PhD Working Hours & Responsibility


======= Date Modified 01 Apr 2011 16:01:46 =======
Dear all

I'm wondering whether have you got experience when your supervisors expect you to work during evening and weekend, and not to involve department's activities (such as teaching, skill training etc)?

I have been told I should concentrate on my research ONLY and he is not happy when I want to take up some teaching, marking and some researcher development activities.

Is this normal?


Hi Chinglnc!

That sounds like your have a pretty stern supervisor! Have your labmates/other PhDs also been told the same thing? It may also depend what stage of your PhD you are at.

(Note, The following is from my own personal experience/observations)

Unfortunately I think that 7 days working is not uncommon (at least in my experience) given that, in practice, the Laws on maximum working hours and minimum breaks tend not to extend to us lowly PhDs! Our supervisor has explicitly said to myself (and my labmates) that he expects us to work at least 9-6 daily as well as weekends, primarily because that is what he did during his PhD :-( . This seems to vary from sup to sup in our dept (Others have been told the same, others do not have to work wknds). In our first year we were also forbidden from doing any teaching/supervising/demonstrating (though in 2nd/3rd we are allowed). Our sups reasoning was that in 1st year we must focus solely on researching / learning, and leave teaching/supervising till 2nd/3rd yr (though I don't really get this myself as 2nd year has been immensely more busy than 1st!).

However, I think it's weird and very irresponsible that your sup won't let you do skills training - this is an important part of the PhD and is essential in many PhD programmes. What do the guidelines say for your dept?

I think first you should check your dept guidelines on skills training / teaching etc to make sure you are not missing out on essential courses. Also, are your labmates / other PhD students in your dept in the same position? It may be beneficial to express your feelings to your sup (if you havent already) so you make clear you are unhappy about this and see what they say. It may also help to drop a brief email to whomever acts as your 2nd sup / graduate officer, or the like. But, in the end, if your sup tells you to do / not to do something you generally just have to bite down and get on with it. Oh the joys of PhD life!!

Hope to hear back from you soon


======= Date Modified 03 Apr 2011 20:54:37 =======
Thanks seven. Your comment really has helped me a lot.

I'm a second year and my supervisor sponsors my PhD.

I have brought up the issue to him especially department expects us to be a good researcher through skills trainings, however he said I'm also his 'employee', not just a PhD student, so I have to listen what he wants me to do. He wants me to do "research only" and nothing else.

My stipend is £8,800K/annum and it's likely that I will have to be fully responsible of my stipend starting from summer (he runs out of research funding). Hence I raised my concern to him that I would like to work during evenings and weekends so that I could cover my stipend from summer. He was very angry when I talked to him about this, and mentioned I shouldn't do any other jobs because that means my research progress would drop. If I refused to do that, he will stop my funding immediately. He suggested me to take a loan instead. But I really don't want to take up any loan to cover my study, I don't have confidence that I can pay it back later, PhD doesn't guarantee me a job.

"the Laws on maximum working hours and minimum breaks tend not to extend to us lowly PhDs!"- Is this really true? I thought I could get some help from the Laws but that doesn't seem to be the helpful at all?:-(

I really love my research and I really want to finish it if possible. But the financial problem has become a major obstacle of my PhD.


======= Date Modified 04 Apr 2011 23:31:54 =======
Hi that does sound pretty harsh!  I just want to ask when he says that you're his "employee" does that mean that you're his RA or something like that and you're doing your PhD as part of that job or are you registered solely as a PhD student?  If you are registered just as a PhD student he can't say you can't get a job to support yourself or do training.  At my uni we had to do the equivalent of 30 days transferable skills training during the 3 years in order to be able to get our PhD which had to be signed off as part of our professional development.  What you did was pretty much up to you as long as you could assign it to the skills in a skills matrix they used.  Examples could include going to seminars, talks, workshops, conferences, training sessions with supervisor where you learn some technique/program, teaching, taking part in open days etc...

Even if you are his RA or equivalent I would have thought you need to fulfil these requirements which are recommended for PhD students so we are more than our research and have these soft skills to make us supposedly more employable.  It's what they refer to as Robert's training after he was commissioned to write a report on it and suggested the training.  The best thing is to check your students' handbook which should set out all the rules and regulations you need to fulfil in order to get your degree.  Your supervisor is probably not aware of them.

Even if you're paid as part of his research project funding he shouldn't say you can't get a job if the funding runs out as how are you supposed to survive?  He doesn't own you and shouldn't threaten not to give you money - it's highly unethical!  I'm not sure where you stand on this but I would get a second opinion.  Have you got a department postgrad tutor/welfare officer you can talk to clarify the situation?  He sounds like a certain breed of academic that believes their own PR and thinks they are above it all!  This would bring you back to the working hours question - I don't think it applies to PhD students as we are not employees but if you are a RA or similar you should have certain rights as an official employee.  But it's quite usual to work evenings and weekends as I know a lot of people do especially those with lab based projects which are so time consuming and things generally tend to go wrong!  My supervisor also told me he expected me to work weekends as he didn't think I was getting data fast enough so they can be very demanding!

Most departments encourage teaching although that is down to individual departments.  I have heard the argument used by your department where they say first year is just for your research.  Although the version I heard applied to the whole time you were there as they believed that teaching was just for staff and the students were "lucky" not to be burdened with teaching duties so they could concentrate on their research (something most academics treasure!)  What they failed to realise is how out of touch this view is and how uncompetitive this would make the students there compared to others who were allowed to teach.  So try to get teaching if you can - it sounds like your supervisor is just being unreasonable!  Maybe if you draw up a time plan to show how you could fit all this in it would show him that you have thought about it and can manage your time well to fit everything in!  They seem to love time plans!

Good luck - I hope it all works out!


My own personal view is that when supervisors start offering you rules or advise on anything outside your research/PhD that they have over stepped their boundaries. Red flags should go up at that point. Autocratic tendencies in supervisors are not healthy and do not speak to a good supervisor/student relationship. I do not know what it is that makes supervisors think they own the student, including their soul! ( or so it seems).

I am sure that supervisor contact varies by discipline-but if you are making satisfactory progress in your work, whatever is going on outside or besides that surely is none of your supervisor's business!!!

I see the student/supervisor relationship as a professional not a personal one. The supervisor is like a supervisor or line manager at work. So long as you do your job, what you do off the job surely is not for the supervisor/line manager to get involved with! ( ie what you eat, when you sleep, what hobbies or interests you have...) but somehow PhD supervisors ( or some) seem to think doing a PhD is an invitation for them into very private aspects of your life.

Some advise given by PhD supervisors into your personal life might be inappropriate--and best taken with a pinch ( or ten, or the entire salt shaker) of salt! Its your life, your finances, your belly that needs fed. It is surely harder if the PhD supervisor has some financial strangelhold over you to assert your needs--but there needs to be some way to get a person to back off when they have overstepped boundaries.


======= Date Modified 03 Apr 2011 20:54:12 =======
thanks folks, you have no idea how much your comments meant to me, have been miserable about this problem for quite a while and i really don't know what to do.

My supervisor employed me as a R.A to do this project, but he wanted me to enrol as a PhD student as well because that's easier for him to apply for research funding and for me to gain a qualification when the research is completed, hence I'm a "PhD student" and also his R.A. As his R.A, I'm also helping him with lab activities that is not related to my PhD. Have been doing this for him without "extra charge" because I'm really thankful to him that he is willing to fund my PhD.

I'm an overseas student hence my fees are 3x more than home students. There was point when I brought out the issue about my "underpaid - stipend" (£8,800K/annum) and sent him some information about standard stipend (which is £13,590), he was very angry about it. He mentioned he has been very kind to cover my fees (as it's 3x more than home fees) and I shouldn't demand anymore. When he mentioned that he is not able to support my stipend anymore from summer, I suggested I should work during evening and weekends to cover my living expenses, he said "this is not unacceptable". He claimed all researchers work during evenings and weekends, hence he will cut down my funding completely if he sees there is a drop in my research progress.

In my department, we need to do course work during our first year which is compulsory. Although department strongly encourages us to take up other skill training courses, but it's not "compulsory" hence he asked me not to do any of this because it will interrupt my research progress. I spoke to him that I feel these skill trainings are important as it would shape me to be a good researcher, he doesn't accept the idea and keep bringing up the issue that "I'm his R.A and he funded me", which I should obey everything that he said.

I'm not so sure if my department or Research Group is able to give me any help, I don't think they can control what he wants to do with his research funding? He does not demand that much from his other student because he did not fund that student. He has different rules for me and his other students (he only has two students): for example, he expects me to be at the department during office hour everyday, but his other student can come in anytime that he wants. He is much more stricter on me, I suppose that's because he has put quite a lot of money on me, so he needs to make sure I have good progress on my work. I know he has some problems with that student as well.

I don't think I'm able to talk to him about my financial problems or "working outside office hour" issue anymore, he has made it clear- No More Negotiation. I think he would seriously cut down my funding if I brought up the issue to him again. As I mentioned, I'm not sure if the department can do anything about it because it's his research funding. if I brought up the issue to the department, and things do not go well and he is not happy, I'm basically "game-over".

He was once my benefactor and I really appreciated everything that he has done for me in order for me to do research because I really really love it! But at the same time, I'm finding it hard to obey him completely and blindly.

I'm in big dilemma... :-(

p.s. I really hope he doesn't seem this post as well!


It's risky not to secure a funding before you enter your phD study. I worked as a research assistant for different unis in the past and got to understand the way how department/supervisor tried every way to get funding for their own benefit. As the competition for funding is fierce (not only for the phD students but also for the staff and departments), departments/staff they tend to develop their own research (get more money for themselves) by including phD projects in it so that they can apply for more funding. I don't entirely know your situation chinglnc but by just reading your story it's very likely that your research is being included as part of your supervisor's research so that he can apply for funding for himself. I have seen some bad examples that the supervisor took the funding but not really put much input into their phD students/projects. And if the funding is given to your supervisor but not you, your situation will be like his/her "employee" as you said. And if the funding is under his or her project/name, there will be no guarantee for the part of your study I'm afraid.

I used to think to further my study not being just a RA. But as I worked in the field as a RA I realised that studying a phD it's not only a study for myself but on the other hand I will become a tool for my supervisor to help developing "his" projects. I don't mean studying phD is a bad thing but in my case I found that having the certificate couldn't brought me into a higher level of career as the chance of working in academic side is very slim and if in other industries people won't consider this "high" qualification in my field. So I end up having my own research business rather than studying for a higher degree. And I got more freedom for my research work, I can get hold of the funding completely from my sponsors and I can earn a living.

You mentioned you are a foreign student chinglnc I wonder why you can pass the financial evaluation by the gov/uni before you came to study in the UK. I have some friends from foreign countries they said to me they can hardly find funding in the UK because most funding are for the local/EU students. And if they want to come to study, either they need to find their own sponsorship from their hometown or they support their own study and in that case they need to prove that they have a strong financial background to support their study.


Thanks Sft

You are speaking about my feeling deep down from my heart. I felt exactly as you described- I'm just my supervisor's tool.

I started off as a part-time R.A. for my supervisor. He felt the research progress is very slow so he pushed me to become a Full-Time student (so that he can apply for more funding). I was quite reluctant at first because I have no money on my own, I told him that probably is not a good idea as there is no way that I can afford on my own, he promised he will take care of the financial problems and tell me not to worry. I trusted his word so I enrolled to be a PhD student. I'm not sure what was the process of checking financial background when I enrolled as a fully funded student. He probably has submitted some kind funding confirmation proof to the university.

When he told me he runs out of funding and can no longer support me from summer, i wasn't happy about it as he promised he will take care of it before I started my PhD. However he said " I shouldn't complain" as he has helped me A LOT as my fees was 3x compared to home student. I don't know what else to say...