Crush on a supervisor lead to much turmoil


I know that there is another topic floating around like this, but I bleleive my issue goes a lot deeper.
For those of you with light crushes read my post and heed the warning.

I really, truly, need help and advice as I have reached the end of my rope so please bear with me.

I am doing PhD part time (onto my 4th year now). My male supervisor is 15 years older than me (also married with 2 kids) and I was attracted to him from the start. I could definetly sense an attraction from his side at first. He would check out my body constantly, lots of accidental touches, he would often stumble an stutter when we made eye contact - it was really quite hot. There were compliments, e-mail flirting, long chats about anything but he never crossed the line and neither did I. This went on for good 2 years (keep in mind I am part time though).

I was distracted and my work started slipping. By that time, I felt like I really devoleped feelings for the supervisor that went past the crush. I couldn't concetrate on anything and thought of him all the time (although I never told him anything). He gave me some really harsh criticisms about my work (they were deserved) and started pulling back. He slowly got very distant, no more flirting (except very occassionaly), no more e-mail chats. I was devastated. My PhD was also well and truly in trouble as I made barely any progress.

Instead of realizing how silly this all was and starting work on fixing my PhD, I started acting out. I realized that my supervisor only probably entartained passing toughts of sleeping with me and that my feelings were largely unrequited. Si I decided to "hit him where it hurts" and started working even less on my PhD. I would cancel meetings with him all the time (I was also hoping that by seeing him less I will move on). I would not do what he asked etc. I even talked about quiting number of times. He showed concern but really didn't quite know what to do with me. Of course, I was only hurting myself with this behaviour. Opportunities for being involved with papers and conferences came and went, work was piling up even more and yet I was quite intent on carrying down this road of self destruction. My depression and frustration increased with each professional failure.

To make matters worse, my supervisor started showing lot of attention to his female collegue (also married) and I found this quite difficult to watch. I have no idea if anything is actually going on between them or if he only fancies her but I have spent quite a bit of time trying to guess and even more time crying at home over it.


Now in year 4 (part time), my superviosor considers me nothing but a huge headache and I in turn can not stand him either. I wish I could go back in time and change what transpired over the years, I wish I was more focused on my PhD, I wish I did so many things differently. To make it worse I am not even sure if my supervisor realizes that all my acting out was mostly due my feelings for him or if he thinks I am just lazy, unmotivated and incapable. I would rather he thinks the latter.

I am not sure what to do now. All the conflicting emotions that I feel towards him are draining, it is difficult to watch him and his female collegaue flirt like we used to, the whole dynamic is sick and toxic to me. He is probably aware that I fancied him and he discarded me. I want to quit and leave and I think this would probably be for the best.

Other option is making a last ditch effort to make my PhD work but I fear it might be too late. It is not possible to get another primary supervisor, he is the only one knowledgable enough for my project within 100km radius of my city. So if I were to go on, I would have to grit my teeth and deal with him on consistent basis. I do not know if I am emotionally capable of this.

I have so many regrets and no good solutions... what should I do?


You started all this in your head methinks. Find a bf and stop obsessing over a taken man.


I replied to the other thread about this type of issue. From the outset I nipped the situation in the bud, realising as I did that I had too much to lose by letting my work slip. While none of us are robots, the importance of prioritising our academic work over any emotional ties (barring those of very close family or long-term friends) is crucial.

The man that you refer to is established in his career. Regardless of your actions, he will continue as an academic, making personal and professional progress. It is likely that he will attract the same sort of attentions from other students - in essence his personal and professional options will not be affected by your eventual decision.

Emotional entanglements, whether real or ideal, are the graveyard of academic ambitions. I use the word 'entanglements' knowingly, lest I be accused of dismissing the benefits that fruitful relationships can bring to scholarly work.

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Quote From cleverclogs:

You started all this in your head methinks. Find a bf and stop obsessing over a taken man.

Oh no, I find myself agreeing with you again clogs! I would not be surprised if you are over emphasising his role in things and wanting it to be more than it was. He is a married man and of course he is going to be friendly to new supervisees. The whole 'hot steamy glances over the photocopier' angle of it seems like it may have been exaggerated by you because you wanted it to be there.

He probably has no idea why you have acted out so much and has probably given up hope. If I were you I would knuckle down and get the work done and prove to him you can do it, and ignore any romantic feelings you have! although I know that may be easier said than done.


Really this all boils down to the question: is it too late to rescue your PhD?

No, it isn't. You're in a difficult situation, like anyone who's done the 'office romance' thing and has to work with someone they have complex feelings for, but people can and do cope with this.

As you recognise, you've only hurt yourself by letting your PhD slide. Now you have to make a positive decision not to hurt yourself any more. Push your feelings to one side (I know, easier said than done) and get your relationship with this guy back on a professional footing.

At the end of the day, what's really going to help you move on emotionally - throwing yourself into your work and getting that PhD, or giving up and brooding forever more about what might have been, who this guy might be flirting with now, etc. etc.?


Thanks for the replies so far guys, I really appriciate them and they are helping.

As for what was real and what was imagined, in my 27 years as an uhmm shall I say attractive woman, I do know when a man finds me attractive. Steamy glances WERE there, no doubt in my mind at all. As were him constantly looking at my uhmm chest while talking, scanning my body etc. He stated on a few occassians that "he has to start acting more professional with me". He was friendly and he WAS attracted but I do realize that it didn't go deeper than few passing thoughts to him. I don't blame him and I accept full responsibility for my subsequent failures. I do not beleive that he crossed any lines and I am sure that there were other students that he found attractive and it wasn't a big deal to him.

I am releived that one of you thinks that he has no idea why I am acting out. It would be a lot more embarassing if he knew the whole truth.

Anyhow, that does not even matter. The situation has a strong emotional impact on me and I have been neglecting my academic work to the point where I question if anything is salvagable. This is now a real problem. Not to mention that as a result of me making no progress my reputation in the depatment is at the very bottom and it kills me that I feel underestimated on every level (yet I understand how it looks from their perspective). I am probably the worst and most troubled post-grad student in there. Sadly, I have a strong prior academic record and am on full scholarship - and it has come to this.

Do you guys still think that I shouldn't quit?


I think it's perhaps not important whether this was real or imagined; he could be a bastard who messes with the emotions of women all around - if so, dear God don't be his next victim, you're worth more than that. Alternatively, if it was mostly imagined on your part (that's not a personal insult, it's amazing what our emotions can make us see) then equally, it's time to move on because you deserve better than an imaginary love-life.

Magictime is right. And while I know it must be hard, you're part-time, and as a fairly independent phd you probably have les contact than average colleagues in an office. If it's not too late to rescue the phd in terms of deadlines etc, then I'd suggest the following: have a meeting with him and just say "I've really drifted off course as you know, it's for personal reasons that I'd rather not go into but I'd like to make a fresh start"? It might even be a good idea to tell him you're taking a few weeks break to clear your head first (in which time, go out and remember what you want in life, away from this man) and then make that fresh start with a bit of perspective. Make it your mission to prove yourself academically, and try to "thought-block" whenever you start obsessing over him/the other colleague/etc.

It seems such a shame to let this romance-that-never-was deprive you of your education. Surely losing out in terms of your feelings has been bad enough Geisha? Grit your teeth, get all you can from him professionally and keep things as formal as possible. Oh, and without wishing to sound utterly trite - maybe just get out there and date someone else! I don't mean rebound all over the shop and hurt yourself, but just get a reminder that there are more fish in the sea and boost your ego a little so this perceived rejection doesn't continue to define you.

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No I don't think you should quit at all. THe only way you can rescue your reputation is to deliver.

sit down and write out a list of all the things you need to get done, only then will you be able to see it as less of a huge mountain, and more a series of little mole hills!

I would completely ignore his behaviour with other women - just get on with the work. If you did get with him you'd only be jealous of his drooling over other women anyway!


As for real vs imaginary, I can agree that my situation was "imaginary" given that nothing concrete actually transpired.

We are really arguing is my feelings were 100% unrequited vs 95% unrequited :)

This is also the first time I have spoken about this anywhere and to anyone so it even helps to just get this out.


It annoys me when people have this naive idea that just because a man is married he won't look at another. I wish they didn't. In an ideal romantic world they wouldn't...but they do. I don't believe that you should be made to feel 100% in the wrong, or to take the entire blame. Yes, fancying someone who is married and making them aware of it one way or another is wrong. Flirting with a married man is wrong. But we mustn't forget here, that he is well aware of his marriage and his responsibilities as a true and loyal husband to his wife, and yet he seems to be the one who is encouraging all of this attention! Perhaps if he didn't look at you in the very flirtatious way that he did, it's possible that this whole thing might not have started. (Sometimes people DO take an interest in a person just because that person may have suddenly taken an interest in them first). If he was professional from the start, this attraction might not have happened. As a lot of people here know, there can be an awful lot of isolation in doing a research degree, so when this great academic man shows a massive interest in you, I can imagine it would be difficult to ignore.

I agree with sneaks here. Write up a list of all the 'To Do's' - everything you can think of that needs doing, and take it one step at a time. But be realistic here, you are behind, so you will have to keep to a very strict plan with little room for f*ck ups. However, as much as you have to be strict with the work in order to get back on track, you have to be just as strict with social time and chilling out time. You really can't ignore these times. You will be more likely to be able to keep to your strict timetable if you really do permit yourself to take time off too.
Someone else here suggested a week off...yeah that sounds good, but haven't you had enough time off already? I think you've been procrastinating too much and worrying about things that may never happen.
As much as we are all human and totally capable of making mistakes, I think you know that you've allowed yourself to get stuck in a rut. But you know that you're better than this. So why don't you start with the plan, and list all the things you have got to do, tackle them one at a time - it won't be long until all the small achievements mount up, and remember:

Progression NOT Perfection.

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just to put it into perspective a little - and for Eska too if you are reading. I know at least 4 people in my university department that were full time PhDs and are all AT LEAST 7 years in and still haven't finished. It actually seems odd that most people don't tend to finish in three years, yet the research councils still persist in stopping the funding.



Thanks for a well thought out post. I guess my view on this type of situation in general is that a strong attraction/crush can not be sustained over such a long time period (3-4 years) with zero reciprocation or encourgement on another person's part.

I guess if academics are trained to deal with student crushes, they should discourage them when they see signs of student's interest (and I do beleive that there were many clues that were rather obvious even if nothing was explicitely said).

At the very least I think that my supervisor enjoyed the ego boost. But, I still needed to have WAY more control over my emotions and thinking.

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its a learning process and now you have learnt from it. Your sup was unprofessional, you need to leave it all behind you now. I reckon start with your list and join one of the many accountability threads - mine is particularly amazing. When you have to see your supervisor remain professional, stick to strict goals for the meeting and don't get pulled into silly games


Yep Sneaks, I think I will finally start working on my PhD this weekend. From then on, I will give it my best shot to write out a plan and stick to it. I haven't really touched anything PhD related in months (I know, I know!) .

In the scenario that I give things my best shot for say next 6 months and still make no progress, I will re-consider quitting. But for now, I am going to try to work this out and block supervisor and the co-worker and everything out of my mind. I will deal with him when necesseary and chat with others while on breaks for the 3 days that I am at the university.