Conflict of interest

Although there is no policy against working outside of MIT while a registered student, there can be issues of conflict of interest.

“Conflict of interest” is a situation in which the concerns or aims of two different parties are incompatible. Conflict of interest may take several different forms; the conflict may show up in the realms of academics, research, financial interest, sponsorship, and intellectual property rights, among others.

For example, if a student’s thesis advisor asks them to join the advisor’s start-up company before graduation, this situation creates a conflict of interest, as the advisor could be influenced (either positively or negatively) by the external work relationship when evaluating and grading the thesis.

Considerations for activities

A student interested in working part time off campus up to 8 hours per week, and who is a US citizen or permanent resident on a funding source that allows additional work, should ensure that the outside work does not compromise or infringe upon patent or intellectual property rights related to the student’s MIT research (guarding against conflict of interest).

Reporting and compliance

Students are required to: (a) provide information on the proposed outside professional activities (including time commitments); (b) submit a declaration that they do not believe that their outside commitments constitute a conflict of interest; (c) confirm that the work is technically separate and distinct from MIT institutional responsibilities and the work deliverables are clearly stated; (d) commit to performing the work outside of regular work hours and academic hours, and (e) restrict outside professional activities to eight (8) hours per week.

Graduate students considering outside professional activities, especially those with RA, TA, or IG appointments, should seek guidance about the proposed work in advance and gain approval from their academic advisor, research supervisor, and department head.

Information disclosed regarding outside activities will become part of the student’s record for academic reviews of student progress to allow for effective academic guidance and supervision.

Working for an MIT faculty member

Under certain conditions students may benefit from part time involvement in outside professional activities of faculty members. In considering such arrangements, faculty should be guided by the need to avoid conflicts of interest and to avoid infringement of the student’s academic duties and rights. Generally, if the faculty member has a role in supervising the student’s thesis or in supervising the work of the student as a graduate teaching assistant or Instructor-G, such employment should not be undertaken, thus avoiding potential conflicts of interest in the evaluation of the student’s performance. If the faculty member does not have a role in supervising the student’s thesis and/or the student’s work as a teaching assistant or Instructor-G, the employment may be undertaken. If the outside work is related to the student’s thesis, special care should be expended to avoid conflict.

Faculty members who are already associated with students in outside employment should disqualify themselves from becoming research advisors, academic program advisors, or examiners of those students. Within an MIT research laboratory or academic unit, faculty members should take care not to give the impression of favoritism to those students with whom they are associated in outside employment.

Questions related to conflicts of interest should be raised with members of your unit’s headquarters or members of the Office of Graduate Education.


Guidance on balancing entrepreneurship activities with academics and research

Outside professional activities (OPA)

Rules and guidelines for engaging in consultant work and other outside professional activities while a registered graduate student

Related Institute-level policy

MIT policy regarding joint outside professional activities involving faculty and students may be found in MIT Policies and Procedures section 4.5.2.