Conflicting identities – privilege and exploitation

Reading Bonnie Stewart's blog post reflecing on Scrooge and AcademiaI am reminded of a constant struggle I have with holding the dual identities of a self-employed consultant and a PhD student. My entrepreneurial background has taught me to seek ways to monetize my work – to avoid giving away for free the value I bring to my clients. As a consultant, you always need to ensure you are managing your billable hours – otherwise, you won't make ends meet and people will take advantage of you – they will also undervalue your contributions. I see this too often with those who are new to consulting, and are happy to take any contract, at any pay, just to get established. Note that as a consultant, there are also times you do work pro-bono, in order to establish relationships and market your work – but it is a balance that you control.

As a student, it seem the entire system is designed to take advantage of you. There are expectations that you are doing your research for free, that is, that you are giving away your consulting services in exchange for the privilege of doing your research. Again, as someone early in their career, this is an expected part of apprenticeship – it provides an opportunity to learn new skills while working – but as an older student, it feels like exploitation – especially when the jobs you are asked to do are not related to apprenticing as an academic, rather they are based upon the skills you developed as a consultant. I should add here, that the type of research I do is pragmatic and there is a benefit to the organization in which I do my research. If I were not a PhD student, I might be paid as a consultant to do some of the same work.

So, I will put it out there. As a PhD Student, are you expected to give away your expertise, your knowledge, your skills, in exchange for the privilege of going research? Does this change when you are a professor? I see this an extension to the adjunct discussion – with so many of us PhD students likely to not go on to tenure track positions – are we being sold a life of opportunity but setting ourselves up for a life of exploitation?

Note that as I write this, I find myself conflicted with the word exploitation. I am fully aware of the privilege that I have to be in the position that I am in. I can definitely see this as a "first world problem" – that is, I can see the privilege that I hold which allows me to be conflicted in this way. 



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