My supervisor puts me on the sideline


Dear all,

It's been three months or so since I undertook phd research and I am so excited about it.

The real and main problem, however, is that my supervisor keeps putting me on the sideline. He is an excellent researcher and a good person. However from the beginning he denied to have regular meetings. I said "ok" and I tried to work completely alone from home. We have some scattered conversations through viber and that's all. He doesn't advise me about bibliography and he didn't return me a feedback of a report he asked me to write. He is not supportive and some times I feel completely alienated so that I fear to ask him things relating my research.

He seems that his main and only priority is his BA and MA students. One example: some library books, completely necessary for my work, were given to his students by him and I was left totally in ignorace of that material. Right now I am waiting for them to be returned to the uni library in order for me to borrow these books.

So, what the result is? Almost nothing have I done with my phd so far. I 'm isolated from the university and I feel a bit depressed due to his behavior towards me. All I want to ask is whether this kind of supervision is a norm or just a defective exception. Is it my fault, he isn't a good supervisor or both?


PS.: Sorry for my english...

Avatar for Pjlu

Mariba, I'm wondering whether what you are expecting from your supervisor is the sort of support you might have received as an undergrad or honours student. Once you get to PhD level, much of the work you do is on your own and it is completely different to undergrad and course work Masters courses.

PhD candidates are expected to find their own research literature. Often supervisors take a long time to read reports-not all supervisors and not every time but it isn't unusual to wait a bit before they provide feedback on things you write. All the while this is happening, (as in them having writing to look at or in between meetings) they are just expecting you to get on with things independently.

When you say declined regular meetings, do you mean you have no idea when you will meet him next? Has he given any indication as to when you would next meet with him? My own university's regulations mandates a meeting once a month for full time students and every 2 months for part-timers. These meetings are not always long-it depends on what we are discussing.

I think companionship and support during a PhD often comes from fellow students. Are there any groups, post-grad societies or research groups you can join? Or perhaps you can enrol in some short workshops or courses related to your field or check out local conferences?

Best wishes. The beginning of a PhD can be very confusing while you try to sort out your topic properly and get a feel for the literature in your field. Much of it though happens independently, with your supervisor just being a bit of guide during this process (at least this is how I found it).


Well, you are right. But I should say that when I started my research I knew that all the work had to be done by me.However, I expected some kind of support, nothing more,nothing else.

As for the meetings, no we don't have any of them so far. I need more support, maybe it's wrong but I feel I need this in order to start.


Avatar for Pjlu

Hi there again, you do need support, so I hope I didn't give you the impression otherwise. I just know from my own experience that other than regular meetings (every 9-10 weeks or so as I was part time) with some conversation around what I was doing, at the early stages, I pretty much did it all by myself. I think this is true for many, if not all.

My supervisors became far more active much further into the thesis, where they read finished chapter drafts and critiqued these and pointed out inconsistencies, making suggestions for clarification.

You might still try seeking out support from other doctoral students and networking at conferences to help with the feelings of isolation. Does your university stipulate meeting schedules or is it just up to your supervisor to set these? Do you feel confident enough to explain to him that you would find it helpful to have a regular meeting time (even if it is just for a brief catch up), especially at this early stage. How do you think this might work?



While agree with everything Pjlu has said, I myself (and my fellow PhD students) have quite a different experience.

I have regular meetings with my supervisor, and I think that is the norm where I am... We meet as often as once a fortnight if I want to, but usually more like every 6 weeks or so. My supervisor is there as a supervisor should be for if I need to meet and discuss my research. I don't know why your supervisor would discourage regular meetings when you are right at the start of your PhD especially. Even if they are busy, you should be made some sort of priority. After all - what is the point in having a supervisor if they are not supervising you?

- could you be quite open and assertive (while still being polite of course) and explain that at this time you feel you would benefit from having some regular meetings booked in?
- do you have a secondary supervisor you could ask to meet with instead or in addition to?
- do you have a mentor/academic advisor who is separate from the supervisory team who you could ask to advise you and possibly intervene if chatting does not help?

I would advise you to try each of these things (if you haven't already).

Re your research... 3 months in is nothing so don't worry that you feel you've done nothing so far. I remember feeling that for most of the first year! But are you getting some kind of concrete plan in place for the remainder of your PhD? If not then this would be something you could begin to do and ask to meet your supervisor to discuss. After all, they are there to supervise which does mean oversee and provide some direction where needed.

Best of luck,


On the social isolation side of things... are there any other PhD students in your department? Do you have a shared office or communal area? It would be good to get chatting to others as then you will get more of a feel for what the norm is in your department. Also they might have some tips. Keep smiling!


sups are paid so don't think they do service free of charge ! you should approach him from now or his superior in the uni before you go further and then you feel worse since you have limited time to finish your Ph.D.


Hi Mariba,

I think how often you meet your supervisor varies a lot. But I would expect to have agreed a plan of action and a date for your next meeting even if it's a while off, because you need to know what you're doing right now.

What are you actually working on at the moment, are you doing taught methods courses, or are you developing your research proposal, or reading around your topic? What was the report you wrote - was it PhD related or other work? It's disappointing to complete work and then never hear back - although it might well be that he just thought it was good so didn't need to say anything.

I would suggest contacting your supervisor stating exactly what you want to discuss (i.e. not just a general request for 'a supervision') but to agree what you should be working on and what your goals should be and when you should next meet - and make some suggestions for what you think those goals are.

My agreement with my supervisor is that I *always* have to have new writing for a supervision (she won't see my if I've not written - even if it's writing about what my problems with writing are!) so we always agree what my next writing task is and when we will discuss it. Personally I think this works well right from the outset, it doesn't have to be writing actual chapters of your thesis, it could be writing an annotated bibliography or a personal narrative of why you're interested in a topic. And I usually see her monthly or so.

But I do think you need to know what your immediate goals should be and when you should expect to have a supervision to give you some focus - and you should get an answer on this from your supervisor. Good luck.


Three months in is really no need to stress about not hearing much from your supervisor. As others said, the support increases more when you are further along. And don't compare yourself to how he treats his other students. It isn't really any of your business how much time he devotes to other students. This supervisory relationship will always mean more to you than it will your supervisor


I think there is some reason for some concern... what if this first few months sets a precedence for how things will be for the rest of the PhD? It's really important to be sure that things become more regular/consistent so that you are more satisfied sooner rather than later.