Join me if you have a brain


I am on the verge of quitting my PhD as I have discovered it's a money making scam. It might sound cynical, but when you start to think of university as a money making machine it all makes sense.

Universities take on much more PhD students than they need. I am told that I have to work as a teaching assistant as part of my PhD, it rounds up to around 20 hours of work per week, which includes 2 hours contact time, 1 hour discussion with module organizer, associated marking and preparation. I get zero pay for the extra 20 hours I give per week and I can't even complain, there are no set hours or job descriptions. Basically, they can do what they want to you and you'll take it because you want the job don't you? Everyone wants that secure, lectureship/research job. You'll never get a secure job in research as you'll need to prove your worth by winning research bids. Maybe lectureships but do your professors look like they want to retire? My supervisor is 70, he's recently retired from the university but has come back as he enjoys it to much and let's face it, people don't die at 70 anymore.

Going back to my original point of universities taking on too many PhD students. It makes sense - free labor for the university.

We shouldn't mix education and business. It is either education or business. If it's a business, be honest about it (I'm talking to my university here). Don't pretend that we NEED the experience. We can get this experience elsewhere and get properly compensated for it.

I used to think I was spoiled and unappreciative of my valuable education (people in third world countries would die to be in my position right now, wouldn't they?).

Avatar for sneaks

oh dear, I can't join you - I have NO brain :-(

I do find it slightly amusing that you're waiting for your sup to peg it. Have you thought about applying elsewhere first? :p

Avatar for Eska

I have no brain either. A bunch of final year undergrads mugged me for it this morning... sorry.


Ditto. Joining the camp of brainless too. On a personal note, what I always liked about this forum and that's why I guess I joined it, was the tendency among it's users to provide a balanced feedback on life in general, including PhD. However, recently I find myself confused by some new posts, because to be honest I don't know what to make out of them.

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I swear we've had this post before, like a year ago?


No, I cant get you. I have cooked a lot today and it is freezing in this country I am in and I tried reading your post twice but you lost me halfway.


Hmmm, I can see how you would feel this way if you are doing 20 hours of unpaid teaching per week. Is it not possible you can simply say "no" and that you wish to concentrate upon research. Presumably you have all your time to yourself when the student's aren't around, which in my coutry (UK) is about 50% of the time.

And i do agree, to universities PhD students are basically a cheap way to get research done, hence have more PhD students, get more research done. Regarding the old professor, he/she's probably an emeritus, so not actually getting paid to come into work anymore, this is usually what happens, so he/she is probably not drawing a salary.

And yes, lectureships are difficult to get hold of, partly because people don't want to retire early I suppose, but is anything truely worth having easy to get?.

Regarding experience, ok you have not been properly compensated for doing a load of teaching, but surely if there are no set hours or job descriptions, you don't have to do the teaching, right?. Also, I think whether you can gain experience of your particular area of interest outside of a university really depends upon your field. If it's Science or Engineering, then yes, you can gain similar experiences in industry etc, although for arts and humanities, I don't see how this is achievable.

I hope this gives you some things to consider.


How on earth are you spending twenty hours a week on two hours actual teaching (especially if you spend a hour with the module leader who presumably is telling you what you need to cover in that time? Are they getting you to teach something you know nothing about? Secondly, no-one can make you work without pay, unless this is in return for some reduction in tuition fees or something like that. If you are genuinely not getting any reward, just say no.

But to your wider point - you are seriously deluding yourself if you think hourly paid teaching i.e. what you need for the experience is properly compensated anywhere. Just look at UCU campaigns on the topic. If you worked elsewhere you would be expected to do an awful lot more than two hours contact time a week to make it worthwhile hiring you. The hourly rate might look OK until you realise what it doesn't cover - then it works out at nearer minimum wage if that. And nothing during the holidays.

I agree that universities take on too many PhD students given the academic job market but where would you draw the line? Insist that only those with a first can do a PhD even if they want to self-fund? Ban any self-funded students? A lot of people on this board will be ruled out by that. Equally we're all adults - it's not hard to do the research before starting a PhD to get an idea of what the job market is like. I feel sorrier for the 17 year olds trying to decide whether or not a bachelors degree now makes economic sense if I'm being honest.


I'm sure I must have a brain as a sensate, living creature - but I'm not sure it works like yours...

Universities are actually businesses. Although I think you're working too many hours as recompense for your PhD course, everything you mention on your post has been pointed out time and time again. I had to do 6 hours contact time, per year, when I was doing my PhD - excluding prep. I really enjoyed teaching and it developed me in ways that wouldn't have been possible through just concentrating on my PhD work. I recall that an article on this very subject made it into the Financial Times some time ago. It might not seem like it but you're actually in a very privileged position that a lot of people out there would gladly do right now (excluding those in the 3rd World!). I think even I'd take your place sometimes. If it is too much, then speak to people at your university. Otherwise, drop out and join the sea of people who are unemployed at the moment.

I've been watching too much trash TV of late, so apologies but here's my advice: suck it up!


+ 1 to the replies here.

I am not sure how you are being asked to do unpaid teaching in the first place or how 2 hours translates as 20? I'm in Australia/humanities and we are offered teaching work and compensated accordingly.

Your post seems to indicate that you would eventually like to research or teach - you should be looking to get teaching experience on your CV if you are headed to teaching so, perhaps that is one way to look at it? Personally I would be checking the uni regulations about unpaid teaching - doesn't ring right to me.


Yeah, so I read the post and thought, why is everyone being so mean? Then I saw the point about contact hours. How in hell's name can you spend 17 hours on prep for two contact hours? That just doesn't work.

Avatar for Eska

======= Date Modified 13 Oct 2011 12:30:07 =======
Hi Flagarndom,

We get quite a few of this kind of post, usually from people in the sciences.

The thing about PhD work -and that includes teaching - is that you should only really be doing it if it is a great passion for you and you can't imagine your life without it. It is a mistake to undertake a PhD under the assumption that it is comparable with more industry based career choices.

Your PhD is an apprentice. This means you are not yet ready to fly on your own and your compensation for teaching and research reflects that. Your particular set up, a fully funded PhD with only two hours of contact hours is incredibly priveledged - I think I would go into shock if someone offered me that. I have taught - on average - full time hours throughout my PhD (sometimes more, sometimes less) and then do my PhD as well - and I feel priveledged because I am lucky to have the hours AND I LOVE WHAT I DO, it really makes me tick, and I'm so glad I found it. It sounds to me as if that is what is missng from your current career equation.

As someone else pointed out in an earlier post, universities are businesses, and it's a pretty naive PG student that doesn't realise that. Of course universities will be aiming for well balanced finances - they wouldn't exist otherwise...

If you are now having a moment of realisation about academia, yourself and your career aims, then perhaps it is time for you to call it a day. There are others who will get much more out of the oppportunities you have been given than you have.