November 18, 2010


Today, grad students in my department received an e-mail titled "job opportunity." A professor is moving to a new office, and she wants to pay a grad student $15 per hour to move her books and alphabetize them. I need money badly, but this is something I will not do.

I know it's a common request. Other professors at my department have paid grad students to move their books. Professors who have "research assistants" often expect their RAs to help with moving for free. So this happens, and I'm sure that the grad students who accept perceive it as a mutually beneficial arrangement. Everyone involved is happy. The grad student makes extra money, and the professor doesn't have to lift heavy objects (or pay $25 per hour for a real moving service).

So I realize that there is nothing wrong with asking, and that this stuff pushes a button with me because of previous experiences. But to me it's like, "I don't want to carry my own stuff, so I'm going to exploit grad student poverty and use them as a cheap moving service." And it reminds me of the pervasive attitude that all unpleasant work should be done by grad students, as though we are meant to be cheap labor first, before we are scholars or even students.

A couple of years ago I actually heard professors discussing book moving. One professor was complaining that the department staff wasn't helping her move into her office, and the other professor said something like, "Oh, grad students should be doing that!" Then they turned the corner and saw me glaring at them.

If my advisor or another professor that I liked was moving to a new office, I would be happy to carry some books for free, just like I help my friends move to new apartments for free. Helping with moving is something nice that people do for each other, but it should be a favor. I will never move a professor's books for money.


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