Has my dissertation supervisor failed me?



Just looking for some advice (and a bit of a rant if that's okay!) about my supervisor for my MSc dissertation which has been nothing but trouble for the past 3 1/2 months. I really feel that I have been let down and am interested to see if others agree. To summarise what has happened:

1. Accepted topic that was recommended to me by supervisor due to not doing certain modules on my course which would have allowed me to do other (do-able!) topics

2. Hand in literature review at end of June expecting it to be returned fairly quickly allowing me to proceed with main body of work. Severe lack of articles on topic meant it was a major struggle to write good review. Supervisor tells me he is off for three weeks on field work. Finally returns review in mid August after persistent questioning and notes on feedback that I have put in something which I have not. Has he actually read the review? Other students reviews returned within 1-2 weeks of hand in.

3. Express lack of understanding of topic to supervisor and consequent failure to start. Also had to wait for data which only he had. Wasted three weeks due to him not being here...

4. Supervisor back for two weeks but then away again for further three weeks. Email contact only informing him that there doesn't seem to be much behind dissertataion idea and that I am likely to quit. Supervisor deletes email and does not respond for two weeks.

5. Idea put forward by supervisor for main body of work found to be not possible despite my repeated attempts. Told to "give up on it and say it didn't work". Does not suggest any other avenues to go down.

6. Supervisor then writes program code which may be used in dissertation. Program does not work and language is arcane and very out of date meaning there is no information on how to write it. Tells me he will not give me any more help on it and I am on my own. Goes on holiday for three weeks. I have no experience of writing code in this language so surprised he expects me to do something which he can't do with 20 years experience. 

Essentially I am now at the stage where I have just over two weeks to hand in a dissertation and I have very little output. There are very few (i.e. no additional) references to put in my dissertation and I have no working analysis or code. As I said I feel I've been let down for a number of reasons which are

1. Supervisor did not warn me that he would only be availble for three weeks out of 9 weeks timepsan for dissertation

2. He gave incorrect feedback in my literature review suggesting that he had not read it and requested more when there was no relevant literature to use

3. He suggested a technique to analyse the data which was not suitable for the data used and then ofered no constructive way to continue. Shouldn't he be almost certain that the technique should work if he suggested it in the first place?

4. He used a programming language that was very out of date and left me to pick up the pieces when it went wrong.


Sorry - my post has been truncated but I'm sure you get the gist! At the moment I'm thinking of not handing anything in and feel this is mostly due to my supervisor being completely useless. This will be a major blow after achieving distinction for my PgDip.

Does anyone think it would be worthwhile raising a formal complaint or should i just accept what has happened and try to move on. And would I get another chnace to do a dissertation if my complaint was upheld?

Thanks for reading and appreciate any advice offered!



I think it seems to be the done thing with masters students to give them as little input as possible. I had similar problems with my supervisor except I had to make up my own project but he gave no input on that as it wasn't his specialty (we had no choice as to who was our supervisors) and then gave only a sentence or two feedback for any work I handed to him, although he did do this quickly at least! Although my undergraduate supervisor was out of the country for most of my project so I know how frustrating it can be.

It does sound like he has slowed you down a lot so perhaps you can ask for an extension, but I doubt complaining about the quality of supervision will get you far to be honest as they systems are so convoluted and awkward that it would cause you a lot of stress for very little outcome. So I'd say just do the best you can on the project, maybe try and change it slightly to make it easier for you to do (I don't understand programming so ignore this if it makes no sense!) get it handed in and try to forget about it.

Sorry if it sounds harsh, but sometimes it's just the only way you can get through! I hope it works out though and you get it all done!


I would request an extension on the work and maybe make up a reason for it.

On the one hand, this supervisor is clearly crap. But, on the other, you seem to be very dependent upon him to be a problem solver rather than a problem board (to bounce off of) and guide. In the past two years my sups have solved one problem in total that I had with my work and, actually, that was in the last meeting. However, I don't expect them to solve my problems - it's my research; I have to solve (and learn to solve) the problems on my own. That's not to say that my sups are useless; they read through my work, give me advice, criticism and encouragement, and monitor my progress.

Maybe you need to reassess what you expect from a supervisor (as well as asking for an extension).


I will also add this point because I just saw it and think it's relevant.

Going over some feedback from my sup and at the end of it she has written "What is the point of this chapter?" She's not telling me what the point is, she's getting me to figure it out/make it clear.

This is the same sup who, giving me some sage advice, wrote "Don't include this, you sound like an arse." Fair enough I suppose, but the person I was writing about was very very very wrong.

Anyhow, yes, I think you may need to reassess your expectations.


Slizor I agree with you to a point - but Majorac is describing a Masters dissertation, not a PhD thesis. At Masters level, given the short time scale, I would definitely expect to be given an achievable project (some of my colleagues supervise Masters students and when they are proposing potential projects they have to be realistic projects for a person of Masters level ability to achieve in 3 months - if they don't meet those criteria then they are not offered to the students by the course director). Also ignoring emails is not acceptable in my opinion, and if a supervisor is going to be away I would expect to be told (especially given the short time scale of a Masters dissertation). Of course you have to take responsibility for planning your own work and sorting out problems - but I believe at Masters level you are entitled to guidance and an achievable project at the very least.


Thanks for your comments and advice which have been very useful. However -

Slizor - sounds like you're doing a PhD? If that's the case then the support you get from your supervisor should be very different to that I get from an MSc. Indeed, if things go wrong then you will have time to correct them and try something new as you have over three years to do your research. In my case I have 9 weeks - which as I pointed out is not long enough to learn a programming language and be able to write something which somebody with 20 years experience could not. Furthermore, I am well aware of the level of support that I should expect from my supervisor which should be comparable to that of my fellow students and it has clearly not been! In addition, it sounds like you're getting a lot more support from your supervisor(s!) than I have ever had...

Caro - thanks again - very useful. However, at the end of the day as the project was suggested by my supervisor then I'd like to think he saw it as something which was achievable given the time period. This therefore meant that I was duty bound to follow the suggestions that he made in order to get the best mark possible. In my mind the fact that the things he suggested were clearly wrong or impractical reflects more on him than me.

Appreciate you both taking the time to try and help me though - it's probably too complex to understand without first hand knowledge!



Thanks Tey61 - couldn't agree more - you make some excellent points which I totally agree with. Not sure how I'm going to solve this though... The fact that I was warned by people who did their undergraduate degrees here about having this guy as a supervisor again makes me feel that I have been severely let down.


I'm afraid I have no experience of how to deal with the situation you're in. If you think that with an extension you could get this done then I would probably go down that route first. If not, then I think you have to look into your Uni's complaints procedure (there may be time limits on when you can file a complaint) and your Uni should have or be part of a Union or Council which hopefully could give you advice on your situation. I wish you the best of luck.