# wtf uw 5: "student" employees

This is the fifth and final installment of my “Karl is so naive” series.

I’ve only recently become aware of the big conflict between graduate student mentors' dual roles of advisor and employer. Now I see it everywhere.

Should they take further courses? No just focus on research.

Should they help out at a software workshop or take on a teaching assistant position or spend the summer doing an internship in industry? No focus on our research project.

Should they finish their dissertation now or continue writing for a few months? Don’t waste time on the introductory chapter; just focus on finishing the papers.

Should they finish their dissertation over the summer and then go find a postdoc, or should they stay for another year or two, writing a couple of more papers? (Is the answer based on the student’s educational or career needs, or on what’s best for the advisor’s research project?)

This conflict is maybe not a surprise, given the pressure on faculty to be more productive, to get papers out so they can get the next grant. But it’s so painful to see graduate students treated as students when it’s convenient (when it comes to pay, benefits, and work hours) but as employees by their advisors.

Graduate students' salaries are a painful compromise between “pay them more so we can get better ones” and “don’t pay them so much because it’s coming out of my grant.” At UW-Madison, graduate student salaries are severely depressed by the decision a decade ago to charge tuition to advisors' grants. It would be a lot easier to raise annual salaries by $6k if not for that annual$12k charge for tuition.

I’ve been on a couple of dissertation committees where the conflict was strongly present. Imagine yourself on a committee of five that includes a student’s two co-advisors and two others who didn’t read the thesis. Criticism of a student’s work is often criticism of the advisor, as the thesis may be an implementation of the advisor’s ideas. (Dissertation committees at UW-Madison can now include two “non-readers." I don’t understand the point of committee members who don’t read the thesis. It seems like reading the thesis is the minimal expectation for a committee member.)