To stay or to go?

12-Jan-18, 10:27
edited about 27 seconds later
Avatar for justagirl23345
posted about 1 year ago

I am currently just started my 2nd year of my PhD program. Both the course and university are highly prestigious.

My 1st supervisor changed university's in September but because of the way my funding and my project works I have to stay at my current university. My 1st supervisor is now my 2nd supervisor and whilst he tries to make the effort to see me every week and answers emails. However, my new 1st supervisor takes no interest in me and I am left completely alone to learn lab techniques. The number of experiments I am doing has went down rapidly as has the previously good relationship with my now 2nd supervisor. I am not getting to present my work at conferences or even to go to them. I am hardly learning anything new in terms of techniques. There are a lot of politics at my institute and as my old supervisor was not well liked I get the brunt of it and miss out on internal opportunities as the result of this. My supervisors are pushing me to write up my thesis but are giving me no guidance in how to do so.

I am rapidly becoming more and more frustrated. I have tried to talk to everyone on my supervisor team to no avail. Everything according to them is my fault - I don't try hard enough, I am too moany or too anxious. Recently, the dean stepped in and offered to supervise me but my 2nd supervisor won't take on any of his suggestions. Couple this with the fact my Mum is currently terminally ill and there is a very bad combination. My supervisors don't get why I want to leave as I have enough data to write up and should have a publication soon. However, I have no motivation and everything I say gets misconstrued.

Should I stay or should I go? Can anyone think of a way forward? I am more than capable academically to finish this PhD.
12-Jan-18, 22:04
edited about 2 minutes later
by Pjlu
Avatar for Pjlu
posted about 1 year ago
Hi there, how much data do you have from your lab work and experiments? It reads as though your supervisors think you have enough to start writing up some of it?
Have you any chapter drafts so far? I'm thinking introduction chapter and lit review chapter and some parts of methods. Not necessarily write ups of data.

Sorry if this seems like a million questions but just trying to ascertain where you might be with regard to a product. The supervisor situation sounds incredibly frustrating and it's understandable that this is impacting on your work. However, finally it is your work and your Phd not that of your second supervisor (who has left for pastures new.) Are you able to take up the Dean's offer of supervising as your first sup and ignore how your second sup feels about might be a way forward. Also perhaps once you have done this, perhaps trying to tune out the supervisors while you focus on writing up what you have done so far. They'll criticise the drafts but that's all part of it. However, you'll perhaps feel like you are progressing more once you have a few chapter drafts to polish. Just ignore this comment though if it doesn't seem televant to your current situation.
13-Jan-18, 00:23
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 1 year ago
Hi, justagirl23345,

You just started your second year and your supervisors are pushing you to write up your thesis? You must have been a very busy bee in your first year to generate enough data in one year that is sufficient to show for 3-4 years of PhD work.

I agree with Pjlu that you may wish to consider taking up the Dean's offer to be your first supervisor. You still have 2-3 years of time left and you need good direct supervision to pull through and unfortunately your former primary supervisor can't really do that remotely. Having the Dean as your primary supervisor may also help you manoeuvre your way through politics as well.

The other option for you is to write up as Mphil and join your former first supervisor where he is under a new PhD project.

Have a think about things and decide what is best for you. Good luck.
14-Jan-18, 17:22
Avatar for justagirl23345
posted about 1 year ago
The reason I have a lot of data is because we had to go on rotation in our first year which allowed me to learn all the techniques I needed for when I started my PhD project and to be honest for the most part we have been lucky with experiments. At the moment I have enough successful data for one complete paper with only my work in it. Including, experiments that did not work I could get around 4-5 chapters for my thesis according to my supervisor.

I have written up a draft of my results and methods. I have had some feedback on my results section and was told to write my introduction by expanding my 9 month reports introduction. I am just not really sure how to write a thesis but no one wants to give me any help.

The dean and my supervisor that left are best friends so he is only willing to help as long as my supervisor agrees which he isn't. This means the dean can only help in a minimalistic and very subtle way. My supervisor won't let me use my budget money without his approval so it is impossible to order anything without him knowing.

I think perhaps I will stay another month and see if the situation gets any better before making a decision. Although leaving or downgrading to a MPhil is sort of impossible as my supervisor is making it very difficult - refusing to write a reference if I do either. My supervisor has begged me to stay as they have lost 2x PhD students recently already to give you an idea of how bad this is. In other words I am the only person in the lab generating data and looking after undergraduates.
14-Jan-18, 19:29
edited about 1 minute later
by Dunham
Avatar for Dunham
posted about 1 year ago
I honestly don't understand why you even consider to leave.
Most of what you say is relatively normal. For example, It is rather uncommon that supervisors beyond the post doc level have the time to show you techniques in the lab. Most of them probably haven't been working in the lab for quite some time and are therefore anyway a bad choice to learn new techniques. Most of my PhD colleagues have a meeting with their boss every 4-6 weeks where results and future experiments are discussed but besides that, they are on their own. You can always ask colleagues for advice but to some extent you just have to acquire the knowledge yourself and try it.

Your PhD is going so incredibly well that you could write up and finish in 1.5 years. This is exceptional, whether or not you knew the techniques before. If you are really annoyed by the environment and your supervisor, then my suggestion would be to write up and search for a follow up position that provides you with more training opportunities. With a PhD in 1.5 years (many struggle to finish in 4) you should have no troubles to find something new
15-Jan-18, 15:20
edited about 14 seconds later
Avatar for justagirl23345
posted about 1 year ago
I appreciate that normally a supervisor wouldn't come into the lab to show their students techniques but the thing is there is no post-doc or any other student in my lab to show me how to do things. It is literally me and my supervisor. My other supervisor point blank refuses to help with anything despite having a massive lab with plenty of post-docs and PhD students in it. Other labs in the department are not willing to teach other people's students and this really goes back to the politics again. At the moment I would not have the skills to do a post-doc in terms of the lab as I know very few techniques and this is where my frustration lies in that I have no one to teach me and a supervisor reluctant to let me learn new things even if they would benefit my project.

My supervisor meets with me often but he doesn't let me plan far in the future so I end up in this limbo situation where I can't move my project forward without his approval which is very hard to get.

It is always nice to hear though that my project is going well.
15-Jan-18, 21:17
by melodie
Avatar for melodie
posted about 1 year ago
Hi justagirl,

I think I can empathise with your frustrations as I have also been attempting labwork in a situation without a labgroup to ask for advice. My project is based on novel and new experiments where i had to set up a whole mini lab for myself for my work in a different department. I was however shown some basics by the lab manager in that department, so is there no equivalent where you are? Regarding my specific experiments, I just looked at literature and adapted.

I can't really offer much more advice than that as my own PhD is in a bit of a mess for other reasons, but I hope you find a way forward!


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