Dealing with a **star** supervisor thst is't genuinely interested in your work


I have hit a low just one year into my PhD.

My supervisor is a *star* in the faculty but I am yet to see evidence of this. All of our supervisory meetings have steered away from the topic and onto how I can do some programming / data science work on some of his other projects for free. I have noticed a lot of his work that they are large projects with many names on the paper ; I have not seen any original content from him. I originally joined the PhD for a scholarship with a named research question and predefined topic ; which he has been unable to give advice on as it is "too technical" even though he designed the question... worryingly he has not read or provided feedback on any of my content sent to him in the last year.

He has pitched a new Masters course which he has been too busy to teach or design content for. I have written and lectured for the content of 1/3 of the whole course now. The supervisor said they would pay me but are now being cagey about paying me the full amount (saying it is good experience). He did however have enough money to fly a friend of his very far overseas for a brief guest lecture and some nights drinking of course (??). Where else does the money from the students go??

I am worried that this PhD has been more of another few papers kind of opportunity for him rather than research training for me and have no idea how to approach it. Is this kind of behaviour normal ? It feels like I might be getting taken advantage of.

I had a good job and name in industry beforehand ; tempted to go back. Has anyone been through something similar ? How would you suggest moving forward positively from here ?


For the class that you have helped design and lecture in, is this a defined expected role that was assigned when you became a student? I'm just asking this, because some supervisors do take advantage of their students. I know several that have done most of the conference organising and taught for free, before finding out that they should have been paid. You shouldn't be teaching for free unless it is part of a contractual arrangement, like a fellowship.


I agree with Nad75 but not sure that this is the main issue here (or perhaps it is - it certainly is a big one - that is appalling treatment).

Have you decided whether you actually want to continue doing a PhD? If the answer is yes, then the good news is, you are only 1 year in and this is the ideal opportunity to make changes - no matter how drastic. You can say because of differing (research) interests you want to change supervisor (much easier than going into the facts of the matter). That's not to say that even then it will be well received... to make it easier, perhaps he could still stay on board as a secondary supervisor. Then his limited input wouldn't matter much. Are you based in the UK? If so, then as far as I understand/have experienced, it is YOUR funding/scholarship, so it is up to you if you see fit to change supervisor. Even if you originally applied to work with that person. Perhaps see an academic mentor or advisor and get confidential advice on the best route to take around changing supervisors?

Hope this helps. It's what I'd do (given what you've said about your situation). Also just to say - when I changed supervisors, it completely changed my PhD/academic outlook/motivation/output - all for the positive! My only regret is that I waited till the start of my 3rd year, when actually I knew it was an issue by the end of the 1st year.

All best


It's not normal and I'd get out ASAP. I've commited the mistake of loyalty to a PI that was not worth it, I wasted four years of my life, I did PhD later elsewhere, but these lost 4 years mean that I was not competetive for young scientist grants (age limit) and since no grants means no grants, I cannot get the grants for the older ones, because people prefer to give them to the "promising" people (it was explicitely mentioned in my grant review- it got maximum points in the scientific part). I had good papers and a good PhD, my papers are highly cited, and at some point I had a chance to make career anyway, but after a miscarriage I realized I can't catch up and it will probably end here. Just flee while you can, after a throrough talk about the issues.


Your account is eye opening starryeyed. I was beginning to realise this as well (as so wish I'd changed supervisors sooner). Do you have any suggestions for people later in the journey who realise that they aren't going to be as competitive as they need to be? Surely there is SOME way to get around this and land oneself a situation where they can make progress and manage to catch up?


Always beware of "star" supervisors, because these people talk a good game but there is nothing behind the mask. I started with a "golden haired boy" supervisor, thinking that all will be well and I will sail through. NO SUCH LUCK. That jerk made my life a living hell, by bullying and harassing me to within an inch of my sanity.

Get out and away from this supervisor as fast as you can!


Thanks everyone. I have reached out to change primary supervisor and raised the pay issue with the University's HR as it was not part of any agreement ; who are dealing with it pretty well.


TudorQueen: The only way is to make a super paper, and immediately follow it with a grant and a foreign stipend. Somehow family must fit into this. It is near impossible and it is good to wonder if it's worth it.


I'm not sure. I think another way is to be mentored / supported (as should have happened on the PhD) by a good academic who is willing - take on an RA role perhaps and get the support you need to progress that way.


Guidance/support leads to papers, papers lead to grants. It's how it is, though we might not like it. I went into science to make science, but navigating in the system (which actively harms science, or so I think) is also a must. At the certain age you are expected to take the leading role anyway. Informal help is a great boost however. If not for my health, I'd be in a different situation now :/


What do you mean by informal help? Chatting with colleagues, having someone read a draft?


Generally socializing in a supportive environment. It's always good if you have your lab's backing. It's definitely not good if the atmosphere is backstabbing (and it's good I had luck and met good people from my PhD until now).