As generally expected the doctoral review committee has to evaluate the PhD student by asking questions, by debating etc.,

Faculty in doctoral review committee can give soft suggestions and are capable to provide grade for student for that particular semester and can even fail the student.

All the above are not insulting since all are dependent on performance of student.

But how to respond to the intimidating comments by faculty in the committee that are harsh and targeting personally, which are not deserved for a doctoral student?

Example for harsh suggestions includes follows:

1) Don't roam outside too much, sit and do work silently;

2) Better to eat less and work more;

3) It is not worth for you to do this degree;

4) Can't you understand the content that bachelor degree students can understand?

5) The work done by you in this semester can be done by masters student in a week.


  • So what suggestions ? – Solar Mike Feb 3 '19 at 18:28
  • Getting 3), 4) and 5) means you may not be equipped to do a PhD degree. – Prof. Santa Claus Feb 3 '19 at 19:09
  • 6
    Have you actually received these comments or suggestions? – Anyon Feb 3 '19 at 19:09
  • 2
    So, how do you get these scenarios? From a dream? Or were you present at someone else's review? Or repeated to you by other students (who could by winding you up...) – Solar Mike Feb 3 '19 at 19:53
  • 4
    1-2 are inappropriate, it is nobody's business how much one eats or spends outside, as long as officially required hours (if there is a requirement, which I personally find unproductive) are put in; or results are obtained. Possibly, if the latter is found wanting, remarks 3-5 may reflect reality or not; we do not know. But they are very rude, in any case. To something like that, the response needs to be - "What is it concretely that you expect me to improve?" – Captain Emacs Feb 3 '19 at 21:18

I don't know what is the norm in your institution, but I would characterize comments 1-3 as highly inappropriate and unprofessional. The committee should not comment on a student's work and social habits, their eating habits (this would be considered taboo in many places), or offer dismal views on their prospects after a PhD. In my department, making comments like this towards a student will, at the very least, be cause for a very unpleasant talk with the department head, and will require a written apology to the student.

Criticism on your progress or your understanding is definitely acceptable, but can be conveyed in a more conducive manner (e.g. by not comparing your understanding to that of undergraduates - offensive to both you and to undergrads).

That said, if you receive these kinds of comments, you should speak with your advisor and see what you can do to make things work better. Comments 4-5 are simply a rude way of saying that you aren't making sufficient progress.

If you feel comfortable with your advisor, and assuming a culture of abuse is not prevalent in your department, you may raise this issue with them. I for one would be furious to hear this and would probably confront the offending committee member myself. If not - try to contact student affairs.

Abuse towards students should not be tolerated.


Avoid getting spun up into a fight. Or saying poor me. Or conceding global negatives about yourself. Just ignore the gratitous observations on you. Concentrate on the content.

Fix any issues with your work (or your response to questions). Get corrections done. If a re-exam is done, make sure you can cover questions that were a problem last time.

[Even if the observations were to be "right" (and they may not be), it's not like you can flip a switch and radically change your capabilities at this stage. Concentrate on the objective which is passing.]


Sometimes simple and direct (but very polite) answers are the best.

1) Don't roam outside too much, sit and do work silently

I find it easier to concentrate when I roam outside in my spare time.

2) Better to eat less and work more

I unfortunately cannot work more if I am hungry.

3) It is not worth for you to do this degree.

That is sad to hear, but I find it pretty amusing to pursue a PhD and I will continue to do so.

4) Can't you understand the content that bachelor degree students can understand?

I might have a lack of knowledge or practice, but I am pretty sure I will learn what I have to, and fulfill the requirements soon enough.

5) The work done by you in this semester can be done by masters student in a week.

I really wish I was as talented as one of the masters students that you know. I will try harder, though.

It should also be noted that these comments are merely subjective and have no weigh unless backed up with concrete proof.
The proof is usually an evaluation of the student through comparison between the duties (or promises) and the achievements.

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