I am an international PhD student in Industrial Engineering at one of the average university. I have completed one year of my study. I already have an MBA from India. So it made sense to do PhD as I was very enthusiastic about this. I have good GRE scores, good academic history. I got TA position and funding for my first year. So I eagerly joined. But the moment I came here, I see new things each day: favoritism, racism. All the PhD students are made to complete 9 courses (just like MS students except the core courses), which doesn't make sense as I already had my masters. I got scholarships for 4 courses each semester but was forced to take only 3 courses each semester citing work pressure. Now I have got an RA position, but this doesn't have anything to do with actual research. I am made to sit in a local company with the workload of a full-time employee. This position is not in anyway related to my research proposal or dissertation topic. For my research, I will have to work concurrently with this RA position.

This is not I wanted. I wanted to work on my PhD in a lab, on the real problems. And not work for a company on shitty stipend and made to work as a regular employee. Moreover, my adviser is short-tempered, humiliates his students, yells, and bully. I have made up my mind to not be trapped in this environment for 4 more years.

What can I do now? I want to at least get a masters as I have a loan back in my country so, can't go back. I have three more courses left. Whom should I talk to? Can they force me to do PhD? or if I quit with MS, can they ask me for full payment of fees? Can they not allow me to quit with MS?

I can’t go and ask dept. secretary because my advisor will get to know my intentions from her. For MS we need to complete 9 courses plus thesis. I have so far done 6 courses. I plan to take 3 courses this semester. All the PhD students are required to do this coursework even if they already have MS degree from USA. The MS students have to do 9 courses (2 doctoral level) from a certain list. The phd students have to do 9 courses(4 doctoral level). These doctoral level courses have the core subjects as prerequisites. The department head is very shrewd favoring a certain section of students. Even for such MS students, he waived off GRE scores and core courses. I know when he will get to know my intentions, he will try to block my graduation and scare me. I am just worried that after completing all courses, they don’t block my MS.

Thanks in advance!

  • 1
    It is very difficult to give general advice in such a specific situation without knowing the people involved. Is there anyone neutral around (maybe from another department, students organizations, ...) whom you could ask?
    – OBu
    Jul 17, 2018 at 16:30
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    Perhaps you should consider re-applying to another US university. But you have to explain carefully the reasons for doing so -and also be careful not to talk bad about your advisor.
    – George
    Jul 17, 2018 at 16:48
  • No, the people involved are my department head, my research advisor. All these professors are part of a group which takes industrial projects. All the projects are not related to the PhD research topic, similar to the one I am doing now. If I do all the courses, even then they can block my masters? Jul 17, 2018 at 19:15
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    Have you considered going to a European country for your PhD? You would almost certainly avoid having to take more classes and could go straight into research. Jul 17, 2018 at 21:02
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    Some schools require you redo the master's courses even if you have a master's. Others don't. This is just how it is. You need to investigate the school to find out in advance. As for quitting without paying back assistantships, you'd almost certainly be able to. Just don't quit mid-semester or you may not get paid but still get a bill. As for the advisor, sadly, when you invest a lot of money to relocate to a job, then find yourself trapped under an abusive bully, you have to eat a loss to get out. Bad investments are an unfortunate part of life. Jul 28, 2018 at 3:59

3 Answers 3


Help is very likely available. Consider contacting a neutral group at your university. Such groups typically include:

  • the omsbuds office/ ombudsman
  • the PHD student's association
  • the student government
  • counseling services
  • international students services
  • the graduate school

Your own university may have different groups. Try some google searches, such as "(university name) help graduate student neutral". Start the conversation by stating you are looking for advice and alternatives to your present situation. Up front, specifically ask which parts of the conversation are confidential, or not. Usually, for example, anything involving physical harm requires the person you speak with to report.

When meeting, put together a short narrative that frames your problem. Consider in advance what you want, and what your questions are. Also be open to options of which you have not thought. Realize that most of these groups will be more likely to give advice on how to move to a more tenable situation than they are to wade in and fix the problems that exist. Some may, however, offer to facilitate discussions, and advise you on how to negotiate.

Finally, realize that the university has a stake in your success. Within reason, they will likely work to make things right.

  • 1
    Thanks for your advice. I will start finding the neutral groups. I have completed 6 courses and in next semester will take 3 more. The requirements for MS is 9 courses plus a thesis. If I do all the courses, can they refuse to give me masters? And when should I tell them my intentions because I am still left with 3 courses and I don't want to lose my finding abruptly. Thanks Jul 17, 2018 at 19:17
  • A thesis is a part of the requirement. WIthout it you will not have met the requirement. That said, you could do the thesis with any number of people. Maybe look for a professor who needs help in their lab. Be positive, though: negativity is a big red flag for any individual who might help you. Jul 26, 2018 at 14:30

I am very sorry for the treatment you are receiving. Racism, especially, dishonors everyone, but especially those exhibiting it.

You indicate a lot of problems and most of those naturally lead to feelings of depression. I think that some of the problems may be due to nothing more than the fact that the University you are at (I'm assuming large) has fairly rigid policies that don't work well for everyone.

But, I will suggest that the crux of your problem is that you are working with an inappropriate advisor. I have had that experience also, but not to the extent you mention. But if you are to find a solution, I think you need to find a way to a different and better suited advisor. He or she may be able to help solve the TA/RA problems for you also.

The Department Head may be the place to go to effect a change, but it may be more effective for yourself to find a different faculty member with whom you would like to work. Present yourself as someone who would like to work with them, more than someone escaping the other's influence. However, if a faculty member is behaving badly, that may be well known in the department. After getting some agreement on changing to the new advisor from that person, then approach the Department Head. Perhaps the other professor will help you with an intervention.

The extreme case, is to find another university and hence a different advisor, though this will cost you time and perhaps money as well. But life is too short to continue living in pain. Good luck.

  • Thanks! The dept, head and my advisor are part of a group which takes industrial projects. All the projects are just 'full-time jobs' w/o any research. And there is no funding with other professors in my research field. Now wasting a year and doing all these courses, I at least want an MS degree. I have completed 6 courses and in next semster will take 3 more. The requirements for MS is 9 courses plus a thesis. If I do all the courses, can they refuse to give me MS? When should I tell them my intentions because I am still left with 3 courses and I don't want to lose my finding abruptly? Thanks Jul 17, 2018 at 19:23
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    @sadphdindianstudent, sorry, I can't offer advice on that as it is too place and person dependent. Your funding is at risk of course, but (just guessing) telling them later is probably better than early. If you have fulfilled the requirements for a degree it should be awarded.
    – Buffy
    Jul 17, 2018 at 19:27
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    @sadphdindianstudent Please, fight for yourself, report them, go to police and report racist remarks and libel, just dont let them get away with it
    – user94263
    Jul 18, 2018 at 5:19
  • @user94263: There is nothing I can see in the question that raises a police matter, and the mention of some (unspecified) racism is not libel unless it is a public defamatory statement about the student.
    – Ben
    Jul 28, 2018 at 2:11

The other answers here give good suggestions involving attempts to fix the problems within your current position. Another option is to seek a transfer to a PhD candidature with another supervisor, or even at another university. The problems you mention sound like they are localised to your particular position, and you are not averse to the nature of a PhD candidature per se. Since you have just completed your first year of coursework, this puts you in a good position to seek another candidature at another university, and see if you can start directly with the research component (i.e., getting credit for your existing coursework).

I suggests you talk to some of the academics you are in contact with at your present university, and let them know the problems you're having. Use the information you get from them to have a think about how effectively your current problems can be solved within your present institution. It is still early enough that you could probably transfer to another supervisor or another university and not lose much momentum, so keep that in mind as an option. If you decide to do that, it is better to make that decision sooner rather than later, so be proactive, raise the issues, and see what can be done.

  • As a part of my PhD, I have already done 6 courses. I will be taking 3 this fall. For MS, you need to complete 9 courses plus a project/thesis. I am working as RA right now in a project in the company. I have completely made up my mind to get MS and not go for PhD. I am an international student, and without getting any degree I will have to go back which I can't afford. When should I tell them I can't work on PhD anymore? Will I be billed for tuition if I tell them in the middle of fall? Jul 30, 2018 at 17:11
  • I suggest posting this as a new question, but here is a short answer. I presume that full-time enrollment in MS degree would be sufficient for visa requirements. If so, ask to transfer to MS degree (if you've made up your mind you can tell them now) and focus on that. Check deadlines for incurring tuition with your university, and aim to transfer prior to incurring further costs.
    – Ben
    Jul 30, 2018 at 22:16

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