A hazardous supervisor?

26-Jul-19, 08:10
edited about 22 seconds later
by xtr2054
Avatar for xtr2054
posted about 1 month ago
I write this reflection in case it helps others in similar situations, but also as writing is itself helpful to emotional processing. I also leave you with two open questions: i) can this supervisor be trusted not to later try and formally sabotage the PhD? ii) if war comes (i.e. they go in the 'attack' and insist on unrealistic outcomes), what are the best defences?

With half a 3 year PhD left, I have a lot of data. Indeed I worked flat out, at some points pushing myself to breaking point, as for reasons beyond my (or anyone's) control the PhD ends at 3 years on the dot without room for manoeuvre; this cannot be changed and was known from day 1. I knew I needed to get data, and data fast - and that I have done. As example, a student colleague pointed out I already have almost 3 PhD worths of data already. Even cleaning the data alone has taken literally months and I am only half way. The price paid is I have not developed the analysis as much as I would have liked to, but that's what I seek to do now. Importantly, what I have analysed so far shows I have useful and interesting results.

In order to finish on time, others (within and beyond the project) have told me I need to stop collecting data very soon, and no later than the end of year 2. A supervisor does not want me to stop at all, or ever, quoting a target that is the equivalent of 5 PhDs of data, and is almost double what I collected so far. This target is impossible; if I tried I would fail to reach it, and certainly could not do so and meaningfully analyse the complex data. Furthermore the rate of prospective recruits is slower now so could never reach that. Fundamentally, if I do not stop collecting data, I can never actually analyse properly, as the ground of data is forever shifting. Consequently should I keep collecting well into year 3, a failed PhD would be all but guaranteed.

I discussed this reality calmly with the primary supervisor, looking at what remains to be done, and how long this would take. I was verbally abused and told unrepeatable 'truths' apparently about my personality. I was told the grant (which funds the target number) must take priority, and my desire to define a realistic time to stop collecting data, unreasonably selfish.

This latter behaviour is sadly not a surprise, and unfortunately there is a track record of this both with me, and with every student of theirs. The extent and aggressiveness is however 'a new low', so as such I am not sure what they might do next.

My other supervisors agree with my position, indeed they suggested those time frames. My colleagues on the project think data collection should stop now. I simply cannot do, or achieve what is being asked, so I suspect irreconcilable conflict is on its way.

Thank you for reading.
27-Jul-19, 00:18
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 1 month ago
Stop collecting data, and put your PhD first. Your supervisor does not have your best interest at heart. He is being very selfish. The amount of data you collect will be used for his research projects to come. If you fail, he won’t care because he will just get another person to go over the data that you have painstakingly collected, perhaps even without acknowledging you. Take care of yourself. Doing a PhD means training to be an independent researcher and thinker, and that includes learning when to be firm and stand up for yourself. The time is now.

If the other supervisors are ok with you stopping data collection, then you have supportive ppl to back you up.Record carefully all the actions that A supervisor say and do, you may need it to prove bullying case later. I predict A supervisor will try to pressure you into continuing your data collection by dangling the classic recommendation later excuse. You can get recommendations from other ppl in the lab and other supervisors. Do what is right for you. Complete your PhD and get out
27-Jul-19, 07:35
by pd1598
Avatar for pd1598
posted about 1 month ago
Definitely stop collecting and move onto the next phase. Remember your supervisor cannot stop you from submitting you thesis when the time comes (eg he can't say 'you needed more data so the thesis isn't ready', if you and your other sups think it is ready). Could you try and freeze out your main sup by working primarily with your other ones, who seem more supportive? Remember again your supervisors are there to support, not control. Consider recording any future meetings, literally, in a device, (openly, not clandestine). If the supervisor is the grant holder you probably can't swap him, but you could try and minimise your contact with him.
28-Jul-19, 01:31
edited about 1 minute later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 3 weeks ago
Technically your primary supervisor has not told you how many hours to dedicate to continued data collection.
There is nothing whatsoever to stop you allocating 5-10 hours per week collecting and the remainder of your week analysing what data you already have. Only after completing your current analysis do you attempt to analyse the new data (if and only if there is time). I would even tell the guy that you are prepared to continue analysing the new data after the PhD funding ends. This should keep him at bay.

Cut off your primary supervisor as much as possible, working from home if needed. Let him chase you for progress updates etc and be vague when responding. At this stage you should need this person much anyway.

This is a pretty passive aggressive way to play things but it should work quite well.
01-Aug-19, 01:22
edited about 8 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 3 weeks ago
Totally agree. Supervisors sometimes do this - to get the most out of their students' free labour - totally putting themselves and their own careers and ambitions first. So you have to look out for yourself here and do what is good for you.


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