What a great analogy for grad school. The shenanigans of treating Ph.D. students as students when it's best for the university and professors that we be students, and as employees when it's best for the university and the professors that we be employees.
Am I a student? Being a student implies that I'm being educated and trained. That I have an advisor to advise me on how to best obtain *my* goals. That I'm being evaluated in some way that will help me learn and prove that I've learned. Being a student somehow implies to me that I will get out of it what I put into it. That I'm the one invested in this endeavor. My success or failure matters a great deal to me, but should only matter to anyone else insofar as how much they care about me. I know, very idealistic.
Being a student also implies paying for that education. And I don't pay. The university does get paid. The "educators" do get paid. But not by me. By grants. Sometimes by grants obtained by me, sometimes by grants obtained by my advisor. And I get paid by these grants, as well.
I get paid, so I'm also an employee. Employees perform services for pay. They typically have contracts. I have a contract. It's a yearly renewed contract that can be cancelled at any time by me or my advisor. It says I work 20 hours per week on research. I have no allotted leave. No sick leave. No vacation leave. None. Zero, zip, zilch. All leave is at the discretion of my advisor. Renewal of my contract is at the discretion of my advisor. All work is at the discretion of my advisor.
My advisor is also an employee. He performs services for pay. He also has a contract, and though I don't know the details, I know the gist. He teaches, does service, and performs research. He is reviewed on his performance in these activities. He now has tenure, so there is little to no chance that his contract will not be renewed. But his performance is still reviewed for promotions and raises. And his career, the opinions of his colleagues, awards, future grants; all these depend on reviews of his performance. As his Ph.D. student and employee, I have little to do with his teaching and service. But I have a lot to do with his research performance.
My advisor is also supposed to be the person who advises me on how to best achieve *my* educational/professional goals. What happens when his goals and my goals no longer align? What happens when it's beneficial for him to keep me toiling away as a senior graduate student, highly productive for his research, but it's not beneficial for me? What happens when it's beneficial for me to take two weeks vacation to try to recover from burnout, but he doesn't see it? What happens when it's beneficial for me to take a course on teaching, but he sees no direct benefit? What happens when it's beneficial for me to spend time looking for jobs, taking trips for interviews, writing grants for those jobs, but it's not beneficial for him? Then what?
What happens when it's beneficial for me to get out from under these shenanigans, in which I'm a student so that the university gets paid, so that I won't leave because I've invested years in trying to get this degree, so that I work 40+ hours per week more than my contract states, yet still get no benefits such as retirement or health care paid or even contracted leave? What happens when I need to be done with that, but it's not in my advisor's and employer's best interest?