I work in academia and recently got a student writing his bachelor thesis. While he was about two weeks late in contacting me (which was apparently normal according to my colleagues; he also explained to me that he was busy), he seems to read the papers I recommended carefully before contacting me.

My professor (my boss) asked me whether I consider that student as good. I just told her that the student seems to read papers carefully. Now I wonder whether I did it correctly.

In general, when my superior ask me about the impression of my new subordinate, should I emphasize the good aspect or the bad aspect? (Some people told me that I should emphasize bad aspect so that if that subordinate turns out to be an incompetent one (i.e. yielding bad results), I would not be the one to blame.)

Should I mention something that is already normal e.g. in my case, the student contacted me about two weeks late?

Would there be any cultural differences in dealing with this (I am in Germany)? Would the answer be different if I am in a non-academic field?

  • Is there anything competent or good about this student? If so, why didn't you tell your boss?
    – sf02
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 10:39
  • That is exactly what I did. So you think that I should emphasize the good aspect of the student as an initial impression.
    – Aqqqq
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 10:45
  • Academic stack surely?
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Oct 25, 2020 at 6:06
  • This sounds like a question that might be better asked on academia.stackexchange.com Commented Oct 25, 2020 at 11:01

2 Answers 2


Simple answer: Don't lie, or try to hide anything, or highlight one quality (or lack thereof) over the other.

Basically you're being asked to provide a feedback: be honest about it. A feedback is not only good or only bad - the target is to both improve the shortcomings, while appreciating the achievement.

Rule of thumb:If you're not ready with the background, do not provide any feedback. take some time to think about their achievements so far, and of their achievements differs from the expectations, think about what stops them from achieving the desired outcome. Then, provide acknowledgement of the accomplishments, feedback on the shortcomings and some suggestions to overcome them.

TL;DR- Don't only criticize, make a feedback balanced, and whenever you point out imperfections, offer support to overcome the limitations which are causing them.

  • Do you think I should mention to the professor that the student contacted me about 2 weeks late? (Although seems to be normal according to my colleagues.)
    – Aqqqq
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 13:25

Good feedback consists of acknowledging what someone does well (to reinforce) and critical feedback to help improve areas. Feedback should NEVER be used to cover your backside. If your subordinate is not currently working out, why? How can they change and improve to have a productive academic career? What might be stopping them achieving those things? If they are working out, then great, you're helping them grow into an even better student!

If something's so wrong it's not salvageable, then that's also covered as at least you've tried to help them get up-to-scratch. The honest, balanced, feedback will show that you are both fair and capable or proper assessment, so it won't look bad on you if the student doesn't yield good results.

Your colleagues advice seems pretty immature and is not only toxic, but they're risking the careers of others.

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