Relationship with supervisors unworkable months from finishing

posted
04-Jun-19, 05:46
edited about 23 seconds later
by Kelpie1
Avatar for Kelpie1
posted about 2 months ago
Hi All,
I would really appreciate some advice - especially since I have no one to consult with that is in a similar position.
I have been doing my PhD for the past 4 years (incl. mat. leave and a switch to part time) and am very close to completion. I initially had 8 months, but then found out I was pregnant again so that cut my time in half - which put me on a super tight schedule. So obviously this is a stressful situation.
This is made much worse by my supervisors: their constant and unrelenting criticism of everything I do, and much worse - everything I AM. It has been a problem since the start, but recently has gotten worse to the point where i feel it borders on bullying.
These 'episodes' are triggered by short, benign, technical (one might say boring) conversations which then end up with as 5-hour explorations into what is wrong with me as a person. I never know when "what do you think of this figure" will spiral into "why you don't deserve a phd".
Also there are no other students in my lab - just two postdocs who are hardly there, and the trio of people constituting my supervisory team. So really no one to have a conversation with who can understand what I'm going through, offer advice or just hear me out / provide positive interaction. My main supervisor doesn't acknowledge the extent of the damage caused, and thinks the problem lies with me. I am of quite a mature age - nearing 40, so obviously this is not the first time I have a boss, or a job, and even doing a research degree. In ALL previous instances I have always found a way to work collaboratively with people I don't necessarily like, ending with very good outcomes.
Together with the stress of time, the pregnancy hormones, and the fact that I can't afford a week of doing jack and just recovering mentally - mean that I really haven't been dealing with it well at all. I am also worried about being so stressed and depressed during pregnancy.
I am a bit stumped as to what to do. Quit - even though I am nearly finished? Continue - even though I don't have a working relationship with my supervisors? I have no interest to continue in academia , but also wouldn't want the last 4 years to have been in vain.
posted
04-Jun-19, 13:41
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 2 months ago
Persevere on. Finish the bloody thing and move on. It will be one of your best life's accomplishment. Imagine motivating your child one day "Mummy overcame bad people with you in my tummy. So mummy is strong. And you will be too"

Bad relationships with supervisor will not affect you especially if you pursue a career in non academia. So no worries there. I never used any of my supervisors in any of my job applications and I got them. Supervisor referral is so overrated.

Trust me. It gets better when you cross the finishing line. I had super bad supervisors (big bully, negligent) and academic life was horrendous. I dragged myself across the finishing line with my family and friends cheering me on. I had depression and still can't touch my thesis without palpitations. I absolutely enjoyed my convocation without inviting my supervisors and got my friend the special seat on the stage (meant for supervisors) while other students from adjacent labs looked puzzled at this bizarre arrangement. Oh the satisfaction!

Chin up and march on. If I can do it, so can you!
posted
04-Jun-19, 20:59
edited about 43 seconds later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 2 months ago
At this late stage you probably don't need your supervisors help anymore. I would resist further contact, write up and leave.
I'm afraid academia is peppered with these absolute bastards and you are better off getting finished and away.
posted
05-Jun-19, 02:35
by Kelpie1
Avatar for Kelpie1
posted about 2 months ago
Thanks for your reply guys/gals!
I'm trying to muster up the strength of character needed to push through. The idea of rocking up to my graduation with 2 kids does sound appealing :).
I bet you do remember the process though - how demoralising it is, and how it can make you feel like a failure.
posted
05-Jun-19, 12:00
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 2 months ago
Quote From Kelpie1:
Thanks for your reply guys/gals!
I'm trying to muster up the strength of character needed to push through. The idea of rocking up to my graduation with 2 kids does sound appealing :).
I bet you do remember the process though - how demoralising it is, and how it can make you feel like a failure.


Yes, it is completely demoralising. But hang on and just keep your eyes on the prize. Don't let the bullies win. Don't make them happy. The prize (PhD) is worth it, your badge of honour from all the pain that you went through and you will wear the title Dr proudly when you finish. You are close and you will finish your PhD. (Playing "Just keep swimming" quote from Finding Nemo)
posted
05-Jun-19, 21:57
edited about 29 seconds later
Avatar for Dr_Crabby
posted about 2 months ago
This is if no help to you at all so sorry but...your post has made me feel better.

I have my viva on Friday and have had major issues with my only supervisor and no support for most of it, everytime I think of my viva I break out in a sweat. I have been absolutely stressed out my box and pretty sure I have anxiety and depression although it's extremely hard for me to admit that. My husband just told me he doesn't like this person I've turned into and I'm insufferable to live with and he's trying to be supportive until after my viva but then he wants the old me back because no amount of qualifications and titles is worth the stress I've put us both under.

I keep telling myself to just keep pushing on and get past the viva and get this whole horrible process over with, so my advice to you would be the same, you've come too far to quit now, just use what you've got and do what you can. We deserve it!!!!!!
posted
06-Jun-19, 06:08
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 2 months ago
Quote From Kelpie1:
Thanks for your reply guys/gals!
I'm trying to muster up the strength of character needed to push through. The idea of rocking up to my graduation with 2 kids does sound appealing :).
I bet you do remember the process though - how demoralising it is, and how it can make you feel like a failure.


My PhD was largely fine although I couldn't fathom out what I wanted to do after I graduated.
What got me was the last few months when I switched off almost completely. My viva was very challenging and I just wanted the whole thing to be done. I couldn't think straight and I was feigning interest. Once I passed the viva I took another 6 weeks to finalise a couple of papers and give a conference talk. The last struggle was getting my final paper published which I no longer cared about. That dragged on for a few weeks. By the time I was done I was pretty broken and quit academia. I'm glad I went through the PhD but I'll never forget the horror of that final struggle. The switch-off came on so suddenly that it took my breath away. Had that happened a few months earlier I would definitely have walked away. Just goes to show that we all have our breaking point.
posted
06-Jun-19, 15:58
edited about 6 seconds later
Avatar for LilyRachel
posted about 2 months ago
Hey, I agree with the above comments, but I would also suggest getting advice from a trusted source, perhaps a student union or advisor who can listen to your issues and advise you properly. It sounds like what is happening to you is bullying and harassment , so I would suggest that if it is too difficult to so so now , upon graduation you could submit a formal complaint. If you wanted to take action to make things easier and keep you safe more immediately , they may be able to put in certain measures such as only meeting with your supervisors with a member of HR present etc. You deserve to be safe in the place you work.
posted
07-Jun-19, 13:28
by Kelpie1
Avatar for Kelpie1
posted about 2 months ago
To everyone - all of your comments are helpful!
I guess one of the things unique to this position as a PhD student is the solitude, so just having people relate to what you are going through , or sharing their stories give you a healthier perspective.
One of the things my husband told was - "think of the worst thing that can happen (not get a PhD). Now imagine it. It's not so bad is it? the worst possible scenario is disappointing - but not an all consuming disaster!". And I gave to agree. Almost everyone I know deals with some type of crap or failures in their lives.

With regards to complaints - at this moment I am giving my supervisors the benefit of doubt, but I did fully involve my committee. I thing that (at least two of them) are genuinely non-malicious (the third guy - only god knows, as he keeps fighting with everyone else) - but because this type of horrendous behaviour that does verge on bullying is sort of "encouraged" - they feel free, and even obliged, to act like this. And my main supervisor, instead of making it very clear to them that "this is NOT OK" , keeps laying the blame back on me. They also have some social issues - the perks of doing a PhD in engineering.

All in all I think getting some support and understanding from peers goes a long way. After 6 years in paid work, with crappy bosses and annoying colleagues - i have to say the PhD experience is a lot more challenging, and not necessarily for the "right" reasons.
posted
10-Jun-19, 13:24
edited about 9 seconds later
by Pursue
Avatar for Pursue
posted about 2 months ago
You are a tru CHAMPION!

😁😁😁😁😃😃😃😎😎😎😍

I liked this very much! I will reply in detail to the PM. Been long without touching base. But have some news!

Quote From tru:
Persevere on. Finish the bloody thing and move on. It will be one of your best life's accomplishment. Imagine motivating your child one day "Mummy overcame bad people with you in my tummy. So mummy is strong. And you will be too"

Bad relationships with supervisor will not affect you especially if you pursue a career in non academia. So no worries there. I never used any of my supervisors in any of my job applications and I got them. Supervisor referral is so overrated.

Trust me. It gets better when you cross the finishing line. I had super bad supervisors (big bully, negligent) and academic life was horrendous. I dragged myself across the finishing line with my family and friends cheering me on. I had depression and still can't touch my thesis without palpitations. I absolutely enjoyed my convocation without inviting my supervisors and got my friend the special seat on the stage (meant for supervisors) while other students from adjacent labs looked puzzled at this bizarre arrangement. Oh the satisfaction!

Chin up and march on. If I can do it, so can you!
posted
10-Jun-19, 13:32
by Pursue
Avatar for Pursue
posted about 2 months ago
It is well God is on your side.
If you believe in Prayer, please lay everything before him who has the final say, he will make everyman a liar!

His only plans are to prosper you and to give you an expected end, Soilder On!

You will finish strong!



Quote From Kelpie1:
To everyone - all of your comments are helpful!
I guess one of the things unique to this position as a PhD student is the solitude, so just having people relate to what you are going through , or sharing their stories give you a healthier perspective.
One of the things my husband told was - "think of the worst thing that can happen (not get a PhD). Now imagine it. It's not so bad is it? the worst possible scenario is disappointing - but not an all consuming disaster!". And I gave to agree. Almost everyone I know deals with some type of crap or failures in their lives.

With regards to complaints - at this moment I am giving my supervisors the benefit of doubt, but I did fully involve my committee. I thing that (at least two of them) are genuinely non-malicious (the third guy - only god knows, as he keeps fighting with everyone else) - but because this type of horrendous behaviour that does verge on bullying is sort of "encouraged" - they feel free, and even obliged, to act like this. And my main supervisor, instead of making it very clear to them that "this is NOT OK" , keeps laying the blame back on me. They also have some social issues - the perks of doing a PhD in engineering.

All in all I think getting some support and understanding from peers goes a long way. After 6 years in paid work, with crappy bosses and annoying colleagues - i have to say the PhD experience is a lot more challenging, and not necessarily for the "right" reasons.
posted
16-Jun-19, 11:52
edited about 16 seconds later
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 2 months ago
Quote From Pursue:
You are a tru CHAMPION!

😁😁😁😁😃😃😃😎😎😎😍

I liked this very much! I will reply in detail to the PM. Been long without touching base. But have some news!



I look forward to hearing from you again, Pursue. Hope all is well with you.
posted
19-Jun-19, 20:30
by MyWorld
Avatar for MyWorld
posted about 2 months ago
It gives the impression that a lot of students are under this PIs behavior, including my experience. My recomendation as others have said is to continue!!and ignore your advisor as much as possible, finish and you will se how happy you are with your children following you! I have a mentor who neglects me, unsupportive and a lot of more things and I thougth about leaving, but it was like this is my fight and I am going to win, although I am not going to stay in academia I want to pursue a PhD and now that I am almost a year to finish, I am not regreting to fight against this horrible lab an experience that it should not be like that but it has been so... I am alone too so at least I have good friends here, they are PhD students too with a lot of complaints and I think that the abuse from PIs is something very normalized, it should not be.
My best luck to you and continue fighting!

I loved the story of inviting a friend over the reading and sitting where the supervisor should be!awesome!!!!
posted
26-Jul-19, 01:41
edited about 6 seconds later
by Kelpie1
Avatar for Kelpie1
posted about 3 weeks ago
So I have some updates and also another request for advice.
I have totally fallen behind. I got over myself and started working on the thesis again - but then had a meeting with my committee about what happened and while they agreed this was unaccaptable behaviour and is bordering on bullying (but also thought that formal complaint might not be the best avenue) - they critisized me for "seeking acknowledgement" and became very negative. So then a whole cycle of procrastination later I started again only to be "greeted" by the flu and then the ailments of late-stage pregnancy :/. So overall I am where I should have been two months ago.
On the flipside - I still can ask for extentions, as I have only been given a very minimal one. (Our university is very strict - 3 years, with only up to a year extention, so 4 total. I am only up to 3y2mo). With mat leave this gives me enough time, but it does mean I will have to come back to this horrid thing after (and during) mat leave.
The thing is - over these 2 months, I haven't been in contact with me supervisors and haven't come to the office - and they havent contacted me either. But I would like to re-establish some communication because we need to finalize some things, ask for the extension and submit a paper.
Question is - how to go about it? Anything to avoid? I am not trusting them so want to be "prepared".

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