I am a professor who runs a research lab at a university. I have a grad student who works with me, and who also has a history of lying. Most recently, he took information home with him that should have been kept in the lab (which was a breach of our IRB/research ethics). I believe that it was an honest mistake, but the problem was how he dealt with it. He told three different stories about what happened with this information, each of which contradicted the others. So, he either has a poor memory for how he handles important study information or he is flat-out lying to me (I believe the latter). I need to trust that my students follow lab procedures when I am not around and that they will be accountable for their actions. I am liable for my students' actions and mistakes.

Would it be reasonable to "terminate" the student based on this and similar incidents? (Each incident individually is below the threshold for "actionable offense," but they are starting to add up). By "terminate," I mean at a minimum that I withdraw as his advisor, though honestly I believe that it is time for him to leave the university altogether.


1 Answer 1


Termination of the advising/mentoring relationship

You should check with your department or university policies, but at most places you can unilaterally terminate your advisory / mentoring role by emailing the department chair or graduate coordinator. This is, after all, a voluntary role for you. And given that you no longer trust the student, I don't think you can operate as their advisor in good faith yourself (you couldn't write the letters of recc that they'd need for funding or jobs, for example).

If you don't feel the relationship can be repaired, then you should drop them.

If the student has no other advisor, they may be at risk to be an orphan. Since most stages of graduate school (orals, candidacy, continuing enrollment, funding, research) require an advisor, a student who has no advisor is at risk of not being able to continue in the program. There is often a short period of time that is given to the student to find a new advisor. At some places students are formally terminated if they can't advance; at others not being allowed to advance puts them in a limbo state where they cannot enroll but are not terminated.

Departments tend to not like the creation of orphans and there may be informal sanctions for an advisor who orphans students for no good reason. However, you do seem to have a good reason and if true, your colleagues should back you.

The real result is however that the student may have to leave the program.

University Expulsion

Not being able to continue for lack of an advisor is much more common than actual expulsion, given that expulsion procedures usually require a hearing and the presentation of proof of malfeasance.

  • Thank you, @RoboKaren. Very helpful. This answer agrees with (and clarifies) what my chair has been telling me.
    – user63164
    Oct 12, 2016 at 13:01

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