Supervisor leaving...


Ok, so I am really winging it with my PhD as it is. No one has experience in what I'm doing at the uni I'm at, I have no experience in research really and now my main supervisor is leaving for a different uni. To be honest I only saw my supervisor once every few months and they never replied to my emails so this does give me the opportunity to find someone who knows what I'm doing (they want to keep me on but no trust left after they neglected to tell me they were leaving so I had to find out from other people at the uni). But I feel lost right now. I'm a year in and I haven't collected any data, is that normal or should I be worried?? I know exactly what I want to do but as I get no help I have no idea how to go about it - I just keep getting told to finish my lit review which is in draft form and as what I am doing is a very new area it will be outdated in 2 yrs anyway (it's a fulltime phd).

So here I am, middle of nowhere (I live over an hr from the uni) with 1 supervisor leaving and the other completely confused by my area, tonnes of demands on my time but always stuff that everyone else needs (i.e. helping with websites and reports that do nothing for my academic credit) and my director of studies, who I'm pretty sure thinks I'm a complete waste of time, is impossible to contact and talk to about what I do next. I just need a bit of help! Can anyone give me advice?


My situation is similar in some ways to yours - I'm at the end of my first year and my supervisor is also leaving, although my experience of supervision has been good and so the change isn't a welcome one (I know these things happen and I was always aware that it might, but it still introduces an element of chance that I would rather not have).

It's hard to establish what 'should' be done at each stage of the PhD - I have asked this question too and found lots of different answers. I also don't have any data yet - recruitment of participants for my study has been very slow. I've just tried to make sure I am working on something while other things are stuck, and have been drafting my lit review and methodology chapters, figuring that if I am using the time productively on something then I can help myself stay on track.

Regarding other demands on your time, I think you may need to find a way of putting your own work first as it progresses. I also am a distance away from my uni and when the chance arises to get involved in other activities, I try to prioritise the ones that will be good for me (eg teaching experience). Of course, there is a case for doing other stuff that will be good for your relationships around the department, but if you're getting asked to do so much extra work that your own is suffering, you may need to put some limits in place.

I hope you manage to find someone else at your uni who can take over your supervision - if no-one specialises in your topic, is there at least someone whose way of working would be better for you? Is there a chance of getting external input from someone who is more of an expert in the field?


You are in a tough time.. Sure you are worried and don't know to whom you can ask anymore for help. I don't know what to advice. Let's pray, even if you don't have religion I think it's okay. It works for me, even though the solution is not given right away on the spot.

Do you have any friend/ family member that you can talk with? Even though they may be couldn't understand your situation /pain fully, it's helpful to have somebody by our sides. How about you try open up your heart to them? For me, it works. May be it depends on person. Thanks for opening up to us in this forum. Hope that you'll see hope.


You need to speak to somebody 'independent' of the project. Somebody equivalent to the head of the research degree committee in your department. You should go to the office and see who you need (cont)


(Cont) to speak to. You are entitled not to be treated like this; you are entitled to the correct supervisory team for your work and if one leaves to have another appointed.


Cont - Also, I just need to say, your 'supervisor not reply to emails' is not a sufficient excuse for not seeing him/her enough. You need to speak to the management of research degrees to get this back on track.


See it as an opportunity. It's easier for you that they left than the probable having to complain and change supervisor that surely would have occurred
You have a first draft chapter and a plan f what ypu wabt to do so in many ways ate ahead of the game. No data end of yr1 is normal I'd say. Now it's your opportunity to hunt down a better match for your PhD. :-)


I agree with those who say it’s an opportunity, although it might not seem like it right now. I’d suggest spending some time looking at the publication lists and research profiles of potential supervisors to see if anyone would be a good match. They don’t need to be perfect but should have interest or knowledge in some area of what you're doing.

I’m more concerned that you’re being given extra jobs to do. Who by? Why? Is it paid? Helping out now and then is one thing but it's not what you are there to do and presumably your studentship isn't supposed to pay for your time doing admin.


i had a similar situation, one left and was, in fact mostly unavailable and wanted me to follow his plan, one was uninterested,I didn't realise how much help other students had in comparison I am part time, so didn't see much of other students and only found out when I went to a student meeting in my field. i voiced my concern to my director of studies However it turned out to be a good thing as my new supervisor, although not working in the same area has been really good. What you do need to do though is get a plan in place, a good supervisor will help you with this, it is no good floundering in the dark, and it isn't much use collecting random data which could well be just a waste of time. Go to your uni, the director of studies, the senior admin person for postgrad was a great help to me and get yourself a new supervisor, by all means spend time researching round your topic, but number one is to get a supervisor sorted, the field may not be as important as research knowledge, after all they will ask the questions that someone more knowledgeable won't. don't panic, but fo get organised.


It's fairly common to have data by the end of the first year. But it depends on your field of study. For some fields, like biology and ecology that involve a substantial field component, missing the first field season would be a big blow. For lab based studies or in disciplines where data can be collected fairly expedienty and not dependent on seasonality, not such a big deal. The first year can be hectic in terms of multitasking your candidacy proposal, literature review, and planning and conducting fieldwork/data collection. Once you have your first round of data, it does get easier - i.e. you actually know what you are doing the second time around!

My original supervisor left after a couple of years into my PhD. My replacement supervisor was not especially knowledgable about my area of research and was busy with teaching and coordinating units. I sought out an associate supervisor who was a specialist in my field of study. Here was someone who could critique my work to a similar standard (or higher) to that of a potential examiner, and also provide an sanity check for aspects of my thesis that I might have reservations over at times. My main supervisor was very helpful in the later stages of the writeup, when he provided a 'big picture' assessment of the thesis.

For most of my PhD, I was based 4000 km away from my university (very external indeed), but with the wonders of Skype, e-mail, telephone, and a couple of in-person visits to the campus, I was able to maintain a decent enough level of contact.


I agree with many others on here; depending on the field that you are in, having some data collection is not always common until a little later on. Also, I empathise with having a distanced supervisor before they left (I am in the same boat and lack of others in my department are knowledgable about my area). It is really important that you speak to some one at the univesity though for help and support of what to do next, maybe see if someone can help in locating another supervisor. As others have said, maybe a supervisor in another department who may have knowledge of your area could work? This is the main thing that you need to address at the moment. If it takes a while to sort out, focus your energy on reading/writing detailed notes and keeping records of what you are doing- this can do wonders for your motivation when you look back at your progress :) Doing any sort of writing even if it is bits of note making can help keep some momentum as it will all help later on. Fingers crossed for you DeepEnd.