I was forced to quit my PhD by both my supervisors


I started my PhD in October. It was a different topic from that of my degree, yet my supervisor still picked me and he told me that the reason he picked me was because I was the best at the technical in the interview and I had the best credentials.

So I started out, completely not having a clue about what a PhD entailed other than the words of my colleagues, who were a year ahead of me. My supervisor wanted my literature review to be in after 3 months of starting, along with full characterisation of my materials and most of my tests underway. There was nobody to help me in the labs and when I made a mistake he heavily criticised me. He never encouraged me once; I did not hear the words "thank you" or "well done" for anything I did - only every single thing I did criticised.

By January I had a letter telling me that he did not think I would get through the PhD and I should think about resigning. I was totally distraught, because I was doing my best.


For the next four months I was working under the threat of being forced to quit (with a black mark on my college record), he set me exams, he made me do a mock viva without telling me that is what is was and he examined me on tests which I was about to do (as opposed to examining me on something I had done). Under their threats of forcing me to quit I had to sit this exam for the sole purpose that my supervisor could prove to his colleagues how useless I was. He aliented me from some of my colleagues. He gave the MSc students help and I was forced to ask them to help me, because he gave me no guidance. He told me that I should be able to do this work (it happened to be sophisticated simulated computer design, which at the beginning of the PhD he told me I would get help with) on my own and that the MSc students received no help....


It culminated with an exam in which they asked me really easy questions and made it look like I didn't know the answers (he even said to me "you know all the answers to the difficult questions, but you can't answer the easy ones"....

They forced me to quit.

I was really depressed for a while. The college moved me onto another project, but I declined.

One of my friends from another college also had the same problem and his supervisor forced him to quit.


Hey. That is really awful and I cannot imagine what that would do for your confidence and self esteem. In particular, the fact that they were urging you to quit in January sounds completely insane- the first year is all about finding your feet, and at least in my field which is not lab based, very little in the way of anything concrete is actually done in the first year. So to be saying this after only 2 or 3 months was totally wrong, as usually it is not until after 12 months when the upgrade takes place and the first formal piece of work in the form of a presentation is assessed. Everything else including the mock viva where you were not told in advance is also unacceptable. I would have gone to the head of department and appealed, complained and kicked up a huge fuss. If you haven't already, I think you should do this to stop this happening again. Can you not get someone else now to supervise you so that you can continue with it?? My heart goes out to you...


Don't let this bad experience deter you from pursuing a PhD in a field you're interested in (or was previously interested in). There are many many atrocious supervisors out there, you happened to sign up with one. They're not all bad. That is the reason why a PhD application should really be a two-way process, where the applicant is given an opportunity to visit the lab, meet the people and have a chat first.


QT, I'm so disgusted to hear how you have been treated. This is a disgrace. Firstly, you were very much in the preliminary stages of the PhD, to be sure! Most students are completely lost in the first year of the PhD (this is standard). The first year is about finding your feet (acclimatising, finding your way around the uni, the town/city, the resources at the uni/library, etc.) My heart goes out to you, but don't let the experience of this knock you down, please don't. Stay strong my friend, and push on.


I should add that you're not the only one going through this.


Thanks so much everyone.

Lamp: you are right, all my colleagues said exactly the same thing to me, and they could not believe what was happening to me. They thought it was insane to be harrassed and criticised so harshly within the first three months. When I got the letter threatening me in January they were like "your supervisor is mad". Yes, I went to the college tutors and they urged me to write a report, stating facts, which I did. They said they would take it up with the head of the department and I'm waiting to find out what happens next.

I would add that this supervisor is young (29) and I was his first PhD student.


Thanks Rogue. You are right. I won't let this bad experience from stopping me doing a PhD. I had a bad feeling about this guy at the interview, but because I was accepted for the project and I liked the project itself I picked it.

Yes, now I understand the importance of seeing the labs, meeting the people etc before choosing a PhD. I won't let it deter me.


Thanks Xeno.

The consensus is that the first year is about finding your feet. My supervisor was just awful to me.

OK. I won't be deterred.

Thanks again for all your words and support.


That story is horrific, but strangely I am not suprised in some ways. My ex supervisor was a total power crazed despot, and he treated his PhD students as if they were idiots and he was doing us a favour if he deigned to speak to us. Interestingly, the other PhD student left at the mid point of his second year and did very well (better job than me and my supervisor actually).

I think some supervisors dont believe in praise and encouragement, but get off on humiliating their students. I know it sounds strange, but you should be glad to be far away from them rather than sticking at it for 3+ years, whilst your mental health gradually deteriorates.


QT, can I ask what your next plan of attack is? Do you have support from others within the department? Are you planning to do a PhD elsewhere/with another supervisor at the same institution? (Apologies if you've already answered any of these already)


Badhaircut…. So you stuck your PhD out and it sounds like it wasn’t such a great experience for you.

I am starting to realize that these occurrences are actually more common than I thought. I wish somebody had told me that at the beginning then I wouldn’t have thought so badly of what was happening to me at the time, but I was lead to believe that bad experiences were in the minority.

It looks like there are these guys all over the place and you have a 50/50 chance of getting a supervisor who will make your PhD experience anything less than satisfactory.


My supervisor was a complete psycho. He spent more time plotting how to get rid of me than he did on his own academic work. He was absolutely obsessed with me. He would write these long long jargon loaded letters about how useless I was. I mean it must have taken him ages. These guys are actually mentally ill. They are bullies. He will find another target and target them. I actually don’t think bullying is OK. I think they should be weeded out and dealt with. The organization suffers as a result of these people.



I have wanted to do a PhD for ages. I’m not going to let this bad experience get me down. My plan of attack now is that I am looking for new projects now. I have found one I like and have contacted the institution. This time I will make sure that I spend more time making the decision. I was really rushed last time I picked my project: I had just graduated and rushed to pick the project and supervisor instead of making a slow and informed decision. Maybe that’s where I went wrong before.

The institution in which it happened was very supportive. I spoke to the Prof in charge of pastoral care in my department and he understood what happened. He said it would not be a good idea if I worked in the same department and he made enquiries in another department to relocate me. Following this I spoke to a three or four supervisors and was interviewed for one of the projects. I was offered the position – but I turned it down.