I'm currently a grad student in STEM in the US. I'm currently receiving a very modest stipend for acting as a TA, as well as getting credit for some research this semester. I'm also interested in doing some research not directly related to my degree for a professor in my department who has been publishing papers on another, tangentially-related subject.

Would it be normal/acceptable for me to ask for extra pay in return for working on my advisor's pet project, if he would benefit from the work of a research assistant? He's not asking me to anything I'm not getting credit for, I just had the idea that I might ask.

My current stipend isn't making ends meet, and, if I can't get a raise, I'm going to take a part-time job doing menial labor to avoid relying on loans. I don't mind the labor at all but spending the time working on research would be better for my career.

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    At my university, this would not be permitted because all salaries are set by the department's schedule and not by the professors. My impression is that what you propose is not done. You should also be aware/sensitive that you may not be allowed to take another job if you are technically a state employee (e.g., you are at a state university).
    – zeldredge
    Sep 12, 2016 at 20:48
  • @zeldredge , In the US, I might not be allowed to take another job??? I am a public employee, but I'm not sure whether I work for the state, I will have to look into that before accepting employment elsewhere. Also, I have received a "research" stipend from another professor over the summer, but I don't get my TA stipend during those months. My stipend is in fact set by the department, my idea is that I might be able to get an additional income by working to earn a part of the grant money from the research I'd be working on. However it seems that might not be possible.
    – sig_seg_v
    Sep 12, 2016 at 21:58
  • I don't know the details of such laws, but it's meant to be an anti-corruption measure in general -- to stop people from getting paid by the government for a fake job, I guess. Anyway, just be careful. Your university probably has someone you can ask about this.
    – zeldredge
    Sep 12, 2016 at 23:52
  • Probably your best bet would be to express an interest in a summer research job. It's okay to be frank about your financial situation. Sep 14, 2016 at 3:12
  • @aparente001 summer research will pay the bills nine months from now =(
    – sig_seg_v
    Sep 16, 2016 at 3:23

2 Answers 2


Whether this is acceptable or not will generally depend on whether the TA and RA are set up as "salaried" positions or as hourly positions, which can vary from institution to institution.

  • When set up as a salaried position, a TA or RA generally covers tuition and "living expenses," where that living expenses is a stipend intended to be sufficient to enable you to live somewhere nearby in a fairly sparse and monastic manner. In this case, you are expected to be acting as a full-time student, a significant part of whose time is spoken for by the TA or RA duties. In this case, it would not be appropriate to ask for a second TA or RA, because you are already being paid for your full expected working time.

  • When set up as an hourly position, on the other hand, the TA or RA is more of a "piecework" employment, where the school is only paying you for the particular hours you work, and taking no responsibility for ensuring that your pay can cover tuition and living expenses. In this case, it would be perfectly acceptable to combine this with another job, including another TA or RA.

If you are in the first case and you aren't being able to make ends meet, then you may need to adjust your lifestyle to meet the level of poverty that your institution expects of its students---or else find outside consulting work (if permitted) or organize for better wages.


It can be, depending upon the school, the department and their policies.

For instance, I was a PhD student in STEM and received the usual full tuition + insurance + stipend deal that comes with most such offers. This was to be paid out of grant money (RA) or from one of the TA lines depending on the availability of grant money from my adviser that particular semester. I worked on projects that fell at the mutually devised intersection of my adviser and my research interests.

For 1 year though, I worked as an hourly employee for about 5 hours a week extra (a hard limitation since I was an international student in US) for my adviser on one of his pet projects and received the prevailing university rate for a part-time RA (~$15/hour in 2011).

Why don't you ask your adviser?

In addition, I am going to advise that if you are a full time doctoral student and you are receiving a TA but are having a hard time making ends meet, I suggest something like this sub-reddit. Usually, there is a careful calculation by the university to make sure that full time doctoral students get a living wage as a RA/TA.

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