6

So, I've been part of an Erasmus+ PhD for nearly 3 years. I guess this can be seen as my review; but I'm really looking for input -- what went wrong?

So far, I've got 0 publications as first author; switched topics a few times. My now-main advisor says finishing within the next 2 years is too ambitious which results in failing my double degree. I've entered a very deep depression as I've been trying the hardest for the last years of my life to no avail.


I was specialized in an area (let's say, Machine Learning). Given that my advisor was not too fluent in that field he told me he wouldn't be able to help me. Either I would adapt or I would be on my own. Previous experts I worked with were not involved in the program and wouldn't want to waste their time with someone who was not their student.

Therefore, I decided to change fields and was up to collaborate with my advisor in whatever projects he had in his field of expertise (let's say, Computer Networks). Anyways, they weren't fully disjoint, so I could make use of my previous knowledge in new ways.

My assigned task was to develop a "system" for their special computer network. No other pointers given. Just that I should develop this system to learn more about their special network. Asking around, I found out that it was a generic task that he gave every single PhD student. There were already a dozen of these systems.

I confronted him saying asking for a motivation behind this task -- what was I going to learn; what was the path going forward? I got no real reply -- it was just a suggestion.

In the end, I didn't finish it. I had a good understanding of the others' and I saw zero extra information to be monitored. There were systems to learn about every single aspect of the network. Plus, I didn't know what was the next step -- I didn't see any real research coming up from this. I discussed with my advisor; got no real feedback.

When blockchain became a thing a couple years back he jumped the hype and told me "we should get a coin as well". There was some money involved in some aspects. I tried to make it a viable thing but didn't really manage to. I went back to my advisor with my uncertainties and told him I didn't know how to make aspects X Y Z work. He didn't really give any feedback -- he was not an expert in blockchains.

They got a grant from an EU project. I was assigned to be part of it. The grant clearly said "partner X (my university) will not be doing any research". The work was mostly adapting stuff to work with their special Network. I developed a small subsystem; but I was unable to collaborate with anyone and make a PhD project out of it.

This was all the help I got from my first advisor in two years.

I was lost in a field I didn't know looking for pointers where to start from an advisor that only gave exercise tasks and the only advice was something along the lines of "Well, you know. There are many places to start. You can try searching for a generic problem and check where it fits in the ecosystem; or you can search for existing problems in the network and try to see if you can solve them". I told him as directly as I could many times -- I'm lost. I need more input. -- and all I got was the same reply -- try a top-down approach, or a bottom-up approach.

As such, there was constantly less and less incentive for me to ask to meet him; and there was no real desire from his side either. I made my position clear -- I need some more input. I switched to his area; I need help to start.

I tried asking for money to cover registration in a conference so I could get out of this bubble and collaborate with someone else. I said I'd pay the travel and accomodation myself, but the 300$ conference fee was too much for me. He said no.

I presented some farfetched ideas that I couldn't execute myself, and didn't really see any input from him other than something like "sounds good. keep it up". Sometimes we'd discuss a bit deeper, but his level of involvement was always non-committing.


Later, I switched to my second hosting university (being an Erasmus+ PhD). I got a new advisor (and a bonus 3rd advisor that I met 3 times so far). They are nice; but initial topics were not good enough (based on feedback after presenting them) and by now I'm just told I should give up the idea of the dual degree, as it's not realistic.

I guess I am to blame for my failure. Maybe I'm expecting too much from an advisor? Is it fair to blame my first advisor for the majority of it?

closed as primarily opinion-based by louic, gman, Buffy, user3209815, Bryan Krause Sep 24 '18 at 14:54

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 2
    What was the reason you chose your first advisor in the first place? (Your specialization is different from his) – scaaahu Sep 24 '18 at 9:34
  • I was assigned to this university -- one of the consortium. This advisor was the one whose interests were more aligned with mine (he was less restrictive about his interests; and there was a greater possibility for me to use my prior knowledge -- my previous specialisation was not entirely disjoint from his. I had Skype calls with 3 of the professors, and based my decision on the information I got. Fun fact: the EU project they got was actually very much about my previous specialisation and I ended up being some sort of consultant for the first year. – John Doe Sep 24 '18 at 10:40

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.