Am I failing?

posted
07-Nov-19, 18:51
edited about 25 seconds later
by Chochka
Avatar for Chochka
posted about 6 days ago
I'm really struggling with my PhD at the moment. For various reasons I don't think I'm doing very well and am losing motivation now. (I'm 6 years in with two and a half left to go.) I've had a lot of problems setting up my research and at the last minute have had to change a lot of what I'm doing, which has heralded the dive in motivation. My supervisors haven't been very good at dealing with my recent lack of motivation and I am worried that they are secretly trying to make me give up. If someone isn't doing well are the supervisors obliged to advise them to give up or am I just being paranoid? Please don't tell me to talk to them about his - I've tried and it didn't go well.
posted
08-Nov-19, 10:21
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 5 days ago
Hi Chochka, sorry to hear that you are struggling at this time. And that you aren't finding your supervisors terribly supportive.

The thing with motivation is that you need to find ways to motivate yourself. Some people/supervisors are probably great at helping to motivate others, but you can't count on that. You have to find what can motivate you and get you out of this slump.

Re supervisors giving up. No, I don't think they're obliged. But rather than secretly wanting to make you quit (which could well be true), they may just thinking, hmm, it looks like he / she isn't going to finish / isn't motivated enough to finish. And so they may just be watching and waiting / leaving you to it. It is your PhD is the bottom line, even though you may have been let down on the support side.

What is it that could motivate you at this stage? Could it help to be able to actually see the end point in sight? With the changes that you are having to make, is it conceivable that you will indeed have a thesis to submit after x months?
posted
08-Nov-19, 13:12
edited about 1 minute later
by Chochka
Avatar for Chochka
posted about 5 days ago
Hi Tudor Queen.

Thanks for the answer. Yes, I can see the thesis being finished in two years, that's not a problem. I think I've just hit one of those walls and am struggling a bit at the moment. My supervisors have never been great with support but after emailing them saying that I was struggling (with the work as well as motivation) they were absolutely vile. It's only been a couple of months, it's not like it's a long term problem. That made me think they were pushing me to give up rather than trying to help me find ways through.
posted
08-Nov-19, 13:25
by eng77
Avatar for eng77
posted about 5 days ago
Hi Chochka. I cannot say and advise better than what Tudor_Queen already did. It is your PhD. I though before that supervisors would like to see all their students finish their PhD and get the degree but they do not really care that much. For them they are people who come and leave. Leaving without a PhD will hurt only you.
There is a fine line (which I personally find it hard to determine) between giving up because you are really going no where and giving up because of a temporary problem. In your case, I think it is a temporary demotivation. Think of what can motivate you. Forget about the support of supervisors. Try to do small things now and work in non boring stuff and step by step you will be there.
posted
08-Nov-19, 13:39
edited about 21 seconds later
by Chochka
Avatar for Chochka
posted about 5 days ago
Thanks for the reply. I'm not concerned about my lack of motivation - that comes and goes with anything, I can find ways through it and am not worried that it's not going to come back. I am worried about the standard of my work though and that my supervisors are deliberately pushing me to give up. That's my real concern.
posted
08-Nov-19, 16:58
edited about 15 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 5 days ago
Sorry to hear about the lack of support / vile response :/

Re your real concern - have you tried meeting with them to talk concretely about the specific issues / how to improve aspects of your work? If you act motivated (even if you don't feel it) and make them see that you are in for the long haul, and even if they want you to leave you aren't going to, they might be more responsive?
posted
08-Nov-19, 17:29
edited about 14 seconds later
by Chochka
Avatar for Chochka
posted about 5 days ago
Yes, that was what the meeting was about earlier. I met with them separately to ask for direction and they were both equally as vile as each other. That was what got me wondering about whether they had got together beforehand to work out a strategy. The thing is, I have spent over two years trying to get a research permit for the country I want to research in and a few weeks ago it all unexpectedly fell through. I've spent a lot of money going back and forth, meeting people and making contacts to get the permit. A couple of years ago one of my supervisors sent me to a friend of his, in country, who said he would get a permit for me. I thought it looked dodgy and told my supervisor, at which point he got mad with me for doubting his friend and so I went over. Lo and behold, it was dodgy, the guy asked me for $1000 to get the permit and then admitted that he had no intention of getting the permit and actually wasn't even authorised to. (Which is why I thought it was dodgy to begin with.) I spent a few months trying to get the data I needed and then hit a dead end and had to give up so came home. My supervisor never mentioned it, despite having sent me out there against my better judgement. (I think I'm owed an apology but there you go.) So they know I'm in it for the long haul - I've spent so much time and money and not given up yet. They have never been responsive if I go to them with a problem, especially if it doesn't relate directly to the actual work. They just like to sit there and judge my work, usually negatively.
posted
08-Nov-19, 22:22
edited about 18 seconds later
Avatar for cucaracha
posted about 4 days ago
These supervisors sound awful - surely they're not allowed to get away with such low standards of supervision and dodgy behaviour. It would be logical to have some sort of penalty for supervisors who fail to see their students to completion, to encourage them to actually do a decent job...

I doubt they're conspiring to get you to give up but they are obviously showing very little interest and care. I think you need to speak to someone like the Postgraduate Research Director, or someone who oversees the PhDs, and honestly tell them your experience with these supervisors and how it's affecting your work/ability to do the work to a high standard.

Is this in the UK?
posted
08-Nov-19, 23:28
edited about 3 seconds later
by Chochka
Avatar for Chochka
posted about 4 days ago
Yes, it is in the UK.

Having written that out and read it back I can see that it looks really bad.

I'm not going to take it further though - it's my career at stake, not theirs. And the guy who sent me away against my better judgement is a big name in his (my) field and could really screw me over.
posted
09-Nov-19, 09:30
edited about 1 minute later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 4 days ago
Yeh it sounds awful. There needs to be more transparency in academia so these things can't happen so easily.

Having read all you've said I do think there is a chance they are conspiring to make you want to just quit. It sounds as though they are capable of anything. What are your options? Do you think you can successfully make it through without much / any support from them?

My relationship with my supervisors pretty much ended at the end of year 2, and I did the final 1.75 years by myself more or less. I was given a new supervisor who basically was the person I corresponded with about any general issues such as needing to change deadlines, agreeing on viva examiners etc (she wasn't involved in / didn't know my work). For this to happen, I approached this person (she was the head of the department) and told her that I could no longer work with one of my supervisors. I didn't tell her why, as I had already learnt that being honest/open about things doesn't get you very far when it comes to raising issues about supervision. Anyway, in this meeting I was grilled for about 2 hours while she tried to get more info from me, but I refused to say anything about it except that it just wasn't working. I had hoped that I could continue working with the secondary supervisor - with whom there wasn't any issue. But what happened is that the secondary "refused" to work directly with me unless the primary one stayed on board. So both stayed on board (i.e. reading and commenting on drafts) but I didn't meet with them anymore. And this third person (the one I had gone to see) became my official main supervisor "on paper". It was not at all ideal but it just goes to show that you can complete in circumstances far less than ideal.
posted
09-Nov-19, 16:45
edited about 25 seconds later
by Chochka
Avatar for Chochka
posted about 4 days ago
That sounds like some kind of solution. I definitely can't make it through without support from someone though. I'm worried that if I take it further it will rebound on me in some way. I don't get the impression that academics are keen on being challenged and will band together to protect 'one of their own'. I'm also part time and only go in for supervisions so I don't know the other people in the department and can't suss out who is 'safe' to talk to in order to get advice. I'm wondering about sidelining the secondary supervisor a bit, who is the one I find more difficult to work with.

I've obviously got a reputation as a 'difficult student', which is really annoying because I didn't have this reputation when I did my masters. I had a lovely supervisor then and I really enjoyed working with him. I don't know how much this kind of reputation will affect my career/job in the future (I'm seriously doubting going into academia now because of this experience) so I don't know how much I need to pander to these guys.
posted
10-Nov-19, 12:35
edited about 24 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 3 days ago
It is really tough. It sounds like you are aware of all the risks though and so can handle it somehow. I guess just tentatively trying different things to see what might help the situation? If you could find someone to talk to who you can trust, even if you aren't asking them to become involved in anyway, could help immensely. My stats supervisor was this person in my case. He was totally different to the other 2 and very approachable. I remember at one point him telling me that a lot of people in academia are (some expletive I can't recall) and that you just have to recognize who is decent and who isn't and try and work with those you regard as decent! If you're already trapped in something then somehow you just have to get through it. I'm not sure if any of this helps but I do hope you can come up with a plan of some things to try.

Re sidelining the other sup. Be careful as I tried to do something similar where I thought I'd approach the other supervisor and get input from them, and basically it made things worse as it seemed like I was well, sidelining one of them. As like you say, they tend to stick together being that they are supervisors and we are the "them" or "other", having less power and status in this situation.

I'm sure you'll navigate it somehow if you can try out different things to see what might work. Is there anything that could excite them / get them back on board? Or could a pragmatic and distant approach work where you just have a set of deadlines and dates to meet them and get feedback via your drafts? Could an open conversation about this work - where you say how determined you are to finish this and want to set dates and deadlines for x, y, and z with their input?

I'm just trying to stimulate ideas. You know the situation best of course!
posted
10-Nov-19, 12:38
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 3 days ago
Quote From Chochka:

I've obviously got a reputation as a 'difficult student', which is really annoying because I didn't have this reputation when I did my masters. I had a lovely supervisor then and I really enjoyed working with him. I don't know how much this kind of reputation will affect my career/job in the future (I'm seriously doubting going into academia now because of this experience) so I don't know how much I need to pander to these guys.


I think this depends on how much you need to rely on them for a reference. I think people are aware though that these things happen and it doesn't necessarily mean that the student is a problem-person if a particular working relationship did not end up working well.

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