Who Decides When a Student is Done?
- Student, Wouldbe Post
- Student, Remember Jones, a student from another lab
- Student, Still Green, a second student in Wouldbe Post's lab
- Dr. Push, Student Wouldbe Post's preceptor
- Dr. Sage, A faculty member on Wouldbe's committee
- Dr. Hedge, Graduate School Dean
Wouldbe Post has been a fine graduate student, working in the very active lab of an assistant professor, Dr. Push, on the molecular biology of a new cytoskeletal element. Dr. Push has, in addition to himself, two students, a part-time technician, and one postdoc in the lab. Wouldbe Post is hoping to be promoted soon, and to develop a major second project area. Post took the second exam one and one-half years ago, has finished essentially all the outlined experiments in his proposal and has planned a postdoctoral position in an excellent lab at the NIH. Post is ready to finish the last month or two of experiments, write up his second and third papers, and then put all three of his papers together with the requisite introduction and discussion to form his dissertation.
As the last experiments are being conducted, Post finds a striking new observation that suggests a whole new mode of interaction between cytoskeletal elements - one that could elegantly be pursued with the techniques that Post has already developed during his dissertation work. Dr. Push insists that it is in the best interest of Post and himself that Post delay his dissertation completion and do the additional work to tack down this serendipitous finding.
Post, while excited about the new observations, does not want to add time at this point. His wife has already moved to Bethesda with the baby, and he knows that his name will, in any case, be on the first paper about the new observation. He suggests that the other more junior student in the lab be asked to finish up this area of work even if it means that this other student, Still Green, will have to learn a bunch of techniques that are not really related to what Green had planned to do. Dr. Push is adamant. So is Post. A student in another lab, Remember Jones, points out to Post that there have been students who graduated with almost nothing publishable, let alone what Post already has. Post appeals to Dr. Sage, a senior faculty member on his committee and to Dr. Hedge, the Graduate School Dean.
Discussion questions: How are such decisions made in your department?
- What are interests of Push, Post, and Green?
- Why do occasional students seem to "get away" with such thin dissertations? Is it true? Is it relevant to this problem?
- What if Post had no papers yet, and anticipated only one from the work to-date? Would that alter your view of what should be done here?
- What if Post had not been a particularly hard-worker although the work he did do was very good? Would that alter your view?
- Would you judge the situation differently if Post were unmarried? How should personal factors weigh?
- Would you feel differently if Push was a famous, well-funded full professor? How should Push's professional needs weigh?
Cite this page:
"Who Decides When a Student is Done?"
Online Ethics Center for Engineering
National Academy of Engineering
Accessed: Sunday, May 19, 2013