Resubmission and unsupportive supervisor


I had my PhD viva this week and have been given 18 months to revise and resubmit. It's not a completely surprising result (honestly I'm relieved not to fail or be offered an MPhil) but still a bit of an upsetting experience, and it looks like I'm going to have to do the corrections without supervisor support. My main supervisor has been distant and unhelpful throughout the whole PhD process (I don't want to go into details about the failings of supervision here as I don't want to be too identifiable, but let's just say it's been a frustrating and lonely experience with almost no guidance or feedback over the years, and my efforts to do things like submit papers or attend conferences being ignored or obstructed). She also refused to read my thesis.

The only contact I've had with her in recent months has been a terse email informing me of the time and place of my viva -- no advice about it or even a 'good luck', and on the day of the viva I didn't see or hear from her at all, so I have no idea what her reaction is to the disappointing outcome. Although I don't know why I expected anything else...

I guess my questions are: has anyone else done major corrections or resubmission without supervisor involvement, and did you look to anyone else for feedback at this time (I'm particularly concerned as the examiners said several times that my supervisors should have picked up on the problems with the thesis and advised on how to fix them before submission, and now I'm in the same situation of working without supervision again) -- and is there any point making a complaint about my inadequate supervision at this stage (I know I could have done so much earlier, but didn't for various reasons).

Any experiences or advice very welcome, thank you!


Tough one - I would go for a formal complaint because I highly doubt that you would get good references from your supervisor anyway, so you can do yourself no further harm here.

Technically, I have no idea if its possible to change supervisor at this point. Do you have any academic cooperations/friendships where someone could at least act as an informative supervisor? So someone more senior than you who can spot some troubles in your thesis while your doing the corrections?

Even if you complain now I doubt that you will get a new supervisor within lets say 2 months from now - so someone who can help you through for the moment would reduce the risk of "wasted" time in the end.


Supervisors are required by university policy (at least the ones I’ve attended) to give each of their students a minimum amount of contact hours each week. You would be well within your rights to make a formal complaint; especially given your supervisor has refused to read your thesis.
However, rather than file a complaint and risk putting your supervisor completely off-side, make a last-ditch effort to get some cooperation. First, explain to your supervisor that you will require their support over the next 18 months to complete your corrections. Start with an e-mail, and then follow up with a telephone call to request a meeting. If they still push back then you should consider a formal approach. Your student/postgrad union on campus may be a good place to ask for advice. Note that if you do make a formal complaint, it is likely that the first thing they will ask you is why you didn’t raise these issues earlier.


hi Ephiny
I am so sorry to read that your supervisor refused to read your thesis! I think it is possible to do corrections by yourself first. However, on that note, I would go with Barramack's suggestions. What RinaL has said about making a complaint, is quite true, there may be difficulty in getting a new supervisor.

Hang in there, don't lose hope
love satchi


Thanks all for the advice and suggestions. I'm really in two minds over whether to make a formal complaint -- it's good to hear that I might have a case, though it's a fair point that I should have raised these problems years earlier. I can't justify why I didn't, except that I hate confrontation and conflict and tend to avoid them at all costs, I was worried no one would believe me as my supervisor is quite senior and well-thought-of in the department, and I was struggling with anxiety and depression through much of my PhD so it was tough just to get through the day at times. I guess I just ignored the problem and hoped it would go away, which of course it didn't...

I'll give it some more thought, while I wait for the list of corrections from my internal examiner. Really I just want to get the revisions done and resubmitted, and hopefully pass my PhD, as soon as possible. I don't want to complain or have a fight for the sake of it. Maybe the best approach is to see if anyone else in the department is willing to help out informally or look at my corrections for me before I submit. My internal examiner has also said I can contact him with any questions during the process, which may be useful if I need to clarify anything. He actually seems more helpful and supportive than my actual supervisor, which seems the wrong way round, but that's the way it is!


Hi Ephiny,

Reading your story was like reading my own! I was given an R&R just over a year ago and had the same problem with my supervisor who told me he wouldn't be reading any of my work. Considering my examiners asked me to write two new chapters I was very concerned that having no supervisor feedback would put me in a comprising position.

In the end, I didn't make a formal complaint as such. I ended up writing to the admin office and asking what the official guidelines were on PhD supervision after viva. My enquiry concerned them as it was obvious I was receiving no supervision. They ended up forwarding my e-mail to the head of school even though I never asked for this to be done! Anyway, a week later my supervisor got back in touch with me and told me that he "didn't remember" saying he wouldn't read my work (a convenient memory lapse there!). Yes, my supervisor is a dirty liar but at least he made contact with me again and offered to read my new chapters which, at the end of the day, was all I wanted and was entitled to.

I hope my story helps in some way. I wish you all the best, good luck! :)

Avatar for TheGoodShip

OK - you do need to talk someone in the department. Don't expect them to criticise a colleague, but they will probably put some steps in place to help. What I mean here is that a measured email (I recommend an email to the HoD with the Director of Postgraduate Research copied in) will at least put you on the radar and probably encourage them to help you. What you won't ever ever ever get is 'tea and sympathy'. It's important you know that.

Also you should be given detailed corrections to effect from your external. No? If not, talk to your HoD. Explain that you need guidance to follow. They might organise it.



Every phd student is different I suppose. My supervisor is very hands off but is there if I ever need him. Occassionally he wil get in touch if he hasnt heard from me for a while. I see him no more than once every 2 months or so. For me, this is perfect. I see this as my phd, my research and my responsibility entirely. At the end if this process next year I am expected to be an independent researcher and so I act like that on a daily basis. It has made the phd much much harder than it could have been but I gain from that in terms of independence and resilience although the latter has caused me no end of sleepless nights.
When I finish a piece of work, I write up for publication myself and I never expect my supervisor to do anything more than a cursory check because I assume it is my responsibility to get the paper correct and to face the reviewers on my own. I would not want to do this any other way. He always does read my papers and gives decent feedback but I don't expect it and I certainly don't depend on it. If I fail, I fail. In my opinion this is what a phd is all about. Come thesis submission time, I will send him a draft and ask for comments but again I don't expect him to read it in detail - this is my work not his.

I don't wish to be critical of anyone who wants to have a different way of working.We all work differently. This however is my experience and I am going to sorely miss the intensity of it when I finish up early next year.