Signup date: 02 Feb 2021 at 2:29pm
Last login: 02 Feb 2021 at 5:17pm
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I had a ton of frustrations like this. My department was very social and superficially everyone put a lot of time into helping one another. However, things got weird very quickly. For example there was one girl (in her third year) who was very vocal about having impostor syndrome. Basically after every seminar or workshop she'd tell us all that she would have asked a question but was disempowered by the power dynamic and suffering from impostor syndrome. When I asked a seminar question after my first month or so, she actually wrote me a thousand word email accusing me of bullying and harassing her, and undermining all her endless disadvantages etc (without bothering to ask me about my own).
In a similar way to the experience rewt mentioned, this student "collaborated" her way through her viva by making a lot of noise about how selfish and uncommunicative scientists were, until other people started writing her thesis for her out of guilt. Then from the minute she passed, she changed all her social media to have the word Dr in it, and began tweeting about how hard her PhD was and how uniquely resilient she was for getting to the end. Of course, she put on her CV that she had been "mentoring" all these other poor, useless students... the same ones who were writing her chapters for her...
That was a really stressful experience because it made the entire student cohort quite cult-like for several years. She'd criticise other students for what they had for lunch ("not vegan? Oh it is vegan, but is it ORGANIC vegan? Fine, but is it *locally sourced* organic vegan? Okay, it is, but..."), what they looked / dressed like (she once called me fat and ugly, which was charming), where they lived, what relationships they were or weren't in etc. It was as if there was a very narrow view of what was "right" -- occupied only by her -- and everyone else was wrong. It blurred every boundary between the personal and professional and made the entire experience into a stress. In the end, she created a loyal clique of people who would never argue with her no matter how bizarre the issue, and everyone else who was endlessly criticised for simultaneously doing too much (and showing her up) and not doing enough (and oppressing her).
I had a 2:2 and a Masters degree. So do tons of people. Most people in academia with a Masters degree also got a 2:2! The most important thing is passion for your subject.
By the way, I've learned that biographical details sometimes annoy people. For example I also started my undergraduate degree really young and kind of struggled more than I might've done otherwise. I always assumed people would be compassionate and supportive, but whilst one or two people were, the majority of people hadn't had that experience and were just either confused or annoyed at me for bringing it up. They thought I was bragging about how smart I was, and nobody succeeds in academia just because they're smart. In fact if anything I spent a lot of time in the beginning having to fight off my "greater than / less than" fears at having gone to Uni so young and achieved a lot and yet also not having a string of perfect grades and feeling kinda inadequate. I had to learn that none of those things mattered to anyone, which was pretty annoying because they'd had a really big impact on my life. But what it did do was give me a bunch of personal strengths and understandings that I very much drew heavily on later -- even the best PhDs can get very stressful. So just don't worry about any supposed weaknesses you imagine you might have, because from an academic perspective you'll look awesome (I used to work with people in various sustainability / renewables roles and it seems a ton of people have no relevant masters AND no physics background AND no industry experience, so just think how great you'll look for having all three). I hope you find things to enjoy from the rest of your training which might open up new doors for you in the future. There can be something nice about knowing you're not going to do something long-term in a way which kind of takes the pressure off a bit to just enjoy it for what it is, I think...
Kind of, yeah. I was in a different situation to you in that my supervisor got a grant for what seemed like my "perfect" project, and I was really excited to be a part of it. But from pretty much the first month I realised that his initial idea was very "back of envelope" and my PhD had been funded as a kind of "fishing expedition" -- e.g., it was high risk, high reward, with a flaky theoretical underpinning, and that nobody really cared if it was successful or not. Neither did my supervisor because he had at least three other of these "experimental" PhD ideas and was busy writing proposals for all these other things he'd more or less made up on the spot (I suspect something like 30% of all PhD projects are).
I knocked on the door of another academic and explained my science problem. He came up with a solution, after chatting with another data scientist, and we wrote a paper based on a novel methodology. The next paper was something I'd come up with myself by noticing something weird in my results that didn't seem to be the same as had been described -- again, I read loads of papers but also knocked on doors. I ended up with a dozen paper ideas just by thinking about novel solutions to my problem (machine learning! Fourier transforms! 3D modelling!). None of those things really happened but the point is I did the brainstorming and that helped. I don't consider myself social and my department isn't collaborative, but chatting to other people helped so much, even when it didn't lead to anything. I also had to adjust my expectations of my thesis.
I'm a postdoc. I've got a bunch of papers I still want to write and half a dozen fellowship proposals all for different projects. I don't feel like I'm a brilliant scientist or anything, but it has served me well. I'm the one who has gained a deep theoretical understanding of my subject, and my ex-supervisor still doesn't understand everything I went through just to trying to make that project work.
Finally: a null result is still a result. Most people don't publish the things that don't work, meaning someone else might waste their time in the future. So if there's a reason why your work is sucky, you might still be able to publish it "e.g., look, we found a surprising reason why this cool idea failed."
So I had a friend who quit her PhD after basically three years of abuse. It got to the point where she couldn't be alone with her supervisors without someone from student wellbeing present. In the end, she asked the person from wellbeing to negotiate something along the lines of:
* A new student / postdoc / the PI could publish from her raw data, which the University kept.
* They could NOT publish plots, graphs, tables, statistics etc she'd already made; e.g. they'd have to start again from scratch. This was a really big deal because they felt that publishing someone else's plot is plagiarism (even if unpublished) but making a new one from the same data is not.
* She did NOT want to be a coauthor on any future papers.
* If necessary, she was willing to be listed in the acknowledgements section of any future papers as the person who originally collected the data (her PhD was funded and the funding body needed her grant to be acknowledged in all future publications) but that she did not want to be informed whenever this happened.
If you specifically don't want your supervisors to ever publish anything from your project, whether you know about it or not, you might have a harder time. The University or PI / grant holder probably owns the data, not you. If you were self-funded the situation might be different. Do you have a student handbook or a data agreement? It might be hidden in some 500 page regulations document...
Thanks. I really can't understand the energy he has invested into trying to force me to drop this paper. I don't know if he doesn't understand it, or is jealous, or is in another research group doing similar things... but the extent to which he has tried to prove there must be mistakes is really stressful. It would be like filming an event five times and then insisting it must be wrong because of a problem with the camera, then lens, then tripod, then memory card, then atmospheric pressure, then the floorboards that the camera tripod is on, then the building where the experiment is located, then vibrations from the street... it's the sheer extent to which he is refusing to engage with the paper content that I am finding so stressful. He just sent me another email completely ignoring all the boundaries I tried to set in the last one. It's like everything I say turns to white noise the minute that I say it. My concern is that our working relationship has deteriorated so much now that he will try to block publication even if I do submit it. He would be a natural choice for referee if he wasn't listed as a coauthor, so I'd have to say something to the journal. No matter what happens, if he doesn't suddenly change his attitude then I probably won't come out of this unscathed.
I just can't understand why he is doing this. Anyway, sorry for ranting...
Thanks rewt, this is a really good idea. I don't want to do that just yet because it would make everything so difficult for everyone, but it is a last resort. We haven't presented or submitted this together, although he's used it in his own presentations (which makes the current situation even stranger). I don't like being unkind so there's a part of me that thinks that if he really doesn't believe / understand my paper I need to invest a lot more time into making the text clearer. If that still doesn't work, then as you say, I may have no other choice.
I gave up a decent career to do my PhD just because being a researcher was my childhood dream. My parents are the opposite of yours, they did they whole "follow your heart" thing. Looking back, I realise that I felt that I was disappointing them by NOT doing a PhD. I felt like they judged me negatively for having a good job, as if that was boring. Like I had to ditch my life at a moment's notice just to prove I was open to adventure or something.
I would not make the decision again. It was an adventure in some ways, but often a stressful and lonely one. I've never enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the job I gave up, and I've never earned as much either. I don't actually regret it, and I'm kind of glad I stuck it out, but I wouldn't do the same again. At least, not for another five, ten, twenty years.
Part-time PhDs exist. My friend did one at a Finnish university because he could do it (a) remotely, (b) part-time (c) in English and (d) in the one obscure subject that he was totally obsessed with. He worked full-time and it was really hard, but he got through it in the end. He was then the only doctor in the office which gave him some status...
I'm a postdoc currently finishing a paper using data from my PhD. I finished the first draft about a year ago and my ex-supervisor didn't respond for about eight months (I was busy with new project so didn't chase it up). His eventual comments were two lines of text and a Zoom link. We had a call where he told me to drop the paper. I explained what I was trying to do, and he insisted I prove certain basic claims (let's call this iteration A). So I did, then he insisted that I prove something about iteration A (iteration B), and then B (iteration C) and so on. We're now on something like iteration K, with his continued objections now unrelated to my paper.
At some point I said I wouldn't have any more meetings without my second and third ex-supervisors, who are both coauthors. We had one disastrous group call, then he insisted on talking alone. He hinted that I can't defend my work without them, but it feels like an excuse to keep putting me on the spot with these strange objections. His attitude is stressful: he often smirks and his comments have become slightly personal and belittling. I try very hard to assume no ill will, and take all objections seriously, but it's getting ridiculous. He keeps saying I have no evidence of my claims even though I've shown him dozens. He's still provided no written comments on my original paper.
As my ex-second supervisor recently said, if some of his objections were valid then our whole field would cease to exist. The third has started calling it the "pseudoscientific method," in that the objections seem superficially reasonable but never address the initial research question. A postdoc friend called it sealioning, after online trolls.
My PhD project was funded by his grant and my ex-University holds the rights to my data. We have a data agreement which loosely means I can't publish without his permission (my second and third supervisors are elsewhere). I'm not progressing enough on my current postdoc because I've now wasted four months.
I'm going to try to not engage with him until I've written a final draft, then I'll put it in front of him and see what happens. There's a chance he'll still object and I don't know what I'll do then. I'm trying hard to assume that there is no unconscious bias (because of my gender, sexuality etc), but unfortunately I've been in similar situations before that turned very nasty. Just wondering if anyone had any experience of resolving fundamental disagreements like this.
I think this is pretty normal, even desirable. I've come across a ton of interesting conference proceedings that the authors never bothered to publish as a paper and it's frustrating to anyone who wants a real peer reviewed citation to follow up on. In my field, journal articles are typically more substantial (though not necessarily by much), so you might need to add some more content. If you were in a hurry to get it out the door you could always submit it with minimal revisions but be prepared to do more work on it if the reviewer thinks it needs more robust work.
Yo! This is not okay. Echo what everyone else has said. It's probably irrelevant to point out that being married to someone who looks like a supermodel is no guarantee of happiness at home, but as others have said, this is usually a creepy power thing rather than a desire for an equal romantic relationship (someone who respects your mind won't show that by staring at your bum). Don't let your own low self-esteem get in the way of your understanding of what's going on. I'm also a woman and spent most of my life believing that I was so unattractive that the multiple incidents of sexual abuse I experienced couldn't have been real. I didn't think anything like that could happen to me because, I don't know, I wasn't pretty enough. Straight up: (1) abuse can happen to anyone at any time and (2) abuse isn't some weird validation of attractiveness nor an understandable response to looking a certain way. I know you're not really saying that. But sometimes I think that as women we get taught some weird things about sexual abuse that we never stop to question.
I'm worried about your situation. Do you have an equality committee, or a doctoral college, or even a postgraduate tutor you can turn to in the first instance? It will be very useful for you to have someone on your side. I agree with others saying that you should stand up for yourself, but as a woman I know that sometimes that can go badly wrong. When I tried to speak out against being assaulted by a postdoc, I did NOT get any support. In fact, what I got told was something along the lines of, "but you don't look like a supermodel, why would anyone do that to YOU?"
In my experience, inappropriate touching can be from one of two reasons. One, it's an abuse of power. Two, the person is desperate for validation and has no idea how uncomfortable they're making you. The second person might be embarrassed if you put up boundaries; the first might get angry. Neither is comfortable to deal with. But your supervisor's feelings are not as important as your safety. I have come across many men who are so afraid of being rejected by women that they never see just how much danger some women are in, and just how much we put up with to avoid hurting anyone's feelings.
His feelings aren't important here. He's breaking the law.
I really hate how common it seems to be for some supervisors to continuously undermine their students like this. If anything you're the one who deserves a research career because you're the one with the good ideas. I have a similar situation with my ex-supervisor and I know how intense the frustration can become. I'm sorry you're dealing with this.
First of all, take a deep breath :-)
Your situation is not abnormal. It may be more stressful with caring for a young family but other PhD students do this too.
Don't worry about mistakes in your code. The best thing to do is to be honest about this with your supervisor. We have all been there, and shown results that turned out to be wrong. It's scary but they almost certainly won't worry as much as you are worrying! Everyone makes mistakes, it isn't a big deal. If they seem angry or disappointed you can choose to ignore that, because they also will have made mistakes when they were PhD students.
Time series analysis is a difficult field. Whether you are looking at pure statistics or an applied field, there is a lot to take in. I did applied time series on my PhD and finding the appropriate methods was a challenge. In fact even now I feel like I didn't understand well enough. You don't need a perfect understanding, just an idea of how to move forward or what to try next. It's ok to spend the early part of your PhD just learning new techniques. There might be conferences or mailing lists that you can get involved with.
Academic papers are very difficult to understand. It took me four years to really understand the papers I was given in my first week! It is absolutely normal to take a long time to understand the theory, or to struggle with gaps. Mostly it was talking to academics in my field that made a difference. Does your department have a "journal club" where other PhD students meet up once a month (or every few weeks) to discuss a paper? This can be very helpful. You could try making a list of every paper you've started reading, or all the experiments you've done so far. I'm sure you'll soon see it's a lot more than you realise.
Working on your mental health will probably help you a lot. Have you heard of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)? This is a way of listing your automatic negative thoughts -- like criticising yourself and feeling slow -- and finding more realistic thoughts to replace them with. For example, "I'm not working hard enough" might be replaced with "I am working 10 hours a day and I've learned a new word or idea this week, this proves I am moving forward and I am on track." Or if you tell yourself that you're a bad student for making a mistake, a more realistic thought would be "everyone makes mistakes. I learned from it and now I understand my code much better!" You can find advice on CBT online but perhaps your university also has student mental health or a wellbeing service you could talk to.
I think that if you realise that your situation is normal and you're doing fine, you will take a huge amount of pressure off of yourself. Most students overestimate how much they are supposed to know at the end of their first year! Especially if you have had more than two months off.
This supervisor probably isn't being deliberately obstructive. You say that they haven't read your paper, but is there any merit in their suggestions? For example perhaps your paper draft isn't as clear as you think. If they haven't understood your results, you may not be communicating your work as well as you'd hoped. After all, it's your idea and you've worked on it, but if it's something novel then your supervisor won't be as invested as you and doesn't know all the subtleties. Therefore you need to state your aims very clearly and also emphasise how different your work is to the original. I know it's frustrating, but is there any way you can use this to make the work stronger? You don't have to back down to pressure but your life will be a lot easier if you keep your supervisor on board. You can publish your paper independently, but they still have to sign off on your thesis some day.
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