What to do?


I am a PhD student and have almost a year left. I have two supervisors who have been guiding me as if there are no issues or problems with me. But in every review meeting, they have always commented negatively about me and that gave me a shock. I wish that the supervisor could be a little upfront if they are not happy with me. I tried to talk to them once but they just brushed it off. I don't know if I should discuss it with them once but I know they will never discuss it at my face. I don't know if I should take up this discussion. Any suggestions having been in my situation? I am lost because I do not know what have I done wrong.


Hi Katie,

What are the negative comments about? It appears you at the end of your 2nd or beginning of your 3rd year. Is it about the direction of the study, your research outputs/presentations or your thesis chapters?

Be more specific and people can advise. It might be that they are trying to advise you but not necessarily being considerate.

Another way to approach it is - is to talk about future plans. You can kind of tease out their perceptions of where you are professionally.

All the best,
Also Katie


It seems this has been going on since the first year but I was not aware of it. I came to know recently. When we meet there does not seem to have any issue with me and has been guiding me as if there was not the least of the problem. I know I was not perfect student because I had to learn skills to carry on my PhD and it took me quite sometime.


Sometimes supervisors, when in a meeting with other academics, will be more critical of work because it - basically - covers their a**.

If you think about it, when you're a supervisor in the future, you'll find there's a real temptation to critique your students work more aggressively when discussing it with other academics, because if you defend or exhort it, you become a student again. It's always easier to look good criticising than defending, and this is what many academics fall into when discussing student work. Often this is the 'moaning about students' culture that's endemic in academia, rather than a specific, genuine problem.

This often extends to review panels. It's inherently safer and more agreeable for the supervisor(s) to join the (often more senior) party slamming your work, rather than attempt to argue with their peers. The more senior party that glanced at your work will also often slam it because that's still a safer bet than them saying everything is fine, than having to explain to even more senior people why that PhD they said was fine after only glancing at it was not fine down the road.

The alternate perspective, that paints people in a better light, is that they're aiming to be supportive during the PhD but provide detailed critical feedback at reviews such that you can get some experience of what a harsh viva might be like. Probably the truth is somewhere between the two.

I'm not saying it's right, but if it doesn't directly affect your outcome, it is perhaps something better lived with in perspective than complained about.