I met with a potential supervisor and initially he was nice and helpful. Although he tried to make me alter my thesis, something I wasn’t keen on because I love and breath the topic. He told me to go and read more. I have done enough reading about the topic and it’s time to set the topic then read more about it to unfold it further. I wanted his consent on the topic at least before I invest more time reading in case he rejects everything.
I left with loose conclusion, not sure about his impression about me, the topic or if he’s interested to supervise me.

I saw him in a mutual class the next day and he was hostile about my research questions. He made me feel so stupid and worthless. Is this a normal behavior of PhD supervisors?

What should I do?
Is it polite to cut ties? What’s the protocol in this situation? I don’t want him to be my supervisor, he doesn’t seem patient at all.

closed as off-topic by Scientist, user3209815, corey979, penelope, Ben Dec 7 '18 at 1:10

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  • 4
    Difficult to answer (French system is quite different, I understand you are in a US-like system, correct?), but I would always advise against being supervised by someone one is not comfortable with. There are always so many hurdles in a PhD, you need to get along with and have confidence in your supervisor. – Benoît Kloeckner Dec 5 '18 at 14:02
  • Really hard to judge without seeing the situation. What you label as "hostile" may have been merely your personal feelings towards a fair cold response by the other part. My main advice is, if you want to find out more about your potential supervisor prior to signing any contracts, discuss all your doubts openly with current and specially ex- lab members. – Scientist Dec 5 '18 at 14:12
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    BTW please edit your question to match with the post title. At the title you ask one thing, and at the end of your post you throw a completely different question. I am marking this as "unclear". – Scientist Dec 5 '18 at 14:13
  • You will need to be more specific about what your potential supervisior actually said and did. He is not the owner of your feelings. – lighthouse keeper Dec 5 '18 at 15:06
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    I also don't really see what the question is here or what you would like to know. You seem to have made up your mind already: you don't want him to be your supervisor. If you still want to go for a PhD programme, invest your time and effort into finding a professor you would like to work with and that would like to work with you. – penelope Dec 6 '18 at 16:40

Given that the supervisor has more experience than you, it may be best to follow his advice. Don't let ego get in the way of improving your work.

I wonder if your second interaction as described might be the result of his feeling that you were rejecting his advice without considering it.

On the other hand, it is good to have an advisor you are comfortable with. Whether it is possible or dangerous to change supervisors depends on the particulars of your institution. Since you say "potential supervisor" it would be a good time to evaluate your options.

But in general, once you have an advisor, it is good to take their advice, for strategic reasons if no other. You want to finish successfully in a reasonable amount of time with good recommendations. Fighting with your supervisor achieves none of that.


What should I do? What’s the protocol in this situation?

Find a different supervisor. Since you don't have an advisor yet, this is a good time to look for someone whose interests and personality are better aligned with yours.

If you find someone else, then you can inform this guy "thank you for considering me, but I've decided to work with Prof. X."

If you don't find someone else, then you will have to learn how to work with this guy, including finding a topic of mutual interest. As Buffy says, this might be a good experience for you to learn from him -- but it also might not be.

In any case, I wouldn't formally "cut ties" with this guy, and certainly not before you have someone else lined up. For that matter, continuing to openly talk with him and his current students might help you come to a higher-confidence decision.


I think two things are very important for a "good" Ph.D. journey: a collaborative working environment, and an advisor who would truly care about your research.

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    "Potential supervisor behavior.. Risky or Normal?" "What should I do?" "Is it polite to cut ties?" "What's the protocol in this situation?" I can't see how your answer answers these questions. – Joel Reyes Noche Dec 6 '18 at 3:48
  • I am answering those questions but suggesting what he or she should look for if any changes have to be made. – Kun Chen Dec 7 '18 at 16:37

"he was hostile about my research questions. He made me feel so stupid and worthless"

I would be honest and tell him in a very polite, but direct manner your feelings. (Don't say HE was hostile, but what the effect on YOU was, i.e. you experienced pressure, felt stupid and worthless.)

Maybe it was a misunderstanding that you can both clear up.
Or he will admit to a mishap and apologize.
You will see.

In any case, I would recommend to trust your heart/gut feeling.

If you don't feel like you can work with him, and it's possible to find another supervisor, why not change ?

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