My friend is a PhD student in the "Jessica" computer science lab. Before beginning, he and Dr. Jessica came to a verbal understanding that he'd be allowed to graduate in time for a job offer scheduled to begin a few years after starting the PhD, but only if he passes his prelim and completes drafts of research papers covering all aspects of the prelim. No written records of Dr. Jessica's agreement exist, as Dr. Jessica was careful to organize only face-to-face meetings about this.

Dr. Jessica has reneged repeatedly on her promises and keeps upping the ante for graduation -- from having manuscript drafts to submissions and now to acceptances. Meanwhile, my friend has no written record of this and doesn't know what to do despite his job's start date closing in. He is not even allowed by Dr. Jessica to bring up the topic of graduation with his committee without her consent. What, if any, recourse does my friend have?

  • 1
    No email trail? Is there an ombudsman? Country? Is there a witness to the last outburst you mention? Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 0:59
  • 2
    I find the last paragraph overly lurid. Is it necessary to use this kind of subjective and emotive description?
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 1:39

1 Answer 1


My advice would be to cultivate one or more allies in the department (perhaps other committee members who already have tenure?). These allies can both put pressure on Dr Jessica to allow the student to graduate and provide accountability to both parties. Another way to pressure the faculty member is to publicize your upcoming job loudly and often. This way the faculty member’s peers start asking her about the student’s job and the defense.

In regards to scheduling the defense specifically, the student can get other committee members to “request” that a date be set. The excuse would be: “I was talking to Dr Adam (choose someone tenured to help with this) and he mentioned that his schedule is packed and he wants me to schedule the defense right now so he knows when it is. He knows that you have final approval, but he just wants a date to hold.”

I basically used these strategies to manage my reluctant chair when I had a job arranged. They only worked because my chair cared about his reputation with his peers more than he wanted to “perfect” my dissertation.

At the same time, the student needs to realize that many faculty have been burned by students who never publish their research results once they take jobs in industry. This represents a waste of good research/resources for the faculty member trying to get tenure and for society at large. The change in demands is likely because the faculty member is just realizing this possibility exists and does not trust the student. The student should do whatever it takes to assure the faculty member that the research will get published after the student starts the position.

  • Re last point, perhaps the OP should maximise their chance of getting that job - reminding the supervisor that they will be starting the job will be a motivator for the supervisor to stop messibg around...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 5:24

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