To continue Phd or not



My prof put me in a project in which an intern, post doc and annotation team were already working. The intern is a cut throat kind of person who doesn't share information with me. He is independently working on the same project and is not doing much. But he knows how to impress the professor and has a good rapport with him. The post doc is also not a good person and is known to steal credit for other's work and so on. The project involves a lot of data collection. Initially my prof asked me to collect data inside the campus which was ok. The intern did nothing and took the data from me. I didn't want to create an issue since he has got an RA ship in a better place and will move out. He also used to ask me what I did and present a part of it as his own to the prof. In the next stage of data collection, you have to go to roads and collect the data yourself. There is an annotation team who is supposed to do that and it is both time consuming and risky. I assumed that the prof would make them do it. But he asked me to do it. I told him repeatedly that it can't be done by me with reasons. He initially agrees, then asks the annotation team to do. They then tell that the prof asked them not to help me. The intern is staying as far away from this as possible. I once went to collect the data and got stuck in an unsafe area and that traumatized me. I wrote to him that I want to quit Phd since it looks like he doesn't want to support me. Prof is guiding students lesser now and doesn't review papers. He wants the lab to help each other and he will supervise less. I am a shy kind of person who is not good at taking peer's help. Can I survive here or should I go?



It is quite hard to get a clear picture of the situation (for me anyway). Have you just started your PhD? Based on what you've shared, I imagine that things would probably get worse (and become toxic) as you progress - when there are big problems at the onset they don't tend to just disappear as time goes (in my experience). The context you describe doesn't seem to suit your personality well, and context can matter a lot in doing a PhD. Can you see yourself developing as a researcher in that context? That is one key question to ask yourself. And if the answer is no or unlikely then you know what to do...

I think sometimes as PhD students we can feel trapped / unable to leave easily... because we respect the professor and the hierarchy, because we have obtained a PhD position and sometimes funding, etc etc - it feels like there is so much to lose. But if we applied the same rule to jobs, relationships, etc etc, we would be so miserable...! If you've tried to make things work and it is still bad, then leaving and finding something better is the best thing you can do. That's the advice I wish I had been given in my early PhD days!

All the best


Ps. As a first step (not sure if you have done this yet) I would definitely advise talking to the professor or to a trusted colleague. There may be some other ways around this.


Hi chinnu,

So sorry you're going through this traumatising experience. I've been a shy lurker on this forum for quite a while and I've learned about Tudor's experience, so I'm sure she has helped you exponentially, but I'll add in my two bits.

You say that your supervisor has stepped back, in terms of not reviewing papers, guiding students lesser and wants the lab to help each other and he will supervise less. What do you mean by this? Is he allowing you guys to resolve your own issues and find a common ground to work on?

If I understand correctly, there is quite a bit of miscommunication regarding what is expected of you. You said you assumed that the annotation group would be collecting outdoor data. Is there a concrete contract that highlights what the duties are? If so, use it for your case.

You seem to feel that your supervisor isn't someone you can rely on, for help. Considering you're well on your way to getting that PhD, I feel that your shyness hinders your voice and your stand in the lab. If you are so passionate about the PhD, I suggest that you let nothing stand in your way. If that means, as Tudor also pointed out, opening up and exposing the nonsense your colleagues have been upto to a higher-up, so be it.

I, personally, would not quit the PhD program, solely because of some bullies- colleagues and an aloof supervisor. Try and resolve these discrepancies by first noting down the roles of each person and pointing this out to your supervisor. Whilst doing this, try and invite another professor of authority to this meeting and see how it goes from there. Henceforth, be very firm about your part in lab activities involving others, do not bend.


I agree with Tudor_Queen...

If the environment is toxic which is your case, staying is just prolonging your sufferring. Change supervisor if you can. As someone who survived an extremely toxic lab environment and PhD, I strongly advise you to leave that lab and change supervisor while you still have your sanity intact.

It is not a sign of weakness to change supervisor and project. It is a sign that you care enough to give yourself another chance to get the best possible chance at succeeding at your PhD.

All the best.


It is only the first year of my Phd. I wrote to my advisor and he replied that he would like to talk to me some time two days back. However, he hasn't told me when. I spoke to two of my colleagues about my situation. They were quite understanding. I also reminded him twice by email and I still don't have a response from him. When I called up another colleague, she told me that my advisor had told a student that I am leaving. I am confused since from his email, he sounded like he wanted to convince me to stay. The general procedure in the university is that the advisor talks to the student asking for reasons and then try to convince them to stay. If the student doesn't agree, then they take it forward to the administration. Does that mean that he is no longer interested in me???? I am really worried because if he finishes talking to me and things move forward, it would be great. But if he asks me to go, I will really be unhappy that he supported an intern and the annotation team.


From the looks of it, it seems like he already thinks that you're bent on leaving; possibly because you've already told him you want to leave. If you do think that after a meeting, you'd be able to work through these issues, then by all means, try and organise that meeting with him.

However, I feel that this situation maybe a bit toxic for you and you would be better off with another supervisor, who will understand and support you better. Good luck.


Yes, just talk to him asap and be calm and see what is what from his view and then share yours. It may be better to cut ties now - or maybe you can both work out a plan of action to try and move forward.

Good luck with it. And remember what you're experiencing is pretty normal and things should improve eventually whatever happens!


I am really getting scared now. My prof replied that he would like to talk sometime. But after that he is not giving me an appointment. He is the kind of person who will not meet students without an appointment. I sent him two reminder mails and after two of them, he said that he is busy with summer school. I went to the lab after a long time to meet someone and he was right there when I expected him to be in the session of the summer school. I don't know what he is driving at. The basic minimum thing I expect from him is that he should talk to me once before I continue with the final decision to see if there is anything else that can possibly be done.


When you did see him physically, did you approach him and broach the issue and the need for an appointment? He maybe busy and may have forgotten about finalising a date and time with you. However, failing to do so after being reminded twice, makes me a bit iffy about him.

Is there a higher-education research director in your department that you can approach? In my past university, this person was incharge of all PhD students and their welfare and would co-ordinate all issues, if at all, between students and supervisors. You can perhaps approach this person and raise your concerns with him/her. Hopefully, they'll have more power over the issue and your supervisor would be forced into making an appointment.


Hmmmm... I am trying to understand. You wrote to him that you want to quit Phd since it looks like he doesn't want to support you. But if he asks you to go, you will be really be unhappy that he supported an intern and the annotation team. Yet you are really getting scared now since he is too busy to meet with you.

What do you really want from him? Do you actually have any intention of leaving or are you just using that as a bargaining chip. He is a prof and it is possible that he has many students lined up to take your place if you go. You have also described a toxic environment with your supervisor not wanting to put in time for students. Depending on his personality, you may have insulted him by saying you want to leave because he is not supportive.

If he asks you to stay, great. But, have you thought of a plan B if he supports your decision to go? What will you do? Hunt for a new supervisor? Or just pack up and go? Have you thought this through before you wrote that first email to him saying you want to quit?

Calmly have a think about all these points.. You may find an answer for yourself through this chaos.


@tru, I was really angry with him when I wrote the email to him since he didn't care to think about my safety when he asked me to do data collection. He also has a team to do the data collection and I don't understand why he is not letting me take their help. At that time, I had every intention of leaving. Later, I thought through and felt that I want to complete Phd in this institution and am ready to do it with him as long as he supports me for data collection. But he is not giving me an appointment for discussion and that is making me nervous. At this point, it will be nice if we can talk and I can know from him what he wants exactly. Based on that, I can decide to stick around or move out. My plan B is to hunt for another supervisor here itself. As you pointed out, he is very famous and has many ppl lined up. But he has stopped guiding ppl but expects them to follow an approach which he has in mind. If your way of thinking matches his, you can do it. If not, lots of ppl are struggling now. He neither reviews papers nor reads our progress reports. It is becoming increasingly difficult to work with him now since he is stubborn and expects ppl to fit into his cement mold. I will again remind him and see if I can talk to him.


I strongly suspect that your supervisor is not going to ask you to stay since he is delaying his meeting with you. However, I wish you all the best if you really want to make things work. Let us know how it goes.


Hi. Here is the thing. Your supervisor is a typical Phd supervisor and not an extremely evil one. Many of Phd supervisors act like him. If you wanna leave hoping for a better one, think again because you may find another one who is worse.
Now I advise you to be strong and do not quit because of his attitude or because of bullying from other colleagues. Try to be strong. It is not easy and I have personally failed to do so with my supervisor and bullying colleagues so I left the Phd because my contract was finished without actually finishing it.
Work environment is not perfect and academia is no exception. I am sorry for being harsh but only 2 options you have:
1. Stand strong and continue whatever who collects data and who does what and drink it as a nasty medicine to get your Phd.
2. You are sure that you are not that strong and will end up cracked (which happened to me). So you quit and explore other options.
Your decision should be independant on your supervisor response because he is not gonna change and life is not gonna change to be ideal