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I am graduate research assistant in Computer Science in the US. A while ago, a master student in the research group, who plans on a career in industry after graduate school, received an internship offer from a large, well-known technology company which is one of the most sought after and prestigious opportunities for any computer-science student. An internship at a company such as this would be extremely valuable both in terms of shining on his resume and the experience he would gain there. This internship would be a huge break for him and could really launch his career.

However, when he asked for his advisor’s okay to take the internship for the summer, his advisor told the him that he would have to find someone to replace him to continue work on the research project which would essentially mean the student would lose his funding when he returned from his internship.

My question regarding this is:

What are the pros and cons a professor has to consider when deciding upon allowing his student to do such an internship, particularly regarding that such an internship would be tremendously valuable to the student’s career?

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  • "which would essentially mean the student would lose his funding" - I would strongly encourage you/them to clarify this point until it's crystal clear, because to me that could very well mean the student won't be funded only for the summer, which is both fine and the norm. Ensure there is no "hinting" or reading between the lines going on - come out and ask directly exactly what things mean explicitly, or the risk is everyone is worried about nothing. – BrianH Mar 20 '15 at 23:32
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    oh man I hope he takes the job... being a professor's assistant or having a foot in the door/basically a guaranteed job at what sounds like a top tech company... easy choice? – HC_ Mar 20 '15 at 23:50
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If you consider the Master's assistant position from the perspective of a paid job, it would be unreasonable to expect an employer to grant what essentially amounts to a sabbatical. Professors and school teachers are often given sabbatical leave, but Master's students are in a very temporary position. It's not a common thing, and there are no long-term benefits to the employer to outweigh the inconvenience.

If it is feasible to do so within the bounds of the research project, then it would certainly be reasonable for the professor to grant the student's request. But I don't see that the professor has an ethical obligation to do so.

Funded research is commonly held to tight deadlines – once the timeline of a project has finished, any unspent money usually returns to the funding organization.

If the professor could do so, without a negative impact on the research, I am sure that any reasonable person would grant the request for leave. The simple answer is that it's quite likely that he or she simply cannot feasibly put the research "on hold".

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I feel this would depend on the situation through which they gained their position as a research assistant. As you mentioned "graduate research assistant", I'm assuming this is a position where the masters (or similar) student receives funding for their studies by spending time working in the lab on the advisor's project.

In the UK, a research assistant position could be like this, but would involve a contract of employment. As such, it would be expected that an RA would be present and working on their assigned project, since their pay was coming from the associated grant or project funding.

If that's the case and the student is under contract, then I suspect the situation encountered here is somewhat understandable, if not reasonable.

Depending on the funding for the advisor's research project, they may need to fulfil a certain staffing quota - they have project deadlines and deliverables if it's funded by a grant, and they'll have work needing done to meet these. For that reason I believe it's reasonable for the advisor to want to replace them in the lab. It also might be difficult to find someone suitably experienced, who would be willing to do this for a short period, making it easier to transfer the position to someone else.

To perhaps consider another motivation of the advisor, perhaps they view their RAs as potential PhD candidates - one who is going to move to industry might be less desirable for them. I am merely suggesting this could be a consideration, and I am not suggesting that it would be appropriate.

Regarding question 1, if there is a contract in place, I feel it's reasonable for the advisor to take this position - note they're not preventing the student; simply saying they can't keep the post open indefinitely for them to return to. The funders want results, and replacing the RA is the best way to do that, in my opinion and experience.

Regarding question 2, I think this depends on the student's circumstances - if this will be be beneficial for their career and they can afford to not work as an RA, it seems a good idea to take the opportunity. It's not possible with this information to gauge if there could be any other impact for the student though, so they should consider any potential risks or adverse factors (needing to rely on this advisor as a reference for example).

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