Conference talk that nobody looked over


My supervisor has been avoiding me for months. He will set a time to meet me and then after I show up he will say that he is afraid that he only has 10 minutes because there is X or Y he has to do or meet.

I wasn't too fussed but it was/is annoying. I have to present at a conference in a week. Given my lack of supervision I was keen to do the poster but my supervisor wanted me to do the talk and assured me that we can have "endless rehearsals".

This is one of the problems with him. He always re-assures me when asked directly but then continues with his avoidant behaviour.

Anyhow, I have e-mailed him a week ago to try and set a time for a rehearsal. He never responded to my e-mail. I have sent him another e-mail few days later and it again went unanswered. In desparation, I have sent him ANOTHER one, this time asking him to "please just look at my slides" and I will rehearse on my own. All those e-mails had a nice and polite tone. Again, no reply.

I called him yesterday and left a voicemail - no reply. The problem is - today is the last day he is here before he leaves for another conference. I am now up in the middle of the night crying. I don't know what to do.

I am supposed to present something that I wrote from scratch and nobody has looked over. Things are looking bleak. Going to his office is not an option as he is never there. What should I do?

a) Continue to hassle him today - pretty much call him all day on his mobile too until I get him to answer and at least commit to look at my slides
b) Do the talk as is, on my own and give up on trying to get input from him
c) Pull out of the conference (airfares and hotels are all payed for already) but still this is tempting to do

Please give me some advice :(


I am not sure that continuing to hassle him will get you the input you need. However, his treatment of you sounds unacceptable. Is there a second supervisor who can help you? Is the department aware of his treatment of you?

Failing that (and considering the short notice), can you run through your material with another student or another member of staff in the department - purely to reassure you that your material is clear and concise?

I don't think you should lose the opportunity to present because your supervisor is being unhelpful - that's not good for your career development.

I hope you get someone to help you.


Yes - his treatment of me has been poor for some time now. I think I will just have to present as is.

The thing is who do I speak to about this? I don't have a second supervisor and I am 2 years in. I mean - post conference - his 10 minutes on the fly meetings are just not acceptable for me.

Do I bring this up with him first and try to work out some more structured meetings - before I go further to the student services to complain?


I feel like writing him another, firmer and less polite e-mail.. about the talk and almost no supervision I received in recent months.

Bad idea?


That's awful, and I really don't know what you should do. If there is anyone at your uni (postdocs, other staff) who will look at your presentation, then definitely get it organised asap. I'd probably e-mail him again, and phone him while he's still there.

I'd offer to look at your slides but I'm probably in such a different field that it would be no use :p


Don't pull out of the conference - you will regret it. Try contacting him but look for other people to look over the slides (I'm sure if we knew what field you were in someone on here could look over them- or even someone from a different field could look over them for structure etc).

I tend not to have people look over stuff for me (except my husband) but I am a mature student (44) so maybe it is different.


Hi, I just read your post and I want to encourage you to go ahead with the conference - I am sure you have worked hard preparing for it and any feedback you get from the conference can only be a good thing.

I agree with everyone that his supervision sounds rubbish but maybe you can deal with that after you have been to the conference? You don't want to say something in the heat of the moment and then spend the next few days, while at the conference, worrying about what you said. That's just what I would do.

I really hope it goes well, perhaps you can let us know how it goes?


======= Date Modified 30 Nov 2010 20:17:53 =======
Agree with JC,  do not pull out. You have something worth listening to else you would never have got in the conference.  So, deal with this first.  Practice on your own, with others etc.. but remember you deserve to be there.   And you will regret a no-show.

After this is over you need to address the issue with your sup. I would try to gauge if this is his usual form,  talk to your second sup if you have a good relationship there but then you will need to talk to him. Calmly.  I would probably approach it in a "can you let me know if you are too busy to supervise me" kind of way. Not using those words but broach it from a non aggressive angle,  then assess the reaction. Follow this up with firmer approach if necessary, moving towards emails to have a record of what you've said.  Then.. if you've tried this I would ask for a transfer to another sup.  That's all you can do. 

What an awful experience though.  Let us know how the conference goes.  Best, Chuff


I guess I made a mistake. I have just sent him a terse e-mail in the heat of the moment. I wanted to have a record of this so if he ignores this e-mail - I will be more justified to complain. I also wanted there to be no misunderstanding - in case he didn't know how urgent this is for me (although with conference next week, he must have known). Also, in case he didn't know how bothered I was by our 10 minutes meetings.. I hope I haven't screwed things up too badly with this e-mail. I tend to be temperamental....

You seem to have completely ignored my 3 previous e-mails and 2 phone calls where I have tried to set a time for rehearsal.

Note that just last week when I wanted to do a poster - you talked me into doing the talk and assured me that we can have "endless rehearsals". Obviously that is laughable at this point.

I am now faced with presenting a talk that nobody has looked over (my new slides that I have sent you), let alone rehearsed with me. I was up most of the night worried about this.

I would be inclined to be more understanding if you have at least responded via e-mail and told me that you are busy with X, Y or Z rather than just avoiding me completely

Not only that, but in the last few months, whenever we have set up a meeting, it ended up lasting around 10 minutes because you had to do X, Y or Z.

I hate writing an e-mail like this, but I am certainly not happy with how things are going and I thought I will address it with you first.

I would appreciate a reply.


No this point guys I think I will just not go to the conference. I can't face being completely embarrassed there. I spoke to my parents and they gave me the advice to just not go and then go straight to student services and file a complaint against my supervisor.


I'd go to the conference myself. I went to an international conference early on in my PhD, and presented a 20-minute paper there. I didn't get any feedback in advance from my supervisor, and I didn't seek it. I was fine. Sometimes it is ok to trust your own judgement on these things.

But it's up to you. Doesn't condone your supervisor's behaviour, and clearly there are big issues to address (and they will be now you've sent that email!). But it is possible to prepare conference papers on your own. I also practised on my own in advance, recording my practice runs onto my computer, and then playing them back to see where the slip-ups / potential problem areas were.


Go! I know it's scary but trust yourself - you can do this!
You could start your paper by saying 'I'm at an early stage in my research and I would really appreciate some feedback on these ideas' or 'This is the first opportunity I have had to think through these ideas with others and I would really benefit from hearing your thoughts'. Then if anyone asks a nasty question just say 'Thankyou. My work needs some more development and I will take your comment on board as I carry this work forward.'


Hi Lostinoz,

nice to hear from you. I think have not seen a post from you for a long time and it is always "nice to see a familar face".

Like the others have indicated, I would go to the conference and present. I think you will enjoy the conference, and regarding the presentation, I think you have nothing to loose. Remember, these presentations do not have to be perfect and I think that you should trust you own judgment on your work. It may well be better than your supervisor's anyway.

If you do not go to the conference, it may well be that you regret it afterwards, would be a missed opportunity. :-)


You should go to the conference (not just because the university (assuming they have paid) may ask you to repay the money if you don't go) but as others have said it is a great opportunity to get feedback on your ideas. You will get to network with more people and you will find (r at least it has been my experiecne) that people at conferences are less harsh than people who you may work with. When you get there go an introduce yourself to the conveynor or chair of your session ad say it is your first presentation - they will help you feel relaxed.


Thanks guys. I ended up sending my slides to another professor in the same field on a whim (I did some marking for him before) and just basically said that I can't get a response from my supervisor and I am afraid of presenting a talk that nobody has looked over. I didn't even expect a response, but he responded few hours later. He provided me with very detailed feedback - he even commented on every slide. He said that the talk is actually "very good" and that my conclusions are very interesting and it's going to be better than about 90% of talks there ;)

My main sup is still being an a-hole and not responding. Just this Saturday, I went to his bday party and he treated me like I am his best friend there and now this. It's just a very nasty thing to do. I have stopped trying to attempt to reach him now and am feeling more confident about the talk - it just doesn't excuse his behavior. I will also have to deal with his 10 minutes supervisory meetings that accomplish nothing when I get back from the conference. He is trying to sweep this under the carpet but I will seriously have to contact student services.

Anyway, looks like I am going to the conference :)