Supervisor Mistake Leaves me with No PhD After 4 years

posted
16-Sep-15, 09:09
edited about 4 seconds later
Avatar for Albatross1986
posted about 4 years ago
My main supervsior, using XRD, told me a material I had produced, tested and had working for gas separation was the material I was expecting. On the basis of this I was able to produce the first of 4 papers in a high impact journal (accepted). My second paper was rejected because the reviewers stated the material was incorrect (although they said the data was very interesting and novel).

After checking with the XRD department, my supervisor told me it wasn't the material I was expecting, so I have lost the 2nd paper, will lose the 3rd and 4th paper and will have to withdraw my 1st paper. My thesis is based is based on my papers and I had planned an extensive literature review as a separate publication.

Essentially I have nothing after 4.5 years of hard work.

I could go on about my supervisors lack of ethics etc, but there's no point (he sent me to a conference with falsified data, amongst other things).

What's next?

Should I quit and find a new PhD (it will be pointless reporting him) and if so, how do i explain my lack of anything substantial after 4.5 years?

TIA
posted
16-Sep-15, 10:12
edited about 16 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 4 years ago
It's really your responsibility to ensure your data are correct, not your supervisor's. I think you need to discuss this with your supervisor or head of department regarding whether you will have enough to submit for. PhD with the incorrect data.
posted
16-Sep-15, 10:16
edited about 2 minutes later
by Dunham
Avatar for Dunham
posted about 4 years ago
Really sorry to read that. I can't imagine how that must feel.

The question is if a new PhD will help. I can't really imagine that you have any chance to get tenure or any research position at a university with a history that includes almost 5 years of failed PhD without any publications. Depending on the field you are working in, it might be better to look for job opportunities outside of academia instead of investing another 4 years in a PhD. Anyway, hats off for considering that after such a frustrating PhD experience.

I think you are right that there is not much you could do. In the end it is your responsibility that the material produced is definitely the one you thought, even though I can understand that one does not double check it after the supervisor's approval. Things like that happen in biology too, were people sometimes receive mutant lines from other renowned labs and in the end it turns out it was something completely different....always your responsibility to confirm the line...some learn it the hard way

How did your supervisor reacted? Does not cast positive light on him....
posted
16-Sep-15, 11:11
Avatar for Albatross1986
posted about 4 years ago
@TreeOfLife

I accept that, although we are not allowed access to the XRD lab or the person who carries out all the XRD projects, even if you want to discuss the results - it's a strange university! I have recently emailed the XRD lab behind my supervisors back, and they have said there original data showed it may have been the material I was expecting or may not. My supervisor changed this to "it is".

@Dunham

I really wanted a career in academia and you have confirmed by worst fears.

My supervisors reaction was for me to produce more material and see if that was the right one, then submit it as the original material to the journal that has just rejected! I've refused to do this, although I am going to re-run the experiments in October.

The frustrating thing is I have my own original idea that I want to do as a post-doc at a different university. My interview with the new university went really well and a position was there subject to PhD success.

The other frustrating thing is I have a material that works really well under industrial conditions that I know could be successful, but the XRD department don't know what it is and won't be updating their XRD database until after Christmas.

Part of me thinks just give up and get a job as a lab technician and the other part of me thinks I should fight, because I think I have something. I'm sure every student thinks they have something, but my latest paper reviewers also think I have something interesting.

Thank you both for the responses
posted
16-Sep-15, 12:30
edited about 9 seconds later
by Dunham
Avatar for Dunham
posted about 4 years ago
So the problem is just that you don't know which material it is? In case you would find out, you could publish the papers?
posted
16-Sep-15, 12:39
Avatar for Albatross1986
posted about 4 years ago
@Dunham,

If I could find out what the material is, I could withdraw my first paper, rewrite and submit both papers with the new material. The problem is I am not allowed to go direct to the XRD department (university rules) and even if they are able to update the database, they won't have it before Christmas - my submission is in February (guess I'll need another extension!)

I'm trawling the available databases to see if I can identify the material so I can have a head start - not everything is available for free online.
posted
16-Sep-15, 17:25
edited about 9 seconds later
by RinaL
Avatar for RinaL
posted about 4 years ago
Any chance to cooperate with another lab outside your university where you are free to actually discuss things? If you promise them a coauthor on the paper (s) you have a good chance that they would do the analyses at low or no costs..
posted
16-Sep-15, 18:58
edited about 19 seconds later
Avatar for Albatross1986
posted about 4 years ago
@Rinal

At the moment my supervisor is saying no. If he doesn't change his mind I am going to go over his head on the basis I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
posted
17-Sep-15, 03:53
edited about 25 seconds later
by 29200
Avatar for 29200
posted about 4 years ago
Quote From Dunham:
Really sorry to read that. I can't imagine how that must feel.

The question is if a new PhD will help. I can't really imagine that you have any chance to get tenure or any research position at a university with a history that includes almost 5 years of failed PhD without any publications. Depending on the field you are working in, it might be better to look for job opportunities outside of academia instead of investing another 4 years in a PhD. Anyway, hats off for considering that after such a frustrating PhD experience.

I think you are right that there is not much you could do. In the end it is your responsibility that the material produced is definitely the one you thought, even though I can understand that one does not double check it after the supervisor's approval. Things like that happen in biology too, were people sometimes receive mutant lines from other renowned labs and in the end it turns out it was something completely different....always your responsibility to confirm the line...some learn it the hard way

How did your supervisor reacted? Does not cast positive light on him....



Quite an unhelpful and demotivating response. Don't encourage someone to just call it quits and adopt a defeatist line of thinking. I hope most people aren't like you and spreading negativity.


The ethics of the supervisor are what's wrong, and there are power dynamics at play. It is not that straightforward to challenge someone more established academically.


To the thread starter: not all is lost yet. I cannot advise as I am not familiar with science Phds, but please keep fighting as it feels like you've been misled and manipulated.
posted
17-Sep-15, 08:48
edited about 18 seconds later
Avatar for chickpea
posted about 4 years ago
I'm also commenting from a different field, but it sounds to me like there is much to be salvaged in this situation - especially as the PhD is increasingly considered as 'research/academic training' and doesn't rest on you making a hugely important breakthrough. If you've conducted the research according to plan and ended up with what have been described as interesting results, I'd personally be trying to forge ahead on that basis and figure out how your results contribute to current knowledge.
posted
17-Sep-15, 09:38
by satchi
Avatar for satchi
posted about 4 years ago
hi albatross,
I'm sorry I'm not able to offer more advice/suggestions, but I really think your phd should be "saved" in some way, FOUR years of work is still work, it's not four weeks or four months, please try to find ways of working round this, and get your phd, worry about jobs later.

Don't give up **BIG HUG**
take care
love satchi
posted
17-Sep-15, 11:42
edited about 3 minutes later
Avatar for Mackem_Beefy
posted about 4 years ago
Quote From TreeofLife:
It's really your responsibility to ensure your data are correct, not your supervisor's. I think you need to discuss this with your supervisor or head of department regarding whether you will have enough to submit for. PhD with the incorrect data.


TreeofLife, Dunham,

You may be being harsh here without fully understanding the situation. Albatross has indicated that whilst the samples were undergoing XRD, they were beyond her reach and thus outside her control.

All Albatross could do was ensure the samples were properly labelled and if an error has occurred within the lab, what could she do especially when at the time her supervisor has 'lied' by saying the sample were correct.

Albatross,

If you have labelled the samples correctly, can you prove this? I'd have thought you'd be allowed to be present during an XRD test at the very least to ensure correct procedure and not allowing access seems strange indeed. At my old Uni. we actually did the XRD ourselves!!!

Also, can you show that your supervisor has said the samples were correct then later said they weren't? If you've correspondence in writing and can prove you were sent to a conference with falsified data, you may have the basis of an action against your University should the situation be irretrievable.

That said, look at what you have and see what can be used. And yes, given the XRD database isn't updated until after Christmas, that should be the basis for an extension appeal as you cannot access your data until then.

As a first step, see if you can retrieve a workable, submittable thesis from this situation and obtain your PhD. After this, pass or fail, see what your options are as to whether further action can be taken against either the University or your supervisor. If you obtain your PhD, this may not be necessary.

Yes, the old adage "Universities close ranks" will apply, though this becomes more difficult for them if you have proof of wrongdoing or error in procedure.

Ian
posted
17-Sep-15, 12:00
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 4 years ago
You might be right Ian, from reading the later posts, but the initial post seemed to relinquish the OP from all responsibility when they mentioned things such as "he sent me to a conference with falsified data" (he probably didn't SEND them, seems to imply it was intentional, when maybe it wasn't) and "My main supervisor...told me a material I had ..was the material I was expecting. On the basis of this I.."

My supervisors have assured me my work was correct many times, and sometimes they were wrong, but I didn't blame them for it - I feel it was my lack of knowledge and confidence that led to the errors. I also went to a conference making claims based on my supervisor's assurances that I later found out were incorrect. Of course these were small things and my main conclusions and data are correct, so it's a different situation.

But I do wonder, how the reviewers knew the work was wrong: "My second paper was rejected because the reviewers stated the material was incorrect" when others didn't?
posted
17-Sep-15, 13:30
edited about 1 minute later
Avatar for Mackem_Beefy
posted about 4 years ago
Quote From TreeofLife:
You might be right Ian, from reading the later posts, but the initial post seemed to relinquish the OP from all responsibility when they mentioned things such as "he sent me to a conference with falsified data" (he probably didn't SEND them, seems to imply it was intentional, when maybe it wasn't) and "My main supervisor...told me a material I had ..was the material I was expecting. On the basis of this I.."

My supervisors have assured me my work was correct many times, and sometimes they were wrong, but I didn't blame them for it - I feel it was my lack of knowledge and confidence that led to the errors. I also went to a conference making claims based on my supervisor's assurances that I later found out were incorrect. Of course these were small things and my main conclusions and data are correct, so it's a different situation.

But I do wonder, how the reviewers knew the work was wrong: "My second paper was rejected because the reviewers stated the material was incorrect" when others didn't?


No offence meant to Albatross here, however, I understand TreeofLife here and think she has a valid point. If you didn't spot the data was wrong before sending it, were you sufficiently sure of the data or have sufficient knowledge of what it meant or indicated? If you'd done the necessary background research and literature review, then you should, as a PhD candidate, had the knowledge to spot it was incorrect. Did your supervisor tell you to send data he knew (and logically you should have spotted) was incorrect?

However, in Albatross's defence, the supervisor / PhD candidate relationship requires a lot of trust and an assumption that the supervisor is a leader in his / her field. Thus Albatross may not have felt she had to question her supervisor's "greater" knowledge. It wasn't until my last year I was able to show one of my own supervisor's understandings of my data was incorrect.

Difficult.

Ian
posted
20-Sep-15, 18:03
edited a moment later
Avatar for Albatross1986
posted about 4 years ago
@29200

Thanks for the support, but don't be too hard on Dunham - he's just trying to offer the advice he thinks is correct.

@Mackem_Beefy

You are correct, I had no control over the XRD. All samples were labelled correctly and the error is without doubt with the XRD lab and my supervisor. I have a clear email stating the samples were the correct material and after the paper was rejecting a mumbling email saying they may not have been the correct material. In my uni, the XRD department is strictly controlled with no access to other students, so no chance of actually watching how things are done. It's the same with SEM etc.

I appreciate the rest of your comments and I agree I think I can salvage something, I'm just not sure it's going to be good enough for a successful career in academia.

@TreeOfLife

My supervisor definitely knew the data was false and told me "everybody does it"!

@Mackem_Beefy

<blockquote> If you didn't spot the data was wrong before sending it, were you sufficiently sure of the data or have sufficient knowledge of what it meant or indicated? </blockquote>

Accepted, however, when I queried the validity of the XRD, I was told the reason there were discrepancies was because of the particular angel of measurement, so I trusted the word of both the XRD department and y supervisor.

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