When a Research Assistant is employed at a 50 percent appointment, they are expected to work for about 20 hours per week, although as salaried employees some weeks may require more work than others. However, only Research Assistants employed to do work that does not contribute to the assistant’s own research should be limited to the appointment amount.
In most cases, Research Assistants will be working for their dissertation advisors on shared research projects that benefit both the Principal Investigator and the graduate student’s own research. As a result, it is usually impossible to draw a bright line between a time spent in the lab working as a Research Assistant, and time spent in the lab working on one’s own research. In many cases, they will be the same thing. As a result, Research Assistants whose employment significantly overlaps with their own research may be expected to spend much more time in a lab.
These extra expectations should not be stated as conditions of employment but should instead be expressed as expectations of time the student should commit toward their own research goals and academic training. Such non-compensated expectations should be discussed in advance with the student to help the student set academic and professional goals. Just as a syllabus contains a statement of time expectations, so supervisors should clearly communicate how much time Research Assistants may need to spend in the lab for the purpose of their studies, beyond the required 20 hours of employment each week. Instead of a single conversation at the start of employment, regular conversations are strongly encouraged so that both the supervisor and the assistant can revisit the issue in light of changing opportunities and demands.