I am 24 years old, studying electrical engineering. The major is communication systems, which mostly working on wireless problems. I came to grad school in 2015 directly from bachelor. I had an advisor from beginning and I did my masters thesis under his supervision. I graduated in 2017, and started the PhD program, again under his supervision. Let me describe him a bit.

He was not pushing me at all. He was paying my tuition and stipend. He literally did not have any plans for the research we are doing.

It is my 4th year in grad school, and I have zero publication. We did several projects, but all of them failed. Either the reviewers said it doesn't have that much contribution, or I ended up in a dead-end situation where I had no idea what to do. He was supposed to guide me and advise me(as an adviser), but every time we had a meeting, he was like what do we have. what are you going to do. Even when I was facing problem, he was asking when can you think you can solve this.

Anyway, suddenly he became aware that this is my 4th year and he is telling me that he's graduating me next year in 2020 and I need to publish. But I don't know where to start. He thinks he is pushing me but honestly I have no idea how to research. I feel dumb. I am seeing my friends that publishing papers, but I'm not capable of publishing even one! And because I don't know what to do, I always try to avoid the work and waste my time on the internet.

My advisor asked me what I am going to do on the Christmas break and I had no idea. So I made up something to tell him. So he is expecting me to do some work on the break, and I am LOST.

(All people have told me that my advisor is perfect because he is paying me, so I don't need to be TA and he is giving me freedom to do whatever I like, But tbh this behavior made my the laziest version of myself.)

I hate this life that I gradually made for myself. I was wondering if anyone could advise me what to do?

I really appreciate your answers.

  • 1
    It would be helpful to know a bit about your field of research - at least roughly. Habbits differ a lot between different sciences. – OBu Dec 21 '18 at 19:49
  • @OBu Sure. I added it. – Jacob Dec 21 '18 at 19:50
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    This is one of those questions with too many personal factors to really be asked here. Basically, you need to work through your issues with the help, if possible, of your advisor. A different advisor, if available, might help you get back on track, but with a delay, of course. – Buffy Dec 21 '18 at 19:56
  • Does your advisor have any other current or former grad students that you can talk to about all this? Was he able to properly guide and advise their developments as researchers? Is your situation with him unique or were the other grad students also all having problems with him? – Samuel Weir Dec 21 '18 at 21:16
  • When your adviser asked what you planned to do during the Christmas break, you "made up something to tell him." Is this thing that you made up something you could actually do, or at least begin doing? If so, then I suggest you begin doing it. – Andreas Blass Dec 22 '18 at 1:19

Well, in CS I know many people using the same approach. It works well for some students, for others it is terrible.

One thing really went wrong: You wrote several papers which got rejected - this is something a supervisor should avoid by giving feedback beforehand. This feedback could have helped you finding your way in the scientific field. Did you involve your supervisor in the paper development process?

One thing is strange about your situation: You worked for four years right now, he is paying you and he wants you to finish. If you really did not achieve anything, I would have tried to get rid of you and hire someone else. So there might be something in your work you are not aware of at the moment. Or your supervisor is very lazy. Or he just trusts in people.

If you are hired to work on a specific project: Is this project related to your PhD? Or are you just working on your PhD topic?

I would suggest to really use the christmas break to

  • Build a mindmap of your field / your work. Indicate all items which are mandatory for your PhD.
  • Honestly try to figure out why your papers were not accepted. Try to figure out if you are having any chance to change thr source of the problem.
  • Build a work plan consisting of simple steps which will lead you to a "just-made-it"-PhD. You can improve it later on
  • If you feel you are lacking skills (e.g. programming, paper writing, ...), find a way to adress them. Train the skills. It's worth the effort.
  • ...and take a break. It sounds like you need one...

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