Supervisor is bullying me to leave after I took a break due to sudden death of parent

posted
13-Dec-19, 00:39
edited about 5 minutes later
by SarahT5
Avatar for SarahT5
posted about 1 month ago
Hi,

In April, my mother got suddenly seriously ill, and we were told that the illness was terminal and that the decline would be rapid and would involve suffering. I am doing my PhD in another city and worked part-time for a month or so before interrupting formally.


My supervisor was initially supportive, in that they kept distance but was reassuring about my phd and interruption. no problems were mentioned about my work.


Flash forward 6 months, my mother has passed away and I want to return to the phd after taking some extra time off to process the extremely unusual sequence of events.

However, my supervisor has completely changed tack, and now has suggested I would be better never coming back as my work is not good enough and i don't appreciate the opportunity to work in their lab.

In the meeting, i was shocked but kept relatively calm, and asked why they think this.
They say that this has been an issue before my mother got ill.
However there is no record of anything like this being mentioned, and in fact they reassured me multiple times that my work was progressing the way it should.

The last two months before I suspended were chaotic, but I had very little control over that. I regret not interrupting my studies sooner.

They say they didn't want to upset me so didn't mention anything.

I am angry that they are trying to kick me out, I think its because senior scientists in the lab are leaving and there will be no direct support. I was not a perfect student before but nothing was flagged up.

In their defence, I did miss some meetings and now they are saying that my work was not independent enough. this could be true, but I was only 6 months in.


I dont know what I can do - I cant change labs without losing the funding. I feel like they will force me out through more formal mechanisms and more slowly - its very hostile now

What can I do..
posted
13-Dec-19, 07:51
edited about 5 seconds later
by eng77
Avatar for eng77
posted about 1 month ago
I am sorry for your less. I am also sorry that it has impacted your relationship with supervisors. I think the only way to deal with it is to set with them and put some milestones before a formal progress meeting. If they do not want to continue supervising you "formally", there is nothing can be done. They could do it also with any student if they do not like their progress. You can ask directly what are exactly your shortcomings and what they expect from you in a reasonable frame time (6 months or so).
If this also did not work, then it is for your benefit to leave. It is not the pleasant thing to happen but you can start fresh somewhere else a PhD or a job.
posted
13-Dec-19, 14:39
edited about 1 minute later
Avatar for Jamie_Wizard
posted about 1 month ago
I'm very sorry for your loss. I too lost a parent (my father) relatively suddenly when I was halfway through my PhD. It was tough. I decided to keep my mind busy by being active and presented at a conference 2 weeks later and another a month later, and continued with sports. I did, however, make sure that whenever I felt feelings of grief I'd not block them and I think that helped a lot. If I had decided I needed time away I wouldn't have hesitated to organise this with my supervisor. In my case, I felt I was enjoying the progress with my PhD, my father would have wanted me to carry on and so I did and dedicated my Thesis to him.

Also, sorry to hear about your situation with your supervisors. I would follow the advice eng has provided and try and work out a way forwards, particularly as eng says, by setting achievable milestones that you all are satisfied with, failing that then it seems the only choice would be to move on. Best of luck.
posted
18-Dec-19, 11:23
edited about 6 seconds later
Avatar for justagirl23345
posted about 1 month ago
I am very sorry for your loss. My Mother died halve way through my PhD program so I understand how tough it is. I knew for about a year before my Mum could die at any given moment and my primary supervisor was very supportive offering to defer my progression exams, letting me go home at short notice. When my Mum eventually died both supervisors were initially very supportive. I took two weeks off and then flung myself back into university and my social life as a way of blocking the grief, I don't necessarily recommend this. However, when I returned to university I was abandoned by my original supervisor and I don't blame him as he had recently lost his Mum and it was too close to home and my second supervisor told me I wouldn't finish I was too much of a snowflake and I needed a replacement Mum.

I got around this problem thanks to the deputy head of department and the dean, who happens to be a member of the department, helping me with experiments and sticking up for me. Eventually, they persuaded me to put a formal complaint into the director of graduate studies and I kept my original supervisor who still helped just a lot less than before and by getting my secondary supervisor switched out to the deputy head of department. It wasn't easy but it was the right decision for me. With the correct support I got my PhD and I had the support in place when my Mum's dad died unexpectedly less than a year later, he was like a second dad to me. So it may be worth trying to take it higher. I have to say the institute was not a big fan of me nor were they known for defending their students against Profs but they stuck up for me then. Maybe try and complain see what happens or try and win some others over in the department. Don't give up, you have got this. I dedicated my thesis to my Mum.
posted
19-Dec-19, 23:35
by SarahT5
Avatar for SarahT5
posted about 1 month ago
Thank you for your message and advice. i think im going to try for 6 months and see where i am.


Quote From eng77:
I am sorry for your less. I am also sorry that it has impacted your relationship with supervisors. I think the only way to deal with it is to set with them and put some milestones before a formal progress meeting. If they do not want to continue supervising you "formally", there is nothing can be done. They could do it also with any student if they do not like their progress. You can ask directly what are exactly your shortcomings and what they expect from you in a reasonable frame time (6 months or so).
If this also did not work, then it is for your benefit to leave. It is not the pleasant thing to happen but you can start fresh somewhere else a PhD or a job.
posted
19-Dec-19, 23:36
by SarahT5
Avatar for SarahT5
posted about 1 month ago
I am sorry that you also have the experience of losing a parent. I think the milestone approach sounds good too, thank you.

Quote From Jamie_Wizard:
I'm very sorry for your loss. I too lost a parent (my father) relatively suddenly when I was halfway through my PhD. It was tough. I decided to keep my mind busy by being active and presented at a conference 2 weeks later and another a month later, and continued with sports. I did, however, make sure that whenever I felt feelings of grief I'd not block them and I think that helped a lot. If I had decided I needed time away I wouldn't have hesitated to organise this with my supervisor. In my case, I felt I was enjoying the progress with my PhD, my father would have wanted me to carry on and so I did and dedicated my Thesis to him.

Also, sorry to hear about your situation with your supervisors. I would follow the advice eng has provided and try and work out a way forwards, particularly as eng says, by setting achievable milestones that you all are satisfied with, failing that then it seems the only choice would be to move on. Best of luck.
posted
19-Dec-19, 23:39
edited about 19 seconds later
by SarahT5
Avatar for SarahT5
posted about 1 month ago
Your experience sounds very similar to mine, i am sorry that you had to go through this. But thank you for explaining what tyou did, its definitely given me some ideas about how to move forward. Because i dont want to quit, atleast not right now, and think i can finish this. It makes me so angry though that supervisors can treat students this way, it feels like being kicked when youre already down. I am glad to hear you completed your phd, it gives me hope!
Quote From justagirl23345:
I am very sorry for your loss. My Mother died halve way through my PhD program so I understand how tough it is. I knew for about a year before my Mum could die at any given moment and my primary supervisor was very supportive offering to defer my progression exams, letting me go home at short notice. When my Mum eventually died both supervisors were initially very supportive. I took two weeks off and then flung myself back into university and my social life as a way of blocking the grief, I don't necessarily recommend this. However, when I returned to university I was abandoned by my original supervisor and I don't blame him as he had recently lost his Mum and it was too close to home and my second supervisor told me I wouldn't finish I was too much of a snowflake and I needed a replacement Mum.

I got around this problem thanks to the deputy head of department and the dean, who happens to be a member of the department, helping me with experiments and sticking up for me. Eventually, they persuaded me to put a formal complaint into the director of graduate studies and I kept my original supervisor who still helped just a lot less than before and by getting my secondary supervisor switched out to the deputy head of department. It wasn't easy but it was the right decision for me. With the correct support I got my PhD and I had the support in place when my Mum's dad died unexpectedly less than a year later, he was like a second dad to me. So it may be worth trying to take it higher. I have to say the institute was not a big fan of me nor were they known for defending their students against Profs but they stuck up for me then. Maybe try and complain see what happens or try and win some others over in the department. Don't give up, you have got this. I dedicated my thesis to my Mum.

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