5

The situation is as follows:

1) I and supervisor dont understand each other

2) supervisor keeps the PhD group fractured


What it means ?

The supervisor is way off from my research area. But I know that happens. Unfortunately, he is the one speaking the most during meetings. To me it seems he want to prove himself as knowledgeable. This led me to ignore his advice, as it is usually inapplicable, since he doesnt understand my research. (I want point out, that I know this happens, that the supervisor may not be able to provide a profound advice, due to the differences in research interests. But what I consider a bit odd, is a lack of interest in listenening, as he needs to be the one that talks.) Therefore, I dont have a supervisor that would give a hand in research.

The other thing really bothers me though. We have never held a full PhD group meeting (there is about 5 other PhDs I barely know). Furthermore, there are "secret" projects among the PhDs managed by the supervisor, which fracture the relations and communication even more. This actually happens in very exclusive way. They just switch into their native language, right in front of me (including the supervisor), when such topic is discussed (I am international student).

For me this is both personal and professional problem.

On personal level, there is loneliness and the feeling of being different, as explained by the language exclusivity.

From professional/academic level, I have no ground under my feet. I need to progress on my own, without the feedback from supervisor or other PhDs.


Questions:

How do I progress on my own ?

Do I search advice from other professors ? Do I try to connect with other PhD groups on my own ? Is this practically manageable, to force myself into other groups ?

Is it sustainable to manage PhD stress AND to put quite an amount of energy to "join" other people just to sustain myself from psychological point of view (this situation is very heavy on mental state) ?

And maybe on more personal level, is this a very bad situation to continue the PhD ? Does the academia really look like this ?

Lets say I would change supervisor/university/etc. What could I expect from regular similar supervisor, BUT that can manage and keep the PhDs in touch ? How much does this helps in PhD ?


P.S. This is a long term situation, lasting more than a year and half.

  • 7
    "How do you study a PhD without a supervisor and other PhDs?" You don't. I suggest you get out now before you sink more of your life into this. (My own PhD supervisor was not very helpful too, but I had at least an environment of other PhD students and senior researchers I could discuss with and learn from.) – Roland Aug 7 at 14:56
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    I agree with Roland. Get out as quickly as possible! Change advisor ASAP – SSimon Aug 8 at 2:30
  • I am a bit surprised but I take it as a your suggestion. Can you share with me your experience when you have a meeting with supervisor and meet other PhDs ? Do you share experience/progress/etc., what do you find useful, etc ... post it as an answer – Martin G Aug 8 at 4:06
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    Why are you studying with an advisor who is too far from your research area to provide advice you are willing to take? – Bryan Krause Aug 8 at 18:03
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    How did you get into this situation? Why did you agree to be advised someone who doesn’t share your research interests? And why did they agree to advise someone who doesn’t share their research interests? – JeffE Aug 9 at 5:39
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Speaking generally, this does not seem like a workable situation for you. Your PhD supervisor seems to neither match your topic nor your personality, and it seems unlikely that they will support you through to the end of your PhD. Even if you did manage to produce a passable PhD without your supervisor's support, they don't seem to be someone who would be going out of their way to help you network into a position or write recommendations for post docs, etc. This does not sound like where you should be.

Step one would be to tell the administrative/departmental powers that be that you are considering leaving your programme. Don't make it personal, say that you do not believe that there is a research topic and research culture fit between you and your supervisor. They may be willing to discuss new supervision for you at that point (my UK Uni would, losing students messes up our stats).

Meanwhile, where SHOULD you be? Whose research out there influences your own? It might be worth getting in touch with scholars who more match your profile. In some circumstances, Unis can secure external supervision for a PhD student by, well, just paying that person to do it. This is far from a guarantee, but we secured an external supervisor for one of my PhDs (edit, I mean one of my PhD students, I'm the supervisor) during my year of parental leave because we felt no one else had the specialty she needed.

Caveat, I'm in SocSci/Humanities so this might not fly in your discipline, but it really is rare to get through a PhD with no support and much antagonism.

  • Can you please edit your answer to share some insights on how you personally benefit from your supervisor meetings ? And how does meeting other PhDs help you ? – Martin G Aug 8 at 4:08
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    I don't have meetings with a supervisor, Martin, I'm the supervisor in this equation. My students benefit from them by, well, getting Master's degrees and PhDs. – GrotesqueSI Aug 8 at 16:05
4

There seems to be a mismatch between you and your advisor. You could change that by supplementing your current advisor with another co-advisor, changing your advisor within your current department, or change your university (basically apply elsewhere and when you get a new position resign from your old one). The first step is to start talking to maybe the head of the department, maybe there is an ombudsperson for PhD students at your university, maybe someone else. That depends on the exact structure of your department and university.

Apart from that, also consider your own expectations: you moved to another country and expect to be informed about everything and integrate socially without learning the language. That is not going to work. When they talk to one another in their native language, they are probably not trying to exclude you, or keep things secret from you. They are just effectively communicating with each other about things that don't involve you. If you spoke the language and understood what they were talking about, you would probably loose interest after the first couple of words. It probably does make you feel excluded, but think about it the other way around: why should they always speak a foreign language when they are not talking to you? The obvious solution is to learn the language. Even if you are not good at it, the fact that you are trying will get you a lot of good will and make it easier to integrate socially.

2

Let us dissect your complaint a bit.

We have never held a full PhD group meeting (there is about 5 other PhDs I barely know).

But is there an official "group" as such here? Just because these "5 other PhDs" have the same supervisor does not mean that you are supposed to be one big "group". And, even if there were one big "group", that does not make whole-group meetings expedient nor necessary (maybe your supervisor thinks that whole-group meetings would be an inefficient use of everyone's time — "too many pointless meetings" is a very common complaint in many institutions).

Furthermore, there are "secret" projects among the PhDs managed by the supervisor, which fracture the relations and communication even more.

Nothing irregular or wrong here. An important facet of doing a PhD is developing research independence as an individual. This means that each student should be doing his/her own individual project, even if he/she were working under the auspices of a larger network/"group". As for collaborative projects, there is nothing wrong with a given project involving only a subset of a network/"group". In fact, modern publication ethics require that people not making an intellectual contribution to a project should not be given authorship credit.

This actually happens in very exclusive way. They just switch into their native language, right in front of me (including the supervisor), when such topic is discussed (I am international student).

Assuming the "native language" is also an official language spoken in the territory where the university is located, you have no cause for complaint. As another answer has already said, the onus is upon you (as the "international student") to learn the local language.

On personal level, there is loneliness and the feeling of being different, as explained by the language exclusivity.

Well, that comes with the territory of being an international student, to be honest. It is challenging, but, with a bit of effort, you should be able to find plenty of formal and informal avenues for support (many universities have non-academic staff employed specifically to assist international students with things like learning the local language, finding accommodation, cultural excursions, &c.).

From professional/academic level, I have no ground under my feet. I need to progress on my own, without the feedback from supervisor or other PhDs.

To some extent, you are expected to develop independence as a researcher and take the initiative. Have you done this? If so, you are certainly entitled to expect feedback from your supervisor (in general, there is no contractual obligation on other PhD students to help you, although some collegiality in academia is expected, but this goes both ways). Having said that, it is unfortunately true that some supervisors give little/no feedback. If, after having done some serious work and made serious good-faith attempts to get your supervisor to engage with it, you may want to consider changing supervisor (it is difficult to make any generalisations about this process, since systems vary even within a country; besides, since I am fortunate in having excellent supervisors, I have never felt any desire to change supervisor).

  • Quite refreshing point of view. I will take your answer as a balanced counterpart to the others, but I will take some time to consider which answer I chose as final one. I would be curious where do you study, country-wise and what field. – Martin G Aug 13 at 18:00

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