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Completely out of curiosity, I was wondering how often PIs have to deal with "bad hires" in their lab/group? I sometimes hear the PI/trainee relationship be compared to marriages, where half ends in a divorce. Is there actual truth to this? There are also posts like these that reinforce this:

Tales of postdocs past: what did I learn?

As profs, have you ever accepted grad students only to regret it later? Does this happen often and how do you deal with it? Are problems typically that they cannot do the work, or that their personality is just not a good fit? I think for the most part PIs I've met handle these professionally, but I do wonder how they actually feel about the situation.

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    "As profs, have you ever accepted grad students only to regret it later?" That sounds like an opinion poll, not an answerable question. – David Richerby Oct 12 '16 at 17:45
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    Agree with @DavidRicherby. There is a seed to a good question here but it should be formulated in a more objectively answerable way. – gerrit Oct 12 '16 at 17:48
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    Bad hires also strongly depend on the institution. At my institution, it's really hard to bring good students and postdocs, for reasons I would not go into. As a result, you end up forced to take the only candidate for the position, so your abilities as a head hunter simply don't matter. I'm convinced this is the case in many third world countries. – user21264 Oct 12 '16 at 18:15
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    @corsiKa Employers and graduate school select for very, very difficult things in very different ways. A great CV can make for a worthless entry-level resume, and having a great essay/statement, GRE scores, GPA and reference letters - the triad of US graduate school requirements - are very close to meaningless to most employers. Employers want relevant previous job experience (internships/jobs), reliability, short skill/experience resume fitting the position, someone who personally interviews well, and a not-horrible GPA is fine. Barely overlapping Venn diagrams, basically. – BrianH Oct 13 '16 at 2:29
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    You could also ask "How often do graduate students regret accepting particular professors?". I've seen a couple of PhD students who have certainly felt like this! – Crazymoomin Oct 13 '16 at 16:41
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I've discussed this with a few line managers, I've hired a few people, and I've checked with headhunters. We all come to very similar numbers**.

Once you're doing the recruiting well, you can expect that for every five people you hire, on average one will be an extremely good hire, and three will do the job well enough. And the fifth will be regrettable, through some combination of lack of will, lack of ability, an absence of a shared understanding of what the role requires, & personality clashes. You can try moving them to different roles, get them more training, work with them to find out what they need. Sometimes one of those things will work. Sometimes, none will.


** My primary dataset is academia. I got similar answers from the wider market for professionals (not manual workers)

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    Is this for academia or the general workplace? – RoboKaren Oct 13 '16 at 4:02
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    @RoboKaren - It has been my observation and opinion that the distinction between the two is not as strong as those who live solely in either domain have led themselves to believe. – eykanal Oct 13 '16 at 14:48
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I've only had a handful of PhD students and postdocs. Of these, only one turned out to be a "bad hire" -- he did almost nothing in his year of candidature, and I caught him lying to me and to others more than once. After trying everything -- offering alternative projects and easier starting tasks, offering time management and planning training, directing him to free counselling services -- I and his co-supervisor implemented a performance management plan, and discontinued his scholarship when he did not respond. For me, this was a lesson to vet references carefully before taking on a student.

I also regularly host visiting Masters-level students for 3-month internships/research projects. Some of these work out better than others. Some are a little lazy or not quite intellectually up to the task, while others are fantastic. With so little at stake, none have been disasters and all have accomplished something in their time, but not all of them would have worked out as PhD students, had that been their aim.

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    It sounds like you went above and beyond to me. I wouldn't fault an adviser for parting ways with a graduate student after doing less than you tried. – Jeff Oct 13 '16 at 14:21
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From the people I have talked to (i'm a postdoc myself) it happens and it seriously sucks. Firing postdocs or throwing out students is very difficult and even if you succeed it will likely take so long that the project would be nearly over by the time the wheels of beauracracy finish grinding.

Add that to the fact that most projects only have a small number of PhD students and postdocs and it can be very difficult to salvage a research project where bad people were hired.

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