I've come to the conclusion that my advisor is incompetent (he does not have a good understanding of the fundamentals and doesn't know how to judge or generate research ideas). I mainly chose to work with him because he works in the research area I'm interested in. Having interacted with him for a couple of months now, I feel very confident that he doesn't deserve to be here and didn't earn his name on most of his publications. He was recently hired and I would be surprised if he got tenured.

Having said that, I actually think I'm strong enough to conduct research independently. However, I'm very worried of what could happen down the road. I want to get a faculty position and you get hired based on on many factors: the recommendations you receive and the reputation of your advisor are perhaps one of the most important. Isn't it just a disaster to have such an advisor, even if you have a good publication record?

  • 7
    This reads a bit like a rant. For the final question, are you basically asking if it's a bad thing to have a bad advisor? – Nat Feb 18 '18 at 1:14
  • I am wondering if it's a deal breaker or something you can deal with? – user87719 Feb 18 '18 at 1:17
  • 4
    I'd suggest thinking out the question a bit further, then work it into something a bit more explicitly concrete. For example, if you'd like to ask about the long-term consequences of having an advisor who doesn't understand fundamentals of the field, how to form projects, etc., then that'd be one question. Another might be seeking actionable advice on how to accomplish some specific objective given a common situation. A trick to the latter is that, on SE, we can only give advice on how to accomplish a goal that you specify; we generally don't suggest default goals in open-ended scenarios. – Nat Feb 18 '18 at 1:23
  • 1
    The reputation of the advisor is of much less importance than the usefulness of the guidance. – aparente001 Feb 18 '18 at 6:07
  • 1
    Is your position that your advisor should give you all the ideas and you just carry them out? Or, do you think you should come up with ideas and s/he provides feedback and guidance? – Solar Mike Feb 18 '18 at 6:25

Isn't it just a disaster to have such an advisor, even if you have a good publication record?

Yes it is.

However, this fact is too obvious to state. Therefore, I think you intended to ask

How should I proceed?

In your case, you should proceed with extreme caution because you might end up with not finishing your PhD. Ignoring your supervisor and going your own way is not a good idea.

You might want to change your supervisor. This is precisely where you should proceed with extreme caution. Claiming that one of the professors lacks knowledge about the basics of the topic is a serious accusation directed both to the hiring committee, and to the professor. You need rock solid evidence to back your claim up. Else, you might be in trouble with the law, also.

It occurs to me as if you are very overconfident. Some statements in your question do not add up:

If you are strong enough and have a good publication record, even in the beginning of your PhD, then how come you are not in MIT, Harvard, Standford, or some other crème de la crème institute? If you are in one of them, then how come one of the professors is not competent?

Let's say, you are actually at a very prestigious university, and your advisor is really not competent compared to you (which is nearly impossible). Then why do you waste your time ranting about your advisor rather than writing your upcoming paper?

As a result, jumping to conclusions usually hurts. My humble advice would be to taking a step back and trying to change your mind about the situation.

  • 2
    You can change your supervisor without getting into the question of whether he is competent or lacks basic knowledge, and risking the corresponding political blowback. Just say you would prefer to work with somebody else. – Nate Eldredge Feb 18 '18 at 19:30
  • 1
    @NateEldredge Exactly. Therefore, OP must be very careful not to "spill the beans" when talking to committee. Continuing to work on the same topic might also raise some suspicions. – padawan Feb 18 '18 at 19:51

I can not judge your advisor; he may be completely incompetent. If you know that's the case, change your advisor as soon as you can.

However, I always thought that my own advisors were incompetent, and now I know that was not true. The reason is rather simple: they don't spend as much time with your project as you do. If they understand the details of your project more than you do, that means you're not working hard enough.

If that's the case, my solution is to think of your advisor as a knowledgeable person that you can get an outside perspective from, and not as a person who would know how to solve your problems. Also, the more you go to them and ask their perspective, the more they learn about your progress on the problem, and the more they can help.

Another thing in my experience was that I didn't trust my advisors' opinion on a lot of cases because they didn't explain their reasoning very well. I ended up regretting ignoring their opinions when I saw years later that they were right and the problems were solved the same way they told me.

Of course all of this is my personal experience and may not apply to you, so make a judgment for yourself if any of this applies.