I am an undergraduate student of Physics in Spain. This year I have to prepare my bachelor thesis and I also applied for a fellowship with the same advisor to do further research on the same topic.

I wasn't awarded the fellowship and I told my advisor about it but he wrote me an email a few days back telling me to try to finish the thesis early to be able to start with the collaboration.

Given that I wasn't awarded the fellowship I just want to finish my thesis and I don't want to do further work (which was discussed under the hypothesis of me getting the fellowship) for free. I thought that this was clear to my advisor when I told him that I didn't get the fellowship but it seems that it is not the case

I don't want to sound rude when telling him this because I still have to finish my thesis with him and I wouldn't like any kind of problem between us. How could I tell him that I'm not willing to work for free?

  • 3
    There is a language inconsistency. A collaborator does not pay another collaborator. You would be an employee, a student, or a volunteer. If you were a collaborator, you would expect resources to carry on your work that would would otherwise not have access to, but you probably wouldn't expect payment. Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 16:36
  • Couldn't be that his plan is to pay you with his own resources? He only prefers that you get paid through an external fellowship and do not spend resources of his department. Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 14:10
  • When he bring up you doing more work next, send him a link to this?
    – einpoklum
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 16:31

6 Answers 6


I would suggest that you repeat that you did not win the fellowship and ask if he has other funding available, "because I am still very interested in the work, but will need to find paid work instead if I can't get a stipend for this collaboration."

  • 58
    Agreed. And please don't assume your advisor is demanding you work for no pay. Have the conversation. Ask him.
    – O. Jones
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 20:30
  • 13
    I like your phrasing. The attitude to portray is less "I'm not going to work for free." and more "I need money for rent and food." - That is, you shouldn't be going into the position looking at it as a money-making endeavor. You should be going into it because you're interested in the research, and the compensation is primarily for practical reasons.
    – R.M.
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 13:38
  • 3
    Great answer: The advisor probably just didn't put two and two together and realise you weren't going to be funded (or that your participation was contingent on funding) - it may have simply not occurred to them. This answer very nicely swaps it from being "Stop asking me to work for free" to clarifying the situation and making it clear it's not your choice to dodge the collaboration, you simply can't do it. Even academics have to eat sometimes
    – Jon Story
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 17:39

I think you should act as soon as possible. There are other sources of funding, and there may still be time to get hold of one.

So, in that light, just send an email saying that you can't afford to work for free. Add that you thought it was clear from your previous discussions, so offer your apologies. And, finally, say that you are willing to try to apply for other grants.

  • 4
    Sending emails might be misunderstood sometimes. So, you know the advisor better in person. Think about this twice.
    – user9386
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 15:50

I think the famous 'Let the truth set you free' applies here. If I were you I would handle the whole situation as following:

Meetings: I would have regular meeting with your supervisor to keep the conversation going and get the feedback from your supervisor.

Mentioning The Collaboration: Then, in one meeting I would say to him/her that I can not do the collaboration as I need to find a paid job. I would say this face to face, and not through email; so he/she would get the whole thing without any false judgement.

  • Thanks for your answer. The thing is that right now I'm doing an internship in Germany. I'll be still here for the next two weeks and I would like to solve this as soon as possible without having to wait to come back to Spain
    – S -
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 10:12
  • 2
    Two weeks is not a long time. I would suggest to have a meeting with him/her after you go back to discuss your progress; and then let him/her know about the situation. You can send an email and request a meeting in two/three weeks time. These sort of discussions are better to happen face to face, in my opinion.
    – o-0
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 10:17
  • 6
    Odd use of boldface font. Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 14:03
  • 5
    I disagree, if funding is needed, waiting two or three weeks may mean missing deadlines for further applications; and the subject at hand is not really that delicate, I expect everyone to understand that people need money to survive.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 14:44
  • Think how frustrating it would be if you waited two weeks, and then your supervisor told you "Unfortunately, the deadline for funding opportunity X that might have worked was a week ago." Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 18:39

You might want to phrase it as "I can't afford to work for free" rather than "I don't want to work for free". It is probably more accurate, and leaves the door open for more work with your supervisor if there is funding in place in future.


Don't tell him / her anything about your attitude toward the "collaboration" until after your undergrad thesis has been approved. Then discuss it with him. Or work on the collaboration until you find paid work. Too much honesty too early will just set yourself up for more abuse. Personal Experience with working in academia.

  • 6
    Actually I sent him an email today and he completely understood me, so I think being honest has been the best way of acting.
    – S -
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 20:05

As a professor/researcher who has mentored many students I certainly see this issue from both sides. I advise the following (from the professor's perspective)...a "collaborative" relationship between student and advisor typically means: (a) the student works their butt off (long hours), (b) the student learns a lot from the experience, (c) the professor/advisor benefits from "free" work, and (d) the professor/advisor works to promote the long-term goals and professional development of the student (e.g., networking, mentoring, co-authoring papers and presentations, etc.).

It should be a win-win situation. However, it is not the responsibility of the advisor to financially support the student. That is an ideal situation but not a requirement. Sometimes it happens, but when it doesn't, it's the student's responsibility to figure out how to eat and pay the rent while volunteering in a research lab. It's not the most pleasant arrangement but that's how it works. It's hard work training students (trust me) and it's hard work being a student!

tl;dr The suggestion to tell your advisor, "I want to continue my research, but I first need to find part-time work to support myself" is spot-on!

  • 5
    I disagree, research is a job, and should be paid as such. The student "working their butts off" (more than full time) AND a part time job means a lot of hours, with barely enough money to survive.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 8:28
  • You're raising a valid and valuable point. Perhaps this question varies from culture to culture. I come at it from a "guild" mentality, where the student/researcher is an apprentice, learning a valuable skill. The time, energy, and expertise of the mentor is what is provided as value to the student. Viewing it as a job is a very modern take on things. You have to expand your perspective a bit to appreciate that it's not a job. That is something else -- such people are called "technicians" and they're paid because they provide a service, and in principle, receive no additional training.
    – Matt
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 5:47
  • 2
    I have to disagree with this mentality. Research is a job, and work needs to be paid. If you can't afford to pay another person for your project, maybe you have to reconsider your managing skill. And yes, a professor that has a project going on has to care about the founding.
    – BiA
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 16:55
  • 1
    We'll have to agree to disagree then. I'm not sure about Europe, Asia, etc., but in the US higher education is evolving under our feet (in particular, state funding is evaporating). For sure my view is outdated, in the sense that a "guild" is a medieval concept and insofar as commercial/professional internships are now by law paid. On the other hand, "what the market will bear." In the last 10 years I've seen lab after lab lose funding. Please check back in on this discussion when you are a professor/research scientist and running your own lab. Things will look very different.
    – Matt
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 18:26
  • 1
    Sure, my comment is a bit rude, now that I red it again. I understand that from a professor/research scientist prospective this looks completely different. Anyway I think that it is a downward spiral: the more you allow your collaborators working for free - still providing good results - the more founding decision maker will think you don't need more money.
    – BiA
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 10:08

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