Consultant work

MIT’s graduate students occasionally engage in temporary part-time work to provide technical or subject matter expertise to industry, academic institutions, government agencies, and/or the public service sector. 

Graduate students who hold full-time research or teaching assistantships or who receive full support on a fellowship or traineeship are not usually eligible for such employment. A part time research assistant may engage in such employment if the outside work is not thesis-related and if the faculty member is not their supervisor. However, care must be taken to avoid any potential conflict of interest or academic conflict of commitment

Additionally, with regard to conflict of commitment, it may be a useful reference point to consider the policy for on-campus work: A student who is a US citizen or permanent resident may be permitted additional compensated employment at MIT for no more than 10 hours per week during the academic year in addition to their RA or TA appointment. 

An MIT IPIA must be signed prior to engaging in outside consulting, if one has not already been completed upon enrollment at MIT.

Graduate students considering consultant work, especially those with RA or TA appointments, should discuss the work with their academic or research advisor and their departmental Graduate Officer. The discussion will address safeguards to support the student’s progress toward academic milestones and degree, and avoid conflicts of interest and commitment.

Here are some questions to address in those conversations about your proposed consulting work:

  • Describe in detail how your MIT research is separate and distinct from your consulting project with the company.
  • Please address whether or not your MIT research will affect the outcome of your consulting project with the company.
  • Please address whether or not your consulting project with the company will impact your MIT research and time to degree.
  • Will your ability to publish your thesis or any other academic publication you are planning be implicated or restricted in any way?
  • Will it build upon an existing patentable invention, copyrighted software, or other intellectual property rights owned by MIT or related to your MIT research?
  • Does your research supervisor/thesis advisor have any involvement or financial interest in the company? 
  • Will the consulting project involve any use of MIT facilities, including your advisor’s or department’s lab spaces or resources? If yes, describe.
  • Will any MIT faculty, postdocs, students, or staff be involved in carrying out your consulting project? If yes, describe.
  • Is there a danger of inadvertent use of company confidential information in your thesis research or any publications (including your thesis itself)?
  • Is there a danger of inadvertent sharing of unpublished MIT intellectual property with the external employer?
  • Is your research supervisor/thesis advisor aware of this, and do they approve? 
  • If you have supervisors at other Institutions, have they been informed, and do they approve?
  • Are you working on federally-sponsored research? It may require special disclosures; please consult with your research supervisor to make sure you understand your obligations.

View these questions in an editable worksheet.

Please note this information pertains to consulting, and not to internships.

Suggested best practices

The consulting rider is a tool developed with the help of MIT’s Office of General Counsel for faculty and staff to use at their own discretion when entering into personal consulting agreements. The rider is not “required” by MIT but is recommended thus optional. You can find a more detailed explanation of the rider and its provisions at the OGC website.

  • Note that no MIT office provides oversight or review of your consulting agreement. You will enter into any such agreements as an individual, rather than as an agent of MIT.  
  • Note that students, faculty members, researchers, or staff persons at MIT cannot unequivocally ensure a third party that the individual or MIT will keep an outside engagement (or an outside contract) confidential.  For example, you may need to disclose the engagement to your department head or others at MIT. 
  • Note that if your research has federal sponsorship, there may be additional disclosure requirements. Please consult with your research supervisor to make sure you understand your obligations.
  • If you or your employer have questions, please connect with your research supervisor, the OGE, or the BU Law Clinic.

See related MIT policies: