Politics at work


======= Date Modified 28 Aug 2011 17:23:15 =======
As a naive PhD student I thought my work would mainly be about the subject matter and contents. It turns out to be more about egos, reputations, gangs, and corruption. I have never been good at work politics. My supervisor is only politics. He will change his mind mid-way a conversation if someone he thinks is important has the opposite view of him (without any argumentation given). He will gang up with colleagues he finds important and support gossip and destruction of the reputation of innocent and hard working people. This just to be part of the 'in-group'. Have I ended up with the most awful supervisor in the world? Someone unable to be neutral? Unable to think independently for himself? When I suggested a colleague of him also have joint supervision I was met with a fist- threatened to be fired. I was told that I needed to change... and that was that.
As time progresses I'm learning more and more to play the game. I'm going more and more 'around him'. I'm trying to find supervision and guidance from others. I'm trying to work with people in the field that he finds important -this forces my supervisor to go along with it, instead of blocking the subject.
But I'm still finding it all so hard. Is this part of the learning experience of being a PhD student?


I find a lot of similarities with my past situation. Now, luckily I am out of it, as I passed my viva with minor corrections, and hopefully this is it. Nonetheless, it's a situation in which the student can never win. We will need references later, and where else are we going to look for them?

I had to learn to step back, look for help and support elsewhere - although very cautiously - and kept my mouth sealed, whatever happened. I am pretty sure that I wouldn't have been able to get to the end otherwise.

On the positive I can tell you that I greatly enjoyed my project. Being able to research what I was interested in was a great plus, and as I said elsewhere, a great privilege that allowed me to meet many great people.

Unfortunately, the supervisor was not in that group. But in the end they are sad figures. I think that he is a very bright person, and he would have been able to climb the ladder without playing those kind of games. But this is his problem at the end of the day.

It was very hard, but I managed to complete pretty much by myself, and this is very rewarding.

I don't think that supervisors are all like mine or yours. I know many honest and capable people who genuinely care for their students and have a career based on their own capacity. We were just very unlucky.


Thanks Corinne for your reply. It is true that there are great, nice and kind people to work with. Sometimes I lose faith in that fact. I know that I am the major problem in my contact with the supervisor. I haven't managed to feed his ego enough or kiss his .. . But I find it so difficult to keep my mouth sealed. I would want to shout in his face and tell him I think he's the most corrupt, insensitive, lying, egoistic, deceptive, and awful supervisor and human being I know (That would give relief). I would love it if he wasn't involved in my PhD but the problem is I need to see him every week. If I give any criticism (even the slightest) he will use his tool of being able to fire me. That's his way of communicating. This guy has only had one PhD student before. If I was a supervisor I would want feedback to know how things are going.  I'm finding it hard because I'm a human with emotions - but having them is not in my favor. I know I have to be quiet and look for opportunities to work with others -to take responsibility for my PhD. But my supervisor is having an extreme negative effect - not just no effect.


Hi Jackson,

must be very hard situation to be in, you have my sympathy.

I presume that you are at the start of your PhD. Do you think you can manage for another 2-3 years with this situation? If yes, obviously, then that is fine. Yet if not, then I would think it would be better to do something now to change matters, then to wait until you are further on in your PhD and when it becomes harder and harder to change. Is it possible to change supervisor? Can you discuss your situation with responsible university staff? etc.

I think many posters in the past have indicated that changing supervisor had been a good thing.:-)


Changing supervisor could be a good move, but only if you work in a large department and, even then, I would be very careful on how you deal with this. Some people have a lot of influence, and if you are in the position to change, I would approach the potential new supervisor on the grounds of his expertise, rather than criticising your current sup.

If, as it was in my case, your department is too small and no one else is available (or if you are too close to the end to change), I would -again - be careful and try not to be confrontational. I know that it's very, very hard, but the completion of your PhD worth it. If you confront him, you just stimulate his worse side. Try to keep contacts with him as short and professional as possible.

Focus on your work and leave that sorry figure in the background. Meet other people, discuss and exchange ideas with other experts in your field. Try to create other, external, contacts that may be useful in the future. But always keep your thoughts on this person for yourself. You often find people who amicably listen to your complaints, but you must also expect some back-stubbing. No matter how high up these people are. They protect their caste.

I found this forum of great help. I am not sure that i would have got to the end without this support. So, you know that you can unwind here at least. Let us know how you get on.