in desperate need of advice.. getting cold feet please help


I'm in a real or perceived dilemma..

I have recently applied for a PhD position with a prospective supervisor
I really like the research area, and i am really interested in the methodology, supervisor also seems sane
a rocky start but overall it was a happy ending - supervisor was keen to accept me
for some reason my department head who doesn't know who i am, knew we paired up and thought we had chemistry

seemed like a fairytale ending

straight after i agreed to take the PhD position issues surfaced

I was told that a research assistant working in the lab is taking on a PhD a few months after me
shes working on the highest profile project in the lab
shes seems extremely intimidating
im going to be my supervisors first real PhD student and it was indirectly implied that i would make the process easier for him when my supervisor supervises subsequent students
am i.. a guinea pig???? should i still take it should i leave it
am I overthinking this...

my heart says yes (passion for project, perceived compatibility with supervisor)
certain aspects of the situation makes my brain say no (50% chance im being used - although PhD students, in essence can be considered free labour, plus impeding fear)

some says yes (promising field, supervisor should need both his first phd students to succeed... right?, and obviously my supervisor will have more experienced and more capable PhD student starting after me anyway although i didn't perceive it to be THAT SOON)

should i follow passion/chemistry or LOGIC????

am i just having cold feet

need your advice

*panic attack*


Hi, depends what you expect from your supervisor. Holding hands and guiding you every step of the way? Than I would say "hands off" - chances are high that he will spend more time on the high impact topic. Do you prefer to do things your own way and are looking for an academic "sparring buddy" that helps you develop and refine ideas? Then I would say go for it ;).

You havent specified why the RA is intimidating. Is she more experienced than you and you fear you cant compete? Is she a bully that tries to drive people out of the lab?


It doesn't sound so bad, given all the positives you've mentioned. Nowhere's perfect, after all!


If the other person is starting her PhD a few months after you, I think it's unlikely that you're being seen as a guinea pig, given the length of PhDs and the variable rates of progress - it's more likely that the supervisor will think of the two of you as doing your PhDs at the same time.


Listen to your gut feeling.

I was my supervisor 's second PhD student. It was great in terms of availability and resources as he really cared. It was bad in terms of workload as he was too ambitious and workaholic.


Will you have a second supervisor? If you have a second supervisor who has more experience it would make working with an unexperienced supervisor seem safer.

It is very difficult to make a judgement because an unexperienced supervisor might work harder to prove himself, while an experienced one might have several PhD students and won't have a lot of time to focus on you. However, the only evidence of how good a supervisor is the number of students who completed their PhDs under his supervision. New supervisors might not know much about the regulations, might not know anything about time management or managing other people, and they might not have the professional network to help find you an examiner who would understand your topic and make a reasonable judgment on your thesis at the end.

However, everyone must start somewhere and this person might turn out to be the supervisor in the world, but if you think you want to change supervisors you need to do it as soon as you can. The only way to be able to make a decision about this is to try to meet your supervisor as often as you can for a couple of months and try to assess the extent to which he can provide you with the support you need. Also (1) try to ask others who have dealt with him, (2) send him emails to see if he responds on time, (3) ask for things such as recommendations for books to read etc, (4) arrange to have a meeting with him and see if he would come on time, etc. Having interactions with him and will help you make a better judgement on whether or not to change him.


I don't see any reason for you not to take it on. No matter who your supervisor is, he or she will always have other PhD students so you will never be their sole priority. And don't focus on comparing how much time your supervisor dedicates to their other students, it never ends well.


An inexperienced supervisor is not necessarily bad. My friend under a first time supervisor completed his PhD with 2 publications and the most superb supervision one can expect. He also got a job as a post doc 6 months before graduation. On the other hand, it could be really bad if your first time supervisor is really busy trying to prove himself to his colleagues and doing a lot of his own thing, completely ignoring you/treating you as a first in line of his collection of students aka guinea pig, and you having to slough it through solo. In this case, it is better to leave then to be destroyed soul wise.

I agree with buru. Ask for those who had contact with your supervisor on a professional level and see what they think of him. Good luck!

Avatar for Pjlu

Hi Tinkerbell, you have been given some great advice. My points are simply that you may have been set up with this supervisor for a positive reason (other than the chemistry aspect you mentioned). You may well have been viewed as a fairly 'safe bet' as a phd student. Not so much viewed by the department and head as a guinea pig or 'test case' but instead perceived as a strong research student/candidate who would work well with the supervisor and be likely to work productively throughout the doctorate, finish well and generally be an asset to the department.

With regard to this second student- well ultimately your PhD is your own race-you have a different topic and are a different person, you will produce a unique thesis and will have a different experience-even if you both go through it together. Your supervisor will want both of you to do well. After all he is part of the process and the outcome reflects on his skills as a supervisor and counts towards his credibility as an experienced academic.