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There's a lot of text here, I do apologize. Many thanks to those who read it all and provide commentary.

Background: I have worked with my adviser for ~7 years now carrying out research with him in the field for many seasons, receiving my BS under his guidance, and TAing for him for several years until I decided to begin my MS with him. Early on, he had been having family issues and at a point near the beginning of my MS, he informed me he would be focusing less on work and more on his family due to his focus having destroyed his family. I took this as a passing phase as he had done before, but he has proven me wrong.

Overall Situation: My adviser currently has negative intentions to his students, the department, and the school. He does the bare minimum in courses- teaching ~1 class per quarter, showing up late, leaving early, is never in his office (I'm not exaggerating, he does not use his office. He arrives to campus, teaches, and leaves); has a very negative attitude with the department and school with never submitting forms or reports on time as well as not attending some department meetings (or commencement); and constantly sends emails to faculty and students informing them of how he is being screwed by the school (receiving reimbursements months later and having to deal with overdue bills and credit card charges). No students respect him within the department and his classes are the lowest rated to the point of being a joke. His reputation is so bad that when his next grad class is offered this coming winter, I feel it will be canceled because absolutely none of the students intend to enroll in it. Research-wise, he has been collecting data on a large project for ~15 years and has not published anything during that time. Currently the data and work sits and we are again in the middle of a summer when he intends to write something (this has been stated for each of the last 4 summers straight and it never happens).

My Situation: My thesis has gone no where. Meetings are constantly cancelled and put off by him, he has provided little to no literature (even then only broad background papers that he had me read for my BS), has shown no advancing interest in exploring ArcGIS with me to understand how to manipulate data. Some lunch meetings have taken place, over the past two years, but they end up being social and minor mentioning of work is as far as the conversation gets. The last two meetings I had with him were group meetings with 2 other students working with him (the other third already left for another project) and the meetings solely revolved around their projects and how I could help/guide them. Being roughly 6 months prior to graduation, I am currently assembling text and running analysis on data entirely on my own. Emails to meet and go over the process this week have gone unanswered.

Currently: Recent statements from other faculty and students are that in recent meetings my adviser has been using me as an example to state students need to submit 'final' drafts 6 months before defense. The department has a deadline of one month before defense for a completed 'first' draft. I am under the impression, given the past actions of my adviser, that he may be setting me up to make a point to the other faculty that 6 months beforehand is needed because he did not have proper time to read and review it. All of this would be fabricated from his own lack of meeting and involvement in my thesis writing. I am absolutely appalled at how he claim such expectations when he himself has put zero effort into the project whatsoever.

SO, with all that background, I sit here with ~20 pages of some spotty text and images and am very close to deciding, enough is enough, I would be better off dropping this project and ceasing work with him, and in turn picking up a project with another faculty member. I would rather spend a bit more time investing in a new project and doing that than finishing this and continuing to have to put up with his actions.

My question is, with what I have informed you of here, how do I do it? Also, along those lines, if I do decide to do this, would it be entirely unprofessional to inform the other grad student who just started up her project to drop it and go to another adviser? (She has already commented I have been more of an adviser to her providing background readings, information, and 100s of Mbs worth of unprocessed data for her project...)

Cheers

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One of my supervisors likes to say "You got to do what you got to do". This would be my advice. However, I am not sure you should inform other graduate students. It seems that they already know it. –  scaaahu Jun 25 at 9:41
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I think it is absolutely your right to leave. But some of your comments seem insulting: "has negative intentions to his students", "No students respect him", "..to the point of being a joke.". His excuse "he had been having family issues... he would be focusing less on work and more on his family due to his focus having destroyed his family." is a perfect valid excuse and you are not his employer to judge him with such cruelty. So, do what you want to do but do not insult him, since he has been quite nice to you (when he actually could). –  Alexandros Jun 25 at 11:58
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Three word answer: respectfully, directly, soon. –  JeffE Jun 25 at 15:05
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Alexandros, I am trying not to be insulting, but these issues are mostly facts. "has negative intentions to his students"- this is opinion yes, but shared by all faculty and students, and I have encountered countless examples of it. "No students respect him"/"..to the point of being a joke."- No students respect him, it's just true, and the joke comment are the words of another faculty. It is true he has been quite nice and fine to work with over the years, but I'm unable to work with his recent downward spiral. I've kept waiting for glimmers of something I can work with, and nothing (1/2) –  user17877 Jun 25 at 18:33
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(2/2) has come up. I wouldn't insult him at all and don't want to, but in a way I want to make it known that essentially, I have not been treated well and that is why I'm leaving. I fully understand his family issues more than anyone else he knows at our school, and have tried to give him some help and support, but where is the line for my needs and not his? Thank you for your thoughts. –  user17877 Jun 25 at 18:37

2 Answers 2

I am agreeing with @scaaahu on both parts of your question:

How to inform an adviser I am ceasing work with him?

With what you are writing it sounds like your adviser already gave you an out ("he informed me he would be focusing less on work and more on his family due to his focus having destroyed his family"). In addition to that, he seems to care about nothing at the university any more. Therefore, I think it actually doesn't matter at all how you tell him, just that you tell him as soon as possible and more importantly: start looking for a new adviser right now. You do not want to waste any more time on the project.

I would just tell him that the project is not going as you wished, that you need more guidance, that you think he will not be able to give you that and that you are looking for a new adviser and project. If you can honestly say you are thankful for his guidance (maybe in your BS?) say so, otherwise just say nothing.

Would it be entirely unprofessional to inform the other grad student who just started up her project to drop it and go to another adviser?

Yes, I think it would be unprofessional. Tell her that you are leaving and, if you know her well enough or if she asks, why you are leaving , tell her in the most objective way you can. Then she can decide for herself.

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I have done minor edits to your answer. I hope you are OK with them –  Alexandros Jun 25 at 11:52
    
@Alexandros thanks a lot! –  The Almighty Bob Jun 25 at 13:47
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Thanks for the response. I do have 2 other faculty members I can ask for another project, and they've known for quite a while that this may be coming. I guess a more generic question from me is, would you recommend to do this in email, in person (what if I can simply not get a meeting with him in a timely manner?) etc? –  user17877 Jun 25 at 18:40
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That is great, that you have already 2 other possible advisors, that makes it less risky for you. If possible I would do it in person. If you can not get a meeting then a mail with an explanation why you are not doing it in person and the offer to meet and talk about it would in your case also be fine. How long to wait? - I don't know. –  The Almighty Bob Jun 25 at 20:33

I am a faculty member and have seen similar situations in the past, both in my university and in others. In fact, a few years ago the son of a friend told me about a similar situation in his university (though less severe than yours). I have advised him to quit and switch to another adviser; he did that and he is just now finishing his Ph.D. and is doing extremely well. Similarly, I will advise you to switch adviser. And you should tell the younger student in the lab why you are leaving. Students should count on their peers for honest opinions.

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