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I started a postdoc in a new lab a few months ago. In my former lab, people worked on a variety of activities all the time. By these I mean activities other than the funded project and teaching, e.g. reviewing papers, grant writing, participation in working groups/editorial boards/societies/etc, (co)authoring papers on other topics, meeting researchers from other departments for informal discussions, and so on. Of course to a reasonable extent that it doesn’t conflict with the main activities for which the researcher is paid.

I was thinking that is the norm in academia, however in my new lab people seem to work only on their project and don’t do anything else. While I am not prohibited to work on these things, I am uneasy and puzzled to continue, but also I am not sure if bringing this topic to my professor is the best idea.

Should I continue working on these without an explicit permission? It is really important for my career to do other work too, e.g. I am currently finishing a paper I have been working on during free time, but it has nothing to do with my current project (which is good for my cv).

Can I have repercussions if I publish a paper on a topic that is not part of my funded job? Can I just say I worked on it in my free time or during weekends?

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    Reviewing papers, grant writing, and participating in committees are considered "service activities" that are part and parcel of academic jobs, whether or not it is formally declared in the job description. – aeismail Dec 3 '17 at 16:57
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I was thinking that is the norm in academia, however in my new lab people seem to work only on their project and don’t do anything else. While I am not prohibited to work on these things, I am uneasy and puzzled to continue, but also I am not sure if bringing this topic to my professor is the best idea.

I agree that the norm in academia is, and should be, that staff on all levels need to have sufficient freedom to pursue their own interests in addition or within the funded project(s). As a postdoc, this is particularly troubling, because you need to use your postdoc time to diversify your research themes, skills, and collaborative network. Basically, if you are a postdoc and sitting in your office all day working on a single project, you are doing it wrong (and hurting your career big time).

I don't think that sneaking a little side project here and there by your professor is sufficient. As a postdoc, you should be able to dedicate significant work time towards progressing your own career. I suggest you bring this up with your professor, and, if they don't appear to understand or accept your concerns, I would start brushing off the CV and get back onto the job market.

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To involve in activities for what you are not paid is ethical as long as you do it in your free time. In EU most people follow a strict office hours like 9-5 with a break in between. In such cases whatever you do after 5 p.m or before 9 a.m is your choice. You are paid or funded only for the hours.

But, some people mostly researchers tend to not like having a strict office hours. For instance, I would sometimes work in the middle of the night as soon as I get an interesting idea. In such cases, you can still work on projects that you are not being paid off as long as you stay productive in your paid job too.

Other scenario is what you do as leisure time project having connections to what you are paid for. Like getting a ground breaking idea from a project you are paid for but then publishing that idea on your own without acknowledging the funding source. That is unethical. You should at least state that in your acknowledgement as "Results of this research work arised during authors work during "this project" funded by "this source".

Finally, doing such unrelated works in your unpaid time is good for your career. It shows your passion. Wonderful part in such projects is that you are your own boss. And that shows on successful completion you are capable of handling total freedom without procrastinating.

And to involve in such projects you don't need permission from your Professor. But letting him know depends on how close your relationship with you professor is. My PI is a wonderful person and spends almost 2 hours a day with me. We share a lot of stuff and it would be awkward for me to hide such a thing with him. But if the PI is super busy and never caring, you don't have to explain him about your leisure time activities.

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    OP is asking about academia where strict office hours aren't a common thing. In addition, if you perform the research at the institute using their ressources then you always have to check with them. Contracts usually also state that the results of that research belong to the university. – DSVA Dec 3 '17 at 11:52
  • this is not true for EU – SSimon Dec 3 '17 at 12:05

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