best strategy do deal with intimidating supervisor


Good evening all,

I just had a pretty bad meeting with one of my supervisors because on a piece of work that I had spent the term doing, I received a one line comment by email on the content of my work, and my piece edited stylistically. In a meeting dedicated to this issue, the conversation was totally overtaken by said supervisor, who got defensive, blaming, and shouted at me. It turned into a nasty exchange of words, because I was mad that no responsibility was taken for such lack of proper feedback. In fact, it seemed as if they had readied themselves for an official complaint from me, and even dropped it that this may have been what I wanted, and if that is what I wanted, they would be happy to no longer be my supervisor. In the end, the conversation turned more pleasant. This is because at one point, we were turning in circles and it became a no-issue argument, with me upset and frustrated at their determination to avoid my initial concern, and twist it around to put me in the 'bad' Ph.D. category! So I re-directed it to discussing how to improve my work, because they got calmer when I focused the attention away from my dissatisfaction with them. In fact, before the conversation calmed down, I am sure a lot of the times the voice was raised so that all in the corridor could hear how disrespectful and ungrateful I am. My voice died down in their loud tone, and I could not hear myself speak. I had to interrupt on several occasions because they went on and on, but then got accused of interrupting them! It was very intimidating.
At this point, I would like advice on what I can do to deal with such aggressive/intimating behaviour?
I was made to feel that I cannot call my supervisor out, but they are allowed to belittle my work (which was done in the course of the conversation, perhaps due to anger and justify their lack of feedback).

Avatar for sallyjoshua

you need to find a way to work with your superviser if u have any plans of finishing your studies. Maybe they are intimidated by you in some way. Try to understand them & look at the situation objectively


what did the one-line say? Some supervisors are just like that, short and sweet comments. Did you ask them to elaborate?

It sounds to me as if you were cross yourself. which wouldn't help

You have to realise that your supervisor is your key to your phd, so you need to get on a better footing. they might be a know-it-all and tell you so but there must be a reason you were paired. If they are unhappy with your work, don't criticise them, ask what you could do better, then maybe add later. "OK, I'll work on that. I should have probably contacted you sooner about this- your initial feedback was quite brief and I should have asked you to elaborate on this". As you say- you got "mad" because they didn't take responsibility for not giving you feedback- that's absurd. It's in YOUR interest to get what you need out of your supervisor, getting mad won't work.

All academics have a mountain of teaching, marking, admin and supervision to get on with before they can focus on the research that they actually want to do, it probably won't matter to him or her if they lose another responsibility (YOU) so bear that in mind; they have the upper hand, end of.



I don't really post on here that often anymore but I read your post and it made me mad!

I am now in the process of revising and re-submitting. Without going into too much detail, my poor relationship with my supervisors is a major part of why I am in this position.

If you're finding this person hard to deal with, then you are perfectly within your rights to ask for a new supervisor. Your supervisor really IS key to your success, and if it's not working for you, then you need to do what is right for you. Are you in the UK? If so then there are a number of avenues for support with this. Please please please don't let this go on for too long. I think as PhD students we kind of "expect" to get roughed up by our supervisors, but really it's not good enough. You need their support and their buy in to succeed. If you're finding this person hard to work with, find someone you can work with and ask for them to be your supervisor instead.

Best of luck with it all anyway!


There were three reviewer comments for one of my papers: (1) Accept for publication (2) Minor revisions (3) Major revisions.
I felt that the third reviewer comments were most nasty, negative, and difficult for me to revise the paper etc.
However, while I'm revising this paper, it should be mentioned that it is the nasty reviewer that helps to improve my paper significantly.

The nice reviewer simply accepts the paper, and there is no improvement as a result.
Most importantly, there are still many nasty people around which we need to learn how to cope with.