Toxic supervisor woes


I've been reading the forums and it seems I'm not alone but I just wondered if anyone had advice for me with regard to my situation.

I am supervised by 3 PhD supervisors, 2 who are ex health care professionals turned PhD and one who is ex local council research team. This last person I am finding very difficult to work with. The idea, I thought, of supervising is to offer constructive criticism and advice as well as pastoral support. This person constantly criticises anything I say or do, finds fault in everything, and recently on the loss of a close family member made a death related pun in an email which I found shocking and sick.

The thing that is really bothering me about this individual is his constant criticism of me as a researcher. He has delayed the start of my fieldwork by asking for repeated corrections to my work (even asking me to correct corrections he'd already corrected!) and is now criticising me saying I've left it too long to begin my research!!! ARGH!!!:-s

What can I do? My other supervisors haven't said anything about his behaviour towards me recently but they have raised their eyebrows a few times and challenged him for being overly critical in the early stages of my PhD. This guy has even made me want to quit on occasions (see earlier posts!) as his constant put downs and criticism has really knocked my confidence and made me feel unable to carry on at times. I have now seen the light - i.e. that this PhD is my responsibility, so I am determined to attain it, but I don't want this toxic supervisor on my team. Can I ask for him to be taken off the team? Is there a right way to do this? Or do I continue to put up with him, our relationship becomingly increasingly fractious?

Don't get me wrong, I know criticism is a good thing, but only if it's constructive. I haven't done an MSc so the jump to PhD from BSc has been a big one, but I am getting there! This guy, it feels, likes to cause controversy and criticises because it massages his ego, but I don't want someone like that around me dragging me down!

Any advice will be greatly appreciated, constructive or otherwise ,-)


======= Date Modified 15 Mar 2011 17:43:36 =======
Hi Lindalou. I recently posted a similar thread, so just wanted to say how much I sympathise, though your situation sounds a lot worse, especially concerning your supervisor's innappropriate email comment. He really should be showing you more support and understanding about your bereavement. I'm sorry not to be able to offer much advice, but one thing I found helped was talking to my other (main) supervisor. He disagreed with most of the harsh criticism that my difficult supervisor had been dishing out and this support buoyed me up enough to realise that at least some of the criticism was useful and could be taken on board (in my case at least - not saying its the same for you). I still find this guy difficult, but I know that his behaviour stems from ego issues so I try to take what he says with a pinch of salt (though this is really hard to do when he's being sarcastic and mean!). Perhaps having a chat with your other supervisors might help? Especially if you think they're on your side and not happy with his behaviour? Really hope you find some way of getting it sorted out.


The guy probably doesn't realise he is being an arse, he probably thinks he is doing well to give you feedback and doesn't realise how negative he is being etc. The joke was probably a VERY BAD attempt to lighten the mood or similar that was poorly considered as opposed to an attempt to offend. This is not to say his behaviour was acceptable however.

I would arrange to meet your other two supervisors and openly discuss the situation with them and ask for their advice. They are in a position to have a chat with the guy to sort out the issues you raise. They will also know you and him better than anyone on these boards and should be able to offer constructive advice with good knowledge of what's going on.