We've long criticized the low compensation that many university researchers receive, but the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom hit absolute rock bottom when it advertised openings for "honorary" research assistants to work on a "voluntary basis," reports Times Higher Education (THE).
The successful candidates, if that's the word, not only needed "excellent" degrees, but vehicles of their own. The university would be generous enough to provide reimbursement for gas, space to work, and "regular supervision." Gosh, could the research project really afford all that? After critics pointed out that advertising for people to work for nothing is exploitative and illegal in Britain, the School of Psychology at Birmingham cited a generous motive for the ad: In a statement, it claimed that it had wanted to make this "opportunity" to work for free "available to all" rather than just to those "with existing networks and contacts." The university says the "honorary" posts were intended as "training positions," but the ad did not reflect that.
The university has withdrawn the offer. But, as the THE article indicates, unpaid internships are widespread in today's depressed job market. There's a fine and murky line between positions that actually provide interns valuable experiences or training and those that merely exploit people's desire to add a line to their résumés.