Signup date: 29 Sep 2017 at 12:15am
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I suggested a change of co-supervision, since this appeared to be enabling the negative behaviours, this was denied, the lead supervisor couldn't be changed. The University requires issues concerning supervision to be addressed formally so I went down that route. The complaint identified failings but recommend I change departments and do a new PhD. I then requested a review, the reviewer was part of the same department and dismissed findings and left the situation with no resolution.
I've tried to struggle on in a toxic environment but yet another change to my project has thrown me as the interest in my project kept me going. The aggressive behaviour towards me resumed after the investigation was completed. What little support I had in my department has gone, I get shunned and glared at by staff, excluded from project communications and socials etc.
I found an ideal PhD elsewere but others seems wary of taking on someone who has had difficulties elsewhere it seems. I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to do now. I recently referred my case to the OIA as I did find an ideal co supervisor who I feel would prevent the aggressive behaviour happening and offer me some support, they have an ideal technical background also. My lead supervisor seemed to struggle to train me in the in basics with regards to my lab work, as they rarely work in their lab and I have been reliant on external technical support for my multidisciplinary project for an area I was advised I wouldn't need knowledge of as training would be provided. Facilities are crowded, I have no assigned bench space, I just have to find bits of space in which to work and store materials but it is becoming an issue.
Has anyone survived a toxic environment as a PhD student and can offer advice? I don't know if the OIA will help. There has been a lot of back covering and lies from the Uni so far.
From early on in my PhD I have been experiencing aggressive behaviour from my primary supervisor, which one or two co-supervisors, their close friends, would watch and say nothing or even at times join in a little with the hostile behavior. I would be in tears after meetings. Other students say this person who is my lead supervisor is generally cold and can be very difficult, an RA said this person would not care about me as a PhD student - sadly not before starting my PhD. There were changes to my project early on also, so I wasn't doing what I had expected to, since a PDRA was going to be doing a very similar project. Its been very difficult to speak to the supervisory team if I had any concerns or queries. Individual meetings have never been allowed.
Now just over a year in a key bit of information about my PhD is revealed by the primary supervisor which renders several months of my work a waste and means that my ideas and plans can no longer be followed in this project. This person has had several months to let me know that my project was going in the wrong direction, well not the one he intended anyway, I find he can be controlling. Prior to submitting a complaint they had seen my plans, objectives, Lit review etc. and said they were happy with these, feedback and guidance was lacking though. He says he gave this information early on - that would have changed my plans though, maybe its something he only just realised.
I knew something wasn't right early on, I spoke to the relevant staff, they expressed concern but nothing was done. The changes are making me less interested in my project, I had some novel ideas having identified gaps in literature but can no longer follow these.
Having multiple disabilities myself I strongly advise speaking to the University's Disability Services before starting or applying even if you can, get an idea of reasonable adjustments that have been approved in your department. Look online the for guidance the University has in this respect. Also apply for DSA as early as possible if you are eligible, if your stipend is research council funded you need to apply to the research council. Look at what student health facilities the University has also, this can make a big difference. The Uni where I did my undergrad was great where disabilities are concerned, they would do their best to meet needs of all students as far as possible so few adjustments were needed and they had an excellent SH Service. Where I am now is quite a contrast. Having supportive and understanding supervisors really helps also, sadly I don't have this. My disabilities have not held me back but with the right support and adjustments where needed it can make things a lot easier.
I agree with Tru, I am going through a fight of my own at the moment and experienced the psychological games. I am very much on my own and have been working without supervision for 6 months now, I am almost 12 months in. Having no supervision is better than the situation I was in, but it can't continue for long this way, so I am hoping for a resolution soon. Dragging things out seems to be another way of trying to get rid of any student who speaks out. I have a strong case and its sounds like you have also, so as Tru also says don't give in. My SU haven't been any help, they often don't respond and don't seem to know processes well. Your SU may be better so I advise speaking to them.
I struggled getting heard also, my department seemingly didn't want to know, so it had to go formal. I also have/had a supervisor you have to be careful with and my project was changed after I started. So I sympathise with your situation.
I see many similarities on this forum among experiences students have concerning supervisor issues and how Universities respond to such cases.
I sent an email in response to an advertised PhD, with personal statement and CV as required at this stage. I mentioned the earlier unexpected project changes and restrictions to the project not allowing me to fully follow my interests. This is factual, although alone it wouldn't have stopped me doing the PhD. I've been invited to an interview next week, before making a full application.
Dunham - I have questioned why this is happening myself. Unfortunately some do jump to the conclusion that I must have done something wrong, the Uni automatically seems to assume this anyway. The only thing I could have been perceived to do wrong by some is letting the supervisor know he had upset me after he first did this, he didn't respond well, and I think he has had it in for me ever since, and maybe thought I might speak about this to someone and tried to cover his back. I have worked hard and progressed well. I found out from some RAs a few months ago that this supervisor has a reputation for treating students as he does, although its felt he went too far in my case. I am the only female in my research group. One problem may be that the lead supervisor took on too many students and postdocs at the same time.
There is no-one who can give me a reference from my current Uni. The only other option, outside the supervisory team, was the Postgrad Tutor, who should be there to offer independent advice, he won't even communicate with me now. He was communicating with me, expressing his concern etc, then as soon as the dept said I couldn't change supervisor unless I self-funded his support went. My previous uni, where I did my UG course will give a reference again. Feels unfair as this situation really is through no fault of my own. Thee SU Advisor is not responding to emails when I ask for guidance on specific matters, they just want to be kept informed. My current approach is to stand my ground and push for a new supervisor, and in the meantime apply for any other suitable PhDs of interest. I made one enquiry on Monday, had no response.
For every PhD I have applied for I have had to provide my degree transcript. I was also in employment for a number of years before starting a PhD. A good result in your MSc should hopefully make up for any poor results in your degree. Requirements and preferences can differ dependent on the funding source and University. My advice therefore is to email the supervisors before applying for PhDs and give a brief overview of your background so that they can advise further with regards to your application, I would always do this. Sometimes I have been able to submit industry references, other times they have all had to be academic ones.
I'm unhappy and other students in my area have started isolating me, some will no longer speak to me and look through me when I say Hi to them. My department would not consider a change of supervision, yet we get told we can change supervisors if needed. I made an informal complaint, the department escalated it to a formal one so it could be dealt with outside the dept. Now it is being investigated by the Dean for my area, I expected this to be undertaken by someone from another faculty.
My lead supervisor isn't going to be bothered if I leave as he has someone else to do the work. I've been working really hard and been very engaged. There would need to be a new supervisory team to continue now. I have identified one very good supervisor who wishes to supervise me. I expect my funding may just get taken away though.
I am looking into applying for other PhDs. I would appreciate any advice on how I explain my current situation on an application?
I'm 7 months in, completed the literature review and written up as much of the thesis intro and experimental development as I can and completed various courses but things have come to a standstill pretty much now. I found out a new post doc is pretty much doing my project now. I did know about them starting at some point but it wasn't made clear what they were doing. A few months into my PhD I was asked to come up with a number of ideas and was advised that this postdoc would then choose which of these they took up. I did express some concern at this, as I felt I may not get to pursue my preferred ideas, and no more was mentioned of them after. I only heard about their start date from someone else as it had been postponed. I then got informed they wished to use the lab materials I had sourced for my project, then it got made impossible for me to use the lab now - no space, my supervisor being difficult etc.
There have been ongoing issues with my lead supervisor I can only describe as bullying - intimidating behaviour that has left me in tears after meetings, being belittled, information witheld from me about past work my PhD relates to. He seems controlling and doesn't allow me to contact my 2nd supervisors direct, they sit in silence in meetings and take notes at times, I can't meet with any supervisor individually. Meetings are formal, uncomfortable and brief and I have had very little guidance to date, supervisors seemed uninterested in my work. I was advised I would be an assistant to the postdoc. It all just makes me feel a bit used, not respected, not supported and that they don't care about me as a PhD student. I was offered no teaching support work at the department, various opportunities were promised such as this at the first meeting, none have transpired.
I had to withdraw the complaint, I was informed things may not go well for me if I pursued it. I was also informed my primary supervisor has full control as its a funded PhD, since its their funding. So nothing will change. I secured teaching support work in another dept. after making some inquiries, that was surprisingly easy to obtain, there didn't seem to be the barriers I am encountering in my own dept. I am being held back with regards to how far I will be able to go with my PhD. My stipend payment has been delayed without explanation now, when I will get that I don't know. Through making inquiries and having a meeting with another prospective supervisor I have identified other sources of technical support at least. I'm feeling pretty down currently and my confidence is low despite how well I know I have been doing. I feel it would be better to move elsewhere, for my career and health, but don't feel able to apply anywhere else currently.
Meetings fine now, just a bit anxious at first due to being somewhere new. I'm ahead of schedule, have come up with some innovative plans, and making very good progress and taking a lead on the project. No reason given for not getting opportunities. Things just not working out with supervisory team it seems, lacking in support from them, they admit to misunderstandings earlier on - i.e. too quick to judge. I've had concerns for a while and things still aren't right. Two of the team have more interest in other projects due to their background and those students have secured opportunities. The one who is less involved, who I feel uncomfortable around for some reason, was responsible for allocating some opportunities, expect they don't really know me. Think I just need to try and get supervisors who are interested in my project and more supportive. I didn't choose the team initially and the project is quite different to the one proposed when I applied.
I'm funded. My current course of action was the only way to resolve issues, I wasn't getting anywhere otherwise due to a lack of systems in place. I sought SU and postgrad support guidance first and have support there. There are other suitable supervisors. I think I just have to wait now.
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