Need to vent


I'm not sure if anyone will read this, but I feel like I need to vent and writing it down in a PhD forum seems like a good idea.

I'm a first year PhD student and I'm not sure if I want to do this for the next three years. I work in a lab that has three new PhD students (myself as one), a rotational student and our supervisor (yup - no in-between level such as a PostDoc or technician).

This morning I came to blows with my principal supervisor, which ended up with me running to the bathroom to cry my eyes out. PhD students at my university are on a well-known 'upgrade' system, where you are registered primarily as an MPhil student until your upgrade meeting 12 months after you start.
This morning, my supervisor (in front of my work colleagues) declared that realistically I wouldn't upgrade as I "haven't had a good start in my project", said he was "sorry", smiled, and went back to his office, (cue the waterworks).

OK, I'm not the brightest student. I'm not the best researcher, I have never claimed to be, and probably never will be. But my god have I tried my best this year. For a first year to regularly take work home in the evenings (or work late), and always work at least one day of the weekend (home or at work) must count for something. But apparently, in his eyes, effort doesn't outweigh publishable results, (I forgot to mention that he expects us to be producing a paper by the end of out first year - unrealistic? I think so).

I have been thinking about just leaving with an MPhil, and going on to a technical position (I worked as a research technician before I started the PhD - which I loved, but I had to move to London, and the opportunity of a PhD came up, so I took it), and I think my supervisor has just confirmed that for me. But what an awful way to go. Even if I did manage to upgrade to PhD level, there's no way I would want to work with him for the next two years, when he has so little faith in my research. He isn't supportive, rarely gives any valuable technical advice on protocols or techniques, and fails to give out any positivive comments or encouragement.

There, rant over. I'm not sure if I feel better. Has anybody else felt the same?


Just reading your post and have nothing constructive to add but just to say your supervisor should never had said that to you in the company of others and it is only his opinion. It could be the project for you, it may not be the project best suited to your skills but only you know. I can say if you really want to complete a PhD it is not a matter of intelligence it's just down to hard graft, motivation and perservance and if you have these you can complete a PhD. Please don't doubt yourself or your abilities based on the comments of one person.

I do feel for you but chin up as you've got this far and that says something very positive about you!


it is difficult to comment without knowing
exactly what you are doing. Is it your project, or one that the supervisor has
chosen? Are you funded or self funding? etc However it is unrealistic to expect
you to get on with things with no help. What is happening with the other two?
Are they in the same position? If not, why not. If you have worked in a lab then
your skill level should be good. i would suggest that you have a word with this
person in private, and get to the bottom of what is wrong. He cannot just
dismiss you just like that, he would certainly have to justify it to someone
higher, and you can also take it further too. If you have had no support then
you must tell the post grad director and ask why. You have as much right to have
your say as he does so go to the student union to see how they advise you to
proceed. Don't give up on his say so he might be your supervisor, but is still
not the biggest fish in the pool and you need to prove that to him. The same
deadline is in place here, but in the words of our post grad secretary 'nothing
bad happens if you go over the time specified', so I guess your place will have
a similar setup. If you need more time I would have thought you could apply for
an extension if necessary.  Not having a good start as he puts it, is down to
him as he is supposed to be your guide and mentor, so tell him so, also tell him
that you do not appreciate him broadcasting something that should have been
discussed in private with him providing constructive not destructive feedback.
Ask him how the two of you are going to tackle the problem, and take it from


Thank you both for your advice.
I have had a little time to cool off and am thinking through my options.
I have asked both my graduate tutor and the head of the graduate school for some clear advice on what I can do now, which (as it is the weekend!) has not yet come my way.

But for the time being, my thoughts are still the same; to leave this PhD with an MPhil and go back to a technical or support position for the time being. I'm beginning to think that I wasn't ready for this particular course, and that has been clear in my unhappiness for the past 8 months. This was confirmed when my supervisor declared his lack of faith and satisfaction with the results I had produced so far, on Friday. He has always been a perfectionist (according to his colleagues that I have been talking to) and if you don't produce publishable results, then they're not worth anything, but yes - perhaps a tad unprofessional in discussing this in front of others.

I have always been under the impression that if he wanted papers out quickly, then he should have applied for funding to hire post-docs for his lab, not three inexperienced and new PhD students.

As for the other two students, fortunately, they seem to have missed this particular dissatisfaction. As far as I know (and we are all quite close, so talk about our projects regularly) they haven't produced anything more than me in the way of results, and I am just being singled out in this case.(This has been pointed out by them, not me. I'm really not one to whinge!)

We have always thought that there was a lack of support in the lab (post-doc wise) but we're unsure on how to bring this up. If there is a lack of funding for a post-doc/technician, then there isn't much we can do. Perhaps it was foolish of our supervisor to not consider that we would need more help. Even though I have had experience in another lab (this is also true for one of the other students), there are always going to be new protocols and techniques that you have to learn, practice and perfect. For the most part, we've had to do this ourselves (sourcing protocols from papers and adjusting them to our particular needs), and we received little external guidance. In the long run, this may make us a more accomplished scientist, but then when I'm told that my results aren't good enough and my project isn't doing so well, is perhaps a little unfair.

At the end of the day, my confidence has been greatly shaken by my supervisor's comments. The fact that he didn't offer any advice, any encouragement to try and get me through the upgrade or any direction at all, really shocked me. Even if I muddled through, and managed to produce a report worthy of an upgrade, and convinced a panel of examiners that I could complete my project in reasonable time, I honestly don't think I could work with this man anymore. It is quite obvious that he doesn't feel that I am worthy of his lab, and should stop wasting his time. Perhaps this is my true failing in the PhD - my lack of drive and motivation, and determination in proving him wrong. But when the only person who is meant to guide you through this process completely shuns you, then you can understand why I wouldn't want to put myself through this for the next 2 years.

I'm not interested in pursuing a career in academia anyhow ... so no great loss really!
But thanks you for your advice, and any other opinions/similar stories are very welcome :)


Hi B,

must be a difficult situation, but perhaps not that unusual in the PhD process. Although I personally think that it is very poor if one does not receive proper supervision and if the supervisor does not seem to have proper communication skills, several of these issues are brought forward in the various postings on this forum.

I think you should give it a bit of time an look at what your options are. I think it is important to give things a bit of time, often the intensity of your emotions then gets less and it is easier to see the full and rational picture. As such I think it is good that you have contacted the other two people and have to wait for their reply.

Also look at what your options are. If it very easy to get another job, in a field that you like, then obviously you can change. However, I understand that it no so easy to find employment (I presume you are in the UK) and the last thing you want is to loose your PhD and being unemployed. Have you got someone with whom you can physically talk? Often this really helps to put things into perspective. :-)


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Mulling it over would seem to be a good course in action incase you decide to change your mind later and of course there is getting your own back on your supervisor!  This is always satisfying especially one such as yours! ;-)

Doing a PhD is like a roller coaster with your emotions all over the place. Being stressed and tired doesn't help as that may cloud your judgement.  I wouldn't base your decision just on your supervisor's assessment of your capabilities! It sounds like he doesn't have many social skills and is very unreasonable in that he expects you to have publishable results by the end of your 1st yr!  A PhD is research training so you have to settle into it, do your reading and set up experiments which all takes time! As you point out if he wanted instant results he should employ a postdoc!  I agree a postdoc or technician if they are trained in your specific methods would help bridge the gap between him and you so there is someone to help. This of course depends on the postdoc or technician but if you were part of a larger group there would be a better atmosphere perhaps.  At least the other students point out that they are at the same stage as you but it doesn't help you that he picks on you which must be annoying/infuriating!

I would wait until you hear back from your postgrad tutor/admin person.  Your supervisor needs to have a good reason to not pass you and it shouldn't be his decision alone. As you worked as a technician before you obviously have the skills to do it so you just need to believe in yourself and have confidence!  It's easier said than done especially as your supervisor has been chipping away at it. Does he realise it as you know they are not the most self aware people especially one with a personality like yours.  They don't think before they speak and it often comes out wrong as they don't have good social skills!

As for the upgrade meeting - find out what the procedure is so you know what to expect. There should be an appeals process or maybe if they can set a later date if they want to see more work or whatever your supervisor's grievance is.  Is you supervisor approachable? If so ask him what the problem is and how to improve - this will look like you are trying to sort out the situation.  There's no excuse for poor supervisor - is he trying to cover up for lack of help? Or take what he says with a pinch of salt (see previous paragraph!) You can never do enough work or fast enough for some people especially as they don't have to the lab work themselves! 

Good luck and hope you get it sorted. Have you a second supervisor who you can go to for help? Or another trusted academic?  Let us know how you get on (up)



First, a piece of advice for anyone who finds that their supervisor no longer wants them to carry on with their PhD – go and find someone to talk to. A graduate school tutor, the head of graduate school or someone similar. Your supervisor CANNOT just decide when to end your PhD. There are rules, regulations and protocols to follow. Yes, they are entitled to their own opinion, but they certainly cannot decide when they feel like ‘kicking you out’ when you’re not producing the ‘right sort’ of results. This is what I did, and I feel like an entire world has been lifted off my shoulders by confiding in my graduate tutor.

But first, I’ll backtrack a little. After having the brief and brutal discussion with my principal supervisor about my ability to take on a PhD a couple of weeks ago (see first post), I went home feeling shocked, miserable and exhausted. I was, in short, a wreck (perhaps understandably). For the first time in quite a while, I put myself first and visited my GP. With her advice, I decided to take a break from the lab for a short period to rest as I was suffering from stress and exhaustion. I relayed this information to both of my supervisors, explaining the situation, apologising and asking for advice. This email was sent on Wednesday the 6th July, I have not yet had a response. I was not expecting them to be ‘over the moon’ with this email, but I am shocked, confused and a little angered as to why they don’t feel it necessary to respond. Not even an acknowledgement was sent to me.

Still, an informal meeting was arranged with my graduate tutor, so that he can gain my opinion in the matter before we took this situation further. This happened today and I have learnt an awful lot about my principal supervisor. It seems that he has a reputation of ‘sticking his head in the sand’ and ignoring situations. He also has been known not to accept anything except exquisite results, and has no tolerance for anything less. In short, he cannot process that there is a learning curve involved in a PhD. He has also had his wrist slapped for his ‘managerial’ skills with past PhD students, and his inability to be fair. It was reassuring to know that I’m not the one with the opinion that he is unprofessional can make life as a PhD student a living misery.

There are two outcomes that we have decided can be salvaged from my current situation, and these will be discussed in the near future with a committee comprised of myself, my supervisors, my grad tutor and other tutors in the faculty. The first is that we try and repair the damaged relationship between me and my supervisor. Purely from his lack of response to my email and request for help, and the fact I have had to go to someone outside the lab for some advice, I feel that this may not be a plausible option. I fear that even if he is all ‘happiness and smiles’ at the committee meeting, that he may revert back to his negative, unsupportive attitude within a few months. The second option is for me to write up an MPhil thesis with the results I already have coupled with an extensive literature review and to get out of the lab as soon as possible. This seems like the most likely options I will take. What will happen after? I’m not sure. I may try and apply for another PhD or a job (although the job market is pretty damn scary atm) but at least I will be out of that lab. And one thing’s for sure- this year would not have been a waste. I was so scared that my only option would be to leave with nothing. What on earth would I put on my CV? But my grad tutor has assured me that I will not leave the university with anything less than a MPhil.

So that’s where I’m up to so far. It’s certainly not where I’d thought I’d be 8-9 months into my PhD, but these sorts of things are highly unpredictable. But now I have talked to somebody, the stress and pressure has definitely been lifted, (a problem shared is a problem halved – and all that jazz!) I now have a way out of this, and I don’t


.....feel like I have wasted my time. It will be interesting to see what my supervisor is like when we have the committee meeting ... it may not be as straight forward! But for now, life is a little better.


I'm glad you jumped onto it and hopefully it will end in a positive outcome for you. Sounds like a real nightmare!