I am a PhD student, and am being asked to do increasing amounts of non-thesis work. Some of this is general lab paperwork and small extra projects, which I'm happy to do and expect to lead to opportunities to present or publications. However, one project is run on clinical samples as patients present to the hospital, so is very unpredictable and time consuming (about a day's work per sample, split over 2 days). When originally asked to take part, I was told I would have to run samples only when my PI or the main student on the project was unavailable. I am now running almost all the samples, and frequently being phoned or emailed late at night to help with the project, as well as being told to come in to run samples at weekends. This project will be presented by a resident who recruits cases (but I actually collect and process most of the samples) and it is unclear if I will be on the paper.

How can I gently point out to my PI that this is interfering with my thesis work and my family life, without risking endangering her future reference?

  • Your amendment changes the nature of your question from "how much work" to "how should I tell the PI." Amend that. The original was rather convoluted. I now understand ff524's edits.
    – RoboKaren
    Feb 3, 2015 at 2:23
  • You haven't mentioned whether this work is for the grant that is paying your RA (even though it isn't related to your MS thesis project) or whether the extra work is utterly unrelated to the grant that is paying your RA. In the latter case, I'd argue that this is utterly inappropriate. In the former case, it's probably justifiable. Feb 3, 2015 at 2:27
  • Even so, schools and departments set upper bounds to RA work. Otherwise, RAs really would be slaves to the departments.
    – RoboKaren
    Feb 3, 2015 at 3:20

2 Answers 2


Are you being paid as a GRA? Usually your contract should specify how many hours you are being paid for. This is 10 hours a week for some fields (20 for others, as seen in comments), but it can vary. You need to find out what your GRA limit is.

Note that your letter of acceptance -- if it included a GRA package -- may also specify your contractual obligations. If not, check your graduate handbook.

If you have concerns, you should bring it up with your advisor, your Director of Graduate Studies in your department, or your department head (in that order of ascension).

  • I think this is highly field dependent even in the US. My GRA had no explicit contract and was nominally for 20 hours a week. At might university this was typical in all the STEM disciplines.
    – Bill Barth
    Feb 3, 2015 at 1:58
  • Regardless of where you are, your university/department will have upper limits on GRA work. Answer amended.
    – RoboKaren
    Feb 3, 2015 at 2:03

The first step, as indicated in @RoboKaren's answer, is to find out how many hours a week you are supposed to spend on GRA activities.

If you think you are spending more time than that, try keeping a log for a couple of weeks. If that shows excessive work, and especially if it shows excessive weekend and night work, you should discuss it with your advisor. The log will put the discussion on a quantitative basis. The advisor may not consciously realize how many samples you are processing, and how much time it is taking.

  • Excellent idea to keep a log.
    – RoboKaren
    Feb 3, 2015 at 13:18

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