding from the outside may look quite different from the other side of the desk. And regardless of how much money they have, they still need to spend the money responsibly. (Which is not to say that paying students would be an irresponsible use of grant money).

I am not going to be unpaid labor.

You probably overestimate how useful your labor is. It will probably take at least 12 months before it is faster for the professor to delegate to you than to do things themself. Being a good supervisor takes a lot of time and effort, and students at your level tend to disappear right around the time they finally become useful.

Now you could argue that's the cost of doing business; professorships are very literally about supervising students, and such costs (in both money and time) should be accounted for. I don't disagree with you. But you go much too far if you imagine that supervising a student entails simply telling them what to do, waiting for them to do it, and then copying-and-pasting their results into your publications.

  • 43
    "You probably overestimate how useful your labor is. It will probably take at least 12 months before it is faster for the professor to delegate to you than to do things themself." Every employer in every industry could try this excuse for not paying new workers. For the most part, legislators don't let them get away with it. Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 14:22
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    @DanielHatton However, it is absolutely true. Prior to retiring to teach I was a hiring manager in industry. That circumstance is why I would not accept interns, even if they wanted to work for free.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 15:38
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    If we just view this as an employer, you should not hire students. You only pay for people who don't know what they are doing if they, on average , stay long enough after learning how to work to pay off the initial investment. Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 15:41
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    The reason I hire students is to give good students some extra learning experiences. I pay them if I can, but if I can't, should I not give these students this opportunity? It is only an opportunity after all, they are free to say no if they don't want it. Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 15:46
  • 46
    @spatial That's not really how funding works in academia; you don't get to keep the money you don't spend. If they don't want to pay you, it's because they'd rather pay someone else, which is either because that person is better than you (despite your qualifications) or because they've already been given a funded position that can't be taken away (whether legally or ethically). Not because of greed or something.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 16:51

I would not interpret this message:

I would like to offer you a position in my lab on [insert project name]. However, without prior experience with your work, I can't offer you funding. We can reassess potential funding opportunities in the future.

as desiring "unpaid labor". I would interpret this message as a "polite no". In some cultures (for example, in the US midwest, though there's a lot of variance), it's seen as rude to tell people "no" directly. Instead, you say "yes" while giving the asker some additional conditions or qualifications. This indirect style can be very confusing to people who are used to more direct communication, but it's not meant to be harmful, it's meant to let you off easy and to let you be the one to walk away rather than being rejected (cynically, you may also take this as letting the professor not feel guilty for saying no).

I would take the statement that funding can't be offered as an honest one: if there's no money to pay you (because any money available is already promised to other students) there's no money to pay you. Should the professor cancel someone else's position to take you on? That would make them truly a horrible person to work with.

So, to answer your question directly: this person doesn't have a paid position available for you, they are telling you so, and there's no reason to react to that situation rudely. If you are looking for a paid position, you should decline their offer and work with someone else.

  • 12
    Yeah I agree, I also read this message and I thought that the professor is saying "I wished I could pay you, but I don't have a position for you now". Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 16:22
  • 8
    Yes, "I would like to ... However ..." could be interpreted like this. But "We can reassess potential funding opportunities in the future" implies that it is an actual offer and the professor thinks OP might take up the offer and start working there for no money.
    – toby544
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 17:01
  • 7
    @spatial Every professor has limited resources, so every professor has to make decisions about who they can and can't pay. This one is telling you that you do not make the cut to be paid; mentioning experience is a way to not make it about whether you're "good enough" or not. They said "I would like to offer you a position...but I can't." Maybe in the future they could; maybe if you had more experience you'd make the cut.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 17:47
  • 10
    @spatial lets take this exact sentence out of the academic context where unpaid work sometimes happens. If you go to a restaurant and ask to be a chef, and the owner tells yo "due to the lack of your prior experience, I will be unable to pay you", it would mean "due to you having never done this job, I can not offer it to you right now". I agree that the professor may have meant what you understood, but I see no evidence to discard that he meant what Bryan suggests: that he is unwilling to hire you right now. Thus I see no evidence to assume one over the other. Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 17:48
  • 28
    @spatial You aren't owed a job just because you worked a little bit already. If the money isn't available in a month then that plan doesn't work for anyone.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 19:15

You sound amazingly entitled. You asked for a job, were politely told 'no', and now are snotty about being offered a unpaid internship as a counteroffer.

If you don't like the deal offered, just say 'no, thanks' and walk away.

Nobody has done anything bad to you - just made you an offer you don't care to accept. Some people in your position might be happy to accept and get experience instead of pay. You're not - fine. Just say no and don't get all insulted and prickly about it.

  • 22
    I wish I could upvote this more often. I wanted to write my own answer but it's not different enough from this. You could maybe add that the title says "Why am I supposed to be respectful toward a person who wants unpaid labor?". The prof doesn't want unpaid labor but he has nothing else to offer. The entire question of the premise is wrong because OP took the first step. It's not like the prof advertised this. Commented Dec 28, 2023 at 7:00
  • 3
    @infinitezero I'm sure the professor does want unpaid labor. I want unpaid labor. Most people want unpaid labor. The OP is implying something beyond just "wanting", such as "expecting" or "demanding", which the professor ISN'T doing, and/or that there's something gauche about admitting that you would accept unpaid labor. Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 2:50
  • 10
    @acccumulation we must be fundamentally different. I don't want unpaid labor. I value the time and work power of people. However, if I have no funds and I have someone who wants the experience I can honestly tell him: "I can't pay you, but if you still like the experience you're welcome to come by". Which makes perfect sense for a student to get some lab experiences and doesn't make sense for someone who needs to pay their bills first. Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 7:05
  • 1
    @Acccumulation from the professor's view this might well be unpaid work on his side^^ We don't know what lab work they are doing and whether they have any repetitive simple tasks to hand to OP - where no supervision effort is needed. If they do, then they might benefit from taking on OP. If they don't then OP might be a net cost for the professor (taking up more time and energy than the results are worth). In that case the calculation from professor's side is that they "only" want to invest the time but not money on top, then "wanting unpaid labor" does not come into play. Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 20:57

Why do you consider this offer unethical? You pay the university for your education and they make you do homeworks and class projects? You are given the opportunity to learn by doing useful stuff with the potential to advance your career afterwards or to find out whether you want to pursue a Ph.D. Nobody is forcing you to accept this offer. You initiated the interchange. I fail to see why your professor is doing anything bad to you.

If you send this letter to the professor, this answer will (in my estimate) make the rounds among their colleagues, who will (in my estimate) think that you feel entitled and likely turn out to be a "difficult student" if admitted to the Ph.D. programme. Some "difficult students" are worth keeping in a research group, but most are not.

  • 1
    I agree with the second paragraph, but no so much the first one. I also "initiate" with companies and PhD programs, they aren't doing unfair labor practices. This is not comparable to paying to university, because there I pay for courses; oh and this is not my first time researching that I'd be happy to pay to learn it.
    – user171390
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 14:29
  • 27
    @whoisit This isn't applying for a job, though. This is mailing an employer telling them you like their business and would like to work for them, while having no relevant working experience. Then being offended if they reply "we can't pay you but you're free to come do an unpaid internship if you want". You've made them a shitty offer and they make you a shitty counteroffer. It's a polite way of saying they're not interested. You're free to say no, and probably expected to.
    – Servaes
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 21:14
  • 13
    @whoisit Yes, I understand many masters students believe they have a lot of relevant experience doing research. I also get plenty of applications from students in (mathematical) finance who have read some books and made an eToro account. That does not count towards experience in financial markets. In both cases, an exceptional candidate might take 3 months instead of 6 before they stop being a net drain on an advisors time and energy.
    – Servaes
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 21:49

Why am I supposed to be respectful toward a person who wants unpaid labor?

Let's cut straight to the chase: because it's in your interest to do so. Nothing against the answer that points out that it's the good thing to do, it's also the best option from greedy self-interest.

Best case scenario if you shoot off a nasty email back: you feel good for a couple seconds? But you certainly will not be changing any minds on what is a long established practice. That would only happen if 1) your work has value and 2) the supply of people that can produce value is less than the demand.

Now what are the outcomes for a polite response? It's a small world. You don't burn the bridge with the prof and they might be able to help you out in a significant way later. They won't tell others in the field to avoid working with you. Etc etc etc.

This person wants me to work for free for a year! That sounds outrageous.

Younger people seem really adverse to this sort of setup but history is littered with great people who did exactly that, worked their butt off and it was the thing that opened the doors and allowed them to flourish.

The simple fact is that you are assuming that your work will be valuable, but there's no guarantee that is the case. "Working for free" may actually still be a (at least in the short term) net loss from the profs side if they have to put in more time and effort than the value they get from you. Yes, sometimes such relationships are exploitative. But they can also be good for both parties in the long run, if not the short. An mutual investment for the future, in other words.

That doesn't work in industry, you have to pay your new employee regardless.

Well that's simply not true. They certainly aren't as common but of course unpaid internships still exist.

  • 1
    just as addendum to your last point, feel free to pick up if you agree or not: the main difference is also that university's main goal is not employment. It's education. They give you benefit by educating you. Often there are clearly separated roles, get hired as a working student, you get paid, but you barely learn anything, but rather do the boring stuff. Get to do interesting things, you either have a thesis or are preparing to pick a thesis topic, then you are not paid. Sometimes separation is rule-based and clear, sometimes less so, but paying with education is always an element. Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 21:02

The main reason (at least for me) is that one should (at least try to) be respectful to everyone, even "bad" people.

While I am very much against free labor in Academia, many people see nothing against working for free - either because they are from a wealthy background and can easily afford this (and are happy to learn), because they have to in order to stay in Academia, because that is the only "reasonable" way to to research for them, because the professor is a big fish, because they want to save the university money... The point is that there are a lot of people out there working for free in Academia, so the professor might also have this point of view. Of course, it is not problematic that you decline - but it is also not problematic if the professor offers you something that many students want. (At least, I don't see it problematic for the professor or those students - I see it more problematic that the system allows it.)

And a more practical reason: If you send a really "unexpected" email, the professor may pass it around (even if he should not) and he/other faculty members hold it against you/ grade you worse etc.

In my opinion, there is nothing good which could come out from such an email.


In most formal education, the student pays to be there, so this seems less bad than that

The main justification for work without pay here is contextual --- since you are a student you are presently in the process of engaging in learning and practice of your skills, and even an unpaid offer to be on a research team allows you to do this. This type of thing can occur for course credit or just as an extra-curricular activity to learn and practice. Indeed, tertiary education typically proceeds with the student paying others for the opportunity to be educated by experts and to practice their skills under the supervision of experts.

Regarding your ethical aversion to this type of practice, it raises obvious questions about whether you think it is okay for students to engage in unpaid education, or education that they pay for, at all. After all, if it is ethically okay for students to pay for their education at a university, then it is difficult to make the case that it is unethical for another educational activity/opportunity to be offered to the student for free.

I don't necessarily think that these opportunities are always something that a student should take up --- they are a trade-off and often not a good one. If you don't think the value in learning/practice is worth the free labour you would be providing then it would be a good idea to decline the offer. As to why you should do this respectfully, well, you approached this professor looking for an opportunity to work with him, and that is what you've been provided with. The offer is certainly less attractice than a paid position (which virtually no masters student would ever be offered) but it is a research opportunity nonetheless. If you were to respond as you propose, I think this professor (and perhaps others) might be disinclined to make offers of this kind in the future.

  • 1
    I think the question was: why do I have to respect someone who [acts unethical in my opinion]. If I see someone hitting their children, or torturing animals, WHY do I have to be respectful. Is there any objective reason, rule or a fact I am missing?
    – troyan
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 7:34
  • 3
    Since this is not a situation involving the torture of animals, I have taken the liberty to push back ever so slightly on the premise of the ethical judgment at issue. In my view, that is probably more helpful in the present context than the interpretation you have put forward.
    – Ben
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 7:37
  • 1
    If A acts unethical, do I have to react ethical in all circumstances? I actually never thought if it. In some cultures he is definitely expected to get back at him and punish
    – troyan
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 7:43

Your direct question is "Why am I supposed to be respectful ...?" but the body of your question is more along the lines of "Why should I not be deliberately rude?", which is an entirely different matter.

The answer to the latter question is that the only person whom your proposed, rude response will affect, is you, and it will affect you badly. No one likes a student who is egregiously rude. You have nothing to lose by not replying at all, and you might even have a little to gain by saying, "Many thanks for considering me. I'd be grateful if you would keep me in mind if funding does become available for a position in the future."


The professor's response does not preclude you having funding. He just says that he can't provide it. You'd be welcome to find a third-party grant or stipend to work on this project.

Most employees work for a normal employer who provides them with working space, equipment and payment all in one package. When you step outside that bubble, it's not so simple and your job may be "some assembly required". You need something to work on, and working space and equipment - sounds like he can provide that. You also need money - sounds like he can't, so you'll need it from elsewhere.

If you can't get all the pieces, you can't put together the final result. This applies in business too. That's just how business is, and not a reason to be rude to people. If I want to buy a house, and my bank approves the loan, and my insurance doesn't approve the insurance, then I have to go without insurance (if possible) or just not buy it. It wouldn't be a good reason to be rude to my bank for trying to force me to buy an uninsured house. That would make no sense.

Of course you also have the option, but not the obligation, to work for free - if you can ride through a year, expect to receive something valuable enough after that to make it worth it, and can handle the risk of still getting rejected after a year. Many extremely successful people did take extreme risks to get there. It should never be expected, but it's an option for risk-takers.


As mentioned by most responders, you should not be rude as a rule. You should also take into account a few points to fully understand the context of your situation, which you clearly do not. It's not your fault because there's just no way to know these things.

In no particular order:

  • your prior qualifications and LoRs were the minimum to get you into the graduate program. Really nothing more. You are one of many, and frankly you are clearly not among the most exceptional or you would be fully funded through scholarships/fellowships.
  • your insistence on the fact that the faculty has "funding" shows how misguided you are about how funding works. Most active faculty have some form of funding. Funding does not exist in perpetuity, and it is rarely ever open to be spent at will. It is money that is earmarked for certain tasks for limited amounts of time (this is important at the university level as it also dictates the way that overhead is drawn). Money is rarely sitting around waiting for the ideal candidate to come around, because once faculty get it, they generally have to spend it (you can typically extended one calendar year beyond with most agencies if you have a valid reason to do so). There is no faculty benefit to hoarding funding as it just goes away if unspent.
  • you overvalue your worth as a researcher. Masters students are a massive time and resource sink with very little ROI. The only reason I ever take them is as a service to the department. I would rather pay an undergraduate from their junior year all the way through graduation. It takes time to learn to do things properly, and the masters program is just too short. You waste four months training them, then they can barely produce anything meaningful before they have to start focusing on wrapping up their thesis. The average Ph.D. student needs 1-2 years to get up to speed and start producing. The cost of a masters is same as a PhD or 2/3rd of a postdoc (depending on tuition costs)... so yeah, if we are going to make this whole conversation about money, worth and respect, you have little value in this context.
  • When a faculty takes you on for a graduate degree, even a short one, they are on the hook for training you, providing guidance, providing letters of reference, building up your network (the latter there is no obligation, but typically this is what you get). Advocating for you at the university (many of my students will never know how many times I have had to step in for them behind the scences). These are all time commitments, so you aren't getting nothing. This is a long-term educationally and professionally enriching relationship you are entering into.
  • You are technically enrolled in research credit hours (unless it is a wholly course based degree), so this is part of your education, which as noted above, is being provided to you by the advisor.

To all those making a note of how things are done in industry. This is not industry. This is school. Unless an advisor makes you perform work for a spin-off company or something they have a COI with (which is wholly unethical), no money is being made off a masters student or most any other students work. This is part of the training and earning a degree. If you cannot see that, and view all relationships and exchanges as fully transactional at the very superficial level of exchanging money, then perhaps higher education and STEM-related work may not be for you, certainly not the current paradigm of academia.

Finally, your use of language, insinuating that what was offered to you by the faculty amounted to treating you like a slave is frankly pathetic and disgusting given what that has entailed in the past, and currently still exists in parts of the world today.


He does not want unpaid labor. He wants you, but he has no money. More clearly, yes he has the money, but it is already allocated (mostly for the salaries of others). He can not alter the contract what he made with them.

That "about two semesters" are very clearly the time when he will have the money for you.

In your case, I would accept it, if I have no better option.

  • 1
    Exactly, I think. And, if you can prove immediate tangible evidence of your potential contribution, then you're good... Sure, if you have better options, go with them. Typically, commitment of money is not only the most practical thing involved, but is also the hardest criterion for real commitment. Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 22:03
  • "That "about two semesters" are very clearly the time when he will have the money for you." Or it's a timeframe during which it's possible for the OP to gain a level of experience as to merit a paid position. Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 2:53
  • @Acccumulation Uhm, right :-) Although that should be said openly and it should worth some offer of "practicing collegue" or so. Maybe the prof did not say it so openly, but hinted it (most likely on politeness reason). Becoming a paid researcher is a door not opened for anyone... it might worth this extreme investition.
    – peterh
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 3:21
  • I also think, such a prof is very likely a team leader or a leader of a research team in a department. Such a guy has no right directly decide about personal decisions, i.e. he can not employ anyone, particularly not into a paying position. That is the decision of the department lead. But, the department leader trusts him to choose, with whom he wants to work together, so the department will pay to those who the prof says. Probably there is nothing about those "special guys" who work but are not paid; their budget was constructed based on the concept of amount of various salaries of the teams
    – peterh
    Commented Jan 4 at 15:59
  • (i.e. it was determined, "we will have the big prof, about 2 post-phd and maybe 3-5 pre-phd guy for this project", it was known, what will be paid for them. OP is below all of them (which is no prob at all, being a young proto-scientist is one of the hardest and also of the most wonderful things of the world). That he can be included in the project et al, it is already a thing what the prof needs to explain to the department lead. "Who is this OP in the team? I can't see him in the payment list" <- that is the question what the prof has to answer).
    – peterh
    Commented Jan 4 at 16:02

Maybe now I know why they have no PhD students

So do they just hire post-docs for their research? It sounds like the lab really isn't interested in having a PhD student. Would you rather have just gotten a flat rejection letter?

It doesn't sound like they expect unpaid labor, but are just informing you of the facts. They aren't interesting in offering you a paid position at this time, but they are leaving the option open for later.

"We can reassess potential funding opportunities in the future."

When asked what "future" meant, they said about two semesters. I would easily graduate by then.

It sounds like they want you to graduate, and then they might be willing to offer you a paid position. Since you are the one that went to them, and since they seem to be amenable to offering you a paid position in the future, I wouldn't burn this bridge. You can't work for free, they won't pay you. No need to take offense. What they did give you is better than a flat rejection and now they know your name.

  • As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 4:58

There are unspecified details in the question (regarding the discipline, what the lab does, and what "working" in the lab means) that make what I am going to say possibly not apply to the OP but I offer this response for those who may end up in similar interactions.

So especially before responding aggressively to this denial of funding, I'd suggest getting a better sense of what would be asked of you as a part of this person's lab. My initial read of the question and the purported communications was that the professor may be offering some form of mentorship until funding is available and quite plausibly might be very open-minded about the level of effort expected of the OP until they are in an actual work relationship.

In my social science field, and some others, a PI's "lab" is often neither a physical space nor is it even akin to a place of employment. They are often like a social group that engages in research. There may be some hierarchy, but not always. To join or "work" in a lab may not entail the kind of labor that would always require compensation, but rather voluntarily accepting research tasks in the context of collaboration. Such labs may have members who are on a PI's grant as RAs or post-docs, but not always and not always everyone who is junior to the PI would be funded in this manner. They may instead be self-funded, teaching assistants, fellows, or funded through another PI's grants. As such, students might be involved in more than one lab.

In that context, it is at least sometimes the case that the PI welcomes lab members as part of their duties as a mentor and allows contributions from these members for the purpose of the member's benefit (or mutual benefit) rather than to merely extract labor from them. Of course, the distinction between doing unpaid work and engaging in genuine collaboration is not always so obvious.

As an example during my studies, I had greater-than-usual statistical skills relative to my peers and most faculty. My funding was guaranteed through TAships or RAships unconnected to any particular project. I sometimes would offer to join faculty "labs" (often on a temporary basis) to aid them with their statistical analyses because I wanted to be involved in research and receive professional credit by way of co-authorship. I was neither paid (in cash) nor under any formal obligation to continue if I didn't want to. I didn't perceive this to be exploitative or problematic even if other members of the lab, including the PI, benefited professionally from my involvement.


You don't work for free. The professor you mentioned doesn't want to work with you at the moment.

You see. When "strategically smart" people don't want to work with someone, they give you the worst possible offer. That way you decline. In your case, the response you received has more to do with market conditions and leadership strategy. You should not take it personal, specially if your degree is not funded (you did not mention that, so we don't know the financial situation) and your professional future is uncertain.

When you get to a leadership position in academia or industry, you will realize how incredibly difficult is to turn down people. Why? Because, life is cyclical. You could be doing well today, but tomorrow you may not (it is never guarantee you will do well forever).

Instead of closing doors, you have to be strategically shrewd. If you don't want to work with someone at the moment, you give a response that leaves the possibility open for future collaboration in case market conditions change.


You are not supposed to be respectful of people who are notably disrespectful of you.

Keep cool. This kind of thing happens in several work arenas, not just academia. Moreover when the "employer" senses a strong interest from the applicant.

Just do not reply to this guy at all.

Start writing to other departments engaged in your sub-field.

And write in a mature way - a way that respects your own achievements so far, albeit that you are just at MS level.

Don't be surprised if the exploitative "employer" comes back to you with an improved offer some time down the line. And don't be amazed if this happens around the same time that another (more respectful) offer from another department comes to you.

  • 3
    This has nothing to do with how masters level programs and research works at R1 schools in the US. For the most part, in the US we look at masters as failed doctorates or extended undergraduates. I disagree with this notion, but it is a rather blunt way to say that this is an in-between stepping stone degree that is not particularly well catered to, but you are ultimately not in any position of power to negotiate as a masters student at an R1.
    – R1NaNo
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 14:43
  • @R1NaNo Sorry but I'm not advocating any 'negotiation' with graduate schools. Just want the applicant to maintain his self-respect.
    – Trunk
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 20:28
  • 3
    I understand.... but the way to have self-respect is to not become so offended to the point that you are willing to throw out all professional behavior to score some imaginary points. Maintaining professional decorum while making the right choices for oneself is an act of self-respect. Choosing not to engage or reply to a faculty who took time to engage with you on a professional level is not self-respect. It is childish. A polite thanks but no thanks, so to speak is all that's needed.
    – R1NaNo
    Commented Jan 2 at 15:08
  • Yes but OP isn't in the right state for that sort of cool polite "No thanks" note just now. Better to stay away. I see a choice of 146 R1 universities, some state- and some private-funded. Even cut to those active in OP's area, it gives him other alternatives. Did you get the impression from When asked what "future" meant, they said about two semesters. I would easily graduate by then that the professor wants to see the final & essential MS paper at least before committing to fund OP ?
    – Trunk
    Commented Jan 2 at 16:20
  • 1
    Sure, I get your point. To transfer to another school would mean applying (late in the cycle for most top schools at this point) to another school for a fall start date (that's the earliest active start date). You don't just waltz up to another school transcript in hand. At which point that's two semesters away. Timeline wise, 1-2 semesters away from now fall in-line with NSF/DOE funds disbursement for the current proposal cycle, which may tie in to funds availability for the OPs proposed PI, and/or most other PIs they may contact.
    – R1NaNo
    Commented Jan 2 at 16:31

Because there are expectations that if you are in academia, you usually, normally

A) have genuine interest in research that means internal motivation and you would do it even without pay

B) have financial means. Accepting you to some program doesn't authomatically mean that you are entitled to scholarship. More likdly, you will have to take a loan and even pay interest.

There is no such "rule" that anyone gets paid for doing research, so the guy isn't acting unethical. Understand that noone has to pay you for doing things you like. let's say playing music. Noone even has to listen to it. No matter how hard you practice. There is no such obligation, period. You can't make anyone pay for it by insulting them or otherwise trying to get your wicked way. If they want your research, they will specifically indicate this, that they are unable to get anyone do this for them for free and they are genuinely desperate.

If your personal values disagree with this reality, you should not even be in academia! Consider other fields of employment, like business. Academia is non-profit by default, and many people donate their time and money. I think you should respect this because this is one of the academic values, so this makes sense.

  • 2
    Where in the world are you? Academics (from phd to prof) in my country are usually paid - and that is a good thing which should be demanded by unions etc- otherwise only rich people could work in A. (or research would always have to be funded by big companies). Simiarly, teachers, social workers, etc also should get paid - despite them often having a great motivations for caring/teaching.
    – user111388
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 11:05
  • In my country paid jobs usually don't concur with jobs that are of personal interest. Paid positions are advertised by employer as such. So you can't confuse the two
    – troyan
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 14:15
  • 1
    What does this mean? Jobs where people are interested in are never paid?
    – user111388
    Commented Jan 8 at 15:01

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