It’s time to move on

One of the hardest decisions for both the student and the Professor is to know when to end that relationship. There are so many dynamics in this complex relationship between student and mentor, or student and adviser.

When do I know that it is time to let a student go?

  1. When the trust factor breaks down completely between student and the adviser. Here is an example. I had gone for a 6 week research project to another country. I had talked with each one of my students in my research group about my expectations for their research during this very important summer time. I had mapped out research plans and goals for each one of them before I left and I indicated to them that business is as usual since it is easy to keep in touch via email and other means. For most of my students except one this worked very well. My emails always were promptly attended to and work was being done even in my absence. But for that one student it meant freedom. He never responded to my emails and when I returned back to my office I went to his office and my questions were met with a cold stare. Days later I found out that the student left on vacation for 6 weeks while I was on a research trip. Mind you, that this student was being paid through a Graduate Research Assistantship at that point. As you can imagine it only took a few days for him to leave my group and the University to never return again.
  2. Some cases are even harder. One of my students that I recruited from another country came with excellent credentials but soon after he landed in the United States he began to miss home and could not adapt to a new country and a new place. He failed in all of his courses and he made the decision to go back home. He still keeps in touch and a few years after he returned home, he took some time to adjust and then went to Europe to finish his degree. He is doing extremely. Wrong time at the wrong place.
  3. This situation is even harder. The student simply does not grasp the work required for a research project and complete it according to the expected standards of the community. despite training and mentoring the student simply is not a good fit. As an adviser try to find a landing place for the student rather than simply terminating them. After all you recruited this student.
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About Sundar Christopher

Dr. Christopher received his PhD in Atmospheric Sciences from Colorado State University in 1995. He also holds a Master's degree in Meteorology from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT) and a Master’s degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. After completing his PhD, Dr. Christopher joined the faculty at SDSMT in the Department of Meteorology. In 1997, he joined the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at UAH as an Assistant Professor. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 2001 and was awarded tenure in 2002. He became a Full Professor in 2007. From August 2007-May 2014, he served as Associate Director of the Earth System Science Center. He served as Chairman of the Department of Atmospheric Science from 2010-2014. He successfully designed a Master's level graduate program in Earth System Science that educates and trains graduate students in new paradigms involving research to decision making. In 2014 he was appointed as Dean of the College of Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Dr. Christopher's research interests include satellite remote sensing of clouds and aerosols and their impact on air quality, environment, health, and global and regional climate. He works with numerous satellite data sets from polar orbiting and geostationary satellites, ground-based instruments, and aircraft data to study the earth-atmosphere system. He has published more than 100 peer reviewed papers in national and international journals including several review papers related to aerosols, air quality and the climate impacts of aerosols. He has served on numerous national and international committees including the Climate Change Science Panel and the GEWEX. Dr. Christopher enjoys teaching and has designed and developed undergraduate and graduate level courses with special emphasis on hands-on training using satellite data. He also designed a professional development course for graduate students and maintains a blog to help students navigate graduate school. In 2011 AGU published his book titled Navigating Graduate School and Beyond : A Career Guide for Graduate Students and a Must Read for every Advisor. Dr. Christopher has published extensively in national and international peer-reviewed journals and has also presented his work at major scientific conferences. He has been invited to speak at major venues including the World Federation of Scientists (Erice, Sicily), the United Nations Symposium in 2007 (Graz, Austria), the American Association for Aerosol Research, Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (AMOS), the United Nations Symposium on Space Applications, 2008 (Graz, Austria), the Osher Institute of Higher Learning, American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, and various national and international universities (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, Purdue University, Texas A&M, University of Nebraska, University of Wisconsin, Goddard Space Flight Center, Colorado State University, and others). He has won several million dollars in numerous grants and contracts from NASA, NOAA, and other federal agencies for studying earth-atmosphere processes. He has won several awards including the University Award for Research and Creative Achievement in 2006 and NASA New Investigator Award. He has published more than 100 papers in peer-reviewed journals and has served as an expert reviewer for the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). He is a citizen of the United States of America.
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