He does not expect one of his grad students to come to his office and stab him to death, but this happened yesterday to Bosco Tjan, technical director of the neuroscience center at the University of Southern California.
He was a kind professor, 50 years old, who spent extra time with struggling students, the kind of professor who could be found in his office at 4:30 pm on a Friday. Thank you to James Queally and Amina Khan for interviewing his colleagues and
He had been born in Beijing, raised in Hong Kong, and emigrated to the US as a teenager with his family. He earned his doctorate in computer and information sciences at the University of Minnesota.
His research focused on helping people with retinal degeneration. He left behind a wife and child.
At USC, some faculty have speculated on "whether Brown attacked Tjan after receiving a 'less than stellar' review from the committee that evaluates graduate students."
Investigation has not yet been done, but poor grades are the usual motive.
I remember the ire of students who got a B or B- when they had expected an A. They hounded me, quibbled over points given on quizzes and exam, told me how they were applying to law school or some other graduate program and needed this grade.
They asked friends what grades they had received and argued that their work was as good as someone else's.
Tjan's death reminds me of the shooting death of UCLA professor William S. Klug last June. The assailant was a disgruntled former graduate student.
As scholars in graduate school, soon to be professors, we pursue ever more narrowly defined specializations, but no one trains us in how to identify dangerous students, channel them toward help, and protect ourselves.