Too many cooks...


This is the first time I've posted on here, but I just wondered whether anyone might have had any similar problems to the ones I'm experiencing with my multiple supervisors?

I am student in the humanities studying a really broad topic that incorporates lots of sections of my discipline. I have four supervisors (honestly!) all who are specialists in one of these areas. I already knew and worked with three of these prior to starting the PhD and whilst I got on well with two, I did find one quite difficult to deal with (I will call him A) and worried they might cause problems for me. Ironically though this one has been really supportive and helpful, whilst it is one of the ones that I liked (B) who is causing the most problems!

My fourth supervisor (C) is my main supervisor and we get on well, though I didn't know him prior to starting. He asked me to produce some basic, brief pieces of work just to help to familiarise me with all these different subjects before I go into any more detail. I duly did this and sent one of the pieces to my difficult supervisor (B) to look at as this was his subject area. However, he seems to have treated it like a draft chapter rather than a brief introductory essay and totally pulled it to pieces, suggesting that it is far too basic, my reading is limited, my arguments flawed, etc, etc (the list is never ending). Of course I knew this was the case when I handed it in, but only a superhuman could have produced a rigorous, well argued, comprehensive piece on such a huge topic from scratch in a couple of weeks and I don't think my main supervisor intended me to do this! Plus, despite usually being my own harshest critic, I'm not entirely sure it is quite as horrendous as he makes out. However, my problem is that this guy has suddenly leapt into his supervisory role with enthusiasm since receiving this piece to comment on, even though he's only really supposed to have a background role. I have been issued long reading and general 'to do' lists (on his subject area only mind). This, combined with the pompous and rather rude way in which he phrased his comments, have really worried me as it feels like he is trying to prove something (he is younger than the others and never supervised anyone before). I just haven't got the time to do all this and it is mostly superfluous to my PhD from what I can see - I haven't got weeks to spend becoming the world's leading expert on everything there is to know about his subject when I have dozens of other things to get to grips with. My main supervisor hasn't commented on the piece and seems to have disappeared, whilst supervisor A has had a look, says it's fine and is pressurising me to get on with something else!

Sorry for rambling on. I just wondered if anyone else has had any similar multiple-supervisor problems & how they cope??? I feel so stressed, ill & am getting nothing done as I just don't know where to go from here or whose work I should be getting on with.


Hey GreenT, I don't have the same problem as you regarding supervisors (I have 2, and basically the 2nd one is only involved to help me recruit my participants!) but I can sympathise with you with the harsh criticism on your 'brief introductory essay'! It seems that some sups can't deal with anything that is meant to be a draft/preliminary work, and feel the need to mark it as though it is your final draft ready to send off for publication! I had this rather awful experience just last week after deliberately handing in a very basic framework that I was hoping might develop into a paper, only to have it thrown back at me with a whole load of patronizing (and irrelevant at this stage) feedback! But to get back to your main point, it sounds as though you need to have a chat with your main sup about the problems you are experiencing with having so many supervisors, and make it clear that you are struggling to meet all their different requirements. Hopefully you can sort out a plan of action with your main sup (including priorities and not-so-priorities) and try to stick to that one, instead of trying to please all 4 at once- that is enough to drive anyone mad. Having said that, you are lucky to have 4 such experts to confer with, so make sure you do your best to comply with their wishes as far as possible- you never know when you might need their expertise! Good luck with it, KB


Hi Keenbean! Thank you very much for your advice. I feel really embarrassed now that my first post on here was such a moany one, but so nice to know I'm not the only one who experiences problems like this. You're totally right about having four experts to call on. I've read some of the other posts on here and feel a bit silly now given how so many other people just want some feedback of any sort from their supervisors! It's just so demoralising when you find yourself at the centre of lots of rather large egos all wanting you to do things their way and all telling you that your way is rubbish! Will try to look on it a bit more positively. Sorry to hear about your paper feedback - it's so annoying when you can't get the message across that it's just a DRAFT!


I also have 4 and have had the same problems with being asked to do little pieces of work that I end up being beaten up on. Your comment about their relevance also resonated with me.

However, I've found it has helped my writing, and honed my reading techniques somewhat. Plus, the idea is that the little pieces eventually come together into a knowledge base that you can refer to, as well as providing a snapshot of your mind and research at the time.

They are very experienced people and I'm lucky to have them around, but that doesn't mean I have to abide by their every instruction. I started to fight back and set MYSELF work instead of leaving THEM to do it. Take control of YOUR PhD! I'm sure your supervisors will appreciate it.