5

I know someone who recently got the fellowship and unfortunately everyone else in his circle of friends and colleagues are complaining that he got an amount of help and input from his advisor that they feel was unfair. (He was the only fellowship winner in his group.) My friend is currently feeling like crap because of these hurtful comments, instead of getting congratulatory comments. He admits to being lucky for having a caring advisor but he also worked extremely hard on his application.

What amount of help from the advisor is bordering on unethical, when it comes to the NSF GRFP application?

8

There is nothing wrong with having assistance on this or any other fellowship application. It would be foolish not to seek out assistance. Note that the NSF even advises "get feedback from others" and provides a list of experienced people who can help applicants. The expectation is that applicants will have help.

While there may be a level of assistance that is inappropriate, someone who "worked extremely hard on his application" should not spend a moment worrying about this. The complaints from his peers sound like jealousy.

1
  • I would like to hear the reason for the downvote here... – user24098 May 26 '17 at 7:59
4

This is not quite a direct answer, but has a bearing on this and similar issues:

If the grad student is able to learn from their advisor so that they can write a better proposal, isn't that a good thing? Or, facetiously, is it required that somehow advisors should not impart useful, insightful, expert information to their advisees?

(Amazingly-to-me, some of my colleagues have said so to me, indeed, that it is unethical to give one's PhD students any help on their thesis work, for example. It was not possible to have a sane further conversation about what "advisor" meant, under such hypotheses...)

Also potentially confusing: there is much mythology promoted on the internet that gives the idea that 20-somethings (perhaps especially in STEM fields?) are "all grown up", and will very shortly become world experts in whatever they're doing. This is horribly invidious, in many ways. E.g., as a corollary, surely one's advisor cannot really help much (not that decades of experience might help: the main miscalculation entailed by inexperience seems to be the failure to appreciate the advantages of experience...) ... and then as a logical distortion of that, one's advisor _ought_not_ help. (Since they can't, anyway?)

In my observation, many talented, smart people waste far too much of their energy by attempting (often for egotistical reasons) to be prematurely intellectually/mathematically "independent" of "old people" (=faculty). In my own direct experience, going to a very good graduate program in math helped me overcome the notion that mathematics was "a good vehicle for ego", even for the very best mathematicians. That is, learning from (and respecting) other peoples' efforts is perhaps the premier skill one should desire.

E.g., if one can pay attention to experienced experts well enough to write a fellowship-getting proposal, one is succeeding, not only money-wise, but in terms of assimilating the larger mathematical culture and expertise. It is absurd to object to this. It would be more to-the-point to consider the relative failure of advisors who decide... for whatever reason... to with-hold such guidance. (Teachers who don't teach? Advisors who don't advise? Etc.)

Still, yes, I know, there are popular beliefs that are at extreme opposites of the above.

3
  • 2
    "Amazingly-to-me, some of my colleagues have said so to me, indeed, that it is unethical to give one's PhD students any help on their thesis work, for example." This made me smile, if only at how differently people in the same profession can think. I think they have an epsilon of a point, in that there are some ethical issues involved in the wildly differing amounts of help (both intellectual and professional) that students get from their advisors. Still...self-serving much? – Pete L. Clark May 25 '17 at 22:45
  • @PeteL.Clark, yes, there is a bit of a point, that senior people should not simply use junior people purely as amanuenses/cat's-paws, even though a great degree of that is the whole idea of mentoring! But in all the particular cases, such remarks did not bear on those possibilities, but were most likely rationalizations for laziness and irresponsiibility... as alleged virtues. – paul garrett May 25 '17 at 22:48
  • In my observation, many talented, smart people waste far too much of their energy by attempting (often for egotistical reasons) to be prematurely intellectually/mathematically "independent" of "old people" +1 for this great observation. – user24098 May 26 '17 at 7:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.