Supervisor doesn't read PhD thesis

posted
14-Jan-18, 14:06
by lucedan
Avatar for lucedan
posted about 2 years ago
Hi all,

I have something that is not properly a problem, but I would like to listen to your opinions.
My supervisor hasn't really ever been present in my PhD. Still, I would have never imagined he was that uninterested in his job. Honestly, in my field (music), institutions do not spend money for their PhDs and are not really motivated to provide an effective mentoring, or maybe my supervisor is just careless.
For example, 1 month ago I asked him to let me use the server of the university for some heavy processing for my thesis but, after answering "yes, send me the abstract", he has never opened the ticket - of course this is on a long list of "yes, I'll do it".

The thing is that I have sent him half of my thesis 4 months ago, and after having him for 3 months saying "sorry, I didn't find time to read your thesis" (to which, honestly, I don't know what to reply), he has never even opened it. The workload is all on my co-supervisor, which has arrived to the university 8 months ago. Both haven't read my thesis for months, but after having them notice the little time left my co-supervisor has tried to go through it. He is a good guy, honestly. My supervisor hasn't replied. A few days ago, I sent the last chapters to both, and explicitly asked my supervisor to read some parts, and still he has't answered to me.

The point is that in a few days I am submitting a thesis that was only partially corrected by my co-supervisor. Nevertheless, it's true that I am responsible for my thesis, but it's very upsetting that the thesis will be signed by my supervisor (and this could help him run for a "Prof." title one day, if my thesis will be useful) while he has done more or less nothing for it. I would rather prefer to give the merits to my co-supervisor.
posted
14-Jan-18, 14:08
by lucedan
Avatar for lucedan
posted about 2 years ago
Of course I will do nothing, as I would probably need a letter of reference from him. I would just like to know what are your opinion, so to have more ideas on what my options are
posted
14-Jan-18, 14:58
edited about 55 seconds later
by Nad75
Avatar for Nad75
posted about 2 years ago
Wow, he really isn't doing his job at all! I think you are definitely entitled to complain to the director of PG studies, as he is taking advantage of the power relations in this situation. It is also unfair for the co-supervisor (secondary?) to be reviewing more than your primary supervisor.

May I ask if you had both agreed to a defined schedule of draft submissions and an anticipated timeline for critique throughout your process? I pushed for that and set it up right away in my first month, which I have found to be helpful, although I know many students prefer not to have hard deadlines for submission and critique. Even if you didn't have a defined schedule, the lack of attention to your needs as a student (server and timely critique) shouldn't go unnoticed by those who do promotions.
posted
14-Jan-18, 15:34
edited about 37 minutes later
by lucedan
Avatar for lucedan
posted about 2 years ago
Thank you Nad!
I guess we didn't. Meaning that I did that myself, sending an email with a plan: "4 months, index, work ready, work to do, approx. deadline". The reason is that like you, I have been very disciplined in my research and I carefully planned my milestones. The thing is that it would be unfair to say that he has done nothing during his supervision: he did minor things, until a point in which he does not really care about his duties. (Nonetheless, a colleague of mine expressively asked me if I was happy with him as a supervisor, and he said that he wasn't followed much - he tries to be your friend more than you supervisor, or sort of).

The point is, how to have them notice this? As my university has never performed my music, to protect myself from possible critics about the missing of sound material, I have already sent 2 months ago a complaint to the university with some clear examples about how the university did not help me at all (fortunately, I was't paying for my PhD!!). But I think that it would be not that good to attack him before submitting, given that my potential external examiner is a friend of his. Still, I agree with you: I don't want to make this lack of competence unnoticed.

What are the options? I write this in the acknowledgements? :P
I write a secret letter?
I ask to change the name of the supervisor?
(Little information: he is on 6-months research leave, but when I asked him if I had to continue address him for my concerns or somebody else, he said "still to me")
posted
14-Jan-18, 15:50
edited about 25 seconds later
by lucedan
Avatar for lucedan
posted about 2 years ago
Ah, yes. I clearly remember that there is an email in which I ask him if he preferred little chunks of thesis, or the whole thesis in one way to correct. He suggester the former option
posted
14-Jan-18, 17:31
edited about 8 seconds later
by helebon
Avatar for helebon
posted about 2 years ago
The Students Union informed me recently that if a student makes a complaint there is a procedure in place so the university/supervisor cannot give a poor reference.
posted
26-Jan-18, 00:38
edited about 9 seconds later
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 2 years ago
Hi, ludedan,

Could you have a chat with your postgraduate coordinator to get the power from above to push your main supervisor into doing his job? Word of caution, you may get him upset but he may finally do his work.

If your second supervisor is willing to act as the primary supervisor in terms of workload, then I guess that is helpful for you.

A formal complain should only be lodged if everything else has failed - ie the push from postgrad coordinator, talk to Dean/Head of School...

Helebon, there is a big difference between what a supervisor should and cannot do when it comes to reference. The procedure maybe that the supervisor should not give poor reference. But who will check? And what is your proof of that? If the employer rings up your supervisor and your supervisor bad mouths you and so you lost the job, how will you ever know? The best action is to ask someone else give you reference if you suspect that the supervisor will be a bad referee.
posted
26-Jan-18, 05:00
edited about 2 minutes later
by helebon
Avatar for helebon
posted about 2 years ago
tru, I agree about choosing your referees wisely and to choose someone you trust.

I will be asking the Students Union advisor what they mean by the procedure in place and how this is guaranteed, I will post their response.
posted
26-Jan-18, 10:45
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 2 years ago
Quote From helebon:

I will be asking the Students Union advisor what they mean by the procedure in place and how this is guaranteed, I will post their response.


You're not going to find a procedure. It's a myth that people can't give "bad" references. What you can't do is lie. If I have a bad student, I will write honestly but unenthusiastically about them e.g. "this person is capable of doing this job with a lot of close supervision" "They averaged 62% overall, which is on par with 50% of their cohort". If I want to comment on timeliness I might say, "this person submitted 60% of their work on time; the average of their cohort was 90%." At the end of the reference, I wouldn't specifically recommend them for a position.

It's quite clear that students aren't great when references are written like this. I don't have to explicitly say, "the student needed a lot of attention and was unable to show initiative, they got average grades and they were frequently late" for this meaning to come across anyway.
posted
26-Jan-18, 11:20
edited about 2 minutes later
by helebon
Avatar for helebon
posted about 2 years ago
[quote]Quote From TreeofLife:

'You're not going to find a procedure. It's a myth that people can't give "bad" references. What you can't do is lie. '


Thanks for the info. This makes it all the more important to have a second supervisor. If I had a poor supervisor I probably wouldn't trust them in writing a reference.
posted
26-Jan-18, 13:01
edited about 38 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 2 years ago
Quote From helebon:
[quote]

Thanks for the info. This makes it all the more important to have a second supervisor. If I had a poor supervisor I probably wouldn't trust them in writing a reference.


Yep, it's better to find someone who will write you a good reference, rather than risk a bad one. Also remember that it's your right to see your references, so request to do this beforehand if you want. If there's concerns about a submitted reference, then contact the people you are applying to and ask to see it. Bear in mind, sometimes the people will then contact the referee and ask if it's ok to share the reference, but often this permission is sought at the time of submitting the reference.
posted
27-Jan-18, 15:16
edited about 13 minutes later
by helebon
Avatar for helebon
posted about 2 years ago
I feel postgraduate education is changing for masters and PhD's, as the PhD loans are coming in Sept 2018 and masters courses have gone up substantially in price. Meaning it's much more of a financial investment to students. in 2006 I was planning to do an MA for around £2.5 thousand fulltime 1-year course, now the same uni charges £9 thousand for the same course.

Students are looking for value for money (as with undergrads now charged 9 thousand a year). It was in the news about masters students at Central Saint Martins getting a rebate for a course that was substandard. This I expect will become more common.

I think universities will not stand for supervisors who are not delivering what they should be, as students will go elsewhere. Universities are businesses. To me, a supervisor not doing what they should be doing (what the OP mentions) is a trading standards, not fit for purpose issue. If the course is funded then this isn't good value for the research council.
posted
27-Jan-18, 20:25
edited about 1 minute later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 2 years ago
Quote From TreeofLife:
Quote From helebon:

I will be asking the Students Union advisor what they mean by the procedure in place and how this is guaranteed, I will post their response.


You're not going to find a procedure. It's a myth that people can't give "bad" references. What you can't do is lie. If I have a bad student, I will write honestly but unenthusiastically about them e.g. "this person is capable of doing this job with a lot of close supervision" "They averaged 62% overall, which is on par with 50% of their cohort". If I want to comment on timeliness I might say, "this person submitted 60% of their work on time; the average of their cohort was 90%." At the end of the reference, I wouldn't specifically recommend them for a position.

It's quite clear that students aren't great when references are written like this. I don't have to explicitly say, "the student needed a lot of attention and was unable to show initiative, they got average grades and they were frequently late" for this meaning to come across anyway.


It is worse than this. A phone call between your referee and your prospective boss won't be recorded and they can say whatever they like. I would always phone a referee and speak to them. Written references are not credible. Anyone relying on them risks hiring a bad employee they may well have trouble getting rid of.

We can have all the protective employment legislation in the world but employers can and routinely do hire on whatever criteria they want.
posted
31-Jan-18, 17:45
edited about 26 minutes later
by helebon
Avatar for helebon
posted about 2 years ago
I asked the Students Union about the reference procedure, they said an academic reference is a tick box form of questions.
I made the mistake of not making a formal complaint when writing my masters thesis. Now I am trying to prove the errors the university made.

If I could rewind time and I was still writing my thesis I would be finding out who is the manager of my supervisor and ask them questions in a diplomatic way. Oh well, I live and learn.
posted
01-Feb-18, 08:54
edited about 28 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 2 years ago
Quote From helebon:
I asked the Students Union about the reference procedure, they said an academic reference is a tick box form of questions.
.


Well maybe your university has a different policy to the rest of the country then. I've never seen a tick box alone for a reference reference for a postgrad or other academic job in the UK. Academic references are generally free format and personalised. In that case, it makes it even easier to give a "bad reference": e.g. "please rate student's academic ability from 1 poor to 5 exceptional". It's great if you can just tick the "1" option with no explanation.

The manager of your supervisor is most likely the Head of School.

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