I am a international student in a Ivy League school under a J1 visa (I can work only in school). I am now working as a researcher after I got my degree. I signed a contract that I will work for 2 years with funding. The contract said that I will work mainly for one particular project but I also have work with any other works that the school wants too.

My adviser has two funded project in his hand. One is a cellphone project and another one is a Darpa project. In the beginning, I worked on the cellphone project. This project is planned to be commercialized and funded by private investors. There were two people mainly working on this cellphone project, me and my friend. We have separate funding from different sources to work on this project. After I had finished the project (6 months), I was moved to work in the Darpa project, with another team. My friend who I worked with on the cellphone project is still working on the final part and marketing it (also continuing to find money from investors).

One day, my cellphone-project friend's funding was all gone (he started this work one year before me). His fund is about two years and he cannot find the investors to put more money in his cellphone. Then this is my problem because I am not a main person in both the cellphone and the Darpa project. My adviser want to move my money to support my friend and want me to quit (because no need for my programming skill anymore, programming part is done). He started by telling me that I watched YouTube in the lab. (He did see me once that I listened to the music while I was programming). He told me that no one in the lab watches YouTube, everybody just reads papers for relaxing. (All of my friends watch YouTube and Facebook, trust me). Then he continued with I am not eager to improve me code and make it faster. He told me that all PhD researchers are eager to make it very fast. (I programmed something is called SIFT and the speed is the best I can do, due to the nature of the algorithm.) Anyway, 3 months ago he told me the speed is good enough for this work, that's why I didn't improve it. He told me that I have a problem in communication (I asked him could you give me some examples about the communication problem, then he changed the topic).

Since I am holding a J1 visa, if he kicks me out, I have to go back with nothing. I feel this is very unfair. When he asked me to work, it was very nice. However when I completed the work, he want to kick me out and get the money back. I have no idea what to do. What should I do after this? I feel really bad about my adviser.

PS: my professor is the member of the start-up-company of the cellphone project. but I am not, I am just a researcher

  • You should edit the question to describe the nature and title of your current position. There is a major difference between, e.g., "Ph.D. student", "postdoc", "staff programmer", or "research scientist", etc. Knowing the exact title might help a lot. You should also describe the nature of your contract (was it for a fixed term, or was at-will employment?) and any expectations that were described to you when you were hired about the duration of the position. It seems you expected this to be a 2-year position. How long have you been there so far?
    – D.W.
    Dec 23, 2013 at 9:38
  • My position is "Visiting scholar". It is a full-time, J1 research scholar. My contract is two years and I have worked here about 8 months. The contract is fixed term, 24 months, full-time employment. I get monthly-salary. Here are some parts of my contract... 1) We are delighted to offer you an appointment as a Visiting Scholar at... 2) The appointment is effective for 24 months starting .. to .. 3) Your duties in this position will include (but not be limited to( research with Prof ... in the area of .... and its application
    – MooMoo
    Dec 23, 2013 at 16:36
  • My problem is I completed the work earlier than they expected. Nowadays I don't have anything to do since my professor has no more project in his hand and the project is now on the marketing phase, they don't need a programmer anymore.
    – MooMoo
    Dec 23, 2013 at 16:39
  • 4
    MooMoo, I noticed something about how you're talking about this. You're a visiting research scholar: but you talk about yourself by describing yourself as a programmer. You say you finished your work early, as though you're expecting that someone is going to tell you what to do and your job is to finish the assignment they gave you. But in a research scholar position, your job is to come up with your own ideas of how to make a contribution, and execute on them. It's not a situation where someone tells you what to do and you do it. Maybe you need to change the way you think about research?
    – D.W.
    Dec 23, 2013 at 18:19
  • 3
    Some comments: (1) Every J1 is technically a "research scholar" - I think what people are trying to ask is what is what do you actually do and what is your job title, not the title of your visa. (2) Note that the J1 visa only establishes when you are allowed to enter the US. The length of your research program and the cause for leaving is not the J1 visa but the DS-2019 form. (3) You might be able to maintain your status if you join a different research team (but I do not know the details of how that works).
    – Bitwise
    Dec 23, 2013 at 21:53

2 Answers 2


OK, well, you have a problem. By the terms of your appointment, you are entitled to stay for the 24-month period. The faculty you're working with made a commitment to support you for 24 months, and generally speaking, it is his duty to do so. However, that's not the whole story. You also have an implicit obligation to do good research that advances his interests as well. And, depending on your goals, you probably also need his intellectual support and mentorship to achieve many of the benefits of a visiting scholar position. So, you need to work out a mutually satisfactory resolution with him. This is more a situation for interpersonal negotiation and compromise than a situation where standing on your rights and thumping the table is going to help you.

You might need to make some compromises, compared to how you thought this position was going to work out. To help with that, to begin, you should start asking yourself some hard questions and figure out what your goals are. What are your career goals after you finish this position? What would you like to achieve? Are you looking to get a good reference letter from the faculty you are currently working with? Are you looking to strengthen your c.v. with a stronger publication record? Do you think you can do good research on your own, with no mentorship, collaboration, or support from your faculty member? What kind of job are you looking for after you finish? Are you looking for a research position, or for an industry position? Can you make productive use of the next 16 months (in a way that will help your longer-term career prospects)? How strongly do you feel that you want to stay in the current position for the full 24 months if you have no support and no interest from your existing faculty member? The answers will determine how you act at this point.

Keep in mind that there might be no perfect solution to your situation, so your job at this point is to try to guide things to the least-bad outcome that is at all feasible. To do that, you absolutely must know what your priorities are and what your "nice-to-have's" are.

I can see a couple of possible options for you:

  • You could sit down and have a frank talk with the faculty you are working for. You could say, look, you offered me a 24-month position, you made a commitment, now it is your obligation to fulfill it. You can be polite but firm. However, this might not win you any friends, so if you were hoping for a good reference letter from this faculty member or collaboration and mentorship for continuing research, you might be out of luck, and you could be stuck in a toxic environment for the next 16 months. If you take this tack, you are basically offering the faculty member nothing positive in return, so the best plausible outcome is that the faculty member honors his commitment and ignores you for the rest of your appointment. The worst outcome is that the faculty tries to find some way to screw you.

  • Alternatively, you could try to understand better your faculty member's situation and then try to find a way to make yourself valuable to him. Personally, I think this is probably a much more promising direction. You can always fall back to the "you have an obligation" option above if this fails.

    From your position his actions might appear arbitrary and capricious, but there is probably a logic behind them from his perspective. You could try to understand what is motivating your faculty mentor and then use that to see what you can offer him. For instance, maybe he is under tight pressure to see results, and you are not contributing in the way he had hoped. Keep in mind that you are biased; you might feel like you did an awesome job and met all of his expectations, but he might not feel that way. Or, his goals might have changed. So, you could try to understand his perspective, and then figure out how to make yourself valuable to him. Basically, look for a way to make this a win-win situation.

    You say the faculty seems more interested in working with your friend right now. Well, that's a valuable clue. Maybe your friend is making contributions in some way that you aren't. Have you considered trying to find a way that you can contribute, that your faculty member would value and that would make him eager to keep working with you and make supporting you a priority for him? Have you tried asking some questions to probe about that? His needs can change over time. There's an unwritten assumption, when you join someone's group, that you will act as a team: that you will both act in each others' best interests. In particular, this is not a zero-sum situation (or it should not be); if you're doing things right, when you do great work, it should benefit both you and your faculty. You need to be flexible. If your faculty member's needs change, you might need to change your focus and your energy to support his direction. If your faculty member's needs have changed and you are not adapting to make yourself a valuable member of the team as his goals change, then that could explain his reaction.

    You say your faculty has a DARPA contract, and that contract continues, but you are not a main person on that project. Well, have you considered trying to make yourself a main person? Have you considered making yourself indispensable to that project or finding a way so that you can make major contributions to the success of that project? This is not something that is appointed or handed out; what makes you a main person is not a title that someone else hands to you, but rather your own independent action. In the research world, people typically aren't going to tell you what to do. Instead, they're expecting you to identify a way you can be valuable to the project, and then go do it. You're a smart person; I'm sure you can find a way to make a contribution to that project that they will find helpful, and that will be beneficial to your career. Go do that a couple of times, and before you know it, you will be a main person on that project, not because anyone else decided you are, but because you decided to become one and you put in the energy and hard work to be.

    From your question, we only get your perspective, not that of your faculty member's perspective. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if you haven't fully appreciated your faculty member's perspective yet.

Overall, my advice is:

  • Enter this with a willingness to compromise and change. Adapt. Be prepared to find a compromise with your faculty member. Don't start from the position that you're entitled to a great working situation; you may be, but realistically, at this point, that kind of attitude won't help you attain one. Open your mind to compromise solutions you might not have previously considered, even if you have to accept something that's less than ideal from your perspective.

  • Find someone else you trust (a secondary mentor, another faculty member, something like that) and talk to them about the situation. Ask them for advice. Respect what they are telling you: be a good listener (if you find yourself arguing with them, time to back off and listen and try to understand what they are telling you). See if this can get you any additional information about what might be motivating your faculty or ways you might be able to resolve the situation. You're in an Ivy League school; odds are that someone else in your department cares about visiting scholars.

  • Go talk to your advisor. Ask questions. Listen. Empathize. Try to find a win-win outcome that both of you can feel like offers something positive. You can be frank and honest that your relationship seems to have gotten off on a bad foot and you'd like to work out a way to improve the relationship and find a way to be useful to him that also benefits your career. Ask him for help crafting a performance improvement plan that from his perspective would help you do a better job of meeting his expectations.

    Do not start from a position that you are entitled to his enthusiasm. Do not accuse or argue. This is not a confrontation or a debate; this is a negotiation. You start by trying to gather information and understand your faculty member's perspective better. When you understand his logic and motivations, then you can try to brainstorm together ways that you can change your behavior in a way that benefits both of you (especially him). What you can offer is your willingness to devote your time and energy to work on problems that are relevant to his needs, and your flexibility and willingness to change. Maybe after having this kind of conversation, you will find some new project or new focus that both of you will be excited and enthusiastic about. Or, failing that, maybe you can find some compromise solution that is tolerable for both of you: maybe neither of you walk away exactly excited about the collaboration, but you can both live with it.

Your job at this point is to make the best of the situation. Realize that the resolution might not be perfect. Sometimes, that's life. You just have to roll with the punches and work with what you've got.

  • 1
    I just had the meeting between I and him, he told me that he hasn o fund for me an no project for me. It s better for me to find a new advisor. i can say this is the main reason that he want to fire me. anyway.. this is what happened im last few month. I showd him my work and I always asked him what he want to improve it. He said he will chk and email me later. I had nv received any emails fro.him. He said it is good and assign me to do another work. then suddenly he emailed me and told me that i didnt do anything. he was mad and kept hittin the table. for me i feel like it is his plan.
    – MooMoo
    Dec 25, 2013 at 17:34

The situation sounds both contentious and untenable, which are signs that you need to start escalating your concerns.

If you've tried speaking to your supervisor and it didn't go well, or if you aren't comfortable speaking to them, then go to the department head, ombudsperson, or chair; There's always someone (usually multiple someones) to handle conflict between student and supervisor. You're going to need to show the history of the situation, and how it's gone wrong.

Sit down before that meeting, and make your case for yourself: Show the requirements of the program, how you're fulfilling them, the changes your supervisor wants, and why they must not be done.

Edited: Actually, I realize now, I'm not entirely clear. Is this your academic supervisor, or your workplace supervisor, or are these two one-and-the-same?

  • I graduated from this school and I continue to work in the same lab. However he is not my advisor when I studied here. He is my friend's advisor. When I worked with my friend, the he is the one that hires me to work and manage funding
    – MooMoo
    Dec 21, 2013 at 6:07

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