I am burned out and exhausted and need a place to rant and get advice. =(
I am an undergraduate student majoring in Information Systems who was hired a few months ago to work in a Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) research lab at my university. My job consists of reviewing academic papers before submitting them for publication, conducting experiments using a variety of HCI equipment, giving lab demos to classrooms, as well as working on my own research paper that is to be submitted to an academic journal in a few months.
When one of the professors in my department asked me to take this job, I was hired to assist in the lab for 10 hours per week. About two weeks later, she increased my weekly hours to 20 because there wasn't enough time to complete everything she was giving me. I was flattered that she was happy enough with my performance to continue giving me projects to work on. Sometimes the work was very boring (performing a literature review on a topic you have no interest in is a nightmare) but I thought it would be a good experience.
As the semester went on, the professor (she's in charge of the lab) just kept giving me more and more projects. She went to HR and increased my weekly hours to 29, which is the maximum amount allowed for students at my school and it's only given in special circumstances, without even asking me if I was OK with it. However, there are many weeks where I have worked much more than this. The worst was last week, which was the week before finals, when I was in the lab 42 hours conducting experiments for her. I only got about 4 hours of sleep each night that week and could barely concentrate on my schoolwork. Since it is against HR policy to have students work more than 20 or 29 hours in one week, she told me to arrange my time sheet to make it look like I worked only 29 hours that week and then claim the additional hours later. I'm pretty sure it's illegal to do this.
While I am flattered that she is pleased with my work performance to continue giving me these projects, I feel like she is taking advantage of me. On the rare chances that I had a few hours of free time this semester, I usually used them to catch up on much-needed sleep or tried to do some sort of task that would get the research work out of my mind. It's been very difficult to enjoy myself. With winter break coming up, I thought it would be a great time to recover. However, she has already given me enough projects that will take about 30-40 hours per week throughout the break, with deadlines for each one.
I realize that the simple solution is to tell her that the work is too much and that I cannot handle everything while focusing on my classes. But at the same time, I do not want to disappoint her. She is the most prestigious professor in my department (in terms of publications, awards, experience, etc.) and is very happy with my performance. She would be an excellent reference to have and I do not want to risk harming that relationship. It's hard for me to determine if this amount of stress is worth getting a (hopefully) better job in the long run. Every company I've talked to has been very impressed by what I've been doing in the lab.
FYI, I am purposely trying to keep my job responsibilities vague to avoid revealing too much information. However, hopefully this example will give a better idea of the types of projects she gives me: In September she introduced a new research area to me (it was also new to her). She gave me 1 month to perform a comprehensive literature review and write an extended abstract to submit to an academic conference. I struggled a lot with it because she gave me no training and could not provide support due to being new to the research area as well. After submitting the abstract, she gave me many other projects to work on, and I never had a chance to work on that research again. Today the extended abstract was accepted for the conference, but the reviewers criticized it quite heavily. She told me that in the next 1-2 months I will need to come up with a research question and hypothesis, improve the literature review, create a methodology, conduct experiments to collect/analyze data, and finish writing the majority of the paper. Then, next summer, she wants me to miss out on my internship to attend the 1-week conference and give a presentation on the research. I feel like this is unrealistic for an undergraduate student. It might be a little different if she had some experience in this research area and could assist me, but she does not.
I've always wanted to go to graduate school, but if it's going to be anything like this, I'm not even going to bother applying.
Someone please tell me this is abnormal advisor behavior.