Posted by: unlikelygrad | August 27, 2010


I found out today, through the grapevine, that a former officemate of mine–whom I’ll call Legolas, since I’ve always thought he looks more than a bit elvish–has been asked to leave the program. I don’t know if this is true or not, but my source is someone who works in the same lab that he does (or did). According to her it was a “mutual decision” that was made “a while ago” but I find this hard to believe.

Just three days ago I was cleaning out my desk. Legolas was annoyed that he couldn’t move, too, because they hadn’t assigned him an office–but still expected him to have all of his stuff out of the old office in a few days. We chatted about the classes we were taking this semester, and our plans for the coming school year. [Note: He had plans. He was registered for classes. He intended to be here this year.]

During this time he never once mentioned anything about leaving the program. Keep in mind that, while I would hardly call Legolas my “best friend,” he was someone I talked with a lot; someone I’d discussed serious topics like research ethics and science education with. He was clearly intelligent and, from what I could see, hard working. I would definitely have placed him in the top half of last year’s incoming students, ability-wise–if not the top quarter.

But, evidently, they asked him to leave anyway. Not just leave the lab–I’ve heard of that happening to other people before–but leave the PROGRAM altogether.

This scares me. If Legolas was asked to leave, could they do the same to me? I guess they could, but would they? Like him, I’ve had a frustrating summer research-wise. I’ve spent hours going down blind alleys, digging up papers to find new insights on a tough question, spending hours in the lab trying to get things to work…with no success. So why did they randomly ask him to leave, and not me?

Might they ask ME to leave in the future?

I am more than perturbed. I am petrified.



  1. I’m betting it’s not for academic reasons–he would have known in advance and may have mentioned it. I don’t know of anyone who’s been kicked out for reasons other than being a total moron in the lab or failing out on cumes. Sounds more like something they’d do for falsifying results or stealing a rotovap for someone else’s meth lab.

  2. Maybe he got written up internally a certain number of times and lost his assistantship so he left? I know in my department it has happen due to not cleaning the teaching labs and stuff like that.

    • He’d landed an RA for this year, so that was not the case either.

      BTW, he was an excellent TA, and was handpicked for one of the more challenging teaching assignments last semester.

      • I was just throwing it out there as a reason not knowing anything about him and as a possible reason. We just lost someone in my program, I’m chemistry by the way, because of that. Maybe he had a family emergency and hasn’t had time to talk to you yet?

  3. He hasn’t taken cumes yet and, given the discussions I’ve had with him on ethics, I seriously doubt he would do something like steal a rotovap.

    I know that he was having trouble with the synthesis he’d been assigned. So maybe he was labelled as a “total moron in the lab,” I don’t know. I *do* know that the other (older) student admitted that people who don’t perform well in lab are usually asked to downgrade from the PhD program to a master’s, but rarely after one summer of work–one summer without results is to be expected. I could see them doing this to him; but asking him to leave? I am bamboozled.

  4. In my experience as a supervisor, people tend not to tell their peers the reasons they were asked (or they choose) to leave a position. And as a supervisor, you aren’t allowed to discuss the subject—therefore, everybody only hears the employee end of the story. But I’d venture to say you are only hearing 1/2 the story. Unfortunately you will never know the full story.

    Don’t let it shake you up to much. Too many unknowns to worry about. Best luck to you as you continue on!

    As a new grad student in the science coming back after 10+ years of work. I really like your blog–nice to know there is somebody else out there.

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