I work in a computational research lab as a graduate research assistant. We're all funded under various grants to do research in our field and we are also working on a thesis, which may or may not be directly related to the funding source (it is if we are lucky!)

Our lab is also licensing the software we write to outside companies for their own in-house use. As a result, there are many "niceties" that should be added to the code to make it more user-friendly, but these have no bearing on our research, either the sponsor-funded or thesis-related.

Is it okay that we are expected to implement these things in addition to our funded/thesis related work? Is it acceptable to ask for additional money (assuming work done on this is in addition to funded/thesis work)?

Our advisor is considering hiring an outside company to come in and put in these features, but we would be expected to help them through the process of learning and understanding our code so it would be nice to cut out the middle man since we certainly won't get any extra money from advising the consultants.

5 Answers 5


It's not unethical to ask your professor. However, as Leon pointed out, it could be annoying if not done properly. A couple of perspectives:

  • Set your goals. If you have enough funding for your research moving ahead comfortably and your goal is to finish your degree and get some solid publications, then focus on that (and be happy the maintenance is outsourced). On the other hand, if you're not funded well enough, and think you can accomplish both the research and get paid to do the maintenance coding, propose it to your professor in a way that is positive. But beware of the risk. I have had a student who, once he got scholarships, stopped doing the teaching assistantships we offered him. The extra money wasn't worth the headache or distraction to him.
  • Funded research work is never 100% research. I have always had, at various points of my research career, tasks that were distracting and fell out of the area of what was "research". The goal is to keep it reasonable and minimal. Complaining about "not getting extra money for advising consultants" is probably not a reasonable attitude to take with your professor. Negotiate with your professor how many hours/week you can reasonably spend (without taking you away too much from your research) is surely a better approach.

From one perspective, adding these niceties to the software increases the likelihood that the software will be used and thereby increases the impact of your research. So although these niceties are not research per se, they help achieve the goals of doing research (at least from a funding agency's perspective), namely making an impact. Such tasks are often a necessary part of the research process (and someone has to do them).

Whether or not it is ethical to ask for additional money to hire people to do this very much depends on the rules of the funding agency and how well your advisor is at selling and justifying the idea to the agency.


I'm pitching in my own experience in similar issues.

I've been in 2 research labs as a grad student, and in both of them, aside from my own research I did other tasks like server administration (we had our own local network), a bit of outsourcing, and the ocasional side project.

Now, in the first lab, all of these tasks were done pro-bono, meaning, I did not receive a cent for it, even though the server in place was really old and prone to failure, which took considerable amounts of time from my research time. The Professor, not even once considered paying me for the task.

In my second and current lab, the professor pays you for everything that should derange you from your research, I did a couple of projects for a company (on behalf of our lab) and I got paid. I also gave some tours in the lab as well as some demos, and I also got paid.

The moral is, it is usually up to the professor whether he pays you or not, if he is not paying you, is most likely because he either thinks is within your range of activities or simply he does not have the money.

Personally, I would not ask for money unless I had the precedent that other person did it before, other way it could set a bad relationship between you two.


Beware that some universities have ethics rules that make it harder for a professor to pay his/her students -- or if the rules don't bar it outright, the prevailing culture might frown on it. These rules are often written to protect students, e.g., from a faculty advisor who pressures his/her students to spend time working on his/her startup company.


Our lab is also licensing the software we write to outside companies for their own in-house use.

Are those companies paying you? Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds to me like you have a product. Instead of asking for funding to implement the features that these companies want, why don't you ask the companies themselves for money? I don't claim to know the hoops about using a research facility to work on parts of software that aren't research related, so if you decide to go this route you should definitely clear it with the lab.

  • If it is an american University, all work done in a Lab is property of the University Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 16:48

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