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Here’s the situation: I just finished my second co-op term (basically an internship) with my employer and am going back to school. They’re asking me if I want to work there part-time during my school semester. I am hesitant to accept as I will be having a very busy semester (doing research and also taking some of the hardest courses in our curriculum). What I want to say to my boss is “I may be down, but I will have a busy semester and will need a probably-unreasonable pay increase in order to make this worthwhile for me”

I generally lack some tact in these kinds of situations and wonder if there’s a better way to frame what I’m looking for here. Furthermore, if he can’t offer me what I’m looking for, how can I turn him down in a way that doesn’t burn any bridges / make me look like I’m turning up my nose?

EDIT: extremely flexible hours are already a given.

EDIT: Alternatively, how would I approach saying "If there's an emergency and you really need me, contact me and I can do some work in the short-term for an inflated rate, but I can't afford to put in consistent hours"

Obviously, I'm aware that the "inflated rate" portion of this quote isn't a thing I should verbalize.

  • The questions to ask are 1) how much do you need the money; and 2) is this likely to lead to a good job after graduation? If you have a good offer, it might be worth taking less of a course load in order to get the money & work experience. – jamesqf Apr 21 '16 at 17:58
  • What field? Do you want to work there again in another co-op term or after you graduate, or would you be better served somewhere else? Do you have a sense of whether they truly need you (note: it's exceedingly uncommon for a company to rely on interns in this way, because it's high-risk) or they just like you and want to maintain a relationship so they can hire you again later? – Shimon Rura Apr 21 '16 at 18:33
  • I'm a software dev in computer science. I do not intend to work there in another co-op and it's unlikely I will return after I graduate. I do want to keep up connections, however. I think it's a combination of my boss wanting to maintain a personal connection and actually needing me short-term. – Daniel Paczuski Bak Apr 21 '16 at 18:36
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In my workplace offers like this are retention efforts. We have an environmental engineer who was employed for 1 weekend a month between his second and final co-op placement and again between his final placement and graduation. This was a kind of insurance policy to keep getting him back.

If it's part time then probably you would be paid hourly (depending on local customs). If you want to work there again in your next co-op term or after graduation I'd strongly advise against requesting a huge hourly wage and instead look for major flexibility of hours.

Edit: As per OP comment flexible hours are already a given. This sounds like an ideal situation for a hard semester. You have the option to work when your course load allows. Requesting an excessively high wage risks both this flexible situation and future employment with this employer.

Further edit: As per OP second edit. Regarding your ability to work I'd use the phrase "Due to a demanding semester at school, I'd only be able to work casual hours as my course load allows." Also would still not try to negotiate highly inflated hourly rate there is a chance they are offering you this with the intention that this is a favor to you, demanding an unreasonable wage throws that in their face. Better to turn them down entirely by saying you are too busy this semester than to do that.

  • Majorly flexible hours are already a given. – Daniel Paczuski Bak Apr 21 '16 at 18:13
  • I buy your argument that demanding a huge payoff isn't a great idea. I tend to be very utilitarian but I can see how somebody would find that offensive. – Daniel Paczuski Bak Apr 21 '16 at 18:41
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You are a student, which means your schoolwork is your priority, and your boss should understand that. Just be honest and explain that you have a very tough semester coming up, and you don't think you will be able to devote all of the time he wants. There shouldn't be any hard feelings or burned bridges. Interns will go back to school - that's how they work.

Perhaps you might be willing to accept if he understands that you will need a flexible schedule and might need to drop hours as the semester goes on. You said that hours are already flexible, which is great, but being able to move hours from one week to the next is not good enough. You need the ability to stop working all together if need be. As Myles commented, "In a bad semester you may have a full month where you risk burnout by working." Don't make matters worse by having a work schedule that can't be changed to meet your needs.

As for asking for a pay raise, I think this would be a bad idea. Not because it would look bad to your boss, but because you should be considering whether you can do the internship based on time commitment, not pay grade. If your boss agrees to pay you more, you will feel obligated to spend more time and energy at the internship, possibly at the expense of your research and coursework. Internships are important, but you have more to lose from a bad semester than to gain from an extended part-time internship.

First determine whether you have the ability to work part-time and still do well in your classes. If you are absolutely certain you can pull it off, then you can consider whether you want that pay raise or not. Again, honesty is your best policy here. Just explain that you have a very full semester already, and you need to a raise to make the internship worth spending your already limited time and energy. I would still certainly still require flexible hours, because you never know how the next few months will treat you.

  • Flexible hours are already a given. – Daniel Paczuski Bak Apr 21 '16 at 18:12
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    @DanielPaczuskiBak Are the amount of hours you work per week flexible, or just which hours you work in a week? I think both are important in this situation. – David K Apr 21 '16 at 18:17
  • I think that as long as I make up for lost hours in one week in another week, everything's good. – Daniel Paczuski Bak Apr 21 '16 at 18:17
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    @DanielPaczuskiBak That's good, but I also think the ability to drop hours entirely is good too. You may start at 20 hrs/week but find that you can't keep that up and need to drop down to 10/week. – David K Apr 21 '16 at 18:22
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    @DanielPaczuskiBak Given that this is a very difficult semester you probably want to negotiate much more flexibility than being able to make up hours the next week. In a bad semester you may have a full month where you risk burnout by working. – Myles Apr 21 '16 at 18:32

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