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Caroline Whitbeck Elmer G. Beamer-Hubert H. Schneider Emerita Professor in Ethics Case Western Reserve University Case Western Reserve University More Posts
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Questions on the Supervisor-Trainee Relationship


A scenario meant to stimulate discussion about the ethical issues that arise when a thesis supervisor demands significantly more work after the student thinks the draft is complete.

  1. What is the role of the thesis committee in a situation like that described in The Endless Dissertation?
  2. How important is your dissertation advisor to your career once you have graduated and started your first job?
  3. What is meant by a "good" relationship with a faculty research supervisor? What is the scope of matters that supervisors ought to regularly discuss? What guidance would you give to a new faculty member as to how much to accommodate a student's particular:
    • learning style?
    • life circumstances (e.g., having to drop out of school for a time to support or care for family members)?
    • high need for feedback or special sensitivity to criticism?
  4. What limits--such as sexual contact--would you place on advisor/advisee relationships? What sorts of prior relationships (e.g., family, neighbors) might undermine an effective advisor/advisee relationship?
  5. What can and should a student do (e.g., forget it, discuss it with the supervisor, find another supervisor) if a supervisor:
    • misunderstands the student's suggestions for the project an unusually high percentage of the time?
    • expresses views that people of the student's gender, race, or ethnic background are less talented or motivated than others?
    • does not recognize the student's sense of humor?
  6. At what point does a misunderstanding become serious enough to require mediation by a third person? How does a student go about finding a good person for this role? How does a faculty member?
  7. At what point is an advisor/advisee relationship best ended? How does a student initiate this process? How does a faculty member?
  8. What if a student believes himself or herself to have been significantly injured by some action of the faculty member and wants redress? How can/should a student proceed? How should a faculty member?
  9. Are there any safeguards for students who bring up a problem involving one of their professors?
  10. What characteristics do you expect in a mature researcher with respect to his or her ability to:
    • stay with a research topic that has taken a difficult turn?
    • recognize and admit errors and mistakes?
    • defend his or her work in professional gatherings?
    • be tough--withstand aggressive attacks in professional settings?
    • assert himself or herself in the face of unreasonable demands?
  11. What ought a supervisor to do when a student completes a worthy thesis, but has not yet acquired such research maturity?
  12. To what extent must a faculty member empathize with a student in order to give that student ample time and attention? What can or should one do when cultural or other extrinsic differences interfere with personal understanding?

For Further Reading see Glyn C. Roberts and Robert Sprague, "To Compete or to Educate? Mentoring and the Research Climate"

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Contributor(s) Caroline Whitbeck
Notes Caroline Whitbeck introduced methods and modules for discussing numerous issues in responsible conduct of research at a Sigma Xi Forum in 2000. Partial funding for the development of this material came from an NIH grant. You can find the entire sequence on the OEC at Some information in these historical modules may be out-of-date; for instance, there may be a new edition of the professional society’s code that is referred to in an item. If you have suggestions for updates, please contact the OEC.
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Year 2000
Cite this page: "Questions on the Supervisor-Trainee Relationship" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 8/17/2006 OEC Accessed: Thursday, December 8, 2016 <>