I am a PhD candidate. My advisor told me to make and organize a lecture course, for which he is formally listed as the instructor, but he has little knowledge about what the lecture course will deal with. I have more knowledge than him.

Students attend class two times per week.

  • One day, they give presentation about paper reviews related with this course.
  • The other day, I conduct the class and give them knowledge in order to understand papers. In both days in a week, he does nothing.

I don't think it's normal.

Even though he gives me many thanks for conducting the class, my feeling isn't going well. Even worse, I don't get paid.

However, because of a (de-facto) vertical relationship between him and me, I don't know what should I do.

I am not sure an ethics committee can protect my privacy.

  • 4
    Can be normal, but depends on where this is. Which culture?
    – Peter
    Oct 8, 2016 at 8:51
  • 7
    What a great opportunity to demonstrate leadership and get to know lots of people.
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 8, 2016 at 15:51
  • 7
    Who is officially the instructor for the course, you or your advisor?
    – ff524
    Oct 9, 2016 at 6:07
  • 5
    @JonCuster No, it's not a great opportunity, if the OP is not officialy recognised as the lecturer. And it's not only something ethically wrong, but it's also something that, depending on the regulations, can put the OP in trouble in case, e.g., of accidents. Oct 11, 2016 at 14:20
  • 5
    @JonCuster: "But as a grad student, you are highly unlikely to be officially teaching a course in the eyes of the university." That's just not true. At every university I've ever attended or taught at, qualified graduate students are instructors of record routinely. Having courses that are officially taught by faculty but are in actuality entirely taught by students would be a much bigger problem. That would be viewed as scandalous and exploitative on both sides at my big state university, for instance. Oct 11, 2016 at 19:58

2 Answers 2


Main thing here is that you provide work that is not paid.

(Assumption: studying and working in academia is not volunteering or philanthropy. Not quite clear what culture would have to do here. If you feel wrong about the situation, seems that you agree with this assumption, and you're not confusing exploitative situations for real opportunities.)

If that's an opportunity that's offered to you, the local unit/department/centre/faculty ought to offer remuneration for the work you provide, either for preparation work only, or for both preparation and delivery. In other words, the staff member should (have) arrange(d) the practical and financial details for the opportunity.

A 'research ethic committee' has little to nothing to do with the situation you describe, as the situation does not relate to your doctoral research activity. The situation is not about research ethics, it's about professional ethics.

Have you talked to your local administrators/support staff to enquire informally about the affluence of the local unit? Simply, is there money somewhere to cover for the work you contribute? Can they afford to provide you a remuneration that is a fair reflection of the work you provide?

Have you talked to your head of department about the situation? Colleagues might not be aware of the situation, and might disapprove, and help you out, of it.

Last but not least, are there union reps on your campus that you could approach for informed advice?

  • 4
    More troubling than not being paid, is not being recognized officially. It robs the student of the opportunity to get professional credit for this work.
    – ff524
    Oct 11, 2016 at 17:35
  • @ff524: I am troubled by both. It's one thing to agree to a low-paying apprenticeship because of the long-term career benefits. It's quite another to get conscripted into doing someone else's work for none of their pay. Oct 11, 2016 at 20:10
  • @ff524: That may be the case, but it's not clear from the question whether this is an actual problem. In some places, the only existing way of "official recognition" for teaching the course is that one is being listed on the official course website. In some universities, it is exclusively the responsibility and duty of the people running a given course to update the course website. If that is the case for the OP, it is simply up to the OP to add their name to the course website. Oct 11, 2016 at 20:49

Here's a different perspective. I'm going to assume that the course you're teaching is a graduate-level course from the description that you've given, but what I'm about to say applies even if it isn't.

I have actually seen this happen in top-tier American schools too. In this case, things were slightly different. Namely, a postdoc supervisor was listed formally as an instructor for a graduate-level course, but when you actually went to the class, someone else would be there to teach the course (and often the professor would not even be present).

In this particular case that I'm thinking about, it happened because of bureaucratic reasons (certain postdocs were not formally allowed to teach high-level courses), and although they were not being paid extra for it, the fact that they were allowed to list this on their CV as a "teaching experience" was enough for the postdocs to get into this arrangement, even without the extra pay.

So if you think about it, things are fairly similar between you and these postdocs. You are both teaching a course that is not credited to your name, and you are both not getting paid. Most likely you are not allowed to formally be an instructor for a course for graduate students if you are a graduate student yourself.

Given the fact that you did not claim in your original post that the advisor is trying to take all the credit for your work, maybe he is trying to give you some solid teaching experience (which is important if you are planning on looking for academic jobs). In fact, this experience (assuming that your advisor allows you to put this on your CV; I don't see any signs of why he wouldn't let you do this) is going to look fantastic in the future. It shows the tremendous amount of trust on your advisor's part, and he believes that despite being junior, you are fit to teach graduate-level courses.

So, it's good to stand up for yourself and make sure that you aren't being exploited, but unless you see true red flags, it is also good to trust your advisor before everything, because if there is one person in the academic world who wants you to succeed the most, it is your advisor.

  • It all makes sense, but I beg to differ. In the situation that @Sana describes, I would expect, as in the question's situation, the academic to have the teaching material ready to deliver, so that it would be a real opportunity for the student to examine up close the workings of a course - either undergraduate or postgraduate indeed. What rings an alarm bell here is that the student is expected to both prepare and deliver the course, which seems really unfair. Mention on CV is great, but financial acknowledgment surely is not a perk; it's to be expected as standard.
    – G-E
    Oct 11, 2016 at 19:18
  • 1
    By the academic do you mean the professor? I think preparation of the course is an important aspect of teaching! In the cases that I know of, the postdocs were responsible for every aspect of the course, and as it often concerned their field of expertise, they usually created the course from scratch. It wouldn't make sense to get the student to just deliver the lecture notes that the professor has already written IMO.
    – Sana
    Oct 11, 2016 at 19:43
  • When I was a graduate student I co-designed and co-taught a course with my Ph.D. advisor. As far as the department was concerned, he was the only instructor; he got course credit, and I didn't get paid. Still I think I benefited intellectually, and of course it put my advisor in a position to write a stronger letter. But everyone must make their own decisions about this. (I also designed and taught a solo course the next quarter, again without pay or credit, and again I feel this was worth it. But every situation is different.)
    – Tom Church
    Oct 11, 2016 at 20:43

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