Integrity Matters
October 20 , 2004

Before asking for money, ask these questions

Question: (E-147)

Dear Jim:

I have been writing my thesis in the context of a group process-leadership method. The lead instructor-professor of this method, my mentor, who trained me, has asked me if she could use part of my thesis to include in her training manual, asking if she might use my research in the book she is writing. She's earning quite a bit of money with these training programs. Would it be appropriate to ask her to pay me a certain amount because she is using a great deal of my work?


The "integrity" answers here will relate less to immediate cash flow and more to relationships and professional courtesies associated with academic research and the earning of advanced degrees. Working with a mentor, in this context, could require supporting her high-quality research as one informal method for demonstrating appreciation for her efforts as your valuable advisor. Inside academia, you will need to understand and work with both the formal and informal contracts that exist between students and teachers.

Also, you may find answering these questions will determine the level of integrity of the relationship you have already built with the professor. Timing and protocol will likely be important not only in what you request, but also when you ask. Please address these nine questions:

  1. What are the legal and customary processes by which research assistants relate (professionally and financially) to professors? You may want to seek legal advice. Remember that legal aid costs less than private attorney's fees.
  2. Do you intend to work with this professor in the longer term?
  3. Have you already received your advanced degree?
  4. How important is this mentor- protégé relationship to you, longer term?
  5. Is your frustration created by your own impatience or does it reflect a series of violations of your intellectual and professional integrity?
  6. What are the risks to your career (academic and economic) if you confront the situation?
  7. What harm comes to you if you ignore your frustrations?
  8. When you reach the level of your current mentor, what will be your operating principles with reference to working with students and asking them to share their research with you?
  9. How will you expect them (those learning from you, who someday might become your competitors on many levels) to reward you for equipping them for success, academic or otherwise?

Once you know the answers to these nine questions, you should be clear on what to say and when to say it and as well as what to do and when to do it. Mentors are precious and should be treated with graciousness, respect and loyalty. They have, for many of us, made the difference in our lives. Whether in academia or business, wise counselors are hard to replace. Integrity requires thoughtful and relationship-building actions.

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