Background: I started a PhD in a CS-oriented field about 8 months ago, after completing my masters. At the very start, I was given a lot of duties besides my PhD project, such as responsibility for several of our servers, various software and hardware, user accounts, etc. I also serve as a TA to different courses every semester. After all that, I estimate that in terms of time, 15% of the working week is maybe left for research work. In my project I work alone (this is nice), but my project as well is more ambitious than that of other people, as already confirmed by my advisor and colleagues.

Problem: I started a PhD with the hopes to research an issue at depth and gain expertise in that field, now I find I don't actually have time to seriously devote myself to research activity. I was apparently hired to be some kind of an "assistant", but not one that should be called "research assistant". On top of all, I'm paid much lower than what I could earn out in the open, or what I should be paid given the amount of hours extra I put in. I am really demotivated because I entered the PhD with different intentions. FYI, I have no desire to continue in academia as a career, neither do I need the "Dr." title to be more marketable or for ego purposes or whatever - the only reason was fun of the kind I get very little.

Question: I can't decide if it's worth it to stay, I also don't want to be spoiled and foolish. I won't take your word as command, but would be nice to just get honest 3rd party opinions, or sharing if you're dealing with the same situation.

EDIT: thanks all for sharing thoughts and giving some advice. I marked as "answer" the comment with the most subcomments. I already talked to other PhD students and it seems most don't have it as tough as me. I guess with all these tasks eventually the quality of my research will suffer, and I will talk to my advisor about this particular point, as I believe this should be a concern for him as well.

  • 2
    As a first step, stop performing tasks that are not explicit to your research and TA responsibilities. You have no obligation to any IT support. Stand firm and tell your advisor that you have to focus on your PhD.
    – Hobbes
    Aug 16, 2016 at 16:31
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    Hobbes: "You have no obligation to any IT support." I agree that he shouldn't, but it is nevertheless possible (and at least slightly implied by the rest of the message) that he does. Aug 16, 2016 at 16:56
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    That is possible, but I would simply tell the advisor that I will no longer be performing those tasks. Worst case, the advisor pulls funding and they have to find another source. It is definitely inappropriate for the OP to be expected to perform these tasks while in a PhD.
    – Hobbes
    Aug 16, 2016 at 19:30
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    Does your TA list a nominal number of hours per week (for instance, 20)? The TAs that we give have a 20 hour nominal amount, but the students really don't use 20 hours. If you have an agreement like that, but are working more than 20 hours, you can bring that up with the Dept. head or Univ. administration. They could be in labor law trouble if you signed up for 20 hours and are regularly working more.
    – user11599
    Nov 1, 2016 at 2:26

3 Answers 3


Everyone in academic CS gets below market pay. It sounds like they made you a department IT guy, and I've never heard of that, but it may not be too unusual.

You might be burned out, they overwork you. You can:

1) talk to your advisor about all this. Maybe they can lighten the load. TAing and being an assistant sounds like too much.

2) take some time off. Go into industry for a year. It sounds like you want to do that anyway. Departments have a process for being on-leave. Make some money, get a hobby, don't think about your research for at least three months. Then decide if you want to go back and finish your PhD.

  • 3
    I find it very surprising that some advisors would be okay with someone leaving their PhD program for a whole year. It's also doubtful if anyone would even want to hire him if they know he's going to return to his PhD in a year.
    – user8001
    Aug 16, 2016 at 16:48
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    @user8001 I know people who left for a year and picked right back up. He also doesn't have to tell his employer that he plans to go back after a year, because when he applies for the job he doesn't plan to go back. He could also look for a graduate-level internship. Those internships in tech usually pay quite a bit.
    – user60356
    Aug 16, 2016 at 16:59
  • Take the case of Brian May, he returned to complete the PhD after 30 years. Note also that in the past the PhD had a different status and in the present I don't know if it would be possible, it highly depends on the institution and country. Unfortunately, many things have changed in the present. According to the publication record, people with few publications during their PhD such as the great Richard Feynman or Peter Higgs(physics) in the today job market would have some difficulties in finding a job.
    – Nikey Mike
    Nov 1, 2016 at 9:38

There are a few things that you ought to know before you make your decision to stay our leave.

Nearly every grad student I know of have been through the thought you are thinking about now.

Actually, the fact that you're being paid at all means that you're above half the population out there.

If you really believe you got the toughest research project, then look again. There were many grad students who said exactly the same thing before they realized they are wrong (myself included).

You may request for your burden to be reduced, although there is no guarantee your request will be granted.

Make sure you hear the experience of others both in and out of your institution. Once you're rid of the "why me!?" complex, make your decision.

  • Ebe, thanks for the reply. As mentioned in my post, the fact that my project is difficult has been confirmed by other people, and while it may not be the toughest of all PhD projects on the planet, it certainly is challenging compared to what others in my department are doing.
    – xyz
    Aug 17, 2016 at 10:59

The thing is the TA letter which clearly mentions your responsibilities. If your supervisor ask you to do something, it's often nice to do it for him out of respect. From my personal experience as a TA in computer science PhD.

If anyone else asks you, you can deny them or better ask them to please communicate via your supervisor. In that case they will never use that communication channel and even if they do, supervisor will not allow you to carry out the work.

TAs are paid less (as in my case) but if you compare that all your tuition fee and other fees are also waived then it's more than enough.

Refusing unrelated work will not effect your PhD, what's in your thesis is what you did. And you cannot justify that you didn't do well because you were busy in other IT works.

So finish it, give time if someone ask for work just say you have a meeting to prepare, deadlines and busy in that.

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