Is it unethical to work for two professors (two seperate research lab in two non-related fields) at the same time? I am an undergrad student currently working for professor A in a full-time research assistant co-op job. On the other hand, I volunteer using my spare time working for another research lab in an almost unrelated field. Professor A doesn’t know about this.

So my question is, is it unehtical for me to do this?

I ask because my friends warned me not to do this. On the other hand, I don’t think it is too much of issue since I am not stealling data or anything from anyone and, more importantly, they are in two different unrelated fields.

Similiar question is asked here, but I am asking from an ethical perspective.

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    As long as you are fulfilling all your commitments to Professor A (including working full time on his project, not misappropriating any data from that project, and not using that project's resources for unrelated work), what you do in your spare time is your own business. Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 6:01
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    Welcome to Academia SE. I reduced your question to be only about ethics, as we cannot possibly read your professors’ thoughts and thus cannot tell you whether they would be “pissed of”. Please check that everything is still according to your attentions.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 6:44
  • @AndreasBlass: I would suggest you to convert your comment (+1) into an answer, as IMHO it answers the question perfectly and people, myself included, will gladly upvote it. Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 7:08
  • To answer the central question: no, it's not unethical nor is it an issue of ethics. It's an issue of time management and fulfilling responsibilities. Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 18:46
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    Professor A doesn’t know about this. — Why not?
    – JeffE
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 13:07

2 Answers 2


So my question is, is it unehtical for me to do this?

Unethical - no. Smart? Probably also no.

Firstly, as Corvus correctly states, it seems very unlikely that you can perform well in both roles and do your undergrad studies in parallel (and I am not even talking about going outside and doing people stuff occasionally, which you should also not forget about).

Secondly, you should not forget that professors are human. Even though you are not doing anything "wrong" by any stretch of imagination, it is not difficult to imagine scenarios where either of the professors (or both!) don't take it well, and I am assuming you want letters from these guys down the road. The professor that you work for, for instance, may assume that you find his research very unfulfilling if you feel you need to invest your spare free time into a completely unrelated area instead of hanging out with friends etc. (S)he may assume you are really doing it only for the money / letter. The other professor may be disappointed at some point when an important deadline should be met that you can't commit more time to her/his project, because of your other duties.


Professor A doesn’t know about this.

That's never great, and you should change this ASAP. Even if the professor basically does not care about the issue at hand, (s)he may get mad simply because you didn't tell (I certainly would). And I think you are aware that the chance of you keeping this a secret forever are slim to non-existent?

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    I especially agree with the last comment - it's not the act itself that is unethical, but deception almost always is unethical (and not informing both professors of your other involvement would be a lie by omission) Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 16:03
  • @user2813274: I disagree. Alex is under no more obligation to tell the professor what he does with the rest of his time whether that's doing other research or going bog snorkling. I find it surprising that he's not mentioned it, but it is in no way unethical. Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 7:42
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    Some people recharge mentally by hanging out with friends or regular leisure activities. Some may want to instead explore other research as the OP is doing. Assuming that this means that those students aren't interested in their main activities is quite insulting. The OP certainly won't be able to contribute to the secondary research as much as his main activity simply because he's working on it in his spare time but that has no bearing on whether he'll be successful in Lab A. Professor B should be aware that the OP only has limited hours available but that's where the ethical issue ends imo.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 10:00
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    @JackAidley that works well for bog snorkling as there is no overlap, but when your working for the same ultimate employer (the university) in the same field, there are issues - first of all, the university may not be allowed to have a person work more than 40hr/week and have legal issues if they do (working at two different places would normally remedy this) - the next is that in the industry, there are often non-compete clauses that prevent working in the same industry at the same time - while they may not exist in this setting, they do have their purpose and it would apply here as well. Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 13:02

Several of my undergraduate students have done this. There's nothing unethical about it, as long as they are honest and upfront about their obligations. It can be a very good way to figure out what kind of work you like doing--which, of course, is a big part of the of the point of undergraduate research.

On the other hand, the students who have done this are not the students who tend to get first author papers -- let alone first author papers in top tier journals -- as undergraduates. The students who do that are focused and highly invested in what they are doing in my lab. There simply aren't enough hours in the day for an undergraduate to take a full course load and perform graduate level in multiple labs.

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