I agreed to help a student with a grad school project … it’s gone badly

A reader writes:

I have found myself in a mentor-mentee situation and wanted your advice. I am in a profession (think doctor, lawyer, scientist) and was approached by a local graduate student who wanted some help with a project for one of her classes. I reluctantly agreed despite my hectic schedule because my philosophy is that if someone is putting themselves out there and asking for help, I would love to be able to help if possible. This project consists of a paper composed of multiple parts that was due in six months, and during our initial phone conversation, I had asked that she put together a timeline of deadlines and then touch base with me. For example, have a question or thesis statement ready in two weeks and let me know, followed by a draft of an introduction paragraph in the following two weeks so I could review, followed by a methods section, etc. Except that after that initial phone conversation, I did not hear from her for three months. During this time, I was busy with my own job which requires long hours.

I did email her at the three-month mark the following message: “Hello, I have not heard from you in some time with regards to your research project. I did receive an email from your scholarly research professor about some upcoming deadlines and wanted to touch base with you and see where you are in the process.”

I received an apology email saying that she had received an extension and asking if after she sent me a draft, if I could edit the paper and make corrections and get it back to her in two days.

This was my response: “When we last spoke a few months ago, my understanding was that you would come up with smaller deadlines for each of the sections (e.g., potential research question, abstract, intro, methods, etc) and touch base with me as you write up each of these sections so that I could provide input and guidance. Nevertheless, given that you have an extension until next week, I would like for you to have a draft of your paper ready for me by end of this week so I have time to review it before you submit your paper. Per your advisor’s email, this project is meant to be done ‘with considerable input and feedback from [your] research mentor’ and I would like to be able to provide you with that assistance.”

I received her draft at that point in a timely manner and made edits and sent back to her without a response. It is now two months later and per her advisor’s original email to me, the paper is now late. I received an email from her two days ago, and she has told me that she has another extension and would like me to edit it over the next few days and send it back to her by the end of this week. She also would like me to sign a paper (that I was supposed to have been sent by her and signed six months ago) acknowledging this mentor-mentee relationship and which has verbiage that essentially boils down to that I agree to committing to help this student with her project and she agrees to regularly meet with me to obtain feedback and advice on her project.

Unfortunately, she has not done that and there has been minimal assertiveness on her part. The sense I get is that this is all very last minute and there has been considerable procrastination on her part. I also was not aware of how involved I was meant to be, as I never got the “agreement paper” until today.

For my part, I probably should have reached out to her more regularly, but I also feel that the onus is on her to be proactive.

I do not feel comfortable signing the agreement paper, as I do not think that either of us have upheld our end of this mentor-mentee relationship. How do I tell her that? Or do I just sign it and chalk it up to both of us having not done our due diligence? Do I email her professor and explain that she was very lackadaisical in all of this? I am debating explaining to her why I don’t want to sign the paper and pointing out that she has not kept up with much of what I had asked in our original conversation, nor has she seemed to keep up with the guidelines of this project.

I am very busy and have been working 70- to 80-hour weeks and this week is particularly hectic. I don’t have a lot (or any) time to devote to her paper and frankly, don’t want to spend any time on something that should have been given to me with ample time to review. Am I being unreasonable, or are we both wrong?

You’re not being unreasonable. You offered what sounds like significant help to someone, you explained the terms of your help, and she didn’t meet those terms. It’s utterly unreasonable for her to be out of touch for months and then expect you to provide feedback within two days (!).

She also didn’t provide you with the full scope of work you were agreeing to until six months after you’d already signed on, and then wanted you to sign a commitment that she had already made impossible for you to meet.

You weren’t responsible for reaching out more regularly to nudge her along. This is her project, that she should have been managing. You told her what you needed to be involved, and she didn’t provide that.

I don’t think you need to contact her professor, but you certainly don’t need to keep trying to help to someone who has handled your (free! voluntary! generous!) efforts this way. It would be fine to write back to her and say, “I’m not able to provide feedback with such tight turnaround time; that’s why I asked you to lay out a schedule of deadlines at the start of the project and provide the work to me in chunks. I can’t in good faith sign this agreement because we haven’t worked together in the way it describes.”

But if she comes back and agrees to do the work the way you originally asked for (in chunks, with reasonable deadlines) … you don’t need to agree to that if you’d rather just be done. You agreed six months ago to set aside time for this project, but that didn’t obligate you to be available to her forever. Half a year later, your schedule may have filled up with other things, or you simply might feel at this point that working with her isn’t a great investment of your time.

To be clear, there could be stuff going on with this student that you don’t know about, things that make her delays more understandable, like family crises, health problems, or who knows what. But if that’s the case, she should have acknowledged the delay, given you some sort of context for what was happening, asked whether you could work within her new timeline, and inquired about what you would need to make that work. Instead, she seems to be be assuming you’re on call whenever she wants, while she’s not doing any of what you asked in return.

When you agree to give someone something significant for free and they show they don’t value it, you don’t need to continue offering it.

{ 290 comments… read them below }

  1. The Lexus Lawyer*

    Don’t feel bad, OP. It sounds like you went above and beyond what a mentor would normally be expected to do.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to complain to the student’s professor. I’d just politely tell her how much I could still help her, and if not, that she should find an alternate mentor.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Honestly, it doesn’t sound like the student is receiving the support they require from the program. Yes she’s a grad student so maybe it’s expected that she can project-manage like this, but it’s not intuitive, and the college should have an advisor who is being paid to help her succeed without dumping it on somebody with another full time job.

      1. Viki*

        The idea is though, when you’re operating at a grad school level, you’re able to work independently and manage your own deadlines.

        That’s the bare minimum–an adviser is there to help advise on best paths for research, not to remind them of their deadlines.

        1. Miss Muffet*

          and the mentor even spelled out to her what they would need in terms of timelines, so that sounds like the kind of advice she should be heeding. That right there IS support in project managing!

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            That was my thought as well. The student didn’t need to figure out the timeline–the mentor did that for her!

            1. AcademicChick*

              I think how you might respond depends on many things. What do you get out of this? Is this a research collaboration and do you get zo authorship? Do you know their supervisor well? In the last case I would call them and try to sort out what the expectations are. I don’t think this is going over the students head, typically the supervisor is ultimately responsible in academia.

          2. The New Wanderer*

            Right? The OP/mentor went above and beyond by outlining expectations rather than just give a vague “Yes I’ll help, keep in touch” response, and the student didn’t bother to use that guidance. The student also had that written agreement detailing the expected level of involvement and apparently didn’t refer to that at all either.

            I review technical journal articles once in a while and they give us 4 weeks to review a completed paper. A turnaround in 2 days is unrealistic, especially when there’s been virtually no communication or discussion about the paper’s contents and development in the meantime. The student dropped the ball, and the consequence is that they tanked the mentor/mentee agreement.

            1. Gan Ainm*

              100%. Grad students are adults. If a grad student can’t follow basic instructions or set a realistic schedule for themselves, they’re simply not ready for grad school. The advisor and mentor are not babysitters.

        2. sadnotbad*

          Yes, this. I’m a grad student entering a highly regulated field. It absolutely boggles my mind that some of my classmates get really upset that our professors aren’t doing stuff like keeping us on task for internship applications, which I would expect most adults to be able to navigate independently. We’re given the information we need to proceed (like when we need to start applying in order to get something locked down by the program deadline), plenty of coaching and support on professional norms and application materials, prompt recommendation letters when we need them, and even personal intros with contacts at sites. But some students are still angry that our professors aren’t…I don’t know, just applying for us? Setting up internships for us to walk onto?

          1. sadnotbad*

            Adding: our field requires a signed agreement with our internship site as well, to ensure we’re getting the described experience, and it wouldn’t just be annoying if someone “fudged it” by signing after the fact without actually doing the duties they described–it would potentially put future clients at risk.

          2. Dawn*

            Internships are a bit of a horse of a different colour; I haven’t done one myself but I’ve had multiple grad-level friends who were consistently performing near or at the top of their class who HAD to have an internship to graduate and who found it nearly impossible to secure a co-op placement.

            Now, I despise academia in general so maybe take this in that context, but I think that if something is a requirement of your degree, the school (which you are paying massive amounts of money to) should be more proactive in helping students than “There’s no placements available? Sorry about your luck, please deposit $10k to continue for another semester.”

            Either these placements should be optional or, yes, the school – which, again, you are paying anywhere from “new car” to “new house” levels of money to, making you their client – should be arranging positions for students.

            1. Dawn*

              And for the record it’s worth mentioning that this can severely disadvantage marginalized students and contributes to systemic inequalities in certain fields. Not to put too blunt a point on it, but my friends are all cis white European descent and they found it extremely difficult to find a placement.

            2. quill*

              Yeah, if something is required like an internship: the students need instructions on how, when, and where, if not placement via the school.

              For a one off project that might be a capstone or thesis? Well, you supposedly have a class about how to get all that set up and managed… There’s probably not enough emphasis there that if you have to put a project with an outside professional on hold you may have to start from scratch afterward.

            3. Lusara*

              This +1000. I’m an NP and my program didn’t provide us with clinical placements, we had to find them on our own. My practice gets tons of requests from students because their programs also don’t provide them. IMO it’s criminal that these schools are able to have NP programs without providing the required clinical spots.

              1. Dawn*

                And we need NPs SO BADLY. Schools, institutions, governing bodies should be doing everything possible to get more people qualified!

            4. Nesprin*

              I take coop students regularly, and when a school does offer help to find placements+ provide oversight + monitoring, they can really change a student’s life+ we’re trying to hire our 3rd student out of the coop program we participate in.

              There’s decent evidence that privileged students are good at seeking out their own internships + understand their value+ have the financial position to be able to undertake one. I see well managed coop programs as helping to balance that out.

            5. eely eely oxenfree*

              This is one of the main reasons I chose my alma mater’s graduate program: They explicitly stated that the internships would be negotiated by the department, and that students would apply for them with the guarantee of getting a placement (even if not their first choice). Independent internships were also possible but of course much harder to secure for most students (and would have required significant travel); it became clear as we went along that the department’s high standards for the project meant going solo was a huge risk without any real additional payoff. Since my internship led directly to two wonderful employment opportunities, I remain incredibly grateful for that support (and their proactive approach to informing students about it, because when I was applying to grad programs I didn’t have any sort of understanding of How Internships Are Created – I could have ended up in a total disaster situation in a different program).

              Any *mandatory* project that requires securing the (voluntary, unpaid) help of a working professional should be initiated by the university, though, because it’s still very much like an internship: it’s not fundamentally required to benefit the third party, and forcing each student to find their own is still leaving so much up to chance (availability) and privilege (connections, prior knowledge). This student dropped all the balls but it still feels to me like there should have been a better framework in place at the start, to ensure OP was informed correctly of the expectations attached to the project. Then it would have become clearer sooner that things weren’t going to work out.

              1. Koalafied*

                Indeed, it’s like the academic equivalent of the shift worker being told to find their own coverage if they’re sick. The management will have an easier time getting another employee to agree to come in on short notice than the shift worker calling their coworkers.

            6. kiki*

              Yeah, I did a program that required an internship without much help available for finding one. What happened was people who were well-connected, even if mediocre-performing, got really solid internships. A lot of students had trouble finding any internship at all or ended up in predatory or unhelpful positions. For example, if the program were llama herding, some of my classmates ended up with internships that were functionally an unpaid dog grooming position.

                1. Dawn*

                  Most often and in general, think of a position that considers interns to be free labour (usually at a fairly low level) rather than an equal exchange; the entire point of an internship is that the intern should be getting coaching and mentorship, experiencing workplace norms, and doing work relevant to their discipline.

                  A lot of those “get college students to paint your house, cheap!,” flyers you see actually use interns for the work.

                  On the “less terrible” side of things, an intern who is assigned to what in my day would have been the basement copy room probably isn’t getting anything useful out of their internship besides the five minutes required to learn how the copy machine works.

            7. sadnotbad*

              Thank you for this! I stand corrected. I’ll try to be more aware of that disparity in the future.

              1. Dawn*

                You’re very welcome! It can be really hard sometimes to see outside of our own experience of the world.

          3. Alan*

            Are you my daughter? :-) Because that’s exactly what I hear from her. Nationally-known school, very competitive, but she says that her fellow grad students expect enormous amounts of handholding, and it’s bugging her. It also devalues the degree if people are graduating having been spoon-fed the entire time. For better or worse, her department is apparently content to let people fail, so people are dropping out.

      2. Meep*

        I kind of want to know the scope of the edits OP completed when factoring in my decision. Yes, guidance is important, but if she already has a solid paper and OP has very little feedback to give, I could see her chalking it up to this person is not going to provide worthwhile feedback, but you need SOMEONE to sign that dang form.

        1. Meow*

          I’m not sure it really matters what the quality of the edits are if she was supposed to give that paper to OP before the project started and it lays out expectations for a higher level of involvement than OP has been able to have.

          1. Meep*

            My point is every time I have had to contact an external resource for my graduate courses, both the resource and I have an understanding that a lot of the hoops we need to jump through are arbitrary and not indictive to the real world. Besides, we are both busy with things to do. It makes no sense to have the mentor micromanage every part of the project if it isn’t needed. So yes, it does matter the quality of the work presented and the quality of the edits. Someone who gives me very little feedback wastes both our time and I am going to reach out to them at a bare minimum.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              That’s not an excuse for going dark and not giving the OP enough time to read the paper, though. It’s not the mentor’s fault if the edits aren’t needed and the student should take it up with their advisors/whoever is in charge of this project, not treat the mentor as an afterthought.

            2. Lydia*

              No. A student reached out and asked OP to mentor and when the OP sent back requirements for the relationship to move forward, the student went silent. I don’t care if the original edits sucked. Part of that relationship is maintaining communication and the student didn’t do that. That includes not sending the agreement form until MONTHS after the initial conversation. Absolutely not.

            3. Meow*

              But the student didn’t have any data on the quality of the edits and still didn’t reach out until 3 months in. The OP actually was trying to give the student MORE feedback but didn’t hear anything from the student.

              1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                Exactly. It sounds like the student would have had some idea of the quality of the edits if she had followed OP’s requested timeline of submitting a section at a time for review. But she gave radio silence for months and the dumped the whole paper on OP for edits due in two days (if I understand correctly)? That sounds like she’s making procrastination on her part an emergency on OP’s part. `

            4. Bagpuss*

              But in this isntance the student had no wy to judge that, as they didn’t discuss things with OP and hadn’t requested or provided the opportunity for any feedback at all until the last minute.
              It may have been truee for you where the initial input from the mentor was not providing much added value , but it’s not the situation OP was in.

        2. Tiger Snake*

          That strikes me of the sort of arrogance that the mentor-mentee stipulations were designed to exactly prevent.

          Sometimes we think we have done the Most Perfect Job in the world. It is very, very rarely the case – especially in academia like a graduate program. I think its impossible to have a paper so solid that there’s no feedback, because we’re not talking about grammar or sentence structure, but the underlying analysis – the whole point of having the mentor there is that they can use their greater breadth of experience to give you a fresh, second perspective. The best way to get value on that is to have them job in regularly as you progress so that you can adapt quickly, not at the end.

          If I got little to no feedback from a mentor, I wouldn’t be assuming my paper was good. I’d be assuming my mentor hadn’t been given sufficent time to consider it properly.

      3. Lydia*

        We have no way of knowing what support the student is getting or how successful she is in the program. Mentors and advisors aren’t the same thing and an advisor isn’t going to offer the same supports as this very generous OP.

        1. linger*

          I’d expect support of somewhat different kinds from different sources. The program-external mentor, selected on the basis of their speciality, is likely in a better position to comment on specific issues of content (e.g. identifying factual error, ambiguity, or omission), whereas the program-internal advisor (and/or other program-adjacent academic services) should be able to support the student’s proposal outline, and give feedback on general academic style. In this case, there does not seem to have been clear communication at any stage about what the student needs or wants from the OP and how this relates to other sources of advice available. (One unfortunate result is some of the OP’s efforts to date may have been wasted because they inadvertently duplicated other advice available to the student.) Such communication is primarily the responsibility of the student, though the exact amount of responsibility expected does vary considerably with student level: by default, most 1st-year master’s-level students will need some external direction, whereas doctoral-level students are mostly expected to be able to set their own research schedules.

      4. Student*

        I’m sorry, but that’s not how any grad program that I’m familiar with works at all. My own grad school experience was the near-antithesis.

        Universities systematically reward researchers who scrape their grad student duties off on others. Universities are paying their researchers to bring in grant money, not to advise students. Heck, most of the professors I worked with were completely unfamiliar with the grad school degree requirements of the schools they worked at. Grad students, in their eyes, are there to support the researcher/professor with getting grants. Post-docs are around to babysit the grad students and keep professors on deadline.

        You do not go to graduate school to get support. There is no support. You go their to sink or swim, in an effort to get a career credential if you survive. Then you use the credential to get a job that’s behind loads of gatekeeping that keeps it in high demand relative to supply, to try to make $$$. It’s a get-rich-slow scheme.

          1. Hmmmm*

            So Much Grad School, it may have been inaccurate for you, but my experience was identical to Student’s in my PhD program. My former classmates say the same thing, and some still have PTSD (ex. sweating when thinking about it a decade later).

            This is not relevant to the OP, but to give perspective for others considering PhDs who read this and think that there is no way it is that bad — yep, it often is even worse!

            1. happybat*

              Oh my goodness, come study in Scotland. Nothing is perfect, and of course it varies between institutions and subjects, but the amount of mentoring, emotional and academic support and genuine good feeling I have enjoyed during my Education PhD has been amazing. Also, you have to get done in four years so there’s no way to drag things out…

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          As someone who works in academic research, in a team that also has grad students, this thread is … not as well-informed as the AAM commentariat usually is.

          First of all, to get it out of the way, it’s up to the student to manage the collaboration with the LW. In fact, it’s likely one of the learning goals here. The LW isn’t doing anything wrong, and the student needs to see to it that extensions and deadlines are put in place and kept, or if necessary withdraw (with a W) or get an incomplete and negotiate with the instructor about conditions of completion. It’s good for the LW to be aware that grad school grades below B can have severe impacts on stipends and fellowship, but it’s the student’s job to manage that and the instructors to oversee the student’s work. It’s also a good idea for the LW to remain on a matter-of-fact tone and provide the student with full copies of prior agreements, so that the student has something in hand to talk with the instructor. The student is there to learn to be professional (and not doing great at it), so the LW should also remain professional.

          So much for the easy part. But in the bigger scheme, there are a bunch of misconceptions here. We don’t know if the student is doing a research-based degree (MS, PhD), which, in a STEM discipline, would mean they’re getting a research assistantship to do research in their advisor’s team. Or if this is something like a taught master’s, course-based degree, or/eg. an MBA. In the latter case a) the student possibly doesn’t even have a project advisor and b) is likely self-funded. In both cases, the advisor is irrelevant since this appears to be a course requirement. (Good advisors, of course, support the student to get their coursework done. Though a bad advisor may make it hard – this is to be kept in mind if condemning the student.)

          Last, the student is there to (among other things) learn to get a project done with an outside professional. If she has trouble project-managing this it doesn’t mean that she isn’t ready for grad school: She’s in grad school to learn this sort of thing (among other things), just like someone who gets a job with a bachelor’s likely learns it while on the job.

          There is no contradiction between putting the responsibility where it belongs (the student!) and extending grace to someone who’s still learning how to juggle all these things. Especially now with the pandemic, I see students (and not only students) feel overwhelmed getting everything lined up and done. Some need a few attempts to get it right.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Yup. So true. My friend’s daughter had to repeat a year due to pandemic isolation depression. I have a lot of sympathy for her, but the important thing is she communicated with other people and didn’t just go AWOL.

          2. mego*

            I’m in academia as well, and this rings true to me. Of particular importance is that it’s both her responsibility to manage the project AND something she’s learning.

        2. GythaOgden*

          Not my experience of my Masters, although I did it in my early thirties, so maybe I had matured a bit by then and made a better fist of it than I did during my undergraduate degree. (The medical issues in my second year managed to disguise a severe lack of preparation for the exams even before I got sick.)

          You get out what you put in.

        3. Koalafied*

          This varies so much from program to program and is something you should fully investigate with any program you’re accepted in to, before accepting the invitation to attend. There’s not much in the way of field standards – the culture of not even just the university but the specific department almost 100% determines the experience you’ll have in grad school.

          At one school I visited, they only funded half as many students from year 2 onward as they offered funding in year 1. Which meant year 1 was cutthroat – I heard tales of students checking required books out of libraries all semester or even hiding them so that other students who needed them wouldn’t be able to access them, because other students in their cohort were their competition for funding they likely needed in order to stay in the program.

          By contrast in the program I ended up attending, my cohort was like a small family. When our theory prof assigned us hundreds of pages of dry rhetorical text for homework, we formed a study group: we split the reading 8 ways, each of us took detailed notes on our part, and then we got together as a group to each walk the others through the section we’d read. That study group saved me hours upon hours of time every week having to read such enthralling texts as the essays of Max Weber, complete with footnotes that took up 1/3 to 1/2 of every page expounding on the significance of the specific German words he used and/or made up in the original text.

      5. lemon*

        Yeah. Or even if she is receiving some support, there’s no guarantee it’s *good* support.

        I worked on a similar project as an undergrad. I had two mentors on the project: advisor 1 was a general research mentor who was supposed to provide guidance on things like how to write a lit review, planning a timeline, etc; advisor 2 was a discipline-specific mentor who was supposed to provide more focused guidance on my actual research topic. Every time I would ask advisor 1 for advice, they’d tell me to ask advisor 2. Advisor 2 would brush off my questions as annoying bureaucratic details that were of no import, or they’d send me back to advisor 1. If I did manage to eventually get an answer from advisor 1, advisor 2 would tell me NOT to do it that way because no one in the discipline does it that way. Then advisor 1 would review my work and get upset that I hadn’t done what they told me to do. I never finished the project and learned a valuable lesson that this type of academic research is not for me.

        BUT it does sound like this student is dropping the ball and being unprofessional, just in terms of the complete lack of communication and disregard for the LW’s time.

        However, I do think it a bit odd that this project requires students to ask professionals unaffiliated with the program/university to provide this level of mentorship without it being part of a more structured, supervised program (like an internship or co-op program). That’s… asking a lot of the mentors. I’d also be concerned, as a student, about what happens in a scenario where it’s the mentor who drops the ball and becomes unresponsive (which didn’t happen here, obviously). Do you just fail the class then?

        Is this a common setup? because I’ve never encountered something like this. It kind of reminds me of the student who wrote in about having to find a small business and offer to build them a website as part of a class requirement.

        1. ferrina*

          I thought of that same letter (the students had to find a small business). But this isn’t an issue of finding a mentor (which is something I struggled with in grad school)- she had a mentor! Usually that’s the barrier. Unless there’s something seriously weird (which there well could be), this sounds more like a student issue.

          Either way, I’d say refuse to sign but offer to talk further (if you have the availability). There might be something that the student couldn’t control (a bad advisor?) that would shed light, but I suspect that the student won’t reach out again.

          1. lemon*

            Based on the letter, it does sound like the student was responsible for finding their own mentor. The LW wrote: “I am in a profession (think doctor, lawyer, scientist) and was approached by a local graduate student who wanted some help with a project for one of her classes.”

            I think it’s a strange setup for students to be asked to find their own mentors for something as intensive as this research project sounds. Usually, this level of research supervision would only be done by a professor. So, either the university is dropping the ball or the student is misrepresenting the project requirements.

      6. Artemesia*

        She isn’t a high school junior — she has a degree and is in grad school. Being able to project manager your own project WITH the mentor guidelines clearly noted here is a minimal competency. If she can’t deliver, she shouldn’t be in the program. Of course someone can have a personal crisis that gets in the way; then you negotiate an incomplete and the terms of finishing and let people involved know. Just slopping along not doing the work and then expecting the mentor to EDIT the final paper WTF? When I am directing someone’s research, I am not their employee, their ‘editor’, and at their beck and call for a last minute tune up having not participated all along. T he OP should refuse to sign a paper that stated she has managed this research because if it is shoddy work it will reflect on her — and how can it not be shoddy work?

      7. JaneB*

        How do we know that? I work in HE and if I give really clear instructions for a project and regular drop in sessions to help and send emails before all key dates, a few students will say I gave them too much info and micromanaged them, some will use the resources provided and do everything to schedule, & some will ignore all the resources & do it wrong or at the last minute. A few will claim they were never told anything. It’s a two way street – & at college we expect students to engage with materials… I appreciate that there are some terrible providers, & that some students have a lousy experience, but all we know from this letter is that a young adult with several years of college education under their belt chose not to follow the clear request f someone doing them a favour… doesn’t sound like that is entirely the colleges fault!

      8. MCMonkeyBean*

        This is a wild takeaway to me. The fact that the professor has been contacting the OP directly at all is already significantly more support than I would expect from any program. An advisor to help her manager her own deadlines on a specific assignment in one class is not something I have ever heard of nor does it sound like something that should be expected.

        And I say this as someone with ADHD who has historically had issues with project that have deadlines so far out in the future. But it sounds like OP has already tried several times to help the student set smaller deadlines to meet along the way and has been ignored every time.

        The fact that the professor has granted two extensions does make it seem likely to me that the student may have had something going on (and being given these extensions looks to me like further evidence of support that they *are* getting from their program), but I don’t think there is much more OP can offer at this point with the little communication they have been given.

      9. louvella*

        I just graduated with my master’s this month and my advisor for my terminal project (who was full-time faculty, so advising me was one of the things he was being paid for) did not offer any kind of guidance about the project management aspect. It was expected that I, as an adult professional, could handle that part.

    2. Ukacademic*

      Academic here but UK based so may be things are different for you? For us, given the deadlines have been extended there is probably something going on with the student, usually on the personal or health front. Having said that I’m surprised that you are being asked to edit anything. Input to the problem, answering questions and maybe a review of the content would be fine if your name is on the paper but not a full edit. In fact usually course work should be the students own. I would contact the supervisor for clarification as to what is expected. As a supervisor I would probably welcome the contact and clarification. Indeed if the student hasn’t reached out I may not even be aware there are problems.. and often a university is in a position to help if student is struggling.

      1. pancakes*

        Yes, this all makes sense and is consistent with my expectations too. I’m in the US and not in academia, though I have been to grad school.

      2. Gan Ainm*

        In my experience it varies widely based on program and professor. Some professors are way too lenient and let every little excuse slide, some don’t. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there was no good reason for it and the student just procrastinated. (Otherwise why wouldn’t the grad student have explained that to their mentor?)

  2. Amber Rose*

    Also, even if she has excellent reasons for everything including not keeping you updated… that’s not your responsibility! You can be empathetic and understanding of her situation while still removing yourself from it.

    I’ve been there, on her side. Circumstances don’t exempt you from consequences.

    1. Cold and Tired*

      100% agree. Things happen all the time in peoples personal and professional lives. I’m happy to be flexible if you let me know what is going on as soon as possible and are able to work with me to come up with an alternate option that works for us both. But I have my own personal life and issues too, so assuming I can just drop everything for you isn’t any option.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I wouldn’t blame OP at all for apologizing and saying their circumstances have changed since the start of the project and they’re not able to continue under these conditions. (OP doesn’t actually owe an apology but I don’t think it hurts to express the sentiment that you realize someone is likely to be disappointed). If you feel generous, you could offer the *one* thing you are still willing to do (“review the final document with a two week turnaround and offer factual corrections as necessary”).

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      You can be empathetic and understanding of her situation while still removing yourself from it.

      I agree with this. Hopefully, it’s a learning experience (about dropped balls, and how other people are too busy with their own balls to help you pick them up) that she points to 10 years from now.

      I also think Alison has a really good point about how if there is a sympathetic context to the annoying thing you are doing, it’s on you to convey that to people. Ideally before they become deeply exasperated with you.

      1. Ali + Nino*

        +1 sometimes the only way to learn these lessons is to experience them first-hand. The sooner the better, I think!

    3. TransAcademic*

      “Circumstances don’t exempt you from consequences.”

      I love this line. As someone who had extenuating circumstances in college, and been a professor with students who’ve had extenuating circumstances, your point is extremely important. Flexibility and grace are beneficial, but they have their limits. At the end of the day, the thing has to get done.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed, and the extent of the flexibility you receive is generally equal with how much preemptive communication you give to everybody around you about what is now going on. It sounds unfortunately like the student in this case has been going incommunicado for months at a time and then reappearing when she gets yelled at about progress by the college. This may end up being a case of the burned hand teaches best, but none of this is on OP. They are only able to contribute at the level they can with their other responsibilities.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes. In a work setting, this means reaching out to your boss as soon as you realise you can’t manage the llama grooming properly, so they can then reorganise the work to ensure that the llamas are groomed regularly. You don’t just break down crying once you realise they all have dreadlocks and nobody wants to have to deal with that.
        In this academic setting, the stakes are different in that the only person with any real stakes is the student. It’s no skin off OP’s nose if the student fails to hand in a properly edited paper, and the teachers presumably will have CYA in place too.
        It sounds to me that OP has been more than bending over backwards. Personally I’d tell the student I would sign the paper only if we could start all over again and do it properly, because otherwise it’d be a lie.

    4. Aspiring Office Plant Queen*

      I have also been in a similar situation as the student. I ended up failing the project, which was devastating and embarrassing but absolutely warranted. I didn’t have any “extenuating circumstances” but now several years later as I’m pursuing an ADHD diagnosis, I suspect there was more going on at the time than I realized. In the end, I survived and I learned more about myself (namely, that academia as a career was probably a bad idea and I’d be miserable doing research!)

    5. quill*

      Yeah, ideally, if something was going to require a paper extension or change of course, the student would have reached out. And I say this as someone who specifically did not bother with grad school because my undergrad thesis was such a nightmare of things outside my control creating critical delays. (Never double major and think you will only write one thesis.)

    6. Migraine Month*

      This letter reminds me uncomfortably of what I was like in my grad school days. It took me so many attempts at research projects before I realized that I didn’t actually want to go into research. I owe every one of my research advisors an apology for how bad I was at keeping in touch and managing my projects.

      OP, go ahead and draw that line in the sand of what you are willing to do and enforce it. It might be the push she needs to decide if this is something she actually wants to do with her life.

  3. HigherEd Expat*

    +1 to all of Alison’s advice, and I’d add IMO it’s also entirely okay to contact the professor or instructor if you feel so inclined. It sounds like you’re on their radar if you’re receiving even intermittent communications about deadlines, so the door is open. The professor might just want to know, or if they know of issues that would have gotten in the way of that student’s success like a personal crisis, they might say as much (broadly, hopefully they don’t share details with you!). Graduate students are either class participants or direct reports of professors, in either case something like this wouldn’t be strange to bring up if you felt it was important.

    1. Momma Bear*

      I think if the school/prof is reaching out to OP directly they can follow up with that contact to state that they are no longer a part of this project and refer them back to the student.

    2. Pocket Mouse*

      Additionally, the professor might like to know that you didn’t receive the agreement to sign until recently—especially to highlight that you were trying to be responsible and provide mentorship, and to forestall impact to your reputation if a signed, backdated form magically gets turned in. Ideally you won’t be written off entirely as a mentor by future students in that class.

      1. Cj*

        After this experience, the OP would probably like to be written off as a future mentor! Although I’m sure they won’t want a hit to their reputation.

        1. After 33 years ...*

          Even if OP does not wish to be written off as a future mentor, there is a greater-than-zero probability that the student will tell the professor that they would have been finished by now, but OP wouldn’t sign the form.
          In my experience, it’s very unusual to be asked to do this much reviewing and editing (unless you are a formal committee member), and even more unusual to have the requests come from the student rather than the professor.
          I would definitely write the professor a short note explaining why I am unable to sign the agreement.

        2. Lydia*

          I don’t think the OP should worry about HER reputation here. Y’all are acting like not mentoring students moving forward is going to do irreparable damage to her career.

          1. Pocket Mouse*

            It’s not that not mentoring students would be a hit to OP’s reputation, it’s that OP should be able to decide whether to act as a mentor when the opportunity arises, and others in this or related professions shouldn’t get the impression that OP *can’t* be an effective mentor.

            1. Lexi Lynn*

              I think the OP should reach ou because the student may have something going on or they may be used to helicopter parents and teachers.

              If it is the second option, the OP may well be looking at a cross email from the professor talking about how flaking on the student on this very important project had harmed the student and whatever exaggerations the student has fed the professor. Better to get ahead of it when it is convenient for OP.

            2. Lydia*

              Ha! I missed the words “like to” in the comment. Yes, after this the OP will probably think twice or three times on whether or not she’d like to participate.

        3. Snark*

          Honestly, I don’t think it’s reasonable for this course of study to be this dependent on outside mentors and their volunteered time at all, and I think the professor should probably hear that.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah I’d sign it and date it too. Except that the date would show up the fact that I had not signed it in a timely manner so…

        1. Pocket Mouse*

          I think you misread my comment- my concern is if the student forges OP’s signature and backdates it, giving the professor reason to believe OP had committed to certain things and failed to follow through, when in reality that’s what the student has done.

          1. OP*

            This is my concern too, prompting me to write in. If the student forges my signature without my knowledge, she could also come up with all sorts of excuses to her advisor that paint me in a bad light as not effectively helping her, which was not the reality.

    3. Elsie*

      I used to teach a fieldwork course for a graduate program and I agree that it would be a good idea to contact the students advisor in addition to the student. If this has been one of my students, I would have wanted to know about this kind of situation. Hopefully her advisor has been in touch with her about this project but it’s not always possible to know everything that is going on (for example, I met with my fieldwork students regularly and was still unaware that one of my students was not following one of her obligations in a timely manner until her fieldwork preceptor reached out to me about it).

      It also sounds like the school is not providing proper oversight and support. While it’s the responsibility of the student to complete the project, the school should be ensuring that mentors like OP are having a good experience and should also be helping to establish expectations at the beginning (at a minimum the student should not have been able to proceed with the research until her mentor signed the document on expectations). So it doesn’t sound like the school is doing a good job either. Programs that involve professionals in the community should be mutually beneficial and well run, it should not make external folks overly burdened or be a way for the school to offload their responsibilities. Doing research or fieldwork can be a great experience for both students and mentors but it takes a lot of work on the schools part.

      1. Rock Prof*

        Yes to all of this! I’ve worked with community partners as the professor organizing things, and I also try to be really upfront about what my students and I can and can’t do, what our deadlines are (semesters don’t really overlap well with most fiscal years), and what sort of feedback/input we need. I definitely have had issues where I dropped the ball, specifically when covid hit and we went remote with a week’s notice, I was in crisis mode trying to convert all of my and my department’s classes. I’ve also dropped one community partner because despite my fairly clear communications, they kept changing what they wanted and kept suggesting new projects up a week before students were set to present their work.

      2. Smithy*

        I do think that your last paragraph is key around why it might be beneficial to reach back out to the school.

        Putting aside whatever has or has not happened in the student’s personal, professional or academic life – asking someone to support on a graduate school project can be a really murky request from both length and amount of time. Someone asking to engage on a term paper vs a more extensive capstone project or thesis – that level of clarity and communication with professionals in the field and community will be helpful in maintaining a good roster of people happy to work with the program for years to come.

        There will inevitably be students who struggle or aren’t amazing to work with. Therefore, I can see a need for the university to cultivate its own relationship with those participating in this work. Someone who has a more negative experience, having that be balanced by a clear and supportive relationship with the university may make it more clear as part of the learning process and a struggling student as opposed to an overall negative experience to not be repeated.

    4. rural academic*

      I agree that it would be worthwhile to contact the student’s professor with a brief rundown of what’s happened and why you will no longer be involved. It is always possible in these situations that the student is not telling their instructor the full story — the student might be saying that OP is giving her comments late and that’s why an extension is needed, for example — and the professor would probably be interested to hear your experience.

    5. Rock Prof*

      I was coming here to say something similar. If I were a supervising professor, I’d really want to know if a student dropped the ball so completely, not just for grade purposes but to also find out if the student is having problems like you mentioned.

    6. Elitist Semicolon*

      At the very least, the professor needs to know so they can consider potential changes to the assignment. If someone had told me this about one of my students, I would be re-examining the nature of the project itself, how I present the expectations by which students manage the relationship with their mentor, and my own involvement in confirming progress. It’s not clear whether seeking outside help was part of the assignment, but if it wasn’t, I (as the instructor) would also consider whether I needed to state circumstances under which non-university help was appropriate.

      1. ariel*

        +1000. It seems really unreasonable to ask a professional to contribute this much time and effort to an assignment (unless it’s the norm for your field?) and the professor needs to be sure mentors are informed of the committment clearly and/or make sure that information gets signed straightaway so that at least mentors are in the know! It seems to me that the student is in the wrong (whether there are extenuating circumstances or not) *and* also that this assignment is a burden on mentors.

    7. Professor N*

      I’m another professor who would appreciate the perspective of the outside mentor, and agree that you owe nothing more to this student.

    8. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      If only to let the professor know about the very late turn-over of that form listing everything you were supposed to be doing , as well as letting the professor know that you just can’t meet the deadlines the student is now giving you (after months of no contact no less). That way the professor knows your side in case the student tries to blame you for why they need yet another extension on the project.

    9. slmrlln*

      Also a professor, and I would also want to know if an outside mentor was having an experience like this with one of my students. Learning how to manage time and communicate professionally are part of grad school. I’d consider your email to be a warning sign (clearly not the first warning sign in this particular case) to check in with the student and try to figure out whether what they need is support, or consequences, or something else. In other words, I wouldn’t phrase your email as a complaint; more like “hey this is happening, I can’t work with the student under these conditions and I thought you should know.” Having that information would be tremendously helpful on my end.

    10. Current academic*

      I don’t object to contacting the professor, necessarily, but I really don’t think it’s necessary. All consequences that the student needs to experience will be brought about by following Alison’s advice as-is. “Academia time” is a warp zone; extensions are common and the barriers to getting them have been even lower this past year than usual for obvious reasons, so those aren’t in themselves a red flag and the professor likely knows about them. It’s also possible that the professor has herself modeled late-scrambling and two-day turnarounds as a valid project management system for this student and won’t see those as inherently problematic, either.

      The main thing that needs to happen is that the student needs to not get what she wants out of OP — her mismanagement of this crucial external partnership has to actually COST the project something. Then and only then will it matter to anyone.

      The OP could CC the professor on whatever they send to the student. But I don’t think a separate report is likely to have much impact and it might even annoy the professor.

      1. Current academic*

        Eh, on second thought, “Then and only then will it matter to anyone” might be putting it strongly; it would matter to me, tbh, and some comments above acknowledge it would matter to them. The point is that an actual cost will matter to almost everyone, whereas the principle will only matter to some (and possibly fewer than you might imagine, depending on the wording of the report, since deadline stuff might not ping an academic the same way depending on the field).

  4. Meghan*

    The moral of the story: ~*~communication~*~

    I’d move mountains if there was ample communication explaining what the hold up/issue is. But disappearing for months and then requiring *you* to have a two day turn around is unreasonable. Feel free with a clear conscience to dump this student.

    Also– to be noted, I’ve seen this issue more and more throughout the pandemic. Though, usually its with students just entering school (first years and the like) and not grad students.

    1. Ope!*

      Makes me recall a time in my graduate program where I had an immediate relative experience a health crisis that required me to travel out of state. I proactively contacted my professors and let them know that I was working to continue to meet deadlines, but if I wasn’t able to I didn’t want them to hear about it for the first time when I was late. I managed to get everything in on time, but the professors were very accommodating and it was a relief to know – I credit it to my early communication!

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        Thank you! This is exactly what professors need!

        Letting professors know you have an issue will result in all of the good ones being willing to bend over backwards to help you out! Extensions and make-up assignments galore!

        A student coming up just as a semester is ending, when the world is falling down around so many professors’ ears, and saying they had an issue weeks or months ago and suddenly need a semester’s worth of help will not have the same response.

        It’s “What can I do so that you can help me through this?” vs. “What will you do for me to help me through this?” A subtle difference, but so meaningful.

        1. Despachito*

          The last paragraph is spot on – a decent person willing to help will probably bend over backwards in the first case, but the second one is so entitled that it sounds almost like an outrage.

    2. CoveredinBees*

      I’ve seen it happen with seasoned professionals. It happened to the architect we were working with on our house. She just disappeared. Didn’t answer emails, phone calls, or texts. Since this was during some peak COVID, we feared she had gotten ill or died. She had been in regular contact with another client we knew and had to get word from them that she was ok. She was overwhelmed with family stuff, which we totally understood but were upset that she never responded to anything to at least let us know.

      1. Kella*

        I had someone send in a writing submission to my publication, which I accepted right away. They were clearly a writer by profession (whereas lots of submissions are from people who write as a hobby) and yet I ended up spending several months following up with this person to see if they still wanted to write an article for me, which I would be paying them for, and which they submitted to me in the first place! After agreeing to a concrete deadline and just missing it completely, I stopped following up with her and she never contacted me again.

      2. londonedit*

        Yep. We have a mentoring scheme where I work, and I’ve been a mentor to a few entry/early-career-level people over the last few years. Most of them have been lovely and very engaged and proactive, but a couple of them have just disappeared halfway through or after the first meeting. Each mentor/mentee relationship lasts for three or four months and it’s very clear that the idea of the scheme is for the mentee to drive the relationship in terms of making contact, talking about what they want to get out of it, setting up meetings and doing any ‘homework’ we decide on that might help build their skills or take them in the direction they want to go. So it’s not my place to chase them up or set deadlines. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and that’s fine – often people want me to give them an iron-clad route into an editorial job, and I just can’t do that. But I would prefer it if they’d just say after the first meeting that they don’t think I’m the right mentor for them – I wouldn’t mind! Instead what’s happened on a couple of occasions is that we’ve had the initial meeting, I’ve suggested they fill in the standard form listing their goals, how often they’d like to meet, what they’d like to achieve, etc, and then set up another meeting to go through that and make a plan – and then they just disappear. I’ll follow up with a message or two asking whether they’d like to set up another meeting, to no response – so at that point it’s obvious they don’t want to continue, but I’d rather they just told me at the beginning! That way we could both go back into the pool to be matched with another mentor/mentee for that cycle, instead of wasting the whole opportunity.

    3. Anonymous Professor*

      Exactly! Among other things, when a student lets me know ahead of time that a situation is happening, I have more time to investigate their options for them, set up alternate deadlines, and figure out how I’m going to handle any extra work this requires of me.

      On the other hand, when the student sends me an email on the last day of class, the last day of finals week, or, worst of all, after the semester is over, saying something like, “I had a family emergency, that’s why I didn’t finish the final paper, I need 1000 points of extra credit,” (actual email verbatim I received this past semester a week after final grades were due), it neither engenders much sympathy nor many pathways.

      1. linger*

        I’ve often found grad students have wildly unrealistic expectations of how quickly they should expect detailed feedback on their writing (research papers, thesis drafts) — because they can read their own draft within a few hours, and “obviously” an expert should be able to do that AND find and note the problems even faster. But as I always tell my grad classes: it typically takes me about an hour per page to do a complete proofing and convert my observations into structured, constructive and actionable feedback; and it can take weeks to be able to clear enough time to concentrate on that task. Please consider that you may be asking me to do as much writing and drafting of my comments as you originally did on your draft. For all our sakes, please tell me what you need me to focus on (e.g. language correctness, academic format, or content — it is absolute hell trying to correct all three simultaneously); and give me a fixed deadline, with enough time to give you the help you need.

    4. Grad Student*

      I’ve been the student in this scenario, twice. However, I communicated throughout the process with my overseeing professor AND the mentor, and everyone was able to help me bring the project to successful completion. E-mailing the group and being honest about what was going on with my life circumstances really made a difference, especially when I continued to have ongoing issues (“just letting you know I was in a roll-over car accident earlier this evening, here are some photos and I will keep you updated”… “I need emergency surgery, I will keep you updated”… “I’m scheduled for surgery #x, and will keep you updated”… “I contracted COVID; I’m sorry, but I will keep you updated”… and so forth (it was bad, but I can walk again, which is good).

      After it became obvious that I was spending more time at medical offices and having surgery than in class, I finally took a break from classes. I finished my projects, and am currently focused on healing, which is probably what I should have done in the first place.

  5. Liz Lemon*

    I hope you can release any guilt you have about not following up with her more. It’s 100% her responsibility to make sure this project happens, and it sounds like she’s been dropping the ball with you since the start.

  6. Kate*

    I’m confused as to why any of this was for you to do? Marking, feedback, setting deadlines, asking for the title, etc. all sounds like work an academic supervisor should be doing. Why would they expect anyone to do all this for free? Is this a known thing in your field, or is this just a lazy lecturer palming off work?

    1. Lysine*

      This baffles me as well. I’m in a profession listed as an example in this letter and I can’t imagine doing this much work for a student 100% for free. I’m also confused by the idea that the professional is supposed to help this student write this paper to the degree that the letter seems to imply. All of this work seems to be what the student’s actual program should be providing, I’m confused that the school seems to be outsourcing this work to professionals in the community.

      Either way, I think OP can walk away from this student. I might reach out to the program to say I never received this contract until recently to preserve my professional reputation however.

    2. giraffecat*

      I was wondering if this is the student misinterpreting the role of their external mentor? I don’t know what discipline this is, but I supervise graduate students and what OP is describing would never be stuff that would be expected of an external research mentor. At most, they would be asked to review the project proposal and then the final project and provide input maybe 2-3 times total (with at least 2 weeks for review). All the other things the OP is describing (creating timelines, drafting individual sections of the paper, etc.) would be under the purview of the academic research advisor, not an external mentor who isn’t paid to put in that much effort. But, maybe this is more typical in other discplines?

      1. Adultier adult*

        Exactly the above!

        The only addition is if she was asking this person to be the content expert on her dissertation committee- these WOULD be potentially parts of the agreement- with compensation from the university for the time

    3. Meep*

      I kind of get the feeling she doesn’t actually need/want OP’s help but is required to have someone sign on that dotted line. That is why I mentioned above wanting to know the state of the work that OP has reviewed so far. Is it as lazy and lackadaisical as OP is painting her out to be or is it solid?

      It seems like everything is done as when OP asks for the paper, she provides it. The extension is just needing OP’s approval, which is frankly pretty silly, IMHO.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        Well, no. When the OP pushes her she responds, but she hasn’t held up her end of the agreement in all of this, which was keeping to an agreed upon deadline. She may have reasons for not doing so, but she should have then let the OP know so that the OP could make an informed decision about whether or not they could commit to this new time frame. Even if she doesn’t need/want OP’s help, she asked for it and OP agreed, so it’s on her (the student) to keep the line of communication open.

    4. Lizard on a Chair*

      Same. I’m a lawyer (one of the examples from the letter) and this all sounds wildly unreasonable. Working professionals should not be expected to provide ongoing, unpaid academic support to random grad students! That is what the student is paying their university for. LW went above and beyond by even editing the paper, and the student has been nothing but flaky and disrespectful of LW’s time. Time to exit this entire situation.

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        I’m also a lawyer. What the LW describes would be so far from the norm in a law school setting that I can only conclude that they aren’t in law. My guess is it’s a field where mentored student projects aren’t uncommon—something like engineering, architecture, chemistry, etc.

        But I’ve never heard of anything like this in law.

      2. Missy*

        Also a lawyer, and also have a MPA that involved having to doing a few external projects, but nothing like this. I was basically using the external parties as examples for my classes (like doing a workflow analysis of the processes within the organization or developing an emergency management plan for them). They might be asked to comment on the final paper to say how well it captured their situation, but not expected to make edits or anything like that. I’m so curious now.

      3. pancakes*

        I think I had a faculty advisor on my law review note, but they definitely weren’t involved in editing it or helping me make deadlines, and I don’t recall any paperwork about them making commitments to me. Agreed that this sounds unreasonable.

    5. OP*

      OP here. This can be a common part of my field. A lot of students are expected to do research projects throughout their training and schooling, and it is often on them to contact mentors in their field of interest and “partner up” to do research projects. The course this mentee is currently enrolled in is designed to help them learn how to develop research ideas and carry out their projects to fruition and then write a publishable paper on their projects.

      The mentors can often benefit in that their names go on these papers as part of fulfilling research requirements for many instutitions, but in my case, that doesn’t do much for my CV and I had wanted to help the student as a way to pay it forward for all of my previous mentors who did the same for me.

      1. Lizard on a Chair*

        Thanks for the additional info, OP. That makes a lot of sense in terms of the mutually beneficial arrangement. I still think you have already gone above and beyond, given that this student has been unreliable from the start and has made unreasonable demands on your time. Personally, I would notify the professor just to ensure they are looped in that you’re not going to be available for this student anymore. I hope you can pair up with a more reliable student for a more rewarding mentoring experience!

    6. kiki*

      Yeah, the language of that “contract” the student was supposed to have LW sign bothers me:

      She also would like me to sign a paper (that I was supposed to have been sent by her and signed six months ago) acknowledging this mentor-mentee relationship and which has verbiage that essentially boils down to that I agree to committing to help this student with her project and she agrees to regularly meet with me to obtain feedback and advice on her project.

      It seems likely they’ve had problems with mentors not willing or able to provide the necessary amount of guidance in the past and instead of giving more guidance to students and mentors about exactly what this relationship entails, they just kind of made a vague contract to be signed.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        It sounds like they want proof that the mentor has in fact committed to mentoring and knows what it entails, which is fair enough given that there is input to be given and a timeline to stick to. The student reached out to OP, without that contract the school has no way of knowing whether they have a mentor at all, let alone whether they understand what mentoring is supposed to entail.
        I’m not sure why the school is expected to give any more guidance. I bet sufficient guidance was given, but this student is wildly disorganised. At grad school level the student should be capable of working independently, as expected in the real world of work.

  7. fueled by coffee*

    As a current grad student… what on earth kind of project is this? I understand “mentorship” programs that ask you to do a series of informational interviews with a professional in your field, or to find an internship-type placement, but it sounds like this professional is expected to contribute to writing the paper itself? Is this a thing in some fields?

    1. DrSalty*

      Yeah this sounds very weird to me as a former basic science-life sciences grad student, but maybe it’s normal for whatever field this is.

    2. Generic Name*

      Yeah, I’m a bit confused as well. Maybe it’s a common practice in a particular field, but the work involved sounds like the OP’s role was to be akin to a thesis advisor, and that’s a lot to take on for an unpaid volunteer not affiliated with the university.

      1. giraffecat*

        That’s what I was thinking also. Not sure if signals got crossed somewhere and if the student’s academic advisor knows that the student is expecting this much from the OP.

        1. Meep*

          To be fair, it doesn’t expect like the student is expecting much. OP is the one creating more work.

          1. Anon all day*

            Nope. It sounds like OP is doing exactly what was expected in the program, which required that the student ” agree[d] to regularly meet with [OP] to obtain feedback and advice on her project.” The fact that OP was the one who created the schedule to actually do that is so generous to the student, and if it was more than the student wanted, she should have said something to OP immediately.

            1. Meep*

              Read again. OP was there to provide guidance and instead wanted to micromanage everything. The point is to help and provide feedback. Not boss this student again.

              1. Lizard on a Chair*

                Micromanage? The student went silent for months, then resurfaced and asked for edits in 2 days!

              2. Falling Diphthong*

                If you’re correct that the student needed an outside person to spend an hour reading a late draft and give their opinion, then it was on the student to reply to OP’s request for a timeline with their own timeline. “I would expect to give you the paper the first week of March, needing proposed revisions within 2 weeks of that time. I would expect that to require 1-2 hours of your time.”

                When someone without much experience asks for help from someone without much experience, sometimes the lesson is that the thing is much more complicated from the inside than it looks from the outside. For example, with the law example downthread, maybe OP needs the narrow topic to be sure this is an area of law on which they can speak knowledgeably, and an outline of the argument to know whether the basic approach is unworkable. If the student is asking an expert on blueberries to weigh in on bluebells because those are both plants, and both blue, it’s on the student here to respond to the would-be mentors emails and explain what they have in mind, and listen to whether it’s workable. (I’m sure most of us have amusing workplace tales of being asked by someone with little direct experience of a task if we could knock something out in a comically unworkable timeline.)

              3. Dust Bunny*

                Yeah, no, sorry, but when somebody disappears for half of the project’s duration and then wants your input on a tight turnaround, you have a right to set some of your own parameters. That’s not micromanaging–that’s what the student gets for not pulling weight.

              4. Elitist Semicolon*

                No, those were the terms under which OP agreed to mentor the student. Saying “I have limited time and can only help you under these circumstances” at the start of a mentoring relationship is not the same as micromanaging. It’s being honest about expectations and establishing respect for each other’s time. If the student didn’t like those terms, they should have declined and found a other mentor rather than ghosting OP for three months only to reappear out of the blue and ask for two days’ turnaround.

              5. Butterfly Counter*

                If that wasn’t the assignment, the student should just have let OP know.

                “In terms of guidance for this project, I was thinking more that you would help me edit a draft of the paper and give me advice on any other topics I should address in it. I can get you a draft by XXDATE and you would only need to give me an hour of your time looking it over and giving your feedback. I could then send you my last draft to see if you agree with the outcome and give any last-minute changes for the final draft. That would probably only take 30 minutes of your time at around XXDATE. Would you be comfortable with that? If not, thanks anyway!”

                You know. Communication.

                1. lemon*

                  I agree, in theory, that the student should have felt empowered to communicate in this way. But, some disciplines/departments have really weird power dynamics that breed a type of dependency/passivity in grad students where being this assertive would be seen negatively.

                  I agree with everyone that the student behaved unprofessionally and wasted the LW’s time. But… I also empathize because academia can be such a weird place that it can be really difficult to learn professional norms, especially if you’ve gone straight from undergrad to grad without any work experience.

              6. OP*

                OP here. Actually, reading over the mentor-mentee agreement, everything that I had asked her to do was part of the criteria in the agreement.

                These types of mentor-mentee relationships are common in my field, and I spent many years in my training/schooling doing similar research projects and having to cultivate these relationships, which is why I had attempted to guide her in the way I did.

                1. Hanani*

                  You were generous with your time and energy, OP, and it speaks well of you that you wanted to pay forward the mentoring you received. I hope you would be willing to give it another go in the future, though it’s entirely reasonable not to want to again after your experience.

                  The multiple extensions for the student suggests they had a Big Bad Thing going on. That’s unfortunate and deserves compassion, but does not excuse the student’s behavior. The program may also be at fault for poor design or lack of support or inadequate advising or whatever else, but the student needed to communicate with you. I hope you can let go of any guilt you’re feeling – you went above and beyond. I assume the student (didn’t) act out of stress or inexperience rather than malice; even the best possible reasons for in/action doesn’t make the outcomes of that in/action disappear. It’s a hard lesson.

              7. Kella*

                Micromanaging is specifically when a leader tries to control parts of a process that don’t need to be controlled or that are actually complicated by them interfering. OP needed the process of helping with the paper to be broken into smaller bits of work because of their work schedule. Having specific expectations about what you need in order to do your part of the work is not micromanaging.

          2. Gan Ainm*

            This sounds like one of those memes where a study comes out saying something like “dogs need 20 hugs and 6 treats a day for optimum health” and everyone says, “did a dog write this?” So… are you the student?

            Because it seems like you’re reading a different letter from everyone else. The class actually requires OP sign a contract outlining exactly this level / type of involvement from OP. OP was right on target, and very generous with their support.

            1. Gan Ainm*

              This might have been a nesting fail, I can’t tell. It was meant to be in response to Meep saying OP was crating work and micromanaging, which I disagree with.

    3. mandatory anon*

      The university I work for has scores of people, in multiple departments, who do nothing but help students with writing papers, from newest newb to grad students. It seems odd to ask a stranger to set aside their own work to do this.

    4. June*

      No. The STUDENT is supposed to write the paper and the professional can edit it or make suggestions. I did this once and will never do it again. This student is not holding up their end.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      I, too, found “editing the paper” to be an odd ask for a stranger volunteering their help.

      I suspect there’s an element of the student not knowing what she doesn’t know–but she ignored OP’s attempt to lay that out for her with the projected schedule. Very often organizing something is much more complicated and time consuming from the inside than it looks from the outside, and the student blew a chance to learn that.

      1. quill*

        Yeah, when dealing with people outside academia, if your project is at all unusual within your department literally nobody knows how to go about scheduling or coordinating it. If there’s any sort of application, permit, or certification involved, it can take months to figure out what to do about it (promised at every contact that the NEXT person you are put in touch with is the right one) even without a pandemic.

    6. CoveredinBees*

      It might be a field where there is a deep divide between academia and actual practice. In law school, it is very common for non-adjunct professors to go straight into academia after having been a law clerk for a year or two. Perhaps a professor is trying to get them to incorporate a “real world” perspective?

      1. Antilles*

        There’s something similar in civil engineering too. Since a lot of the professors haven’t been on the consulting side, it’s common for capstone design classes to be taught by a practicing engineer who gives you a “project” based on a real-world site the engineer designed in the past. So then it’s up to the students to basically run the project start to finish, with the engineer basically serving as guidance, explain why certain things do or don’t work, and eventually tell the student what I actually did on the project for comparison.
        But in this case, the outside engineer is much more involved, usually to the point of actually running the class and having a fancy “adjunct professor” title to go along with it.

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          Yeah – I used to serve as a panelist capstone projects in civil engineering and the PEs who supervised the student teams were all adjuncts with official university appointments and compensation. And there was still a full-time faculty member overseeing the entire class. The PEs weren’t outside folks approached by students to do this sort of work on top of their day jobs for free.

    7. Grits McGee*

      Yes, I was also wondering what kind of project this was. I could see a writing project where you might get advice from a professional to fact-check or give technical advice, but these multiple rounds of edits sound like something a professor would be expected to do. I don’t want the LW to feel like they have to give more info than they are comfortable with, but is this type of project+ongoing feedback common in your field?

      1. Grits McGee*

        For instance, as an anthropology undergrad I asked a museum for visitor data that I used for a GIS mapping project, but their work consisted of handing over data and giving me their thoughts on my final paper. I can’t think of an example where a student would work with a professional for six months outside the confines of an internship or some other formal learning program.

      2. OP*

        Hi, thank you for your comment. I will copy and paste what I wrote in response to some comments, but the short answer is that yes, it is common.

        OP here. This can be a common part of my field. A lot of students are expected to do research projects throughout their training and schooling, and it is often on them to contact mentors in their field of interest and “partner up” to do research projects. The course this mentee is currently enrolled in is designed to help them learn how to develop research ideas and carry out their projects to fruition and then write a publishable paper on their projects.

        The mentors can often benefit in that their names go on these papers as part of fulfilling research requirements for many instutitions, but in my case, that doesn’t do much for my CV and I had wanted to help the student as a way to pay it forward for all of my previous mentors who did the same for me.

        1. Grits McGee*

          Thanks for this extra context OP! Based on what you said, I think you would definitely be justified in backing out at this point. You had time to do what was originally proposed, but now that the student has drastically altered the timeline of the project, you can longer assist. The lack of communication on the student’s part and the fact that she is sending you the project contract now make it clear that this is a student-issue, not a you-issue. You might want to cc the professor as a professional reputation CYA when you withdraw from the project (I would do it in writing, again as CYA).
          If it makes you feel better, this is going to be a valuable learning experience for the student, even if it’s not in the way she anticipated. In a professional context, she would be facing pretty similar consequences (loss of stakeholder/partner participation, failure of project). Far better for her to learn that hard lesson now, when she has the support system of the school, than on the job.

    8. tjamls*

      I read this as regarding a law review comment or note. For mine, I had a professor advisor (for critiques from an academic perspective) and a working professional advisor (to make sure the overall commentary made sense in the real world). The working professional read it once toward the end and we met for feedback, but it was not in-depth. But the law review editors had connected me with the working professional and given him parameters for what to do and what not to do.

    9. BRR*

      Right?!?! “Hey reach out to a stranger and ask them to give you a huge chunk of time for free. Also, make them sign something that says they are doing this.” And the professor/advisor is emailing the LW about deadlines???? We don’t have the details/context for me to 100% recommend this, but I’d be very tempted to email the professor/advisor and let them know this project is a huge ask of people. With the information we have, this is not a good student project since it’s so reliant on an outside person. Also, what if the mentor was the unresponsive one?

      Regardless, it definitely sounds like the student dropped the spaghetti. I would let them know you can’t continue because they didn’t get done what they needed to get done and you can’t ethically sign that agreement.

    10. OP*

      OP here. I’ll copy and paste part of the response to my reply above your comment.

      OP here. This is a very normal part of my field. A lot of students are expected to do research projects throughout their training and schooling, and it is often on them to contact mentors in their field of interest and “partner up” to do research projects. The course this mentee is currently enrolled in is designed to help them learn how to develop research ideas and carry out their projects to fruition and then write a publishable paper on their projects.

      The mentors can often also benefit in that their names go on these papers as part of fulfilling research requirements for many institutions. For me, having more research papers with my name on it won’t necessarily help me because of my line of work, and I had originally volunteered because I had once been in this student’s position and needed a mentor.

    11. kiki*

      I took a few classes with assignments like this and I *hated* them. It’s such a big ask of another person’s time and the student is left kind of cold-emailing until somebody agrees to help. So often there’s so little guidance given to the student about how to cultivate a decent mentorship relationship, so you see a lot of erratic communications like we’re seeing from the student from the letter. Additionally, so many students have never worked professional jobs so they have no idea what reasonable communication and timelines look like. Projects like this almost always end up being a disaster and it strikes me as lazy for professors to foist this off on the unsuspecting professional community.

  8. EngineeringFun*

    I got my PHD at 36 after working in industry and then taught at university for a few years. Thank you for your help, but run!!!! Most students are young adults who are learning and as such should not be treated like a coworker. Most have horrible time management skills (as an advisor this is something I tried to develop). Also you don’t know the dynamic with their advisor. The advisor may have 9 other grad students and has no incentive to have your student graduate because they are a source of cheap labor. I had 2 advisors that would not speak to each other and a paper that was unread for an entire year (no feedback). There is so much advice I could give having been on both sides but you don’t have the time for this. It’s messy.

  9. Secret Squirrel*

    This is absolutely 100% normal student behaviour in my experience. My partner provides tech support for final year BEng and MEng students who have to complete a set project during that year. Every single year there will be about 1/3 who are keen, in the project labs early and a pleasure to work with, 1/3 who don’t start until after Christmas, have a bit of a panic, are hit and miss about turning up then not being seen for several weeks but do in the end turn a project in, and the final 1/3 who don’t turn up until after Easter, expect someone else to complete the project, blame others for not doing the work, not getting the required components in, seek extensions, try to create a paper trail to look like they were doing something but were stymied by circumstances (the blame others section) and put way more effort in to not doing the work than they would have needed to actually complete it. This has been the same for the 15 years we’ve been together, not a new pandemic habit.

    In this case I would be under no compunction at all to continue to help this person.

  10. June*

    I’m a Professional and went through this and will NEVER do it again. Don’t sign anything and tell this person they did not keep their end of the bargain. You have a procrastinator on your hands who more likely than not wants you to write some portion of the paper. Don’t feel bad. It’s on them.

  11. Amsonia*

    I’m a professor, and I fully concur with Alison’s advice. The student has failed here, and it’s not your job to rescue them. Your original plan for staged work was excellent. The student’s failure to carry it out was unfortunately not shocking, but shows that the student failed, not you. (Also, they never even showed you the paperwork! Massive fail.) It would also be fine for you to contact the professor, who might benefit from hearing what really happened. Finally, the commenter who said the university is falling down on the job is also spot on (although it may be one slacker professor). No program should be completely outsourcing the (unpaid!) advising of major projects to non-employees.

    1. Ukacademic*

      Exactly this .. we do lots of projects with industry partners but they take the role of client and the student always has an internal advisor for the academic side of things

  12. Jane*

    The student was the one who knew the terms of what your relationship was suppose to be, not you, and SHE was the one who should have been more proactive. You’re not supposed to psychically divine what’s an ask from the student vs. a requirement from the university. Being handed that agreement at the last second would leave a sour taste in my mouth, and I wouldn’t sign it. Honestly if you were another student and you did that, they would get you for academic dishonesty.

    1. Lysine*

      Yes. Failing to disclose the contract that laid out the terms of your relationship with this student was dishonest (at least dishonest by omission even if it wasn’t intentional dishonesty or malicious on the part of the student.)

      This contract is a Big Deal. It lays out what you, and the student, were supposedly agreeing to 6 months ago. Failure to disclose this and then wanting me to sign it 6 months later would not be ok with me and I would never sign it after the fact. It may be because I’m attorney so I’m more… aware of the pitfalls of signing a contract, but I am a lawyer and I would never sign a contract I already know I’m in violation of and know I can’t fulfill. Nope.

    2. Hannah Lee*

      That contract being lobbed in at the 11th hour would be the thing that sparked me to contact the professor.

      Like, possibly as a forward of the email the student sent “This just came in, it’s the first time I’ve been provided this document. I am unable to sign it as it does not describe my interactions with student between (date of initial contact) and (date I received this agreement).

      Because there is some disconnect somewhere, and while it’s not on you to solve it it’s worth flagging it back to wherever this project originally came from.

    3. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I think at this point I would contact the professor because either there has been a massive failure of communication on their part, and the students have been left not knowing twhat the expectatiosn were until the last minute, or (more likely) the student has failed to follow instructions and is not effectively trying toget you to help cover for them.

  13. Gremlin*

    I agree with Secret Squirrel that unfortunately this is all too common behavior on the part of students — or at least a small subset.

    I do have to question the university though — why are they asking students to bring in outside “research mentors” who don’t have any access to the university (ie, registrar, student records, etc), aren’t fully briefed by the institution, and are nonetheless expected to act like a professor? That’s a recipe for failure.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yeah I don’t love the design of this project (for instance that mentorship agreement should have been due…at the beginning?) and I’ve been through grad school I see what other commenters are saying about project management and all that but this seems like it’s set up to fail. And if it all falls apart right at the end that must be a nightmare for the professor right?

    2. Leslie*

      How are the students even able to *find* mentors? What if someone doesn’t find a mentor? What if a mentor can’t be a mentor anymore in the middle of the year? It sounds so dependent on the goodwill of people not benefitting from the arrangement.

    3. giraffecat*

      Very true that this is common behavior for a sub-group of students. This is why not everyone finishes gradaute school. It takes a lot of self-discipline, personal time management skills, and independent learning. Those are all skills that can be developed, but sometimes students figure that out too late to be succesful.

    4. Elitist Semicolon*

      It’s potentially flirting with violating university policy, as most schools require the instructor of record to handle the bulk of student/supervision assessment. Or, more simply put, the person who submits the final grade also has to do all the supervision/assessment throughout the course. If this prof is farming out the rest of the work and just grading the final paper, that’s an issue.

  14. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I know we only have a small window onto what’s going on, but it sounds like this student is really struggling in lots of ways. If I were in OP’s shoes, I probably would have tried to contact their advisor for a conversation when the student came back to me about getting the extension.

    I think it would be worthwhile giving feedback to the school, not in terms of this particular student, but regarding the mentor/mentee letter, the school’s expectations of the mentor, etc.

    1. OP*

      OP here. The first time the student asked for an extension (I did not include this in my original question) but she said she was getting her wisdom teeth pulled.

      1. Gan Ainm*

        Oh man. More evidence that this student is just a bad planner and procrastinator. The surgery is usually prescheduled (esp for young folks, which presumably this student is) and only takes a couple hours, and then you’re hopped up on meds the rest of the day usually, but you should be able to work from home writing a paper by the next day.

        1. Bagpuss*

          I wouldn’t automatically assume that – not eveyone has the same reaction and if you have limited choices (perhaps becuae of which surgeons are covered by your insurtnace) you might not have a lot of choice over timing, or may be in pain and needit done ASAP.

          I mean, this student seems to have dropped the ball in a lot of ways but I wouldn’t see needing an extention due to a medical proceedure as evidence of them being a bad planner / procrastinator.

          (Admittedly I am influenced by the fact that when I was a student I did need emergency dental surgery had a really bad initial experience with my university tutor who was supposed to help with the documentation for the university to allow them to make the appropriate accommodations, and was significantly impacted by the medication I was given with the after effects lasting for well over 2 weeks, even through the procedure itself was only a couple of hours and done as out-patient treatment.
          Luckily for m, a differnt professor saw me in tears in the corridor aftermy tutor had refused to do his job, asked me whart was wrong and then did his job and signed off the paperwork for me so that I didn’t get penalised for having a medical emergency, but has she not spotted me and been willing to help I am not sure what wwould have happened, as the procedure I was meant to follow was to go via my personal tutor, who wouldn’t help, and I was really not in any state to try to work out how to appeal or bypass him . Hopefully things are better now!)

  15. Goldenrod*

    Someone I worked with once used to tell people who came to her with last-minute requests: “Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

    I think that has some relevance here.

    1. Cj*

      Very similar, I had a co-worker who had a sign in your office saying ,”a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        I have that same sign hanging on the side of my desk in my office.

        You’re not going to get your permit in 24 hours when the regulations clearly state you have to submit a certain number of days before and it has to be sent via certified mail to an address, and is a large permit modification to boot….. and I cannot see any way that someone would manage to be approved to spend millions of dollars on a large equipment modification with one day’s notice to get it shipped here and install. Ya knew about it 6 months ago, when it was approved for purchase, with a 6 month lead time, and ya forgot to submit it to HSE.

        (Can you tell this happened recently? lol)

      2. Gan Ainm*

        My high school advisor/ guidance counselor had this in her office and it has always stuck with me.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I actually said that outright to a former coworker as I walked away from my desk to go get lunch, and with the approval of the department manager too. That guy was always a nightmare of giving me stuff at beyond the last second and I was done. Fortunately for me the manager had my back (he was beyond over the turning everything in at the last second).

  16. deesse877*

    My experience as an academic is that this sort of thing is really common, and sometimes it’s just mysterious. What was the student thinking? But other times, more than half the time, there are one or more of the following three reasons at play–and only the last one can you have any direct control over. So, common reasons:

    1) Student can’t afford school, in time, money, or both. This is unjust, but you can’t personally fix it. Don’t guilt yourself; just support and vote for higher education access policies, like funding public colleges and expanding Pell grants and federal student loans and public-service loan forgiveness and so on. Oh, and childcare, both for grad students and generally.

    2) Student doesn’t actually want to do this degree, but family pressure and/or sunk costs keep them struggling. This is something the student has to fix themselves, whether by pulling up their socks, or by quitting. YOu can’t fix it, so don’t guilt yourself. To some extent better funding for education can help this one too, so again, support public education.

    3) Student doesn’t get that **the ask does not fully create a working relationship.** They don’t understand that you are not like their professors (i.e., present and helpful no matter what). This is really, really common, especially in students that are less acculturated to white-collar norms. This is also the only thing you can *proactively* be aware of, and address. My own solution is to always use a lot of IF/THEN language. So like “IF you send me a detailed projected timeline, THEN I will be able to confirm my participation in the process.” No open-ended “great, just send me XYZ!” statements, because they often do not get the implied “this is not optional” and “I will cut you loose if you don’t hold up your end.” When, for your whole life, negative consequences at school have been extremely explicit (bad grade, getting dressed down to your face), inferring things like that just isn’t natural. And if you’re paying a huge amount of money, maybe the most you’ve ever forked over in your life, for a grad degree, it’s also hard to see how volunteer professional labor fits in. As in, the student may not realize that you’re uncompensated (I’ve seen some misunderstand “mentoring” or “professional obligation” as a fee-for-service situation), or may not realize how much labor they are actually asking of you.

    I also agree with someone above who said this student may not have received appropriate support, because (especially if this is a highly credentialed field) their prof should have explained about cultivating a relationship and respecting others’ time.

    1. deesse877*

      To be clear, it is also completely possible that the student is just a jerk. But that, too, is not something you can worry about. Just let them go forth in their jerkiness and learn, or not.

    2. Lab Boss*

      I like your emphasis on “you can’t fix this” for your first points. It’s my experience that people in a position to be mentors in the types of professions OP mentions are often high achievers, and it can be easy for a high achiever to personalize a failure that they’re tangentially attached to and feel that they should have, somehow, been able to make it come out right.

    3. OP*

      Thank you for taking the time out to write this very thoughtful response. In this case, with the knowledge that I know about the student, I think #3 very well likely could be the case with her. Lots of good insight for me to mull over, thank you.

    4. AnotherLibrarian*

      I’ve worked with dozens of student and this is a really insightful comment. #3 is especially spot on.

      Also, I’d add this: When students overwhelmed, their first instinct is often to feel shame and then they cut off contact. It’s not always instinctive to reach out and give people a heads up. I used to do this too, so I get it. It’s a lesson students need to learn and learning it is often a long curve. But the OP doesn’t have to put up with the lack of contact, so Alison’s advice is very solid.

    5. Hanani*

      I also work with college students (undergrad in my case), and I agree that this is so clear and kind and accurate

  17. LittleDoctor*

    Oh, I feel a lot of empathy for the student–she sounds like me when I was struggling significantly due to schizophrenia. (Not saying that’s what’s up with her, just that a lot of different things can hit at grad school age, especially mental problems, and it can be hard to open up to someone when you feel ashamed of what’s been going on and of the ways you’re a “failure.”)

    I would consider asking what’s up and what’s been going on with her. It might give you a better picture of whether and how to move forward.

    1. CM*

      I also feel a lot of empathy for the student! But I wouldn’t ask what’s up, because that’s assuming responsibility.

      I think the OP agreed to help, laid out clear guidelines, and was more than reasonable. Now it’s time to cut ties. And I think OP can set this boundary with empathy, and without judgment — not “you didn’t keep up your end of the bargain and I’m mad,” but instead “this isn’t what I agreed to, and it’s not consistent with what we discussed earlier, so I’m not able to do it but I wish you the best.”

      I also think emailing the professor is a good idea, not to snitch on the student but instead to communicate that this type of mentorship is a big commitment for a professional, and expectations need to be clearly set at the beginning.

      1. LittleDoctor*

        Personally, and this is just me and it comes from a place of having really benefited from substantial kindness when I was young and sick: if, after I asked what was going on, something major (cancer, new schizophrenia, their kid was murdered) had happened that had contributed, I probably would try hard to figure out a way to make the project work. LW has no obligation to, but having been on the other end of substantial kindness, it’s what I personally would choose to do.

    2. My Cabbages!*

      I was going to say, I did stuff like this as a student (with undiagnosed ADHD) as well. I look back and cringe now, but I wasn’t doing it maliciously – I was just over my head and didn’t know how to work without the pressure of an over-extended deadline. If I had to turn in something to be reviewed, I’d have a hard time getting it done early enough to send to the reviewer.

      Not to excuse the student; that kind of thing still needs to be dealt with in a professional manner, and hopefully this student will find the collapse of the project to be a learning experience as to how to manage large projects in the future.

      1. Alex (they/them)*

        Undiagnosed ADHD makes college really difficult in my experience. Hopefully this student will get whatever support they need. Not from OP tho- this isn’t their responsibility.

    3. Prof Ma'am*

      The fact that she is getting extensions also made me wonder if she has something else going on. Speaking from the academic side I can 100% confirm that students will keep their struggles to themselves even as they crash and burn through the semester. After a few years of this I started a “Thing” policy in my classes. If you have a personal/professional/medical/mental/emotional “Thing” happening that is severely distracting you from my class you can tell me (to whatever amount of detail you feel comfortable) and if I can help (extend deadlines, ignore missing assignments, etc) I will. It’s opened the floodgates but that’s a good thing!

      1. LittleDoctor*

        Yeah, I remember in my first year at university, I (totally healthy at the time) wrote my midterm the day after my mother died after being tortured to death by some random person, and I didn’t breathe a word of it to anyone until I casually mentioned it to a professor who remarked that my midterm was my weakest mark that year several months later.

    4. quill*

      As someone whose undergrad thesis was a disaster of epic proportions, the best thing OP can do is cleanly cut ties so that the student doesn’t waste any more time trying to make this project work. With a clear email that this will NEVER happen, the student can find a way to meet with their actual advisor and figure something else out.

      If the people I had originally contacted during my thesis had been able to give me that instead of sending me on a months long scavenger hunt of various never-manned government agency phone numbers I wouldn’t have submitted my proposed thesis statement the week before thanksgiving and had to peel out to do field sampling from four sites in one weekend before it could even be approved.

  18. surprisedcannuk*

    I think it’s a difficult situation. It’s not your fault or the school’s fault. It just doesn’t sound like it’s going to get done on time. Maybe there’s something going on in their lives.

  19. Chairman of the Bored*

    I recommend LW get ready now for how they will respond to any sort of guilt-trip emails from the student.

    Yes, this might prevent or delay their graduation. No, that is not LW’s fault or problem to solve.

    Not graduating is a foreseeable consequence of not doing the coursework correctly. This student experiencing negative outcomes for their inaction is an example of the system working as intended.

    1. Lab Boss*

      +1. LW has already expressed some broad regret about not checking in with the student more proactively, so I’m guessing they’ll feel it hard if the student tries to blame LW for the consequences of the student’s actions.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This is my fear as well. This isn’t OP’s problem to fix, but I can see an “in over their head” student trying to dig out of a hole they made throwing any and everything out and blaming the OP in an attempt to get out of trouble.

      2. Esmeralda*

        And it’s not up to the LW to check in on the student. LW could have done that, but it’s not a reasonable expectation.

  20. Essess*

    I would send back a response that you will not sign the agreement paper since the student has not fulfilled their portion of the assignment. This is a contract that you are signing and she has not met the “and she agrees to regularly meet with me to obtain feedback and advice on her project” that she is asking you to attest to.

  21. LawBee*

    Minority opinion here, but I feel for the student. Yes, she was being thoughtless with OP’s time, and the frustration etc. is certainly warranted. I definitely would not recommend continuing with the mentor/mentee relationship – be free, OP.

    However, my first thought as I was reading was that the mentor was asking for a lot – checking the thesis, checking the opening paragraph, all of that doesn’t seem like mentor-level involvement as much as professor/academic advisor involvement. But I didn’t get the sense that OP and the student sat down and discussed what was actually feasible to come up with a project plan together as much as OP just laid down the terms. Multiple two-week deadlines just may not have been feasible if the student had other obligations, other classes, or if it just isn’t her work style.

    I suspect the student didn’t want a mentor to begin with, given how checked-out she’s been about the whole process. But it was a requirement, so she checked the box and was probably expecting a mentor who was more laid-back. I imagine she’s got a full class load, multiple assignments and syllabi to keep up with, whatever else is going on in her life, and now she has this mentor she didn’t even want who gave her impossible timelines that she’ll never meet. But the mentor isn’t her professor so, being young and still learning how the world works, she blew it off until it became something she couldn’t ignore.

    I guess what I’m saying is should OP decide to mentor again, a conversation about expectations would be good for both sides – as long as the student feels like they can be honest and say what won’t work for them.

    1. Anon all day*

      I think this is disingenuous. OP was extremely clear in their expectations during the first phone call. If the student didn’t want to follow that timeline and/or didn’t think it was necessary, it was on the student to say something or find a new mentor.

      1. KRM*

        Yes, this. If this was too much for the student or the project didn’t require it, they could have said “Hey, all we really need is your signoff review on X and Y, so maybe 30′ each time for you to give notes on a draft”. But given the nature of the contract as told in the letter and the fact that the student agreed to what OP said they could do, I’m with the OP on this one. They said what they needed to be able to fit this into their work schedule, the student agreed, and then the student disappeared and randomly reappeared with asks different to those laid out in the original agreement. The OP is not responsible for anything going on with the student, they are only responsible for what they agreed to. And I certainly would not sign the contract, I’d send it back with a note saying “I cannot sign this as it was not given to me at the onset and I do not feel we managed to meet any of the requirements in it.”

          1. pancakes*

            Whether it’s a minority opinion or not doesn’t have any bearing on whether it’s disingenuous. Those are two different characteristics. It is disingenuous to suggest that people who disagree with you on this don’t also feel for the student.

            “Multiple two-week deadlines just may not have been feasible if the student had other obligations, other classes, or if it just isn’t her work style.” Right, but who excused the student from communicating about any of this?

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              This is where I fall. If what OP was suggesting/offering was more than what the student could handle or needed then the offer from OP could have been a starting place fire a two way conversation about what the student needed or could handle. For whatever reason though, that’s not at all what happened here. Are there things the student could have done differently or better – absolutely. But from what the OP says they did/suggested/tried I don’t know how much more we want to put on their shoulders that what they already did.

          2. Lysine*

            And therefore people can’t respond to it? I don’t see how popularity is at all relevant.

        1. After 33 years ...*

          +100 If a student wants me to mentor / review / edit their work, this is what they will get. They are entitled to my best efforts to work with them to produce a timely product. That includes laying out a schedule.

          If they do not wish to work with me, and would prefer a rubber stamp, that is their privilege.

        2. Cj*

          What was in the agreement that the Opie was asked to sign makes it clear but it wasn’t as simple as 30 minutes of your time to review this.

          The two week intermittent deadlines also seem reasonable. Even with other classes, possibly a job, etc, it certainly shouldn’t take two weeks to write an introductory paragraph.

      2. New Mom*

        I think this is the thing too. It does sound like the OP wanted to be involved at a level that was more like a professor or academic advisor, however, they made that clear at the get-go. The student had an opportunity to listen, consider if that approach would work, and then agree or find someone else. What the OP described is what I did with my master’s advisor who was appointed by my university and was a professor from a similar but different course than my own.

    2. Meep*

      I am glad I m not the only one who thought that OP was being overbearing and that the student was just trying to check a ridiculous box for the sake of “real-life experience”. I see a lot of people claiming to be in academia railing on the student here and all I can think about is how when I had to interview 10 sales engineers via voice call for their feedback. All but one of them just wanted me to email the questions to them despite what the assignment said. The tenth was someone I already knew well enough. Was it in the spirit of the assignment? No. Was the assignment silly and a waste of time for everyone involved? YEP!

      I still got an A.

      1. giraffecat*

        I agree that the OP might be misunderstanding the role they were asked to fill, but it’s unclear. But, we are also asked to believe the OP and their understanding of the situation, so that’s probably why most commenters are assuming that what the OP is describing is accurate. My instincts would be that there is some miscommunication somewhere, either in how the student approached the OP or how the OP interpreted their role on the project, or maybe between the student and their academic research advisor on what the role of the external mentor should be. It’s probably something that could easily be resolved with a quick meeting or phone call between the three of them.

        1. Despachito*

          But it should be the primary responsibility of the student or their professor, not of the mentor, who is doing all of that for free and out of their good will.

      2. Casper Lives*

        The student should have chosen a different mentor than OP if she didn’t want to follow the process OP laid out. Or communicated to OP what the student wanted to see if OP agreed to it.

        The student going completely silent, asking for 2 day turnaround, and asking OP to sign a paper that should’ve been signed at the beginning shows the student’s immaturity.

        You’re absolving the student of a need to do any communication / fix a misunderstanding when a professional was generously offering her time for free. OP isn’t “overbearing”, but the student is immature and going to find her lack of communication will get her fired in the real world.

      3. Emily*

        It could very well be a ridiculous box, but then that’s between the department and the student — OP isn’t the one who created this requirement. The student is being entirely unreasonable to get materials in later than discussed, not communicate, and expect quick turnaround times. And if there was a mismatch between what OP laid out initially and what the student thought was reasonable, that was the time for her to say that and then find someone else to work with who was more in-line with her expectations. If you’re asking someone to volunteer their time for you, even if you think it’s dumb and unnecessary, you should treat them like you respect them and their time if you need them to check that box for you.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          This. It’s not the OP’s fault if the project is badly designed, and it’s not an excuse for the student to be inconsiderate.

      4. Butterfly Counter*

        Someone in academia here.

        Basically, then that should be communicated.

        “Oh, the assignment doesn’t need us to check in every few weeks. Basically, I’m just going to write an article and you can edit it with recommendations that I’ll incorporate for the final draft! So I’ll be in touch later this semester (give approximate date) with the article for you to look over. Would that fit with your schedule?”

        But with the multiple extensions asked for along with the forgotten contract, it sounds like the student wasn’t at all organized and is relying on OP to help pick up her slack.

        Maybe the assignment is BS. Maybe OP was responding the spirit the assignment intended but didn’t mesh with what the student could/would do. Either way, it’s not up to OP to help beyond what they’ve already done.

        1. After 33 years ...*

          Communication is necessary here, which is one reason why I would contact the professor. As described by OP, this doesn’t differ greatly from the numerous requests I get for reviewing and editing grad student work (although almost always from professors). It’s been a regular and critical part of my job for a long time.

          If I did get a letter such as, “Basically, I’m just going to write an article and you can edit it with recommendations that I’ll incorporate for the final draft!”, I would consider that as a clear communication. I would reply, “Thank you for writing. Unfortunately, I cannot assist you with this project. I wish you best of luck in your future studies.”

      5. pancakes*

        It’s really a bit much to suggest that people whose views on this are at odds with your own maybe aren’t actually in academia because of that.

        I don’t doubt that your assignment with sales engineers unfolded the way you say it did, and it makes sense that it unfolded that way. What doesn’t make sense is thinking the assignment here is similar. It doesn’t sound similar at all. It sounds as if the student hasn’t been communicating with the letter writer about a level of participation that would work for both of them, for a start. It doesn’t sound like you were missing deadlines, either.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I really think it’s then on the student to reply to the proposed timeline with what they think is a reasonable timeline.

      Maybe they only needed a review that would take a couple of hours of OP’s time–the way to communicate that to OP is to, you know, communicate it.

      Maybe the student’s image of how complex this ask was was comically low, and more communication with OP would have clarified that the student needed early feedback on the topic and the basic argument, or you wind up asking a pastry chef for their insights into your final beef stew recipe. Again, more communication is how you learn this–and the student dropped the communication ball, not OP.

    4. Asenath*

      Then why didn’t the student pull out when the mentor laid out the expectations? I’ve been a student, and, yes, in my early days I sometimes screwed up and didn’t follow through with what I had arranged. But to ask someone for this assistance, get a schedule, and then just not show? More than once? And bring up the essential paperwork right at the end? I don’t think at my worst and most stressed-out student periods, I’d have had the nerve to make such demands on a busy stranger; I’d have vanished instead. Not a recommended approach, I admit, but better than asking for feedback so late and with such short turnarounds. And if I were the mentor, I’d notify both the student and the professor that given the delays, my schedule is now such that I cannot give any more time to the project, and I’d shut it down then and there.

    5. alc1212*

      That’s where I lean, and I have experience from both sides of this situation. OP’s actions don’t excuse the student’s flakey behavior, but they’re just so bizarre it’s strange Allison didn’t address them.

      It appears in the student’s introductory meeting with the mentor, OP never asked the student about the mentorship program OP was agreeing to? OP instead decided to dictate the terms of the mentorship without ever gaining knowledge of its purpose, and unilaterally demanded full authorial control of this student’s original work? And the end of that phone call, I too would be very hesitant giving OP the mentor agreement and binding them to my academic career, particularly when that agreement deviates so profoundly from the mentor’s expectations, and (perhaps) I don’t have enough professional experience to know any better. OP isn’t acting like a mentor; OP is acting like a PI.

      I would not be surprised if the student decided to deal with the situation by ignoring OP and/or trying to find a mentor who wouldn’t go completely off the rails in their first interaction, only to finally give up and make things “official” by giving OP the belated mentor agreement.

      If the student were here I’d tell them they managed the situation badly, and help brainstorm on how to either deal with OP or find a better mentor. But the student is not here. So I’d instead ask OP what led them to believe the assistance they offered was reasonable, appropriate, or even helpful.

      I’m glad OP takes mentoring so seriously, and was so willing to put in a really hefty effort to help this student. But this is an absurd level of effort OP is offering, and even worse, the tasks OP burdened themselves with are likely a waste of time for both of them. OP should be answering practical questions, suggesting new ideas, and discussing high-level technical and practical aspects relevant to the project, because that’s the resource OP can best deliver, and (perhaps as importantly) something a mentor is much less likely to burn out on.

      1. lemon*

        Yes, I can definitely see this side of things, too. I remember being a student and it felt like everyone wanted to control me, in some way, under the guise of “helping” or looking out for my best interests. Trying to please all the different, conflicting people dictating what I should write, where I should apply, where I should publish, if I should publish, what events I should go to, what I should think was exhausting. The student definitely handled things unprofessionally and should have communicated better. But… I have a lot of empathy.

      2. OP*

        Thank you for your opinion on the issue. To answer your question, “So I’d instead ask OP what led them to believe the assistance they offered was reasonable, appropriate, or even helpful”… because I had to do what the student did when I was in training, and so I understand well what is expected of these types of projects.

        When I ultimately got the mentor-mentee agreement, everything that was outlined was just as time-costly as I assumed it would be from the beginning, based on my experience in my field. So everything that I was offering is not as overbearing as you and a couple of commenters seem to be perceiving my actions as. I promise you that this is very normal for this type of project in my line of work.

        I didn’t include a lot more details in my letter as it was long enough, but you are right that I should have helped with answering practical questions, suggesting ideas, etc. The issue is that the student never communicated with me early enough so that I could even get to that point. I wanted her to follow up with me as she came up with her thesis statement, abstract, etc, so I could guide her and confirm that what she was doing would have real-life application. Unfortunately, the only times I received communication from her was when she would inform me of the extensions she had or of full drafts of her paper already. At that point, there’s not much that I can do to advise nor attempt to suggest new ideas or other approaches to her project.

    6. Language Lover*

      Given that the student contacted the mentor at the beginning of the project, which had multiple parts and was set to take six months, I think the OP had a good sense of what would be required.

      If all they wanted was someone to read their paper once it was completed, the OP wouldn’t be called a mentor and probably would have been contacted closer to when the paper was actually completed.

      Even before the OP got the contract saying that they did what they were supposed to do, those were context clues that made me think they were doing exactly what was hoped for.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        Yes, exactly.

        I don’t doubt the student went into this with good intentions. But with other things going on, they thought they could cut corners with this assignment, but it’s really hard to do when there are other people involved in that assignment who aren’t as willing to cut corners. Which is why communication didn’t happen: students often have magical thinking that ignoring an assignment (especially one that involves other people) will work itself out without them, you know, doing any work on it.

        Case in point: I had a semester-long writing project in a class. I work with students to turn in the assignment in stages and drafts throughout the semester. One student kept asking for extensions and wouldn’t turn in the assignments and drafts. I finally said she could have an extension and she turned in… not the assignment I had asked for. Like, I had asked for a 10 page essay regarding a short story with 10 peer reviewed articles to back up assertions students could make about the story. I got a 3 page essay with zero peer reviewed journal articles talking about life in general and never once mentioned the story.

        And this was with a full 3 week extension. Reading that essay was as close as I’ve gotten so far to quitting my job.

    7. fhqwhgads*

      It sounds like OP has been in the student’s shoes before though. They know the field. They’ve done this kind of project from the student side and the mentor side. So I’d assume what they laid out is totally normal in this context that the OP has experience with. Especially given the form-thing OP got last minute, that seems to confirm OP’s read on the sitch was accurate since it describes a lot of involvement.
      Also what OP did at the outset WAS a conversation about expectations?

  22. Justin*

    She’s an adult. She probably has stuff going on but it’s not your responsibility to resolve that. You’ve done as much as could be asked and you should respect your time.

  23. Lab Boss*

    OP, this line jumped out at me: “For my part, I probably should have reached out to her more regularly”

    That might be true IF at the very beginning the student had been shown and signed the paper “acknowledging this mentor-mentee relationship and which has verbiage that essentially boils down to that I agree to committing to help this student with her project and she agrees to regularly meet with me to obtain feedback and advice on her project.” In that case you’d have fully realized the scope of what you were agreeing to, and committed yourself to that degree of assistance. You had no way to know exactly what the student (and apparently her program) were expecting of you, and you can’t hold yourself post-hoc to the level of responsibility you would have taken on by signing the paper six months ago.

    You’d be fully within your rights to tell the student “I told you what you needed to help you and when I needed it, and you didn’t give it to me in time, so at this point there’s nothing more I can do.” You could soften that with an offer to review and comment on their paper, which would be a kindness, but be clear that you can’t sign something agreeing to do what you didn’t do.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Also . . . no. This is a graduate student, not a college sophomore. Graduate school assumes you’re old enough, academically experienced enough, and motivated enough (since you’re choosing yet more school) to manage this kind of thing on your own.

      1. Prof Ma'am*

        You do need to be a little careful with comments like that. There are undergraduate and graduate students who come from a wide variety of backgrounds and sometimes what is an expected norm is something that they don’t know, to no fault of their own. They just never had the prior experience/mentorship/role model to build off of (I say this as a college professor).

        That being said, OP made is VERY clear that the student needs to set a timeline with small bite deadlines. She didn’t need to come up with that on her own, she just failed to follow through with the agreed plan. In this case I think OP did right by not reaching out for earlier updates.

        1. Lab Boss*

          I might not have been clear in my comment, I think OP definitely handled this right! If OP had signed an agreement committing to an in-depth relationship, it might have been more appropriate to at least check in once when the student went radio silent. Not hand-holding, but at least a check.

    2. Liz T*

      Agreed! If anything, OP’s mistake was reaching out ever again.

      That’s a very hardline attitude, of course. But I’ve been in the role of responding to a request for professional advice/help by sending a thorough, detailed email that took a bunch of time to write…only to get no response whatsoever, not even a “thanks!” That’s a situation where you shrug and move on with your life, not set a reminder to pour MORE energy into someone who hasn’t done the bare minimum to help themselves.

      1. Despachito*

        Yes, this is what I think as well.

        And it is better for the student to learn this earlier than later – you cannot expect strangers to pick up your slack at your beck and call.

  24. likeafire*

    I’m experiencing something similar on a much smaller scale. I sometimes get informational interview and similar requests from folks trying to break into my industry. I can’t agree to all of them, so try to meet with those who seem like they’ve done some background research and are somewhat familiar with my specialty. I recently replied to someone’s written interview questions, which took a substantial amount of time, but never heard back with a thank you, or that they received them at all. Then, several weeks later, they sent me another request, this time to review and edit several articles they wrote for another company! I know they are likely new to the professional world, but I’m trying to figure out the best way to politely say that they need to 1) thank folks who provide them with unpaid labor, and 2) asking someone to provide editing services for their work with another company, for free, is not reasonable.

    1. Water Everywhere*

      For the editing request I’d be very tempted to reply with my (exorbitant for this purpose) consulting fee.
      A better option and possible learning opportunity for the new professional might simply be to reply with the end of your last line; “Asking someone to provide editing services for their work with another company, for free, is not reasonable in our industry.”

    2. Doobeedoo*

      It concerns me how many people (like the one you helped) are so grossly entitled! I think I’ve experienced too many takers in my own life lately, but your story of this outrageous follow-up request made me feel a little ragey. I feel you would be doing a service to yourself, and the entire world, to let that entitled person know that’s not how things work!

  25. Lysine*

    Do not sign ANY contract that you know you have not/cannot fulfill and which you know the other party has not/cannot fulfill! Do no sign this student’s contract!

    While I think it is unlikely you would be in actual legal peril, that can’t be guaranteed based on the laws of where you live. All you are doing is opening yourself up to potential legal liability and potentially a negative mark on your professional reputation for no benefit. Don’t do it.

  26. Anon (and on and on)*

    I keep coming back to the contract and the fact that it doesn’t describe what either of you did. My inclination would be to email the student a polite but factual response saying that you don’t feel comfortable signing it and because of that are unsure if it makes sense to proceed in the relationship. I would email the student and CC your contact at the program (professor?) so that everyone is on the same page. Effectively, it sounds like the student completed her project without the mentorship component, aside from your notes on one draft. It’s up to her program to decide how to handle it (make her start over next semester or, my guess, pass her with a lower grade).

  27. Tess*

    I ran into very similar issues when agreeing to review and provide editorial feedback on a graduate student project as a paid freelance editor. Client was a friend of a friend; I set it up to be a small manageable side project. The spotty communication, non-adherence to agreed-upon planning/chunking of work, and desperate call for last-minute bailing out were really stressful and not worth the money. I completed the work out of some combo of professionalism and altruism but would never take on anything similar again. You’re not getting paid? Time to politely bail.

  28. Student*

    She is doing some exercise that she’s required to do to graduate. Given her approach, she probably doesn’t find the exercise to be particularly useful, applicable to the rest of her research, or high priority given the other requirements of her graduate program. She tried to scam her way through a grad-degree hurdle and failed.

    For some context, in my own grad program, scamming your way through as many of the degree requirements as possible was a time-honored tradition, so in my field this would be considered quite normal.

    You can’t value this paper/project more than the student does. Let it drop. If you want to be helpful, bluntly explaining why this isn’t going to work would probably be a favor – one that she won’t thank you for, but it might teach her to approach this differently with whatever mentor she finds next.

    I don’t think talking with the professor is likely to help matters as-is, but if you intended to stay on the project with the grad student or try working with another one in the future, then you should always ask for a meeting with grad student & professor early on in the process to make sure everyone is on the same page about expectations and goals.

    1. Trixie*

      If I found out that graduates of a particular program were scamming their way through as many degree requirements as possible, I would never hire anyone from that school.

      You might think that this “time honored tradition” is amusing, but as a potential employer, I would find it anything but.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I would take this comment with a big pinch of salt. What many students consider “scamming”, many employers consider “working efficiently and re-purposing existing resources rather than re-inventing the wheel”. It is entirely possible that this is a not eg. a bunch of engineers graduating without being able to do basic maths, but a programme which is well-designed to reproduce the pressures and efficiencies of the workplace.

    2. Cj*

      If the student had given the OP the contract at the very beginning like they were supposed to, the OP would have known what the expectations and goals were.

      Although they didn’t have the contract, and had no way of knowing it even existed, the OP did lay out expectations and goals to the student. Which the student totally ignored.

  29. Butterfly Counter*

    I swear, this could be any number of my students.

    I teach and part of my service dedicated to my department is to take on mentoring students with their individual projects (essays, theses, independent studies, etc.). So even though helping students like yours is very much a part of the job I agreed to do, I still have boundaries and consequences if things aren’t done.

    For me, I have hundreds of students that I am taking care of in various ways over the school year. The chances that I will remember that X Student has a deadline coming up for their essay is slim-to-none. Therefore, I tell students that if they want my mentorship, they have to be the ones reaching out to me in a timely basis. For them, that could be whatever they need. Some students need a biweekly edit of the essay they’re working on. Others need my input the week before it is due. But it is on the student to know themselves well enough to know what they need and what the assignment requires of both of us in order to do it correctly. If a deadline goes by and a student complains that I didn’t help them remember, or keep them on task, I’ll remind them that the first thing I said to them is that they have to remind ME that we’re doing this or else they’ll get lost in the flood of emails I have every semester.

    Basically, OP, you’re not being unreasonable at all. You can proceed however you want to here. Your conscience is clean. If you want to say that you’ve done all you can, you might try one more email that asks exactly what they need from you and when in order to fulfill the assignment. If the answer is they need 6 months of mentoring, you can let them know that ship has passed because they were not proactive enough for you to help. But if all they need is a paper edit and some advice, and it’s something that is not too onerous on you to give, you might consider it.

    Basically, no matter what you do at this point, they’re almost 100% likely to fail this assignment. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this a dozen times. You’ve done all you could. They’re sinking on their own and you were available with lifeline after lifeline that they ignored until it was too late.

  30. ZSD*

    One of the saddest consequences of this is that the student has poisoned the well for future students. I used to administer a master’s program, and some students got professors from outside the department to chair their thesis. Many of our students were great, but some were chronically late with their work/unmotivated/lazy. Outside professors whose first experience with our department involved working with one of those chronically late students (understandably) wouldn’t want to work with any of our students again. The first poor experience made them assume that the rest of our students would perform just as poorly.

    1. OP*

      I really hate to agree with you, but I am going to be terribly gun-shy about agreeing to do this in the future. It’s a terrible shame because I was helped so much when I was in the student’s shoes a few years ago, but this has not been a pleasant experience for me.

      1. After 33 years ...*

        Dear OP:
        I feel your frustration. It’s not pleasant to have to deal with this.
        You’ve done everything appropriately. Whatever this student’s issues are, it’s up to the professor and department to address those, to work with the student to see if there’s a resolution (repeat the course, alternate assignment…).
        You’re right to be cautious (“once bitten, twice shy”), but there could be other students who will benefit as you did. Sometimes, we as profs overly focus on a few students, and forget our classes as a whole.
        The next time you’re asked, if you’re willing, set out the same clear pattern of expectations and support, and see what the response is.
        Best wishes!

      2. Gan Ainm*

        This might be a reason to err on the side of emailing the professor / advisor (whoever contacted you previously) and explain the situation and effect it’s had on your. Perhaps in the future you might be willing to support only for top students/ conscientious and reliable students, that the professor recommends to you, or something like that.

        1. blood orange*

          I was going to say something similar. It’s tough because there’s an element of throwing the student under the bus, but I definitely think OP can frame it in such a way that it might help future students while not being overly harsh with this student.

          If you decide that’s the best call, I’d frame it that you really believe in these engagements, but they would be more effective all around if students are given more guidance from the program on what the “rules of engagement” are. Much like new professionals in the workforce, these students just haven’t learned how to navigate professional contacts. Hopefully that would be a middle-ground where the school is providing the guidance and teaching to set students up for success, while professionals like OP here give the guidance described in the agreement.

      3. Santiago*

        I would not work with that program, potentially, but perhaps with another one. As someone who has taught high school and college, there were many control valves that the college could have placed on this project to protect your time. (I would have had the signed agreement turned in the first month, an outline halfway, etc simply due to the time commitment you were placing into it.)

  31. HAL9K*

    As a former graduate student and someone who now works at an university, it sometimes helps to remember that a lot of students have a “It can’t hurt to ask” mentality. As in, “It can’t hurt to ask OP to turn the draft around in 2 days.”

    Students, even grad students, are often still learning to accept responsibility for things. Real example: waiting until midnight the night before a paper was due to start writing, emailing me with questions at 2am, and then whining that I didn’t help them and they should get an extension because it’s my fault they couldn’t complete the assignment. Obviously, not all students are like this. But they’re young and they’re still learning how the world works, including the importance of respecting people’s time. It’s okay to say things like “I can’t give you feedback in 2 days. I will need a week.” Or “I was able to assist you 6 months ago, but it’s now my busy season and I’m no longer able to support you.” It helps the student learn professional norms, even if they complain at the time that it’s “not fair.”

  32. Prof Ma'am*

    Being on the academic side of this (college professor) I completely resonate with your hesitation to say no. I’m sure you’re thinking “if I say no she’s going to get a poor grade or possibly fail and I hate being a part of that”. What has helped me is to remember that I’m not assigning an F, they earned it. In your case, what she’s “earning” is a mentor that no longer is willing to work with her. You didn’t cause this outcome, she did.

  33. Olivia*

    As someone with ADHD, I don’t find this level of procrastination, time-crunch panic, and extension-seeking surprising, and I’m inclined to feel bad for the student because some of this behavior is exactly what I did when I had an undiagnosed disability and had no idea what to do to mitigate it. So I’m really glad that Alison mentioned that it could be caused by health problems or something else that would be deserving of sympathy. (I also realize that it’s totally possible that none of those situations apply to this student.)

    But when I was failing a couple of college classes because I could not figure out how to break things down into small chunks like the OP suggested, and when I was asking for extensions and crossing all my fingers that I’d get them, I was not taking other people’s help for granted, and I wasn’t disrespecting other people’s time. I was apologetic that I was not fulfilling what were normal expectations. And that’s what rubs me the wrong way here, that the student doesn’t seem apologetic or to be acknowledging that she’s making a big ask, and then doing it multiple times. And she’s asking the OP to sign something she knows would be lying? Come on. She is just coming off as really blasé and like she’s taking this person’s help for granted. And this is grad school–you’re supposed to take it rather seriously, right? There’s been so many letters about clueless grad students, and some of that cluelessness is understandable, but this person seems to have no awareness of how imposing she’s being, and on a person who works a ton of hours no less! She’s trying to make her poor planning into someone else’s emergency, with no regard for how fulfilling her request of tight turn-around times could mean the OP not being able to take care of her own needs or her own family.

    At first I thought telling the professor was a bad idea because you don’t need to get the student in trouble. But now I’m leaning in favor of it because the professor is the one in a position to help them understand that this isn’t how the world works and that it will hurt their chances of getting their degree if they keep doing this. It might result in them failing the class, but even in doing that it could put them back on the right track. Regardless of the reason for the student’s lack of progress, the OP doesn’t owe them indefinite help, and it’s totally reasonable to say that they can’t help them anymore. If it were me, and if I decided that I still wanted to help them a little, I would level with them about the lack of communication being a big problem and point out what Alison said about how you said you could help with x on some conditions, and they’re asking for x, y, and z and ignoring your conditions, and that asking for a two-day turn around time is unreasonable and makes it seem like they aren’t respecting your time. I would tell the student exactly what help you can still offer them, and that this is the last time. And if this kind of thing happened again, I would definitely tell the professor and I’d definitely be done with it at that point.

    Also, asking someone else to edit and correct your paper sounds like something we did in high school, not something we asked of professionals in college, though students would do it for each other. I got a BA and didn’t go to grad school, but that sounds weird to me. I was happy to help my classmates with their French papers. It would have been weird for them to ask for that level of help from a professional, unless it was their professor during office hours. It just doesn’t sound very independent.

    1. OP*

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write out your thoughts. I really appreciate it.

      1. Olivia*

        You’re very welcome! I know I talk too much sometimes so this kind of feedback is very reassuring. :)

        1. Hark! A Squirrell*

          The site has eaten two of my previous comments, just wanted to say as another ADHDer with similar struggles, thank you for reminding me I’m not alone out here!

        2. Hark! A Squirrell*

          Okay, since the one above went through, I’ll add real quick that I had almost the exact same thoughts reading this letter. It’s hard to accept that some things are just going to be harder for me than they are for most people for my entire life. Still, if I was in this student’s situation, I would want to know, so at least I could learn from the experience and do better next time. Many spoons to you :)

    2. Hark! A Squirrell*

      This is almost the exact same response I had! I’m experiencing some kinds of emotions from seeing all the others with ADHD in the commentariat today. Sometimes it really feels like you’re the only one in the world who’s so uniquely bad at fucking up, and it’s always a comfort to remember that you’re not. Thanks for your comment :)

  34. Nomic*

    I’m going to tentatively disagree with not notifying the Professor. A couple reasons:

    The student appears to need clearer guidance and a stronger hand. This shouldn’t come from you, it should come from her adviser. They can’t help if they don’t know. (I didn’t complete my grad degree in small part because my prof just let me piddle along until I lost interest. Would a stronger hand had helped, who knows?).

    If the student is the type to blame others, you’re the obvious target. If you want to be know to a someone willing to mentor students, then you don’t deserve the reputation damage this one student could inflict.

    1. AnotherSarah*

      I agree. I’m a prof and would want to know this. (I also wouldn’t create this kind of assignment!) It’s important that the professor knows what happened. Essentially, you, OP, have been dealing with what profs deal with all the time (MIA students), and if you’ve been a kind of ersatz prof for this student, the real prof needs to know.

    2. Butterfly Counter*

      Also, this might let the professor know that a project where students take up the time of non-teaching professionals isn’t a great idea.

  35. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    As someone else who works at a university, we all seem to have a student-focused, “do everything to help the students graduate!” mentality (some more than others to be sure). At least my administration emphasizes that if not for them, we don’t have jobs. But that shifts significantly once they leave, and this will be a good lesson for the student. The OP is NOT here to do everything to help her graduate; that’s her responsibility.

  36. Christmas850*

    When I was in grad school, four of us had to work together for a research project… But the fourth member disappeared. She never even began her section of the project. Aside from the initial conversation where she agreed to work on her section, she stopped replying to all of us. Totally ghosted us.

    As it started to get closer to the deadline, we decided to reach out to the professor and let her know that this group member had completely left us hanging. The project grade was going to be weighted heavily, and we didn’t want to risk taking a hit to our overall class grades.

    The professor ended up reaching out to the student, and she finally replied (only to her) with a tearjerker about how she was too busy working part-time in addition to going to grad school. Guess what… so were most of us!

    Thankfully we weren’t consequented for her missing quarter of the project. evidently she was given a separate individual research assignment… With the highest possible grade being a 70%.

    I feel like the student mentioned in the letter just struggles with procrastination and was going to try to get away with doing as little as possible.

  37. bamcheeks*

    I had a similar situation this year, albeit with an undergraduate rather than a graduate. I work in a university on the student-employer interface side, so I’m familiar with the processes from the university side to. My student didn’t disappear, but the gaps between what he said he would do and what he actually did just extended and extended, and it also became clear that he was working on a different weekly timetable to me. (He tended to check his email and work on the project at weekends; I would expect him to get back to me between Mon-Fri 9-5; and there were things I needed to get my boss’s approval/sign off from too. We lost several weeks that way.) I eventually emailed his course tutor to say I had concerns about whether we’d meet the deadline because we hadn’t even started the data collection yet, and she got back to me to say I’d done everything reasonable. And eventually he just ghosted on me and I don’t know whether he passed or failed the module.

    In the future, I would set clearer expectations around communication and timescales, but it wasn’t my job to know that in advance, nor to care more about the project than he did. Whether you want to contact the tutor and let them know is up to you, OP– personally, I would contact them if their name and email address are easy to find (if they’re on the sheet or any of the information the student sent you, for example), but I wouldn’t spend time digging around looking for them or anything like that. You have fulfilled your responsibilities, and the student will hopefully learn what they need to from this project whether or not they pass it.

  38. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    Oh wow! Yes if you are a grad student the onus is 100% on the student to lay out the timetable and meet deadlines (or communicate changes to the schedule) so as not to create last minute cram sessions.
    To not do so is disrespectful of your time and offer to help mentor them.

  39. Sassy V*

    From academia — I work with undergrads on a very similar type of project who sometimes work with people outside the University when applicable (but are also required to have a University mentor too). The paperwork is likely less about binding you and more about the student commiting to a plan (which means it’s way overdue) — that said, if you want out, and it sounds like you do, with good reason, now is definitely the time to do it. I agree with others that the student is likely struggling with something, but I also have seen plenty of students who, no matter how frequently or emphatically we tell them how this kind of relationship should work, they can’t make the transition to project managing on their own. You’re certainly not alone in experiencing this, and I also would encourage you to let the professor know. That will allow them to know the student needs more support; it’s not about getting them in trouble or similar. And hold firm in directing the student back to their department or faculty advisor when/if they say something like “but what will I do now?” You do them no favors by letting this cycle go on, regardless of what challenges the student is facing. The lesson about learning how to handle deadlines needs to be learned now or we’ll be talking about this person as the colleague who does this same thing in a couple of years.

    1. Adultier adult*

      Yes! I am a professor who works with students like this—- let them know— in this situation, it is appropriate!

  40. John*

    This student has squandered the good will you showed them.

    They are seriously taking advantage; this is their priority, not yours, and yet they are demanding unrealistic turnaround times.

    You can give them a chance to get with the program, but it seems like they’re incapable of it.

    This isn’t your problem. This person doesn’t deserve your commitment to this.

  41. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    In grad school, I did a practicum placement in a non-profit agency (but was very cognizant that my prac supervisor was doing me a solid) and other students did theirs in other non-academic settings. My aunt, who used to be a social worker, often had practicum students she was supervising, which I doubt she got paid for. So it does happen.

    I’d imagine that the prof in this scenario would want to know what the experience was like for you, OP. The prof and/or department probably want to be sure that they develop/maintain positive relationships with the people doing work in their field, particularly if they want to continue doing this type of assignment that relies on the good will of professionals. In grad school, there was definitely a message of “these people are volunteering their time, so be cool, and also don’t embarrass us/ruin this for future students.”

  42. kiki*

    LW, I think it can be really hard to let somebody fail when you’re conscientious and know how expensive and difficult graduate school can be. But sometimes failure is the way somebody learns a lesson BEFORE it becomes an even bigger deal. Sometimes it’s a kindness to be honest about why you are no longer willing to help so this student can carry that lesson forward with them. They were supposed to take the lead on this project; it was never your responsibility to do that. The student had 6 months to get this project on track and they did not. You don’t know the exact reasons, but that’s not your responsibility. This is between LW and their professor.

  43. Esmeralda*

    Let her professor know as well. If I were you, I’d cc your message to her, and state in the email that you have cc’d the professor.

    Especially in graduate school, the onus is on the student to do just what you asked: set deadlines, work on the project in the proper order, and learn from the mentoring relationship.

    Since she did not do any of what you required, and in fact were not able to provide mentorign because *the student* did not follow through, you should not sign that paper, you should send an email explaining why you are not signing it, and you should cc the professor.

    The student did not complete the requirements of the *graduate level* course.

    Now, I understand that there can be all kinds of reasons, some of them very good reasons, for not having completed the reqts of a course. But that doesn’t mean, pretend the reqts were met. Nope, it means explaining in kind tone and very clearly, why it would be unethical and unprofessional for you to sign that paper — you would be lying, and you would be offering your own professional reputation as guarantee that the student completed all parts of the project.

    The student’s professor or program can offer other alternatives to the student if they feel it’s warranted (retake the class, redo the project correctly and completely — heck, they might be able to waiver the class) –that’s not up to you. You can’t make that decision for the grad program.

  44. bamcheeks*

    Would love an update from “should i go to law school if i don’t want to practise law” OP in the “You May Also Like” section!

  45. Contracts Killer*

    “When you agree to give someone something significant for free and they show they don’t value it, you don’t need to continue offering it.” I think this is excellent career and life advice in general.

  46. Emdash*

    As someone who has gone through and completed two graduate degree programs, the student in the letter is being unfair and unreasonable to the OP. Even if she does have legitimate extenuating circumstances that necessitated an extension, from the letter the student has not been timely, proactive or responsible. Asking a working profession to read and edit a a paper (presuming it is a thesis and therefore long and involved) in two days is not okay. Grad programs do not hold student’s hands and I am appalled at how the student is treating the OP—as though they are an editing service or academic support help. Alison’s advice is spot-on. I really feel for the OP. Also while I know every grad department varies, I am surprised the institution is granting the student so many extensions. A lot of programs will maybe grant one for a massive event—say, a death of a spouse or child; serious illness or something cataclysmic, but I am surprised there is not much accountability or consequences for the student. I’m sorry OP: your generosity and good will has been taken advantage of.

  47. eeeek*

    University Administrator, here. With a fair amount of contact with students who are going off the rails. OP, you have been more than patient with this student, who has unfortunately abused your patience. I’m so sorry, for you and for her.
    1. I do hope you will continue to be open to mentoring students; real world, non-academic experience is invaluable to students. But I also hope this experience will translate to setting firm boundaries and deadlines. As in, “I’m happy to engage in this mentoring relationship. Your institution probably has a mentoring agreement that we need to sign; it should include clear milestones and deadlines. I will ask you to identify those in an initial draft, which you will need to send to me by so we can iterate before we both sign it. If I don’t hear from you by I will assume we’re not moving forward. Also, if we do move forward, I will expect that we report regularly to your academic supervisor/internship coordinator.” Or something like that.
    2. With this student, there may be other stuff going on – from simply trying to take advantage of you, to trying to skate on requirements, to being overwhelmed with work/life/pandemic, to not liking the color blue on Thursdays, to being underprepared and failing. You don’t know, and it’s not your job to fix any of that mess. But it would be a kindness to contact the student and the academic supervisor to note that, unfortunately, the mentoring relationship has not proceeded as you envisioned when you agreed and seems to be well past the timeframe to which you initially agreed. State clearly that the student did not follow through on setting milestones and meeting deadlines. Note that you only recently received the mentoring agreement, which would have provided an opportunity for articulating expectations and milestones – and, sadly, you are not in a position now to negotiate those. Express your feelings of disappointment that the student seems to view your relationship as one where you “edit” her work, because – importantly – a “mentor” is not merely an “editor”. Mentors provide guidance and feedback throughout a process – not free editorial services. In other words, her academic supervisor should know about this egregious misunderstanding, so they can correct it if they can. (This is a teachable moment, and the role of the academic supervisor.)
    3. Finally, those mentoring agreements are used to clearly articulate expectations. You are right to think you shouldn’t sign the agreement the student gave you because the relationship described in it did not occur. But also, you should not sign any contract ex post facto (I am not a lawyer, but really – this is a bad idea). You might acknowledge that you know this puts her in a difficult position, and offer to meet with her and her academic supervisor to discuss how best to salvage the situation. Perhaps you can come to a new agreement, for the future, on an accelerated time frame (if you’re willing to do that).
    4. As has been noted above, the student is earning this consequence. There may be all kinds of reasons for how things have played out – but part of what they’re also learning is how to deal with their professional lives. They need to figure out how to cope with the work portfolio they’re creating.

    This is the sort of thing that hits my desk and makes me want to bang my head.

    1. RosyGlasses*

      Love this reply and also can feel empathy for someone that doesn’t like the color blue on Thursdays. :-)

    2. Internship Admin*

      Yes yes to all of this! And especially as the university connection I’d 100% want to know what’s going on as early as possible to see if it can be coached or fixed. We appreciate the time and energy that goes into mentoring and never want our students to abuse that.

  48. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    OP, you have a very good and generous heart. The student asked you for mentorship with no explanation of what that meant. You said yes, responded with your requirements, which was mentorship in itself: guidance on how to break down a project. Further mentorship could have been guidance on further questions to explore in the research, after the student shared early work. Mentorship is not asking you to edit (or copy edit) a paper draft. That is actually an inappropriate thing to ask you to do.
    The professor also failed in not specifying goals or parameters for the mentorship, unless the prof did do that and the student failed to communicate that to you.
    As a former college writing prof, I encourage you to respond to the teacher. If I was the teacher, I would want to know.

  49. help with writing*

    I’ve been in this situation as someone who used to offer writing help even though it wasn’t my primary job. I feel for students because they’re often juggling all their classes, work, and other priorities so they fit school in when they can.
    But when they wanted or needed outside feedback on writing, I often felt like they thought I was just waiting around to give them that feedback and didn’t have other responsibilities. I had to explain that I couldn’t read a 20-page paper that was due at midnight at the drop of a hat.

    It’s very hard to set boundaries because we want to help. It’s why we say yes to these things. If you ever decide to do this again, I think you should both talk about your expectations and what will happen if they miss check-ins. It’s not your job to keep their feet to the fire. Meeting deadlines are between the instructor and the student. You’re doing the student and the program a favor. Your deadlines can be about your boundaries. You can decide the consequences related to your participation. If they miss a check-in related to writing an abstract, maybe you let them know you can’t provide feedback for that section. If they turn in the paper 2 days before it’s due, tell them you’re only going to be able to look at a certain percentage of the paper if you can. If they give you a paper during a week when you’re not available, then you’re not available.

    I have to admit that I’m surprised they are trying to get you to sign the contract now. In the past, when I’ve had an assignment where I have to establish a connection outside of my class, that kind of contract would have been required by a certain date before I could go forward. You don’t have to sign it. Or if you did, you could date it on the day you do sign it.

  50. Persephone*

    I suspect the form is more a formality to help protect the student(s) in potential plagiarism cases. This would be a formal record of assistance from a mentor, and therefore gives leeway in how much of the work is their own. OP should ask the advisor about the form in relation to this situation.

    I absolutely feel for the student because that’s me with my anxiety/ADHD/ASD unmanaged. She wouldn’t have been able to get two extensions without valid reasoning. HOWEVER, that’s not OP’s responsibility.

  51. Lysine*

    I’ve been in this student’s shoes (to a lesser degree) and for that reason I really think you need to tell her professor about this quagmire. I screwed up due to immaturity/adhd and I had to suffer the consequences. It sucked in the moment. It sucked a lot, but it was also necessary for me to finally get it into my head that I needed to figure out other ways to succeed in the professional world (whether that meant making schedules/seeing a counselor/getting medication/ etc.) because what I was doing wasn’t working. Maybe this was just omitted for brevity, but I also note that this student doesn’t even seem sorry about how they’re wasting your time which makes me concerned that she doesn’t even know how badly she messed up. Allowing someone to experience the consequences of their actions is valuable feedback on whether what you’re doing is working.

    If you soft ball this student on this issue then it’s more likely she’ll enter the workforce thinking her behavior is ok. In the long run it really doesn’t help her to insulate her from the consequences of her actions. Again, I say this as someone who has had to definitely take some lumps for a few f*** ups in my youth.

  52. Bazza7*

    Confirm they’re still doing course, contact teacher if you want. Fill in form, take copy for yourself and send original back to them, letting them know mentoring is over. I only mention the form, because there is probably students doing everything right but are having trouble getting form completed and returned, and appears a requirement of the course.

  53. Retired College Prof*

    What’s the saying… “Failure to plan on your part doe snot constitute an emergency on my part?” You’re not doing her any favors by bending over backwards and stressing yourself out trying to accommodate her lack of attention to this project. I agree with eeeeek 100%.

  54. mego*

    I’m a professor now, but this 100% could have been me. And I mean the grad student, not the LW. I have ADHD and this is the very hardest part of it for me. (The only difference is that I wouldn’t have expected LW to do this last minute work for me, but I might have screwed my courage to the sticking place and asked.)

    And Allison is completely right. It would have been totally in the wrong, and LW would have been very much entitled to drop the whole thing.

    1. hmmm*

      I’m curious how you have handled similar situations in the past. You seem to know your strengths and weaknesses.

    2. Hark! A Squirrell*

      Yes!! I said pretty much the same below, but I couldn’t cut it down below novella length :}

  55. K Fearon*

    I would take into account that this student on a professional training programme has now been granted two extensions, which aren’t handed out without good reason backed up with evidence. Huge sympathy with the OP for having to manage her very annoying and inconsiderate behaviour, but I suspect there are things going on which the OP is not aware of.

  56. Name Required*

    Whatever you choose to do OP, please be honest with the student first about how her behavior has impacted this relationship. It shouldn’t come out in a review to her professor at the end of the project if you haven’t told her plainly and directly first. If you are continuing to help politely and doing what she asks, she may have no idea where you stand.

  57. hmmm*

    I’d be tempted to speak with her professor. Not so much to “tattle” but to explain why in good faith you can not sign this paper. This is your reputation as well.

  58. Hark! A Squirrell*

    Late to the commentariat, but this post struck something in me, and I would like to get it off my chest for myself if for nobody else.

    I am the type of student that can be frustrating to work with for similar reasons. I have ADHD and have often struggled with managing deadlines and keeping in touch with people, especially in academic settings. I have forgotten exam dates, turned in half-completed assignments, and ignored emails for months on end. I deal with a lot of shame over my failures to meet standards than often seem easy to others. And as someone who’s frequently disappointed instructors and mentors, I can tell you that your conscience in this case is clear.

    This student either doesn’t respect your time and effort, or she is woefully unequipped for the norms of adult professional life; in either case, she has a lesson to learn here. She did not send you the agreement on time, meaning you did not know the requirements of the project until it should’ve been completed. She did not submit the outline you asked for, and she did not give you an explanation or an update. She requested an absurd turnaround time for editing her work, more than once. She did not give you any context for why she did not complete her end of the project. She did not apologize for her lack of communication.

    It can be hard to know, from the outside, if a person is making excuses or is truly struggling. As someone who has been in both places, this is almost certainly the former. The right thing to do, if she had wanted to course correct at any point, was for her to reach out, apologize, and explain how she wanted to proceed. At that point you could have given her another chance or told her you no longer wanted to work with her, and in her shoes I would have understood and accepted either outcome. But she has not taken any accountability for her actions (or really, her inactions) or acknowledged that she even dropped the ball.

    Whatever her problems with completing this project, they are hers to identify, and hers to fix. You’re not obligated to email her professor (although it wouldn’t be overstepping if you did), you’re not obligated to continue giving her feedback or support (it would be above and beyond if you did), and you’re certainly not obligated to sign off on her agreement. The support and/or education this student needs is not your responsibility to give.

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