A person with allegedly academic affiliation from some foreign country approaches me with the request to help them in research being within my expertise.

The request anticipates about 10 hours of extra work without utilizing university equipment. The service can be referred to as consulting service.

Is it legal to require a personal monetary remuneration in this case from a foreign student/postdoc being consulted?

Alternatively, I can request being a coauthor in the future publication but I lack good reasons to believe that that person would not "forget" about this after they got a help.

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    You need to talk with your university concerning remuneration. There are different models, sometimes it is encouraged, as long everything is official. As for co-authorship on something you invest significant time in with someone you don't know, I am not sure that this is a safe route. – Captain Emacs Feb 5 '16 at 15:40
  • what does 'official' mean? that this money is on my tax statement? – andre Feb 5 '16 at 15:48
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    Most universities in the US have rule concerning outside consulting. It's generally allowed and in many cases encouraged. However, since the answer to this question depends on your particular university's rules, I've voted to close the question. – Brian Borchers Feb 5 '16 at 15:48
  • I think the question is valid; while details vary, the general procedure probably generalises. @andre you need to talk to your business link/human resources/law department and find out what they require from you. This is not merely a tax business (although that, of course, is an absolute baseline), but a university issue. While you are working for the uni, you are expected to put your work effort into their service and not into the service of externals. Plus, it is in your interest, too. – Captain Emacs Feb 5 '16 at 15:53

It is not illegal to do legal work for money. It may, however, fall outside of your institution's employment policies, and you might get yourself in a bind with your employer.

Consulting arrangements are generally laid out in your university's policies, and are often fine (but ask at your site!). That said, I'll delve a little deeper into your question. It is unusual for a "student or postdoc" to request the professional consulting services of faculty members, and thus you must consider what you are being asked to do. If you are being asked to help the student cheat -- i.e., the student is planning on representing your work as something otherwise, you should take absolutely no part in it. If it's something central to the students project, and you are being brought in as a contractor and not a collaborator, you might consider avoiding it.

The fact that the party is foreign is not germane.

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Is it legal to require a personal monetary remuneration in this case from a foreign student/postdoc being consulted?

What do you mean by "legal"? If you work for a public university, then you are a government employee and there are presumably laws concerning how and when government employees can request payment for work done on the side (you definitely don't want to run afoul of anti-bribery laws). You should talk with someone who knows how this works in your state. If you work for a private university, then I can't see how there's a legal issue here. However, every university will have policies on consulting and outside work, and generally requires such work to be officially declared to the university. You need to look up the relevant policies for your university, or ask someone who knows. They differ enough between universities that I wouldn't feel comfortable relying on a generic answer to determine what is permitted. Common factors include limiting the amount of consulting time allowed, avoiding conflicts of interest with university duties, and avoiding even the appearance of requesting bribes or other inappropriate payments.

Aside from whether you could get in trouble, there are various other factors you should consider:

  1. Demanding money could come across as offensive even if there's no rule against it, particularly if it's someone from a developing country who probably doesn't have the money.

  2. If you don't trust them to be honest, then do you really want your name associated with this work? Even if you aren't an author, they still ought to thank you for your contributions, and it may look like an endorsement on your part.

  3. There are ethical issues regarding authorship. If your contributions would normally justify authorship, but you ask for money instead, then it could look unethical even if you didn't intend to do anything wrong. (For comparison, if you sell a paper to someone else so they can put their name on it, that's definitely unethical, and this feels reminiscent of that.)

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I'm reading the question as:

Is it legal for professors in the United States to subcontract parts of their research project to other people for renumeration rather than authorial credit?

Yes. As long as work being done is not a core part of the research and that it is clear that the subcontractor is operating under the direction of the Principal Investigator (PI), then I don't think that there will be any problem with things such as:

  • Creation of some of the reagents
  • Customization of software or hardware
  • Setting up of the database
  • Some types of data analysis

This is all a normal part of research. There should be a good paperwork trail in regards to what is being contracted and what is expected.

Now as to whether you should be paid or receive credit, this boils down to whether or not the work being done has a significant creative or analytic component. That is -- are you doing the work according to specification (i.e., the professor has done the design and you are building to that) or are you doing some of the basic research underlying the design? You can think of it this way using a chemistry metaphor: Are you simply furnishing the enzyme using the chemical formula that the professor has provided? Or are you actually involved in creating the new -- previously unknown -- enzyme that is the core of the new research?

If you have any questions or concerns, you should ask the professor's university's Office of Research Integrity -- or if you know which grant he or she's operating under, you can ask the granting agency.

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  • I am the professor. – andre Feb 5 '16 at 17:57
  • Your question is now even unclearer... Can you please clarify it more? – RoboKaren Feb 5 '16 at 18:14

If the question is:

Can a professor hire (for-money) a student at their own university to do work for their research project? Do they have to give them authorial credit?

Yes to the first question. And depending on the situation -- No -- to the second.

Professors can and hire students to work on various parts of projects. If you're a student, you should be paid (unless you're already on a fellowship being paid through that grant).

Whether you receive authorial credit depends on the work being done. I would not feel a great deal of necessity to give authorial credit the student who converted my reference style to the journal's requirements or who re-ran the statistical analysis to make sure my numbers were correct --- as long as I paid them adequately and they were operating under my direct supervision and specification.

Finally, whether you receive credit is also determined to some degree on the disciplinary standards and/or the journal that is publishing the research. Some faculty in some disciplines seemingly give credit to everyone on their team -- even the bottlewashers. Other faculty only credit the named PIs and co-PIs.

Note that you could ask that even though you do not need authorial credit, you would appreciate it if the professor included a note in the acknowledgements. This, however, might be seen by many faculty as being too forward as you are essentially asking to be thanked publicly when might have already be planning to do so.

Note: If you are a foreign student, you should check with your foreign student's office because in the USA, you are limited to 20-hours of remunerative work while under a F1 visa.

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