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I am a PhD student in the best-ranked university in my country (not America or the UK) and pursuing my research in a field that I am (was?) passionate about. All was fine for a couple of years - I loved my work, did fruitful experiments and presented a paper at the best conference in my field. I also successfully defended my PhD candidacy and got good comments from my panel which boosted up my morale significantly.

Things started going downhill from this point.

I had enough data to publish in a journal just three months after I had presented my conference paper. So, I prepared the manuscript and sent it to my advisors (I have two). Without even bothering to read the manuscript, they wanted me to aim for a journal with a higher impact factor rather than the one I was targeting and so, they asked me to pursue a few more experiments. After four more unsuccessful months, I get the news that a similar work to mine (same experimental design, same goals) was just published by a group from another university.

Now, my advisors turn into PANIC mode. They accused me of being too slow and not making enough effort. In fact, they didn't even remember that I had sent them the draft manuscript four months ago.

My relationship with my advisors turned sour after this. They did not respond to my emails calling for meetings, failed to go through important presentations and never responded positively to my ideas. In the midst of all this, I lost my grandmother and they didn't even offer a word of condolence (perhaps I'm expecting too much?).

Furthermore, I was working on another side project which also gave promising results and was accepted to a prestigious conference. My advisors did not have a look at the draft manuscript for this conference paper, hardly offered any comments or suggestions and did not respond to my email asking them to have a look at my presentation. I travelled alone to the conference (to another country) and presented my paper without any feedback from my advisors. After returning back, they did not even ask how my presentation went.

As a result of this and more, I have gone into a depressive state, lost my motivation for the field I once loved, become a social recluse and lost out on my mental health. It has led me to ask myself "Why did I join this place?" every single day. I have even sought professional help from a therapist but that seems to be of no help.

Apologies for the long post but any advice will be helpful. Criticism is welcome. Thanks for reading.

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    You need to ask a specific question(s) about your situation. – Orion May 31 '18 at 8:28
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    You could do what I do and bury your head in more research. You will find new inspiration. Try to publish independently next time, and not rely so much on the advice of others. If you feel you have a finished product, send it off. Research must be an obsession. As I write this, I have not slept in 3 days working on a math paper. This pattern is almost certainly detrimental to my health, but it is who I am, someone who does math research. I really can't imagine it happening any other way. – Forever Mozart May 31 '18 at 8:30
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    You need new advisors. That could mean changing the institution but you should first try within your institution. I get the impression that you are in an extremely competitive environment without good support right now. – Roland May 31 '18 at 8:47
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    I don't quite understand how you were scooped on the topic if you presented a conference paper on it first. When was their paper's submit date? A few months seems unlikely to have mattered. – A Simple Algorithm May 31 '18 at 10:50
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    There is no solution to getting scooped on research, especially in any reasonably popular field. Research in parallel is very common. In this situation, long journal acceptance times makes the "scooping" problem worse. It certainly isn't due to the bad actions of any party, including yourself. – Buffy Aug 23 '18 at 12:48
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These "advisors" of yours are parasitising you, not helping you. Thus, they are not advisors.

Carefully digest this situation, and adjust accordingly. You were deeply affected by the shock of being left alone by the ones you expected help from. But clearly these people are not interested in you, or your career goals. They just want you to either add to their CVs, or else sod off.

As others said in this thread, this is unfortunately common in modern Academia. It is also my opinion that parasitic "bosses" are far more frequent in some institutions and cultures than others.

My main advice is that you focus on yourself, and judge how much freedom of action you actually have. From your description, your advisors are pretending you're invisible, probably expecting you to just disappear. If this is the case I believe this is an invaluable opportunity.

Take as much time as you can in investing in your skills and personal goals, and while trying your best to remain invisible. The most important aspect of your PhD is how you made use of your time, funds, equipment, resources, i.e. not the degree certificate. Your acquired skills, achievements, contacts, knowledge, will move you through your career. Work on those.

I have recently had a similar situation where some postdoc supervisors in China started completely ignoring me as I would not accept 50% payment nor handing off authorships & data for free. I was passive-aggressively left alone helpless in a room, and I can't deal with their language. What did I do? I started working, networking, studying like crazy. I was putting way more effort than any of them, and I acted as if they didn't exist. I have learnt R programming from scratch, and pushed many delayed projects. I have submitted papers of my own, and started exciting collaborations abroad. I have used local structure to do a number of pilot tests on hypotheses of my own, digitalised their most useful & rare references. The pseudo-supervisors surely expected me to freak out and leave. I felt like doing it, but I would just work harder, for myself. They did not stop me. I finished all official procedures with the minimum necessary.

I suggest you do likewise. Good luck!

  • @Mahkar Glad to have helped. You say you're wrapping up your thesis -- make that to the minimum necessary demands asap, and keep focusing on your personal priorities. If these guys just want to see you go, they won't even look at it to avoid paperwork. Ideally when they start noticing your accomplishments, you should be gone already. Work on yourself, hard. Good luck. – Scientist Aug 27 '18 at 17:45
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Non-responsive/bad advisors seem to be the rule rather than the exception in acadamia.

Switching programs will probably only result in switching to other bad advisors and cost you enormous amounts of time for little effect on the results. Dropping out because a handful of people aren't as helpful as they once were would be foolish as well.

Finish your PhD and move on.

Lastly: Keep working with mental health professionals. You said you're depressed and seeking treatment. I'm glad you're getting that medical condition checked out. Sometimes that treatment can take time to take effect and get some relief from it. You might also want to interview some other professionals to see if they might have a better diagnosis or treatment plan for you.

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    You probably missed this in the question: I have even sought professional help from a therapist but that seems to be of no help. – scaaahu May 31 '18 at 13:05
  • Thanks, I meant that mostly as an answer to others reading this later on, but I should adjust accordingly. – Glen Pierce May 31 '18 at 13:09
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    @GlenPierce "Non-responsive/bad advisors seem to be the rule rather than the exception in academia." As well as worthless graduate students. I guess a better idea would be to judge on a case-by-case basis with particular names and places, so I don't think that switching a program is completely out of question. Just look carefully before you jump. – fedja Jun 1 '18 at 7:40
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    Non-responsive/bad advisors seem to be the rule rather than the exception in acadamia. Perhaps they're the rule in questions on this site, since people with responsive, helpful advisors probably have less use for Academia SE. – iayork Aug 23 '18 at 19:24
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Yes, all this sounds quite bad and depressing. And I would guess that your advisors might be genuinely let down by that rival publication. But are the things really this bad or is it your perception?

You mentioned a recent loss (my condolences!) and an onsetting depression. Could it be that you see things getting this bad? Slower response times happen in academia (for reasons completely unrelated), less comments may mean you gained on experience and do everything right, so no need for lengthy corrections, etc.

So, one thing of importance is your well-being, so please continue seeing a therapist.

The other crucial question you should ask yourself is: even if all this mishap is not merely a perceived one, how would it hinder you in getting a PhD? You seem to be able to produce research results. Please continue doing so, put them together in a thesis, and defend it. Even if your advisors really "don't like" you, what can they do, if you submit a correct, well-founded, solid thesis for your degree?

  • Thanks for the comments, Oleg. I'm only 18 months away from submitting my thesis. So, I'm trying to put together a well-rounded thesis and leave as soon as possible. – Mahkar May 31 '18 at 14:07
  • @Mahkar, That seems the wisest choice. It is time for you to leave the nest and fly on your own. – Buffy Aug 23 '18 at 12:43

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