It is in the best interests of advisers and graduate students that students graduate in a timely way and move on to another scientific (or other) adventure, but in some cases a 'timely way' means that a student leaves before completing all the things that need completing (i.e., papers). What to do?
It depends a lot on the (ex)student whether the post-graduation tying-up-of-loose-ends occurs efficiently, if at all. A common complaint of advisers is how difficult it is to get thesis-related papers completed and submitted after a student has moved on to another place or position. Here are the scenarios I have experienced:
- A student graduates with one or more unfinished papers but finishes them in a timely way and submits them. These students are exceptional and are therefore (by definition) the exception, alas.
- A student graduates with a few -- or maybe more than a few -- unfinished papers and needs to finish them (for their own career) but never seems to find the time. As adviser, I might be able to finish the papers if provided with the necessary material, but this only works if I have been closely involved in all stages of the research and if the ex-student is willing to relinquish some control over the paper(s). Lingering unfinished papers are a major problem for projects funded by an (ex)adviser's grant and cause a lot of stress for all concerned. In these cases, I need to get the papers out because I am ultimately responsible for the results of the research (grant), and my former students may also need the papers for their own career advancement, but my former students may have no time for 'old' projects now that they are working on new things.
A student graduates, leaves academia, and has no interest in writing papers. This is more clean-cut than the previous example, as it is clear that the ex-student will not be writing the paper(s), but this situation has its own challenges. For example, I am still limping along trying to finish some papers from grad students who got jobs, graduated, and left me to finish their paper(s). It is really hard to write a paper entirely for someone else, no matter how involved you were in the research. These were mostly MS students. I didn't want to delay their graduation and therefore their employment options, but there was no way the paper(s) were going to be completed before the student graduated. In some cases I have given up entirely and just let a project drop, unpublished, but in other cases I don't want to (or can't) do this.
If I refused to let my students graduate until all the essential papers were submitted, it would add years to the graduate program for some of them and they would run out of funding. I don't think that is a good option for anyone, no matter how many problems it causes for me, as adviser, as I tie up loose ends and try to get thesis-related papers finished and submitted.
If a student is out of funding and/or has a post-graduation job offer, they should leave as soon as they have completed a thesis that is deemed acceptable for the degree. Ideally, the thesis will consist of published and/or submitted manuscripts, but it is rare for the entire thesis to have reached this stage by the time a student departs.
This post probably sounds like a complaint -- and it sort of is -- but I also accept that this is just the way things are going to be with some (many) students and I need to find the best way to deal with it. I will still continue to encourage my students to graduate in a timely way, but I also hope I can find better ways to get manuscripts completed and submitted even when the students don't or can't help much with this.
9 years ago