Clarity needed - supervisor on leave (still)

13-Jun-18, 14:38
Avatar for carlingford
posted about 4 days ago
Hi all,

I'm hoping to get some insights bout how best to proceed. I'm currently 1.5 years in a 4 year programme. My supervisor, who I worked with during undergrad , has been on leave (maternity) for a year w/ no date of return.

Even when she was 'in the building', contact and feedback was sporadic. I'm her first PhD student. However since last April, I've spoken to her 4 times total. I've waited anywhere up to 3 months for feedback, and coupled with my own lack of confidence, I have lost time, momentum and even more confidence as I see peers begin to gather pace. I'd guess I'm about 6 months behind them, maybe less.

Aside from lit review drafts, we were to submit a paper recently. She suddenly disappeared again, and I was left to author alone (with no prior experience). I submitted the paper and she replied stating she was experiencing severe family issues. Naturally, I didn't want to insist on communicating so I waited again. She never resurfaced, and meanwhile I was doing what I could but also neck-deep in teaching duties. As a result, two+ months have passed to receive an email from her to say we should 'catch up'. I reply giving as much availability as I can, but 2 days later, nothing. At the moment, I have a million things to prepare for including my annual evaluation, summer schools and lit drafts. But to be honest, I can do nothing.

On top of this, there was a death of a close family member so I find myself totally lost/down. I'm caught between a rock and a hard place. I want to do my PhD but I need support. No 'cover' was offered in her absence as she said she would be fine to supervise remotely. Plus, our school doesn't have a research head to discuss the issue with atm. I'm afraid to complain as I need teaching hours so can't look weak.

Any advice welcome, thanks.
13-Jun-18, 15:20
edited about 17 seconds later
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 4 days ago
How irresponsible, to not get you a second supervisor while she is on maternity leave. Would you consider changing project and supervisor completely? Your supervisor has not guided you properly and is very inexperienced (first time supervisor), plus you have no idea when she is coming back. Don waste time. Talk to your Grad School or overall postgrad coordinator. Have a look around for more experienced and responsible supervisor. Talk to students of supervisors you are interested in. Changing supervisor is not a sign of complain or weakness. Quite the opposite, you are strong enough to find s solution to a problem and willing to try again. Don let her false promises of "things will get better" and "you have to be loyal to me" hold you back, if she does throw them at you.
14-Jun-18, 13:59
edited about 53 seconds later
Avatar for strawberrygirl
posted about 3 days ago
Well done for sticking with it for this long. A PhD is difficult enough when you do have supervision. It sounds like you are not getting any proper supervision. It's very bad that the department hasn't acknowledged this or put an alternative plan in place. They should have done so when your supervisor went on maternity leave - it was unrealistic to expect her to still supervise - the university is being unfair to her and to you.

I think you should approach the head of department and say that you need another supervisor as yours is on leave and not available. Or approach an existing staff member who you think you could work with and ask them if it would be possible to have a meeting to discuss your project. You could then raise the issue of having no supervisor and ask if it's possible to work with them.

You will not look weak. Your PhD is at risk and you're totally within your rights to seek proper supervision - it's important especially in the early stages.
17-Jun-18, 17:38
edited about 12 seconds later
Avatar for carlingford
posted about 17 hours ago
Hi all,

Thank you for your responses. I'm definitely going to take them on board. I'm quite nervous about it as I feel it'll really rock the boat in terms of future teaching posts etc. But without the PhD, or at least in the pipeline, a lecturing role is out of the question anyway. I just hope she's willing to either step aside or let someone come in temporarily to help out.

Thanks again for taking the time to respond to me.


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