5

Before going to graduate school, I had been under the impression that professors were necessarily extremely intelligent. I had also assumed that professors would tend to be smarter than assistant professors or postdocs.

Now after more than 1 year in my research group, I know that I was very wrong. My supervisor has no clue to assess student work. They even need help to understand basic calculations, and they cannot help me with questions about papers.

My advisor often fails to understand basic content in my own reports after repeated explanations, becoming angry with me over it.

Questions:

  1. Is this a common situation for PhD students to find themselves in?

  2. What can I do to improve the situation?

  • 2
    It sounds like she is unusually and wildly incompetent. – Stella Biderman Jan 10 '18 at 19:28
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    Vote to close as there's either no question here (it is just a rant), or the only possible answer is opinion-based – iayork Jan 10 '18 at 19:35
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    I suppose most of the answers will be opinion-based? – old man Jan 10 '18 at 19:39
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    Not common, but possible. Not all professors deserve to be professor, some got there in curious ways, and despite concerns of many of her (often former) colleagues. One advice: run. – Mark Jan 10 '18 at 19:40
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    "Before going to graduate school, I had been under the impression that professors were necessarily extremely intelligent. I had also assumed that professors would tend to be smarter than assistant professors or postdocs." Experience will tell you that inherent intelligence has little to do with actual capability. – jpmc26 Jan 10 '18 at 23:21
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No, it is not common.

However, everyone in academia probably will meet someone like your supervisor along the years. Incompetence and unprofessionalism can be found in every corner of society and academia is not an exception.

If you are able, change to another supervisor as soon as possible.

6

Yes, it is common in my environment. The rule. (I'm not speaking about anyone else's environment.) Only very good advisors can overview the work of many students, assess their work, and help them. The majority of advisors have huge groups and have time at most for the formal administration of the group: getting money, distributing the tasks, collecting the results. If they didn't have huge groups, they'd suffer repercussions from the chair, who says, in short, that the department badly needs good people to cope with thousands of students pouring in. So, most professors in charge have no time for science, only time for getting money for supporting their people.

IMHO, there are two things you can do:

  • Change the group and/or

  • Get a supervisor within your group who has a clue.

  • Read a lot yourself, travel to conferences, and speak to other people to get their opinion, i.e., use the community ressources.

Beware: each of the above items is easier said than done, and I know this. How to actually carry it out would be a different question, which, IMHO, is outside the scope of the OP.

3

As far as (1) goes, the answer to this is country specific and probably institution specific.

As for (2), you need a change and should check Hexai's answer for things to do. I would propose another one: Completely switching country/institution. Surprisingly enough it might be easier to go to a new institution /country, even one of higher ranking, than to switch between groups/advisors.

Also in my experience, if you end up in one of the top places, especially in the States, you might still find people that are not interested, but rarely will you find clueless people.

One last warning: sometimes people can be much more intelligent than you give them credit for, especially when you are young. There might be another level you have no visibility to. As climbing to your level made you realize professors are not gods, maybe the next level will make you understand they are not as clueless as you thought them to be either... Make sure you are not miss-understanding...

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