Toxic supervisor delaying graduation


Hi everyone,

I am a final (?!) year PhD student but my supervisor is delaying my graduation indefinitely. Years ago now I got offered an amazing opportunity to do my perfect PhD, with a seemingly nice supervisor, in a school where the environment felt hostile and unwelcoming to outsiders (it is: it is a small, prestigious - and to be honest, rascist/xenophobic - institute that likes to train and fund their own - i, in their minds, was a foreigner 'forced' on them via an external scholarship that was attached to studentship). I decided to push past this, since most of the PhD was abroad for fieldwork. This was juuuuuust about ok up until the pandemic, despite numerous toxic episodes (think: blocking the payment of my scholarship several times so I nearly ended up homeless, attempting to fire me for minor paperwork issues beyond my control, etc). Unfortunately, during the pandemic, I fell behind, due to massive financial and family stresses and the fact my supervisor pushed me to take on additional work as well (yes, I should have refused this and I did resist it in my first year, but during the pandemic my mental health and judgement were not optimal).

Anyway, I managed to finish the thesis, albeit pretty late overall yet still within the deadline for the academic year, with several papers ready to be published. Months prior, my supervisor stopped responding to messages. Mind you, they have been almost entirely absent during the phd, and i've mostly self-supervised, so i wasnt initially surprised. However, some months later, their messages started to take an unpleasant tone, about how i was such a disappointment to them (I share their disappointment in the delay, but I've already communicated to them that during the pandemic I was surviving off student food banks and had to dedicate myself to finding financial means - to which they have responded that I have 'mental problems'). Now they have refused to read the thesis for months but agreed to let me defend. I should add it's a thesis by publication so it is not a big time committment to read either. However, they keep extending the date of possible defense more and more. It is now clear they not only dislike me (which is fine, in itself), but feel personally slighted in someway and are trying to 'punish' me, by cutting me out of projects i worked on without giving me any credit and badmouthing me to colleagues. I dont know what to do at this stage, because they are essentially a narcasstic bully (collective opinion, not simply my own): i'm one of the very few students of theirs who hasnt already quit. I know its very late, but could I rope in a co-supervisor? Submit my work for a phd by prior publication somewhere else? I feel like they could keep me here indefinitely and carry on trashing my reputation, and maybe more importantly, impacting my mental health.


Sorry you are going through so much challenges, Eve1234

Make sure you document everything they did, including time and date. If they are as bad as you say, they could be trying to pull your project(s) from under you and giving it to someone else. So make sure you record everything going as far back as you can on all the mistreatments/absence etc.

Might be too late to get a co-supervisor. Do you have a postgrad coordinator? Let him/her know the situation. Put in place step by step what needs to be done so you can graduate. Seek you student union for advice if you have one. Finish and get the hell out


Thanks Tru. I dont think we have a postgrad coordinator but I think getting in touch with the student unions is a good idea, if i can nail down a defense date then as you say it´s just a question of getting out asap.


First of all, congratulations on reaching the final stretch of your PhD journey! It's an impressive accomplishment to have completed your thesis despite facing numerous challenges along the way. Your determination and resilience are commendable.

I'm really sorry to hear about the difficulties you've faced with your supervisor and the hostile environment at your institute. Dealing with such circumstances, especially during a pandemic, can take a toll on anyone's mental health and wellbeing. Remember, it's essential to prioritize your own mental health and take care of yourself.

It's unfortunate that your supervisor hasn't been supportive, and their behavior is not acceptable. It's understandable that you may feel stuck and unsure about the next steps. It's crucial to consider what options are available to you.

In regards to roping in a co-supervisor, that might be a viable option to explore. A co-supervisor could offer guidance and support, which might help move things along. Additionally, discussing your situation with someone else in the academic community who knows your work and can vouch for your abilities may also be beneficial.

Regarding the possibility of submitting your work for a PhD by prior publication elsewhere, it's worth looking into. Many universities have different regulations and requirements, so it's essential to research the policies and see if it's a feasible option.

Regardless of the path you choose, don't let the actions of one person define your worth or your potential. Your accomplishments and dedication to your research speak for themselves.

or not, you have made significant strides in your academic journey, and that's something to be proud of.

Surround yourself with supportive peers, friends, and mentors who can uplift and encourage you during this challenging time. And remember, your mental health is of utmost importance, so don't hesitate to seek professional help or support if needed.

I wish you the best of luck in overcoming these obstacles and reaching a positive resolution for your graduation. No matter what happens, remember that you've come so far, and brighter days lie ahead. Keep pushing forward, and great things await you in your academic and personal life!