Lack of confidence, need your advice.


Hi all,

I am into my second year of my phd, and am having serious problems going through. I sit outside of my lab and that disconnects me form my colleageues and supervisor.
Due to this I have met my supervisor only 5 times during these 2 years. He is very busy and rarely responds to my emails. Initially I thought he was giving me time to settle down but after 2 years I realised that he doesnt want to know my progress unless I show it to him. He never mails to call for a meeting as well nor does he reply to my mails for a meeting.

Recently, I sent him a draft for a journal which took 7 months to prepare. He said he will send me his comments before the deadline and but he never did. The same thing happened even with conference publications where he never responded as well. I can understand him as he has over 40 phd students, and possibly has no time. But also I wonder many times, then why in the world would he take me in if couldnt do justice. I wish I could ask him this. :)

I now have a serious feeling as to why should I continue with him when there is no proper balance and supervison. He expects me have three publications that makes me liable (but not certain) of getting a phd and I feel it is impossible to get a phd considering the present scenario and no help. I have a good name overall due to my contributions, but I know this is temporary and does not have a value to my phd.

My social life also has taken a huge beating. I am spending most hours at my lab working weekends, late nights trying to learn/find everything out myself. Also I dont speak the local language and most of my labs instructions etc are not in english. All this degraded my social life and confidence. I am extremely outgoing by nature, but I have transformed into a more private person.

Now, I am seriously considering getting a job in the industry or move to a place and escape from this phd stress. A lot of sacrifice has been made for my phd (leaving family,friends, country etc..) that will go in vain and I have regret that. On the positive side, I will atleast get a better pay, and more importantly a better response to my efforts. I have few questions to ask and any advice would be greatly helpful.

Are these common phd experiences?
Would it be fair to ask my supervisor for a reference?
How do I show these two years on my CV for my potential employer?

Thanks. :)


If the problem is entirely or mostly down to your supervisor, then it's possible to change your supervisor. You must remember that as a PhD student, your supervisor may well expect you to take the initiative, so I don't believe that he should have to arrange meetings necessarily.


40 phd students under his supervision !!!

Of course he wont have time for you. As prospective phd student i wont go to busy supervisor coz i know i will face same problems.

Good luck mate wish you all the best.....


You're in Germany if I remember correctly? I have two friends who did PhDs there and they also said there is basically no supervision. One saw her Doktorvater three times throughout the entire PhD and that was for history. So I wouldn't take it personally. Oh and in German universities generally, do not expect people to praise you for your efforts or positive validation and support - it's not how they work. I have studied there and it feels like you get a degree from successfully fighting the system rather than your intellectual ability! On the positive side because of the PhD examination system, as far as I understand it, if you submit a thesis it's next to impossible to fail. So if you have results and you follow the expected style of presenting them, it might well be worth persevering if you can face it. I'm presuming your supervisor is the professor. Have you made any connections with any of his/her postdocs? They might be both more approachable and able to tell you whether what you have is PhD standard. I suspect that if you knew that you were going to get out of there with a PhD in x months, it might make everything a bit more bearable.
If you do decide to leave, describe it as two years as a research assistant perhaps? And yes it's fair to ask him/her for a reference.
The other thing I just wanted to suggest from my own German experiences is some possibilities to expand your social life if you don't speak German (I did and it's still extremely hard to make friends). THings that I tried that worked: if your uni has an Anglistik department, there's probably a Stammtisch English conversation evening. You may meet other international people there. Details tend to be on their departmental notice boards. If you like sport, try joining a club - Germans are slightly more relaxed around strangers in a sporting environment. There's also a internet forum called toytown germany - mainly for Brits in Munich but I did find out about various foreigner-friendly social events happening in my area from there. Final though - it will be grim but is there an Irish pub? If you can face the over-priced drink, and over the top fake-Irishness, it is a good place to get chatting to other English speakers. I eventually made German friends but it took ages, and these things did at least stop me going crazy in the meantime.


======= Date Modified 14 Aug 2012 23:51:52 =======
I had a similar experience in the UK! My supervisor was not interested in my project despite the fact that the topic area was their suggestion!!!! I was constantly told that it wasn't their main research area which lay elsewhere and they resented having to spend any money on my project as it took it away from their precious research area! Talk about feeling wanted that I did wonder why on earth they wanted somebody to do the project!!! It was a really frustrating time and I was constantly fuming, pressured, stressed as I also had data problems and their promise of help was just that (it never came - they couldn't even be bothered to read most of my thesis!!!!) I had to spend most of my time getting data which was so time consuming that it just took over everything but I'm glad to say I survived!!! This so called supervisor is now very keen to write papers with me!!!!!!!!!!!

Whether you get a reference from your supervisor depends on your relationship with them. According to my German friend who did her Ph.D. at home people expect you to put your supervisor in Germany as she also had a similar supervisor so we used to complain about them! It really helped as we understood what the other was going through the way people with decent supervisors don't!!!

I used to use my supervisor as I thought I had no choice but then my friends suggested using my other supervisor as you can never be sure of what they will put down and you need good references!!! I thought it might look funny if I don't use them but apparently it doesn't matter in the UK.

How long is your Ph.D. for as my friend says they be indefinite? Can you get your 3 papers and leave? It's so much better doing your Ph.D. by publication as it's such a pain trying to write them afterwards when it's the last thing I want to do! It really pains me having to do them now as I just want to move on but I can't until I get them done! Finding time and motivation is a real problem!!! I really want to stay on academia so it's something I've got to do!!!!

As somebody else mentioned you could say you were doing a RA and ask your supervisor to verify that if anyone asks but can you stick it out so your supervisor doesn't win? It was a bit like that at the end - I refused to be beaten by my supervisor so I had to finish it even if it killed me!! They seem to be in much more of a jovial mood these days - maybe they doesn't have to avoid me or fob me off when I dared to ask for help which wasn't very often!

Good luck - you can do it!!!
(up) 8-)


Hi all,

Thanks all very much for your reply. Yes I am aware that I need to take the initiative of calling meetings etc. But i have a feeling my prof has a casual attitude. Sometimes he even refuses to fund me for a conference saying he does not have money inspite of paper acceptance and also refuses to share his name as coauthor(hes my supervisor!) ask he thinks he did not contribute, without even reading the paper. Should I read him as honest guy?. This unpredictable attitude of his keeps me guessing if my efforts would pay off or am I simply wasting my time in the name of a phd. I have no sight of my destination. To me his version of phd is "your time starts now" and let me see at the end of 3 years what u did.


What. A. Nightmare.

I really feel for you, as supervision is so important in a PhD - as much for the motivation and encouragement to carry on as much as for the intrinsic intellectual value of supervision. Your supervisor seems oblivious and flippant towards your feelings - and I certainly wouldn't be happy if my supervisor didn't feel happy to put his name on my work. That screams out incompetence on his/her part, certainly not yours. On the plus side at least you know that the academic content is 100% your own, rather than being a rehash of his/her work.

To remedy or at least address this situation I think I'd be inclined to send an email and mark it as important. I recently had to arrange a meeting with my supervisors (both separately) to tackle some supervisory issues head on. My problem was that like you, one of my supervisors has an infinite number of PhD students and is always globetrotting to various conferences and workshops - that's great that he's out in the field and promoting the research, but also rather frustrating from a personal selfish perspective, as I could use his input more than the other supervisor who is ALWAYS around/hovering in the building. Can you not put together an email outlining how you feel about supervision and some concerns that you have. Maybe the supervisor is just completely unaware?!

I moved 12000 miles and started my PhD and although this is an English speaking country, starting from scratch is tough. Socially, hard as it is I'd hang out in local places - see what the uni does in terms of social activities and step away from the lab for a while. If you de-stress outside of research, you might find the day to day stuff a little easier to handle. Also do you know any of your supervisors other students? Is there a research group/student colloquium you can attend - even if it's just for a coffee and bitch and moan about said supervisor? I find that a great release at the end of a tough week!

H :)


I think not wanting to add his name to a paper that he's added nothing to is a sign of great honesty, personally. I added my supervisor to a paper because he helped a great deal with it, but he wouldn't have expected it otherwise.


@DocInsanity...Hmmm ur maybe right. In a phd, u need help not honesty!..His honesty will only cost me my time. Isnt it not reasonable to think, that a prof who doesnt read a journal draft may also not read your dissertation in the end!...I fear, my 3 years of hard work with errors will culminate in the dissertation.


Can you not ask him why he's not more involved with your project and why he's not reading your work?


It's hard sometimes to decide what the best thing to do in a situation is but I am a firm believer in trying things out. If things don't feel right then it is probably time to get out, don't be afraid to listen to your intuition, too many people ignore it and then suffer the consequences!

You could do a lot worse then try and start your career at this point especially given the circumstances in your academic life. Ultimately you have to make the decision as to whether you really NEED that PhD to get where you want to be.

If you do decide to pursue your career check out the website which will give you lots of hints and tips.