I'm only 7 months into my PhD and am really beginning to doubt whether it's worth continuing. I'm on a good deal with industry financial support (through a group of companies as opposed to a specific sponsor) but this has a major drawback, which follows. Because the project is industry funded, it has a specific goal. My background research leads me to believe that my supervisor did (or organised) a substantial amount of work to secure the project, which comes with some kudos. As such, I believe the project is tied to him.
My problems are with my supervisor. Right from verbally accepting the offer a year ago, I have started to have doubts about him. I still only have a letter saying that I have been accepted to do the PhD, no further details and nothing about the sponsorship terms and conditions, despite repeated attempts to get confirmation.
Now that I am in the university, I constantly have to push him to get any sort of response to anything. He always gives the impression of being too busy to see me and tells me to email him whenever I approach him in person regarding the project. He normally does not respond to these emails and I have to approach him in person again, with the same result. I am lucky if I get to discuss the project with him for an hour every 3 weeks or so, and trying to keep these conversations on the subjects of concern is difficult. The area I am working on is unique within the university and there is nobody else to discuss the subject with. The 2nd supervisor is a supervisor in name only - the only chance I have had to discuss anything work related with him was during the selection interview during which it became clear that he had no knowledge of the project. Neither supervisor is on campus much. I'd estimate that my primary supervisor is here less than a third of the time that I'm in and he has many other commitments and students to see during this limited time. Everything he needs me to do is with little or no notice, and he leaves everything to the last minute (or later in some cases) before acting on it, even if given the information weeks beforehand.
As you can see I am getting frustrated with this situation. I quite enjoy the subject matter and feel that this PhD is the right choice career wise for me. However, I do not know whether I can continue working under this supervisor for the best part of a further 3 years. It should be noted that this is not a personal problem with me - he acts like this to many other students. I feel he is mainly interested in securing funding and research output is of very low priority in comparison.
Suggestions about how best to deal with this are sought, especially from anyone else who has found themselves in a similar situation and managed to resolve it.
You know I hear about this situation with so many of my PhD friends so if it's any comfort these supervisors are everywhere.
The way they cope is usually 2 - either bull doze their way through the PhD course themselves (really frustrating and they end up being really sad and burnt out by the end) or they find someone else to guide them..they never quit, either for pride or passion for the subject.
In my case, I'm facing the same damn problem too now 10mths into my PhD and I feel I'm teaching my supervisor more than he teaches me. I'm sending him papers, giving updates on like a fortnightly basis and you know what? He keeps asking me the same damn fundamental questions that make me feel like he has not been listening...so like you, he has a lack of interest in my field too...the cons of gg with someone just starting out in a field I guess. I feel like quitting too but I can't man! I have to pay my scholarship body like a quarter of a mill. if I quit wo a PhD so I'm taking things into my own hands and approaching the scientists in a research institute and tell them honestly that I'd like guidance in exchange for my hardwork...still finalising this so I'm not sure if this will work out too...lol I'm trying hard to keep myself sane!
I hope you can try this too.
My supervisors have gone AWOL too at the moment, but I'm getting on with things myself and will prompt them again when I have something substantial to send them - which should be in a few weeks I hope- I need them to do a few things on the admin side, but that will have to wait until September now as the last date to submit for the next hurdle will be gone by the end of next week. However I still have time to get the necessary things sorted, and I will have made progress in other chapters so all is not lost. I am not quitting because I'm pretty sure it is only pressure of work that has made them forget that I'm here (being part time and working full time means that I can't just pop in to see them, and one has moved away anyway). They don't know a lot about my area so they are good at sounding out ideas etc. but not so much help on the sourcing of material. It does get a bit lonely when you feel you are working alone whilst others seem to have loads of help - but on the other hand at the end you will be able to say it was all your own work!:-)
Thanks for the responses. It is somewhat (but only a very little) comforting to know that there are others with unreliable supervisors. I've decided to do all I can to take some control of this situation. I'm acting on a plan and if that doesn't work I guess it's the counselling service or leave. The university is getting significant funding for me to complete this project, and if this supervisor can't supervise his projects adequately, something needs to be done.
Okay, listen: you enjoy the subject matter. That is good, and to your credit. I'm in my second year, stuck with a project that's a dud - and everyone knows it - and a supervisor who's input has been worse than useless, costing me huge swathes of time.
The question is: does that hour every three weeks provide you with good info? Are these suggestions that can be used and adapted and put into practice? Even if it's something like "You should take time to optimize your methods - draw up a checklist & work through each one". Even if it's something like "showing how you sorted out your method problems will be the core of your Ph.D.". If it's that - don't worry. That's good enough, and you can find contacts (third years can be very gracious in providing real support for the price of a glass of wine or a meal) who will provide the day-by-day help you need. Even in other labs. _Especially_ in other labs.
On the other hand, if this is one of those whose response is: "You must have done something wrong", or lets you get two months into a crucial stage before saying "Oh, you did do _this_, right?" and treats you like an idiot when you didn't - then you should be concerned. Because that won't stay frustration, it will turn into the most deep, black hate you can imagine - which doesn't help much when it comes to the daily slog of doing a Ph.D. Yes, I write with some feeling about this.
Now here's the ugly truth: a supervisor can comprehensively fuck you up during a Ph.D. with few consequences for him, compared with the ones for you. If the situation with the sup. is beyond the pale, do the following: work like a nutcase, pile up your data and your method optimizations until the first year assessment is past - and all the while make a list of things that make working for this person impossible. Then, once that first year asses. is past, apply to switch to another one.
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