Because I am trying to get as many papers out as possible before I deliver about 3 months from now, I have been in intense writing mode and getting increasingly angry with myself for making the same mistake I have seen many of my colleagues make:
Letting the student graduate before all the papers that we have agreed on are written up and submitted.
It's always the same -- there is a job opportunity, or some other time-sensitive extraneous impetus, so the student must graduate sooner rather than later. The student pleads and swears to high heaven that they will wrap up all the still-looming papers afterwards, if only you let them finish. And then they graduate and the papers never happen.
My colleague across the hall has lost a number of papers like that: the student leaves, stops keeping contact, and the papers are never even drafted. With a close collaborator a similar situation happened recently: a student received a nice job offer from a big company, with one half-written paper still in the works. The student graduated and left months ago, and has since been completely incommunicado. We have dropped the project altogether, as the collaborator and the new student haven't been able to make sense of the data left behind (what was measured and what not, what exact conditions etc.) A lot of work is simply lost because the collaborator does not have the time or the money to repeat everything with the new student; the experimental data is quite interesting and somewhat counterintuitive. My postdoc and I have been working on the theory, which we will also drop since there now isn't sufficient experimental data to confirm that the counterintuitive phenomenon is indeed happening and is not an artifact.
Although I promised myself I would never do that to myself -- let the student graduate before all his/her obligations to the group have been fulfilled (the papers we have agreed on are written up and submitted), it turns out I am as much of a pushover as the next faculty, if not more. I am facing a similar situation with two of my group members, one former student but still here, postdoc(k)ing temporarily, one still a student.
I let the temp postdoc graduate at the end of 2010 because we figured a couple of months would not mean much, and graduating in 2010 (sooner) looks better on his CV than 2011 (later). He was going to stay as a temporary and part-time postdoc while interviewing for jobs and wrapping up two more papers. Instead, in the 3 months he's been here after the PhD, all he's been doing is cramming for his interviews, going on interviews, and he started training to do experiments with some of my experimental collaborators. I have been paying him this entire time. He only just gave me a pathetic draft -- unworthy of a second-year grad student, let alone someone experienced in writing papers -- of what's supposed to be the crown jewel paper from his thesis, which clearly demonstrates he doesn't give a rat's ass about it any more. Thank you, GMP, for having been my advisor and paying me as an RA for 5 years; now that I have the PhD, even though you are still paying me, I thought this might be a good time to spit in your face.
The other, current graduate student just came back from the APS March Meeting last week, where he spoke with his desired future postdoc advisor, who said he'd take the student but they should make it ASAP as he's got some flex funds expiring in the fall two years from now. So now the student, who has been taking lots of classes, more than what he needed and for longer than he needed to in order to get an MS in a "purer" discipline along the way, all of a sudden wants to crank out 3 papers by the end of the year (yeah, like that's gonna happen with his writing speed) and go do the postdoc. I am completely furious. I am sorry, but I am under the impression that if I pay you as an RA for years, the least you can do is have some time after you are done with classses to do the goddamn research and produce some science that the nice funding agency paying you can show for all the money it expended on you. But that's just me being deluded, right? The only way all these papers are going to happen is if I write them from scratch and he's permitted to work on loose ends at his new position. What's the likelihood of the latter happening?
I know there is an overwhelming sentiment in the blogosphere that faculty are universally bad to students, selfish, unyielding, providing insufficient guidance and oversight, alternatively providing too much oversight/micromanaging/stifling students, or being unaccommodating of the students desires to do this, that, or the other.
But the longer I am faculty, the more cynical I am forced to become. Graduate students can be really quite selfish, too: they are there to forward their own career goals, often willfully ignorant of who actually pays their stipend, that those stipends are not prizes for their awesomeness, but rather money from the federal government for which the advisor's group has to do a certain amount of work. They ignore what goes into acquiring said money, that it's not anybody's God-given right, and that a failure to produce papers damages their group's prospects for doing science in the future.
When the advisor is unyielding about graduation and holds it contingent on certain papers being ready, the advisor is perceived to be a selfish tyrant. Well, when the student leaves all the work behind and never look back after having promised to complete it, I fear the student is a selfish liar.
The PhD advising relationship is a symbiotic one: it's supposed to benefit both the advisor's group and the student's career goals, and it assumes everyone involved is an adult. It's not a parent-child relationship, where the child (student) can count on unconditional love and support no matter how self-centered they are. Failure to produce papers -- and I assure you I am not a GlamourMag-obsessed maniac -- is indeed a grave one, for everyone involved. The work does not, in fact, exist until it has been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Dear faculty colleagues, yes, you can indeed be too much of a pushover: you want to do the right thing and be fair and accommodating of the students' future, but then they end up screwing you over. I, for once, am now considerably less likely to accommodate future requests for great flexibility in graduation dates. I cannot afford falling out of grace with program officers because I am not delivering on promised papers. And I will not keep letting other people down, whose CV's and/or future job prospects may also depend heavily on the work that never gets published. Feel free to call me a tyrant. I consider it a case of "Once bitten, twice shy."