Mentoring Scenario 6 Discussion


One of the ethical concerns in mentoring is the recruiting of students under false or incomplete pretenses. In this case, the student was not recruited by the faculty member but was accepted as a thesis student. While there was no “pretense” initially involved, there could be a developing element of dishonesty if the student is not informed about the evolving situation. The two levels of ethical concern in this scenario are the decision to be made by the faculty member and the behavior of the department.

Points that the Faculty Member Might Consider

  • What commitments did you make to the younger student?
  • Did you discuss a timeline toward a degree?
  • Was this student given any indications that you were considering dropping your commitment to thesis supervision?
  • Did your department behave fairly (ethically) in pressuring you to take the second student?
  • Were you promised any extra resources for accepting her? Were you told that it would help your tenure?
  • As the situation deteriorated, did you discuss the problem with your department chair?

Points that an Outside Observer Might Raise 

  • Does this department have a strong commitment to developing graduate students into professional physicists?
  • What is the attrition rate for graduate students in this department?
  • Does this department have a strong commitment to helping assistant professors achieve tenure?
  • Was it ethical to pressure the faculty member to accept the second student?
  • What kind of pressure was applied?

Further Considerations

  • If the faculty member elects to terminate the student, would she be treated fairly by the department after she was terminated?
    Many departments require a thesis advisor for advanced students to be in good standing and receive support.
  • When the student was recruited for this graduate program, what kind of assurances was she given about departmental support?
    Would these assurances be honored if she was terminated?

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