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I am a PhD student in statistics/math in the U.S. I go to a large, state run institution. I am currently hired for the summer as a research assistant for a professor.

On the department website, an RAship is listed as being a 20 hour a week job, paid at $21 per hour. This is what she and I agreed to before my starting researching with her. However, now my professor wants me to work 40 hours a week for $7.34 an hour. (She is actually going to pay me $14.68/hr, since only 20 hours are bookable for legal purposes. Well, and the fact that $7.34 is below minimum wage). I never got the $21 in writing, so that is my error.

Working 40 hours per week is in essence requisite to retain the job (since the workload she requires to keep the job necessitates such). She is offering me no dissertation credit for my work, only this pittance of a grunt wage. Outside of a weekly hour long meeting via Skype, she does not have any time to mentor or guide me. Her promise is that at some point the research I do for her will become a dissertation topic. But, as of right now, I am just reading papers she is too busy to read and then telling her what they say.

This professor is not from the U.S. and I believe is somewhat unfamiliar with U.S. practices in fair wages. (For example, she offered me $10/hr to do some other things related to her research for her. I earned more than that as an undergraduate TA for a sophomore level class). I am not asking for $15/hr for flipping burgers, just a fair compensation for the work I am doing for her. She has a large NSF grant that she might end up losing if I do not produce results for her to show them.

She justifies requiring these hours at this pay because she says that I will end up possibly, maybe, hypothetically, if the moon lands on earth, theoretically finishing a third of my dissertation.

I am aware that I need to pay my dues so to speak. Naturally, I know that I need to put in a lot of time to a PhD that is not monetarily compensated. Nevertheless, I feel a bit like I am being taken advantage of. Is this pay structure/workload normal for an RAship, or should I take it up further with her?

1 Answer 1

Being given a TA/RA position that only pays for 20/hours a week, but being expected to do 40+ hour of research is normal in the STEM fields.