Requested change in supervision - a bit scared...


Hey all

Any encouragement anyone could send my way? I've requested a change in supervision as my main supervisor is a narcissist and has been very very subtly/indirectly bullying me over the past 2 years. I am a pretty independent and resilient person, but it has taken its toll and changing sups seemed my only option when it got to a certain point. As it was so subtle (look up covert narcissism tactics), I wasn't able to make a formal complaint or actually bring any evidence against her for what she was doing. I didn't particularly want to anyway - I just wanted to move on. So I raised it with my advisor and just said "it isn't working" and words to that effect. She kept probing for more, but I stuck to my guns and didn't say anything more, as nothing could be proved and it could have been seen as petty/insignificant at best and slanderous at worst. So I kept my mouth shut. She (the advisor) is going to be my new main supervisor, at my request.

I am just worried that the old supervisor will be bitter, defensive and possibly slander me, casting a big shadow on my new supervisory team/relationship. The ex supervisor (it feels so good saying that!) has a good reputation (she doesn't bully her superiors or colleagues obviously) and has been in the department forever. Her word would be believed against mine (which is why I didn't bother giving details about her behaviour). Can this end well? Will my new supervisor give me the benefit of the doubt/allow me to prove myself WHATEVER the old one rails against me?

Please encourage me! Advice/similar experiences shared (with positive outcomes please!) would be greatly appreciated.


It will depend on your own behaviour. If you try to manipulate your fellow students and most importantly your new supervisor into having negative views of an otherwise well-liked individual, then the consensus will be that you are the problem. If you behave professionally and don't throw around dubious mental health diagnoses like in this post then it will be fine. Your fellow students will probably gossip but I doubt most of the staff will know or care. And if the supervisory relationship had broken down, your former supervisor is quite probably cracking open the champagne, rather than plotting against you, as there is nothing worse than the hours and days trying to get somebody over the finishing line, who you know loathes you. Honestly PhD students are always convinced that they are the centre of staff discussion and lives - they really aren't. Colleagues elsewhere provide far more entertaining gossip on the whole.

And sorry if this sounds harsh but as there are many people posting on this forum seeking support with major mental health problems, please cut out the dodgy mental health diagnoses about your supervisor. It's not necessary or appropriate and may put vulnerable people off seeking advice.


Hi Bewildered - thanks for your reply.

As explained in my post, I said nothing negative about my ex supervisor in our meeting. I wouldn't dream of trying to "manipulate your fellow students and most importantly your new supervisor into having negative views". I'm not into manipulation. That is what I've just escaped from.

Re your criticism of my use of terminology. I accept this. I probably should have said that my supervisor has been showing clear narcissistic behaviours and has been very very subtly/indirectly bullying me over the past 2 years, rather than saying she is a narcissist.

Thanks for the helpful comment that what happens next will depend on my own professionalism going forward. I hope so. I should stop worrying. Fingers crossed.


Hi tudor. Firstly i would like to thank you for commenting on most of my threads and giving me your take on things.

I can tell you a few things of what to expect since i had done something similar. I was doing undergrad fyp under a particular prof but i switched labs when i embarked on my phd. Things didnt go very well.

The previous supervisor had talked badly about me to most of his circle of friends in ntu.Being the top student in my undergrad course means that your face is known. My reputation took a huge hit. Given the description of your previous supervisor, you can expect something similar. I just hope that the new supervisor is not too close or doing collaboration with your previous supervisor as that would mean he or she will likely trust your previous supervisor's word more than yours!

Just try to keep a low profile. Only attend conferences in which you find very useful or relevant. And importantly be at your utmost best when building rapport with new colleagues as it can be a psychological boost. You might feel a sense of guilt here and there after some time but remind yourself the kind of shit you went through under your previous supervisor.

And plan your next career outside of the current institution if possible. Because believe me, reputation matters in academia.

Congrats on having the balls to jumo ships. It aint easy!


And sorry if this sounds harsh but as there are many people posting on this forum seeking support with major mental health problems, please cut out the dodgy mental health diagnoses about your supervisor. It's not necessary or appropriate and may put vulnerable people off seeking advice.[/quote]

I think you are being a tad harsh here. Some supervisors can be arseholes.. Ive known a few friends who suffer the same fate. Supervisors with mental issues do exist.


Thanks for your reply Iwan. What you have described are some of the things I have been worried about. Being viewed potentially as a trouble student because I asked to switch. But your advice and Bewildered's encourages me. I'm going to keep my head down, get on with my work, and hopefully continue to be successful. Thankfully, I also have a good reputation too - as a student. I hope it would take more than requesting a change in supervision to destroy it. Thanks again both.


glad i am of help tudor. i just realised i had accidentally provided which institution i belong to. LOL. is there any way i can edit my previous posts.


Don't worry - I honestly didn't notice it until you said it, and then I had to google as it wasn't a familiar abbreviation to me. I don't think you can edit once someone has replied to a post. But if you contact an administrator/moderator they should be able to do it for you if you explain on what grounds (I've definitely seen posts edited/removed after many people have replied - so this must be how it is done). Good luck getting it sorted!


Just read your post. It seems you are under similar situation like me. But I submitted formal complaint to investigate my bench fee. MY ex seems shadowing my new supervisor too.


I also didn't notice Iwan until you said it! Report it as abuse and this will flag to a moderator who will remove it


For others reading this post who might have switched supervisors by request and be feeling a bit worried...

This article suggests that it is only if you keep on needing to switch that you would be viewed as the problem.


I really don't like my supervisor. She constantly seems to want to shout at me for no reason whatsoever. Also, she is always putting me down because of my age practically saying that because I am so young, I do not know anything and should therefore listen to her advice without question. The thing is that her advice is really poor. I proposed several intricate projects on the frontier of the research agenda but she always said I would be overwhelmed and has me now doing something so damn basic. I sense that she doesn't want me to do something she is unable to grasp completely because whenever I propose an idea she instantly shouts me down.... I thought the purpose of a PhD was to explore...


I haven't read all the replies so I am not beingvrepitive.

Anyway I was in exactly your situation. Bullying and underming...some subtle and not so subtle. I didn't know how to handle it. Like you I didn't have much 'proof' and I feared I would somehow come out looking the worst if I were to report it.

So I ended doing nothing. It's been very detrimental to my progress and I am now quite behind (not all due my supervisors behavior, to be sure...a lot if procrastination on my own part).

It's got to point the point where unless I chase him I don't get meetings and even then he stands me up, more often tthan not. He gives vague unhelpful feedback on my 'your just bad at writing' or 'your just bad in ways that can't be thought'.

anyway I could on..I won't.

But I wish I had done what your doing. Trust me in final year you will want some support. My supervisor won't even confirm if he thinks I have enough data. I'm left in position where I just have to get on with on it and do it myself. I know it's supposed to be independent work...I'm fine with that. I designed most of the programme if research myself.

But prior to submitting it would be nice to have an expert opinoon on the quality....I'm left in the position that I may fail because I have zero guidance.

I'm just trying to focus on what I can do and not let worry hinder my progress and hope for the best.

So I'm just telling you to this to let you know in my opinion you are doing the right thing...for sure.


Okay, so read the replies..(will I ever stop procrastinating! !)

Anyway I wouldn't worry too much about your supervisor bad mouthing you. There's nothing to stop them doing that even if you are still thier student.

Your approach seems very professional to me. If you side step any gossip about takes you out of the equation. Other people might gossip for a while but if they have no amunition from can't hurt you much. They will move on fairly quickly to the next drama.

I think if I were you I would a prepared response for when people ask you questions and try and draw you into gossip....something like "my research moved in different direction and we both thought x was a better fit as a result". Or you could even simply say....I don't want to discuss it.

You know thinking about it I would bet my supervisor undermines me behind my I am behind and had to get an extension....he probably tells people I'm a weak student ect.

I won't waste my time thinking about it.

I might start my own thread just to vent about him

Anyway you are definitely doing the right my opinion. I hope it works out with your new supervisor.


Hi Newlease!

Thanks for the ENCOURAGEMENT! I really needed it. I am going to write an update post on here as soon as I can (or start a new thread even as I think it is important to share so that others can be empowered). Basically, since making the decision to switch supervisors and making the request, I went through a horrible few days of doubt, regret, and fear... but I looked back on my reflections over the months and years and reminded myself of what was going on in the previous situation. After about 3 days I was at the place again where I knew I had done the right thing, WHATEVER the outcome.

I really hope that other people will change their supervisor if they are being treated badly (or whatever the reason - if it is impacting negatively on you as a person or on your research - even if it is hard to pin point what it is... the role of the supervisor is to supervise and nurture/teach - not to put their own insecurities on you). Don't be frightened to leave the comfort zone (which, admit it, probably isn't very comfortable anyway) and rock the boat. As long as it is all done professionally (do not criticize - say as little as possible) and you can demonstrate that you are going to complete your PhD, it should work out. And if not - start again elsewhere. Don't compromise on yourself or on your values (unless you've really weighed it up and are willing to do it as there is only a short time left for example).

And yes Newlease, I have done exactly that: I have a set response for if anyone asks why that person is not my supervisor anymore - and it doesn't implicate anything at all. Very wise advice - thank you!

My only regret is that I didn't do this in my first year.