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One of my advisor's students asked me how frequently I have meetings with him. And since at that time we had very few meetings I replied:

"We have a very few meetings and the advisor does not allocate time to me."

The advisor heard it and has started retaliating by reducing those few meetings to zero and complaining about me to other faculty, etc. Do you have suggestions about what I should do now?

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On my first day of PhD school, our department chair said, "Never say anything bad about your advisor, he or she will hear about it." We all laughed, but it's invariably true--people talk, and word gets around. I've found that the best ways to repair a damaged relationship with your advisor are (1) talk to him or her directly about the problem, and (2) produce the best research you can with frequent updates (in person or via email). –  Chris Gregg Jan 26 '13 at 9:57
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I really hate the other student behavior (if your advisor knew it from him/her). –  seteropere Jan 26 '13 at 15:26
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5 Answers 5

First, do not assume bad faith and go talk to your advisor. There is an issue which you feel threatens the successful continuation of your PhD, the natural person to talk to about it is your advisor. In this case, it so happens that the problem involves him too, which means you have to be diplomatic about it, but he's still the right person to hash it out with. Behave professionally, do not accuse him of anything, just state the problem factually (“I need more involvement from you in order to successfully overcome this problem”), and see what he and you can come up with.

Not assuming bad faith at first is good advice in most professional situations. In this particular case, the elements you mention are:

  • lack of time, which could be completely explained by other factors such as the advisor being swamped (don't get me wrong, it still needs to be fixed somehow, but it doesn't necessarily mean he's being an ass)
  • rumor (“complaining about me to other faculty”), which might be just that

Now, if after trying in good faith to solve the issue with him (give it a few tries), the situation doesn't improve and it is hurting you and you think he is of bad faith: I listed several possible recourses in this related answer (and another write-up here). But don't jump the gun, because a lot of the options on this list will mean burning a bridge.

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To merge accounts, add a message saying so in both account profiles (“please merge with X”, “please merge with Y”), then flag any post of yours for moderator attention and explain the issue –  F'x Jan 26 '13 at 9:23
    
@EnergyNumbers I have asked for merger –  Jannat Arora Jan 26 '13 at 9:24
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Yes do not assume bad faith. Advisors are busy with other commitments and have little time for their students. It is a common problem to most of the grad students –  seteropere Jan 26 '13 at 18:41
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On my first day of PhD school, our department chair said

Never say anything bad about your advisor; he or she will hear about it.

We all laughed, but it's invariably true--people talk, and word gets around. I've found that the best ways to repair a damaged relationship with your advisor are

  1. Talk to him or her directly about the problem
  2. Produce the best research you can with frequent updates (in person or via email)
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Advisors are also human beings. They get upset when they hear bad words. However, please remember your advisor is usually on your side(of course, there are exceptions). Your success is also his. –  scaaahu Jan 26 '13 at 13:11
    
@scaaahu - agreed, and good point. Nothing makes an advisor happier than ending up as an author on many papers from his or her advisees (well, nothing except getting a tenure letter). –  Chris Gregg Jan 26 '13 at 13:33
    
Not all advisors are coauthors of their students' papers. Nothing makes me happier than my students' success, but CV bullets are not the reason. –  JeffE Jan 26 '13 at 21:20
    
@JeffE Can you please answer this? What other duties are expected from a PhD student apart from his/her own research? –  Jannat Arora Jan 26 '13 at 21:33
    
@JannatArora: Not much. My department has a one-semester TAship requirement. My group has a few de-facto cultural requirements, like giving at least one talk a semester within the department, and presenting papers at conferences even when they have faculty coauthors. I require my PhD students to publish at least one paper without me before they graduate. And of course, there's the ultimate requirement: convince the thesis committee that you've passed the defense. But what does any of this have to do with my previous comment? –  JeffE Jan 26 '13 at 23:23
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I agree with the others: Talk to your advisor. Do not assume bad faith. Be professional. Be an adult.

But do not expect the situation to be resolved in a single talk. The response you describe is completely out of proportion to your offhand comment; "threatening" a student is never appropriate. It's impossible to tell — and it's none of our business — whether your advisor is actually being childish and abusive, or you are just perceiving her (justifiable) annoyance as an attack. But in either case, your student-advisor relationship is dysfunctional. Even if you can resolve this particular situation, you may be better off finding a new advisor.

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I go with the other commenters on approaching the matter diplomatically and courteously as a means of getting the feedback and support you need—up to a point.

My experience of academics is that though often bright and accomplished, they can sometimes be a precious lot, flinching from the mildest bit of constructive criticism, often taking things personally. If I could turn the clock back I would have seriously considered changing supervisors. I often think I got my PhD in spite of and not because of him. When you are just starting out in research you need the feedback, support and encouragement. So try not to be stoic about it, look for potential avenue out of your problem: have a chat and get it in the open, or change supervisors if your differences are irreconcilable. It helps to be on the same wavelength, personality-wise.

Nobody is saying they are not human beings. But if you are being neglected, then the issue needs dealt with sooner rather than later. If it is a PhD you are doing this may well seriously delay getting your research out in good time for your final viva.

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I'm assuming you can't switch advisors. Have you tried having a heart-to-heart with your advisor about this matter ? Failing that, maybe you have members of your committee who can help mediate ?

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