Recently relations between me and my prospective supervisor seem to have taken a downturn. I won't get into the details as it would take forever.
Basically, my question is, could a supervisor - if spiteful enough - fail your PhD without good enough reason? Do they have the power to do this? or would it affect their reputation to have failed PhD student on their record - even if they were already a senior/well known academic?
A supervisor cannot make you fail at your viva.
However, a supervisor can easily stop you getting your PhD by refusing to ever sign off on it, which will mean it never gets to viva. They can also deliberately pick a hostile examination panel who could recommend you to fail. They can simply refuse to look at your work, or sit on it for so long it becomes obsolete.
They can also set ridiculously unachievable targets and recommend you for de-registration. In my old department there was a supervisor who had grown to hate one of his students so put down that the student had to gather 100 patients worth of data before 4 months -theoretically possible but completely unrealistic on that time scale. The guy failed to do so and was kicked out of uni before you could say "unsporting".
Forget about everything else your supervisor is the key to a PhD. Libraries and facilities are everywhere.
I agree with other people here. If you don't get along with your supervisor now, it's the best to switch. A supervisor can not fail you without any reason, but s/he can make your Ph.D. so miserable that the whole thing is not worth your time or energy. And this will not make them look bad among their peers. They may get a bad reputation among grad students, but they won't care. Even if their peers know that they are not good supervisors, it will not ending up hurt them. The supervisor is the most important factor in your PhD experience.
Look, I know you said you don't want to talk about why you fell out, thats fine. However you did mention that it was about grant applications. If you have fallen out over this, who knows what else you can fall out about - your whole thesis?
Being in good terms with your supervisor is really really really really important. They are the ones who open the doors for you, introduce you to the top people in your field, support you during conference presentations as well as the actual technical parts (well mine does). The people commenting on your thread are ones who are well into their phds, or are about to finish or have finished. You need to take our advice.
If your relationship with your supervisor cannot be salvaged, you seriously need to rethink doing a phd with them.
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