Academic common room
Can I be forced to take a PhD student on?
UncleJohnFromJamaica · 10/07/2019 11:26
Apologies for brevity but I'm between teaching sessions.
I would appreciate help with this situation if you can.
I had a PhD student for a year. During that time he was terrible- he didn't listen to me or take on any feedback and he would often miss meetings. I took him to task about this and he responded by complaining (not formally) to a couple of people about my supervision style and lack of support.
Earlier this year he dropped out saying he was experiencing mental health problems and was transferring to another university closer to family. I wished him luck and was glad to see the back of him.
Now he's re-appeared asking to come back and complete his PhD with me. I have no idea what happened with the other institution.
My HoS is quite keen to take him back on but I am the only person who can supervise him because of his research area.
I do not want to take this student back on but my HoS is suggesting that our hands are tied and the responsibility falls to me. The HoS is suggesting that the School has to take him back on and, because I am the only person researching in his area, I therefore have to take him back on.
I have a meeting about it on Friday where I want to flatly refuse to take this student back on but I am concerned that the HoS and the Chair of Postgraduate Studies (best mates, both spineless) will try to force me into it.
I want to get MN wisdom on this - they can't force me, can they?
bibliomania · 10/07/2019 13:35
Someone with more experience will come along, but my initial thought is that you need to spin your reply so it's not about why you don't want him, but about the risk to the department. His track record suggests a limited likelihood of progression and completion, and a high likelihood of an unfounded complaint.
(I hope they can't force you, but if they do, surely you'd be entirely within your rights to insist on a co-supervisor).
UncleJohnFromJamaica · 10/07/2019 14:02
Thank you for your reply @bibliomania
There will be a co-supervisor anyway as it's our School policy. However, I am the only one researching or working in this particular area so the co-supervisor would be attached in a non-specialist capacity to give general feedback and check progress. In that sense, it doesn't really matter who the co-supervisor is because it's really down to me as the only person working in the area.
I really like the framing you have suggested, thank you, I'll bear this in mind.
UncleJohnFromJamaica · 10/07/2019 14:04
I also meant to say, I don't really understand why my HoS believes that the School has to take him back on. He left of his own accord so I'm not sure where the idea that our hands are tied has come from.
bibliomania · 10/07/2019 14:05
It might be worth reiterating that you don't have any contractual obligations to take him back on. I don't know on what they're basing their "have to take him on" position, but unless there is some funding arrangement I'm not aware of, I don't see why you'd be legally obliged to.
UncleJohnFromJamaica · 10/07/2019 14:07
Thanks again, @bibliomania
The student was self-funded so there aren't any complications with funding there.
bibliomania · 10/07/2019 14:12
I wonder if he doesn't want to have to explain to the student why he was originally accepted but won't be accepted now, especially if he didn't reach the point where he was formally noted as failing to progress. (I don't know if there is a protected characteristic in play, but this can make it scary for managers to turn someone down).
Might be worth pre-empting this by preparing a possible response to the student. As much as possible, make this the easiest way forward for your HoS.
Igmum · 14/07/2019 20:16
Don't frame this in terms of you being annoyed/irritated/snubbed by this student. Provide some good hard evidence of what a rotten student he was - did he submit work? Use comments to improve? Develop appropriate methods? Progress at a satisfactory speed? Frankly if he can't take criticism he will be a dire student and your HoS would be mad to take him back. I don't see why you're obliged to take him - just make it clear that this is a matter of academic judgement
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