Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
kwaugust

Frustrating GRA Situation

Recommended Posts

I would like to see if anyone has any advice for my current situation, and what my current options are if any.

 

I work as a GRA in a small department where I am currently pursuing my Master's degree. I have worked for one professor (professor A) for awhile, but a second professor (B ) received a grant for a project in Fall 2014 that was a perfect research fit for me. I kept my original GRA appointment with Professor A, which was only 8 hours a week, and was also accepted as a GRA on the new project with 8 hours of funding through grant money from Professor B.

 

My appointment was only supposed to last for the Fall semester. I was in the middle of my Ph.D. application cycle. I was very clear that I would only be a temporary GRA on Professor B's project, because the following semester I would need to finish my thesis hours and could be traveling frequently for interviews.

 

There was a lot of momentum for the project in the beginning-- lots of meetings to attend, lots of GRA work to be done (building surveys, etc), so I had no problem with tasks. However, the project hit some delays mid-semester. One of my months of funding was canceled all-together, and I still "owed" 30 hours based on the monthly stipends I had already received.

 

I tried countless times to find ways to make up the owed hours with Professor B during the Fall semester. I asked to help by working on other projects, grading papers, or anything to finish up my commitment. Professor B was very hard to reach and ignored my requests for tasks. When Professor B would respond, I was reassured that the project would get off the ground soon or  was told that they would be in touch with additional tasks. However, this never materialized.

 

Now, I have successfully defended my thesis, and I now have a 20/hr week GRA appointment with professor A until I finish up the term. I am only a student at this institution for 3 more weeks, and then I will be moving out of state to attend my Ph.D. program. With three weeks remaining, I have been contacted by Professor B to make up those owed hours. What are my options here? Professor A and I are on very good terms, and I often work from sites off campus. I am traveling frequently and even presenting at a conference in these last 3 weeks. Professor B's newly materialized tasks all need to be completed from campus and they are being rather inflexible on assigning me more feasible work.

 

I feel like I am in an impossible situation. Any ideas on how to proceed? Thanks in advance!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Have you (can you) talk to Prof. A about this? They should have some experience in how to handle Professor B and a good sense of perspective on how much the residual hours matter.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here are your options as I see them:

1) Talk to Professor A and see if they can help you come up with a plan and/or intervene with Prof. B on your behalf

2) Talk to Professor B, explain your time commitments to Prof A, and try to work out a plan

3) Offer to repay the money for the hours you cannot complete

4) Renege on some of your other plans to fulfill your agreement with Prof B. This could mean moving at a later time, not traveling as frequently as you had planned, doing less work at those sites off campus, or not attending the conference (either at all or for as many days as you had planned). 

 

Obviously, we can't tell you what will work best. If I were in your shoes, I would have a sit down conversation with Professor B ASAP. Since it's Friday now, that would mean Monday morning at 8:30am to me. In the meantime, is there any of Prof B's work you can do this weekend to show a good faith effort toward meeting your end of the contract? If so, do that and be prepared to discuss/show it on Monday when you go in for the meeting. Good luck!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for your responses! One of the main problems is that I cannot come to campus for meetings, I am in the process of relocating out of state for my Ph.D. already. Professor B does not communicate over phone or e-mail-- this results in sporadic contact and no instructions on tasks. Professor B refuses to assign anything or let any work at all be done off campus (a bit extreme about data security). I will definitely see what Professor A thinks about it all. Professor A and B are close colleagues, so I must approach this delicately.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm going to sound like a bad person for this but, honestly? You're the one in the wrong, kwaugust. If you're relocating out of state while still working for someone that you know doesn't communicate over the phone or email then you need to find a way to be there in person. The onus is on you for this, not Professor B, because you're the one that was paid to do work you haven't done. If that means driving or flying back, changing flights or departure times, etc., then you should do it or just offer to pay back the money you got for the work you haven't done (and it seems like aren't going to do and won't ever do).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with rising_star. Since you are leaving soon and Prof B is hard to contact remotely, you must do everything you can to at least have one meeting with Professor B where you figure out what to do with the hours that you owe to Professor B. On July 8 you posted that you were still at your school for 3 more weeks but today you write that you cannot come to campus? I understand the process of moving is very time consuming (I've moved cross country twice now!) but if you are still in the same city, you really need to devote some time to making a plan to complete the work with Professor B. If you are already out of town, then I think you did make a mistake of leaving before all your obligations to the old institute are fulfilled.

 

To me, I also think the cleanest and easiest option is to offer to Professor B to pay back the money that you were paid for work not done. Or, you fly back and complete the work that you promised to do (maybe just paying back the money is less costly though). Or, if you are lucky, perhaps there is some way for you to work those 30 (is it 30?) hours for Professor A instead, and then Professor A can pay the money back to Professor B (depending on the nature of the grant, this may or may not be possible). But 30 hours is only 4 days full time, or maybe even 2 or 3 days with very long hours.

 

I notice that you said you offered to do other tasks for Professor B during the year but I don't think these tasks (e.g. other projects or grading papers) are usually accepted as alternative tasks to fulfill a GRA commitment. When a professor hires a GRA, they generally pay out of a budget for a specific project and thus expect the hours to go towards fulfilling said project. 

 

One exception to the above: If you think that you are in the right because while you are indeed a GRA that owes hours to Professor B, if there is a time limit on when Professor B can assign tasks, then you should maybe talk to the Graduate Office about this. In one extreme case, it is clear that it should not be your fault that Professor B paid you for work but did not ask for any specific tasks until after you graduated and separated from your institute. However, as you say you are still a student for 3 more weeks, I would think this means you are still obligated. But maybe the GRA contract with Professor B would have expired awhile ago, so maybe this is an alternative plan to pursue while you try your best to make a plan with Professor B.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm still technically a student for 3 more weeks (my graduation date has not passed), but I began the relocating process of moving things/getting situated after I finished my thesis earlier in the summer semester. My only remaining summer requirement was the thesis (no additional classes). Also, I communicated to professor B well in advance (i.e. early Spring Semester) that this was my plan and I did /everything/ in my power, including what felt like begging and pestering the professor repeatedly for any tasks that I could do to absolve my commitment prior to the beginning of Summer Semester.

 

Also, I'm not sure that I was clear on this, but this was supposed to be a one term appointment (last Fall Semester) for a *specific* project, but the professor is no longer working on the project for this grant. It is on hold due to external issues. This is way more than I signed up for, and honestly I would be glad to pay the $500 to be free of the 30 hour commitment.

 

Your tone sounds a bit hostile rising_star-- I did in fact do work on the project until the professor put things on hold. It isn't that I don't intend to do the work, it just seems like a messy situation. It feels like the professor should be more flexible with assigning me tasks that I can work on from a distance considering the situation at hand.

Edited by kwaugust

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Also, I'm not sure that I was clear on this, but this was supposed to be a one term appointment (last Fall Semester) for a *specific* project, but the professor is no longer working on the project for this grant. It is on hold due to external issues. This is way more than I signed up for, and honestly I would be glad to pay the $500 to be free of the 30 hour commitment.

 

Your tone sounds a bit hostile rising_star-- I did in fact do work on the project until the professor put things on hold. It isn't that I don't intend to do the work, it just seems like a messy situation. It feels like the professor should be more flexible with assigning me tasks that I can work on from a distance considering the situation at hand.

 

From your writing here, in my opinion**, you should be free of any obligation to Professor B because your term appointment with Professor B expired last fall and thus all obligations to Professor B should have ended with that appointment. To me, the only reasonable end to this situation is for the school and Professor B to consider the $500 already paid to be "overpayment" and you would just pay that money back (this is common in many GRA instances and even other types of jobs). If your GRA is a term appointment ending last Fall, then Prof B should have assigned you any work they wished to have completed last fall. Since they did not, you should not feel obligated to do any work now, this summer, over 6 months later. However, since they did "overpay" you, they are entitled to get their overpayment back.

 

That said, rising_star does make a good and important point that if you are still obligated to do the work (i.e. if the GRA was an annual appointment expiring at the end of the academic year) then it is your duty to be on campus and available when Professor B asks for it. You cannot expect your boss/employer to be flexible around your schedule! I mean, it might work out for everyone this way, but the onus is on you to make it work. Luckily, it does sound like you should be free of obligations to Professor B because your term appointment ended last Fall (but we did not know this prior to your last post). 

 

In any case, I still think you have two options:

 

1. Do the work on campus that Professor B asked for and keep the money.

2. Talk to Professor B and any other administrative people necessary to say that your term ended last Fall and you are no longer available to do the work and you will pay back all overpaid wages.

 

I don't think you are in a position to be able to do the work and make Professor B be flexible on how you do it. You either do it the way Professor B wants it or appeal to the expiration of your term contract to cancel your prior agreement.

 

 

(**Note/Disclaimer: This advice is based on my interpretation of the information provided here and based on my experience with how these RA contracts go. You should certainly seek advice from your own institute to ensure that all institutional and department policies are met!)

Edited by TakeruK
added disclaimer for clarity

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As has been pointed out above, 30h = 2 long days. Imo it is not very nice to refuse doing the work now even if you may be in the right from the contractual point of view as described above. Prof B counts on you to do the job so you should do it by flying back booking 1 night in a hotel and working hard for 2 days even if it costs you extra. At least Prof B will be happy. If he is not happy it might hurt you reputation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree that the easiest thing to do is to offer to pay back the money but if everything you say you is true including that you made it clear you could only work for 1 semester, you asked many times for additional tasks, and that he knew you were moving then I think it is incredibly rude for him to contact you now and ask you to work.

 

In my experience, what you describe is very common in academia. Although I have been paid "hourly" for research, I have never ever kept tabs on my hours. I was paid for 20 hours per week for work all last year. Some weeks school would get busy and I would work less than 5 hours. Other weeks I would have lots of time and work 40+ hours. My professor knew I was dedicated to the project and I produced strong results. Some weeks I was in a situation you describe where I would spend a couple hours starting up some simulations and couldn't do much else until they finished. In my opinion, this is how research works.

 

I definitely don't think you need to fly to your old location to meet with professor B. If you tried many times to do the work and were never given any then Professor B doesn't get to make you a permanent slave and demand things at his leisure until you complete the hours. I would politely tell professor B that you are swamped at the moment and don't have time to help out and ask if you can refund the money.

Edited by bsharpe269

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the general advice is sound, but there is a lot of conflating it, lets break it down. 

 

In the workplace, the boss determines how work should be done. You were paid for hours you did not complete. Therefore, if you cannot do the work that the boss wants, in the way the boss wants it, you should give back the money.

 

This is not complicated.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Your tone sounds a bit hostile rising_star-- I did in fact do work on the project until the professor put things on hold. It isn't that I don't intend to do the work, it just seems like a messy situation. It feels like the professor should be more flexible with assigning me tasks that I can work on from a distance considering the situation at hand.

 

I wasn't intending to be hostile. I was, however, approaching this from the perspective of the professor. That is, if you worked for me, how would I feel about this? I would think that you got paid as you were supposed to in the fall even though the project had to be put on hold. And now that I'm asking you to finish the work, you're providing excuses for why you can't and blaming me for your inability to follow through. Why should I have to assign you something more flexible now? Why should I pay you to do alternate tasks that weren't related to the grant that funded you? If I were Professor B, I would find your attitude irritating, at a minimum. It might be easier if you thought of this as an employee-employer relationship. If you get in the habit of making excuses for not completing the work (I'm moving, I already finished my thesis, you don't answer my emails quickly enough), you're going to land yourself in hot water not only with Professor B but with other bosses (faculty members) in the future. 

 

I do hope you're able to resolve this situation. Given the litany of obstacles you've provided as to why you can't do the work for Professor B, I really do think your best option at this point is to offer to repay the money so you can be done with this situation. Good luck!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wasn't intending to be hostile. I was, however, approaching this from the perspective of the professor. That is, if you worked for me, how would I feel about this? I would think that you got paid as you were supposed to in the fall even though the project had to be put on hold. And now that I'm asking you to finish the work, you're providing excuses for why you can't and blaming me for your inability to follow through. Why should I have to assign you something more flexible now? Why should I pay you to do alternate tasks that weren't related to the grant that funded you? If I were Professor B, I would find your attitude irritating, at a minimum. It might be easier if you thought of this as an employee-employer relationship. If you get in the habit of making excuses for not completing the work (I'm moving, I already finished my thesis, you don't answer my emails quickly enough), you're going to land yourself in hot water not only with Professor B but with other bosses (faculty members) in the future.

I do hope you're able to resolve this situation. Given the litany of obstacles you've provided as to why you can't do the work for Professor B, I really do think your best option at this point is to offer to repay the money so you can be done with this situation. Good luck!

When I look at this situation from an employer/employee relationship then I come to different conclusion. Let's say I'm an employee for company, they overpay me and never assign me more work despite my repeated attempt. you stop working for them completely and don't hear anything from them for months. They can't come to you 6 months later and demand you stop your other job or temporarily juggle both to do more work. They certainly can't demand you fly from another state at your expense to work for them. They can demand you repay them if they would like but that should be the extend of their ability to request things from you in my opinion.

Also if a project is put on hold, that is not the fault of the student. The student is not expected to take time off from their job and fly back to their old location at their own expense to finish a project that stalled 6 months ago. That makes no sense? How is this the OP's fault? They aren't making excuses... They literally moved to a new state! Sure they should pay back the money but they aren't expected to fly around the country to do work after they move and start a new program.

Edited by bsharpe269

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When I look at this situation from an employer/employee relationship then I come to different conclusion. Let's say I'm an employee for company, they overpay me and never assign me more work despite my repeated attempt. you stop working for them completely and don't hear anything from them for months. They can't come to you 6 months later and demand you stop your other job or temporarily juggle both to do more work. They certainly can't demand you fly from another state at your expense to work for them. They can demand you repay them if they would like but that should be the extend of their ability to request things from you in my opinion.

Also if a project is put on hold, that is not the fault of the student. The student is not expected to take time off from their job and fly back to their old location at their own expense to finish a project that stalled 6 months ago. That makes no sense? How is this the OP's fault? They aren't making excuses... They literally moved to a new state! Sure they should pay back the money but they aren't expected to fly around the country to do work after they move and start a new program.

 

I definitely agree with this. While I also do agree with random_grad's earlier post that in order to form healthy collegial relationships, you don't always want to strictly follow the letter of your contract and exercise every last bit of your rights, bsharpe makes a good point that the student should also not be expected to incur unreasonable expenses to return to the campus for a contract that strictly ended 6 months ago. 

 

My original post came before kwaugust revealed that their GRA was a term appointment that ended last Fall. I'm used to GRAs that are annual appointments, and if that was the case, then kwaugust would have certainly be in the wrong for leaving campus prior to the actual end of their contract/program and that as the boss, Professor B does not have to be flexible at all.

 

However, given that the contract actually did end last fall (no reason to not take the OP's word for it), I don't think kwaugust should be expected to fly back and do this work. But I don't see how it is reasonable for kwaugust to demand that Professor B become more flexible. That is, while I don't think Prof B has any right to force kwaugust to go back to work (as the contract is over), kwaugust also does not have any right to get an accommodation to work out of state (as Professor B is the boss and determines how the work should be done). Normally, I would encourage some kind of compromise since in many cases, a collegial relationship is worth more than following the letter of your contract, but if kwaugust is already out of state, it sounds too unreasonable for them to have to return. Also, it's a personal decision whether each relationship is worth this hassle. 

 

But in any case, no matter how you view this or which side you take, I do believe the only sensible solution is to return the money for work not completed. Hopefully this can be done while maintaining a good relationship for the future!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think bsharp's assessment is correct if you are a salaried (or even hourly) employee with "general" responsibilities. This is not the case however. The money that is paid in GRAs is generally tied to a grant: IE money that pays for specific things. That's why this is different. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think bsharp's assessment is correct if you are a salaried (or even hourly) employee with "general" responsibilities. This is not the case however. The money that is paid in GRAs is generally tied to a grant: IE money that pays for specific things. That's why this is different. 

 

I have been on a RAship that is paid from a grant for specific things but still was considered an hourly employee (I would log my hours and every two weeks, get paid based on the number of hours that I submitted). I think whether it's a salaried/hourly position or a paid from a grant, if there is an expiry date to the term position, then it is reasonable to expect that all work would be assigned within this time, and not 6 months later! (Of course, unassigned work that was already paid in advance would have to be repaid, no matter what)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, I have also been a GRA on a grant and was an hourly employee. You're usually not paid for project-specific work as a GRA - in that you're not paid to complete specific tasks. You're paid hourly, and it's up to the PI to give you tasks that will be useful to the project. If you show up 8 hours and the PI doesn't give you anything to do, they still have to pay you for those 8 hours.

 

I agree with both rising_star and bsharpe - they're not mutually exclusive. On the one hand, if you were paid upfront for work, you need to complete the work or repay the money, and the professor is really under no obligation to make it easier for you to do this remotely. On the other hand, the professor does bear some responsibility because it's not your fault the project stalled and you can't be held to the terms of your agreement indefinitely. GRA work is usually technically contracted on one particular grant, but projects falter all the time, and usually prudent PIs ask their GRAs to do work on other projects in the meantime because GRAs graduate. Furthermore, I think it's incredibly rude when academic professionals ignore emails and phone calls, and that really gives the PI even more culpability here. If you want a student to work for you, you'd think that you'd respond to their requests to - you know - work.

 

It sounds to me like what happened is Professor B finally got his/her ish together and "panicked" when they realized you were about to move away, so they contacted you at the last minute to try to get that work out of you. Again, technically this is your obligation, but it's unfair to you because poor planning on B's part shouldn't constitute an emergency on your part.

 

What I would do?

 

1) Have a chat with Professor A, apprising them of the situation. If you are on good terms and he supports your PhD plans, he should be understanding. But you want to give them the heads up. Be clear and straightforward and mostly unemotional. You just want his support, and want to give him the heads up before Professor B comes to him. He might even have some suggestions for what you should do next.

2) Have a non-confrontational chat with Professor B, being clear about what you can and cannot do. I personally would not make any arrangements to fly back and forth between campuses, because that sounds time-consuming, exhausting, and unhelpful for either of you. My offered options would be i) agree to stay on for one additional week and work 6 hours a day to complete the tasks requested, if this is possible for you; ii) offer to do all or part of the work remotely from your new location, with regular contact with Professor B and a plan to protect data security that you will create and send in advance of the work; or iii) repay the money. Obviously modify these options however you see fit and will work for you. Repaying the money does need to be on the table, though.

 

Honestly, repaying it just seems like the easiest solution. It might help if you can get Professor A to help you suggest some other students who can do the work for them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.