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should graduate students be paid for service work? yes, at least a little bit

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On my Facebook feed, the issue of graduate student service popped up. How much service do graduate students perform? Should they be compensated? I won’t discuss what people said privately, but I’ll offer a few of my thoughts here because it’s a good question. Let’s start with some “facts on the ground:”

  1. Graduate students often appear on search committees and they also appear occasionally on some governance committees or on undergraduate issues committees. Other types of service seem to be rare.
  2. Graduate students also participate in student associations and other campus activities.
  3. Professors get compensated for service in the department. It is part of the salary.
  4. Professors may, or may not, get compensated for service in professional associations. Heavy duty service – like running a journal or being an association executive – get paid. Lower levels of service, like “mentoring officer” (which I did for CBSM once), usually do not get paid.
  5. Professors get some pay off from service (cash or prestige), but students get no direct compensation. At best, they get some insight into how departments are run.

If we take these in, we get some intuition. Already, students get paid to teach and work in labs because it is labor. It is also part of the “business” of the university. Thus, it would suggest that students might get paid for committee work. Hiring and governance are real aspects of business. How much? I think it should be modest – perhaps a few hundred bucks for each committee. At that rate, it would not displace teaching or research. And if you had a large budget for graduate student service, it’s probably a sign that you have too much student work.

I do not think that departments should pay people to serve of graduate student associations or graduate student government, unless there is a large work load and then it should be paid from dues or other income. This is because they analogous, in my view, to professional association service. It’s volunteer work, not paid, unless you are working many hours at it.

I’ll conclude with a philosophical note. I think people should get paid. Period. There is nothing wrong with wanting or needing money. Universities should not expect free labor, just was we don’t expect free labor from our doctor or the guy at the gas station. If we want students to help us grading, or reading a pile of job applications, the least we can do is give them some cold, hard cash. Volunteer work should be the exception, not the rule.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 12, 2019 at 12:35 am

Posted in uncategorized

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