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Is it normal for doctoral students (PhD etc)to recruit volunteer research assistants? Watch

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    Hi dudes

    Been a while.

    Anyhow I digress. I've been offered a chance to be a volunteer research assistant to a doctoral student in another country. Essentially it means I pay my flights, food and other costs. I get - cheap accommodation and experience in exchange for assisting in reseach. From what I gather, I will be mainly photocopying, filing, doing bibliography, ordering books from the stacks and photocopying articles. I also can get copies of the articles.

    So I said yes, because I am in interested in the area, getting to go abroad with cheap accommodation and it will look good on my CV.

    But the actual work is very mundane admin.

    Is it normal for PhD/other doctoral students to recruit research assistants? or if I put it on my CV in future will I look like a mug?
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    I've never heard of this personally. It does make me wonder why this doctoral student can't/won't do their own photocopying, filing and especially their own bibliography. I'm not sure this is something you would be able to put on your CV without it looking weird, in all honesty...
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    As far as I am aware it is not normal, or at least I have never heard of it in the UK. It also sounds like a really raw deal for you (aside from getting to go abroad).

    You are paying for the privilege of doing someone else's grunt work.

    There are a couple of voluntary research assistants in my department, but they are working within a research group rather than under a PhD student, actively doing lab work (admittedly some of the more menial tasks) and will get their names on any publication resulting from their work. That is what you should be looking for as a research assistant, not doing the photocopying.
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    Sounds dodgy to me. As a PhD student, I can't imagine needing someone to do those menial tasks as it would take nearly as long to explain exactly what I needed doing as it would for me to actually do them.
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    (Original post by shinytoy)
    Hi dudes

    Been a while.

    Anyhow I digress. I've been offered a chance to be a volunteer research assistant to a doctoral student in another country. Essentially it means I pay my flights, food and other costs. I get - cheap accommodation and experience in exchange for assisting in reseach. From what I gather, I will be mainly photocopying, filing, doing bibliography, ordering books from the stacks and photocopying articles. I also can get copies of the articles.

    So I said yes, because I am in interested in the area, getting to go abroad with cheap accommodation and it will look good on my CV.

    But the actual work is very mundane admin.

    Is it normal for PhD/other doctoral students to recruit research assistants? or if I put it on my CV in future will I look like a mug?
    What Quiantex said. it sounds like the student (not professor) is just asking you to be a dogsbody. Are you sure its connected to the uni? I imagine photocopying is very much the same irrespective of country.
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    This looks like an odd arrangement. Unpaid admin work and you don't get credit in research work.

    At my uni, research assistants get paid, work for a research group, do database research, learn to use data mining and get credit.
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    I'm afraid I vote "mug" as well. I can't see how that kind of directed admin could enhance your academic CV - it doesn't get anywhere near meeting a Research Assistant role as it would be understood in the UK. "Doing bibliography" sounds suspiciously like a task which would be an expected part of the PhD researcher's role in the UK.

    It doesn't even look like an interesting way of getting a cheap trip abroad. If you're having to cover all your costs anyway, you might as well spend that money travelling without being an unpaid PA.

    Plus there are some countries where I wouldn't want to guess at what "cheap accommodation" might look like!
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    Why on earth have you agreed to do this?

    This is a lazy PhD student trying to get you to do their donkey work for nothing. A student - not a Professor. And you will learn the grand total of zero whilst they walk off with a PhD.

    Dont have anything to do with it.
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    Which country is this? I don't see how "going abroad" is a benefit here - you could just pay for flights and go on holiday instead. It would be a little better if there was a defined component of a project you were going to work on to gain some experience and possibly be included on a publication. I am a PhD student and have worked with medical students who've always had a defined task to complete with the expectation of credit if/when the work is being published. I would never ask someone to travel around the world to work as a volunteer on one of my projects, though!
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    Yesh - on my CV I was just going to write 'research assistant in XXX country, working on XXX for Dr XXX' which does sound pretty good

    it benefits me because I get to take copies of the research, and also read things which will help In my own work.
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    I think you're better off doing your own research project and putting that on a CV.
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    (Original post by shinytoy)
    Yesh - on my CV I was just going to write 'research assistant in XXX country, working on XXX for Dr XXX' which does sound pretty good
    The problem starts if anyone follows up, and finds you were working for free doing photocopying and admin. That's not a Research Assistant, that's an intern Admin Assistant. Not saying I've never slightly enhanced items on my CV, but academia - even internationally - is a small world. There's a real chance that your embroidery could unravel, which will do you more harm than good.

    it benefits me because I get to take copies of the research, and also read things which will help In my own work.
    It benefits you if the research is any good. Standards do vary. Personally I wouldn't want to use unpublished research where a bibliography had been put together by an unpaid admin intern rather than the PhD researcher themselves (no offence - I'm sure you have good research skills, but let's face it, they aren't going to be PhD standard).

    You can read things in or via your uni library for free. I don't see how this "RA" position would benefit you, other than forcing you to read things which you wouldn't be motivated to read otherwise. Motivation is free. Maybe just do it for free in the UK if it would be that useful to you? More to the point, the PhD researcher should be reading for themselves, voraciously. They should be doing the reading/bibliography for themselves. That's a key academic skill which a PhD is supposed to develop and improve.
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    As a PhD researcher, I can say that it sounds dodgy. Getting stuck in the admin and data-mining process is a veritable part of the PhD process itself. I would probably look so clueless if I am asked certain questions by my review panel if this a piece of task which I outsourced to someone else.

    Unless it is an RA position directly from the University, it sounds as if someone else wants you to do a major part of his/her research for him/her, of which you are unlikely to get a direct academic credit. Your questions was, is it normal for doctoral students to "recruit" researchers? Absolutely abnormal!
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    Does this student's supervisors know about what they're asking you to do?

    I would imagine it would be considered misconduct and against university regs in most case - like paying for an essay writing service.
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    (Original post by PQ)
    Does this student's supervisors know about what they're asking you to do? I would imagine it would be considered misconduct and against university regs in most case - like paying for an essay writing service.
    Not really. I have money in my grant to pay for assistants to scan documents and enter data. I have PhD student friends whose grants pay for dozens of research assistants who work in various hospitals collecting data as part of their clinical trials. Others pay the salaries of, or buy time from, analysts, programmers, and/or statisticians.

    One laboratory-based PhD student has even hired a full-time post-doctoral assistant to work with him in the lab for three years, although I accept that that's probably unusual !!

    It is normal in my field to use undergraduates to help with discreet bits of PhD work. I personally don't do this as (with all due respect to undergraduates) my experience is that this rarely ends happily and/or with the project completed. The OP's case (requiring overseas travel, a significant time commitment, only admin tasks, and no obvious academic reward) sounds exploitative.

    Clearly a PhD student should contribute the bulk of the intellectual effort, analysis, and thesis writing, but I doubt the regulations require them to do every menial (or even highly specialist) task themselves. It should be clear in the thesis (e.g. Acknowledgements section) where others made significant contributions.
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    I agree with all that has been said previously - you sound like an unpaid, glorified admin assistant. Put it this way, were you to remove the academic aspect from it (which you might as well do, given that there's going to be no acknowledgement or recognition of you) would you still travel abroad at your own expense to do it?
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    (Original post by MonteCristo)
    Not really. I have money in my grant to pay for assistants to scan documents and enter data. I have PhD student friends whose grants pay for dozens of research assistants who work in various hospitals collecting data as part of their clinical trials. Others pay the salaries of, or buy time from, analysts, programmers, and/or statisticians.

    One laboratory-based PhD student has even hired a full-time post-doctoral assistant to work with him in the lab for three years, although I accept that that's probably unusual !!

    It is normal in my field to use undergraduates to help with discreet bits of PhD work. I personally don't do this as (with all due respect to undergraduates) my experience is that this rarely ends happily and/or with the project completed. The OP's case (requiring overseas travel, a significant time commitment, only admin tasks, and no obvious academic reward) sounds exploitative.

    Clearly a PhD student should contribute the bulk of the intellectual effort, analysis, and thesis writing, but I doubt the regulations require them to do every menial (or even highly specialist) task themselves. It should be clear in the thesis (e.g. Acknowledgements section) where others made significant contributions.
    If your grant includes this then that's paid employment for the people helping (and is known about by the supervisors).

    The OP is talking about an unpaid position - as you say it's exploitative at the least. I doubt it's approved by their supervisors or their ethics committee - and there's no mention in the OP that their work would be acknowledged in any way.

    I'm not talking about whether it's against regs for students to have assistance IN GENERAL - I'm talking about this specific case. It sounds unethical, it sounds like it's off the books and it sounds like a complete con.
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    (Original post by PQ)
    I'm not talking about whether it's against regs for students to have assistance IN GENERAL - I'm talking about this specific case. It sounds unethical, it sounds like it's off the books and it sounds like a complete con.
    It wouldn't cross my mind to involve my supervisor or ethics committee about involving an undergraduate unless there was a good reason to do so, e.g. they were going to handle patient-identifiable data.

    In this particular case, it does sound very dodgy but I suspect that a lot of supervisors would just shrug their shoulders if someone was willing to do the work. Academia is an inherently exploitative environment - at best this PhD student is probably being paid something far below minimum wage to work full-time for his supervisor and institution. If he's unfunded then he might well be paying fees and for his own consumables (!!) for the privilege of working for free in someone's laboratory.

    It certainly doesn't sound worth it for the OP - there are easier ways to join the bottom of the academic pyramid scam ;-)
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    (Original post by MonteCristo)
    It wouldn't cross my mind to involve my supervisor or ethics committee about involving an undergraduate unless there was a good reason to do so, e.g. they were going to handle patient-identifiable data.

    In this particular case, it does sound very dodgy but I suspect that a lot of supervisors would just shrug their shoulders if someone was willing to do the work. Academia is an inherently exploitative environment - at best this PhD student is probably being paid something far below minimum wage to work full-time for his supervisor and institution. If he's unfunded then he might well be paying fees and for his own consumables (!!) for the privilege of working for free in someone's laboratory.

    It certainly doesn't sound worth it for the OP - there are easier ways to join the bottom of the academic pyramid scam ;-)

    Thanks all for your advice. I am now back and you were all right. It was a total exploitation.

    I was offered free accommodation, access to the library for my own research and the chance to get copies of their research. In fact, their house was a tiny one bed flat and they offered me to share their bedroom or to sleep on the sofa. All the bulbs were blown and they lived like a pig with wet towels on the floor, piles of washing up left for days...they wanted me to sit there an type their bibliography for a Phd type thesis. I did not go there to type. I went there to get research. Then we would work in library all day until late, getting in at 9pm then they would slump on the sofa and have me as the guest changed the lightbulbs then they said "can you cook me some pasta" they never bothered to do groceries and the only tea and coffee in the house was what I had brought in my buitcase. everything in the fridge was out of date. they just ate take out pizza left in the fridge for most meals and would louge around in their PJs while having me cook breakfast or make the tea. they in fact never even offered me a cup of tea. then as well as having me as an unpaid maid and admin assistant, they bought a heavy printer and had me carry it to their house because they didn't want to pay a taxi

    while I didn't expect hospitality, I did not sign up to be an unpaid maid, cook and bag handler. I also expected some manners and decency toward me and my welfare. I also did not expect an esteemed 38 year old doctoral student to be living like a kid or a pig.

    So for the last week I made my excuse and moved out into a hotel across town and did my own tourism and research.

    on the whole it was woth it as I have learned a lot and have loads of research in my suitcase plus if I go back there I know how to manage it all myself in that country. but I would suggest anyone getting involved in this sort of thing to be very careful and have a backup plan.

    some people may have brains but no decency or respect
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    (Original post by shinytoy)
    some people may have brains but no decency or respect
    Which country was it? Despite the vaunted reputation of the "PhD", brilliance really isn't a requirement of enrolling on this degree.
 
 
 
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