Advice on supervisor feedback issues


A very long story short, one of the issues I am having is that I do not receive any content-based feedback on my work. Everything I have ever given in- even if I explain it is not fully written or structured and I am submitting it to get idea feedback- will only get stylistic comments on topic sentences etc. I am starting to quite worried that my ideas won't have received any level of critique before the viva. I do conferences etc. but it's not the same as monthly engagement with your ideas. I am just going into my second year and I can't help feeling that the repercussions of this will be too big (but trying not to be defeatest)- I am new to my topic too and have basically been trying to get to grips with everything without a single nudge in the right direction, comment on my understanding of an idea or literature recommendation. As a first year, I just thought it was normal and didn't want to cause any conflict. My supervisor is a different field to me and despite completing the application for this PhD, I'm worried they do not know/ want to know about my subject. I have asked for content-based feedback before, but my supervisor gets really defensive and starts with quite personal comments.

I have a few questions: Has anyone else ever experienced anything like this? Am I right to flag this- I feel like it is a major issue but sometimes it's hard to gauge with PhD's what warrants what? If so, does anyone have any advice on how to professionally approach this? I would essentially be saying I'm not happy with the feedback I receive, but I don't want to deteriorate the relationship and I am also wary of their reaction.

Thanks in advance for any help.

Avatar for rewt

hi b41832,

If you scroll through my earliest posts, I complained about this a lot. My supervisor reviewed my first year progression report by fixing 3 typos and telling me it "looks good". I was seriously worrying if it was going to pass and that was all the feedback she could give me!!! I also don't think my supervisor understands the chemistry of my project (or any chemistry really) or know how my analysis methods work. She just gives vague advice and pretends she knows what she is talking about. Although, I found that she has been incredibly supportive in other ways, has been understanding of all my mental health issues and some areas of my PhD she does know in great depth. So I can understand your frustration but their might be other parts of your supervisor that is good, which can you try to maximise.

Personally, I think having a hands off non-technical supervisor is a bit of a sink or swim situation. You have to develop as a researcher far faster as you don't have the safety net of a guiding influence. It really does become your PhD. I feel somewhat fortunate that when I can change chunks of my PhD and my supervisor will just agree. It is more difficult but I am just saying there are some advantages.

Your supervisor sounds defensive about their own knowledge and if they simply don't know enough to give detailed feedback, they aren't going to learn overnight. I found that my supervisor gives very specific advice about the areas they do know. So maybe you can work out what areas they are comfortable with and shift your work towards that. Have you considered a second supervisor or even just talking with other members of your faculty for advice. Other academics can be extremely helpful in certain areas if you just reach out.

I hope that helps