So my PhD supervisor is very senior in the university. This has its advantages but unfortunately this also means he's very busy most of the time, especially now that it's summer and he's been away on holiday a few times. By and large this isn't a problem; I'm quite happy to get on with my work without much supervision.

The problem I'm now having is administrative. I have a progress evaluation report due and the deadline is nearing (I've already had the deadline extended once). I've completed my section and am awaiting his comments before I can submit (formal procedure). Further, I may need to be moving to another city in ~4 weeks time to work with a partner organisation for 6 months but I do not yet know for certain and my supervisor keeps putting the issue off (this has been the case for the last 4 months).

It's come to the point where these issues are critical, I fear missing the progress report deadline and I need to know where I'll be living at the end of next month so I can sort accommodation.

I've tried sending a reminder email but have received no response. Also, I walked past my supervisor and greeted him but he seemed not to notice me. To make things worse, I don't have the relationship where I can just turn up to his office without an appointment.

I don't really know who I can speak to about this as I work alongside very few people and I don't know what options are available to me save flooding his inbox with emails.

What can I do to press these matters and how can I do it so as not to become a nuisance to him?

  • 6
    Does your supervisor have a secretary or administrative assistant? Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 20:40
  • @PatriciaShanahan They do have a secretary.
    – Calvin
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 20:43
  • 3
    As a sidenote, I am strongly suspecting that your student / supervisor relation is not working well if you "don't have the kind of relationship where you can show up without appointment".
    – xLeitix
    Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 10:12
  • @xLeitix I wouldn't disagree but I wouldn't really know what to do at this point. My supervisor tends to be always away at meetings or conferences or is busy. Getting a meeting in once a month is currently a challenge.
    – Calvin
    Commented Aug 17, 2019 at 9:19

3 Answers 3


As confirmed in a comment, the "very senior" supervisor does have a secretary. I suggest explaining the problem, and the reasons for urgency, to the secretary and asking them for help.

The secretary can go to the supervisor's office without an appointment, and is likely to understand that some university paperwork really does have to be done on schedule. Ideally, the secretary will put together a packet with the partially completed report and any other relevant paperwork, such as previous evaluations, that the supervisor has.

I would concentrate on the progress evaluation, because that has to be done, and has already been deferred once.

As far as the travel is concerned, make sure the supervisor, or at least the secretary, understands that you need some notice, and will assume you are not traveling next month unless there is a definite decision that you are traveling.

  • 1
    Thank you for the answer, that's very helpful. I'll contact them in the morning.
    – Calvin
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 21:37

As others have suggested, you might want to draw this to the attention of his secretary --- they are usually much better at dealing with administrative matters in a timely fashion. Beyond that, I wouldn't be too worried about this situation. If the Graduate Coordinator gets on your back about the lateness of your progress report, you can just inform them that the report was sent to your supervisor for approval on such-and-such a date, and the supervisor has not yet responded. It is out of your hands.

Bear in mind that if the university imposes administrative requirements on you, and you are unable to meet the deadlines of those requirements because, despite your best efforts, the university's own employee is not doing their own part of the job, then you are pretty much in the clear. Once you have sent the progress report to your supervisor (and sent a reminder email, and spoken to his secretary), the ball is in his court.

  • Thank you. I spoke to his secretary and still haven't got any further so this is well timed.
    – Calvin
    Commented Aug 17, 2019 at 9:17

Would also add organising regular meetings is a good way around this as well. Regular meetings every 2 to 4 weeks are a great way to put a stake in the ground for a busy supervisor. If a supervisor is busy try to push the appointment earlier rather than stretch the regular appointments out. It will also force you to produce work regularly. Also means that if yoursupervisor didn't make the time to read and comment before the meeting, the meeting can be used for comments and feedback too.

Edited: wording around the timing

  • What really busy supervisor is going to have time for 4 scheduled weekly meetings?
    – TimRias
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 14:53
  • I thought every 4 weeks would be a minimum? If not at least regular meetings with the rest of the PhD panel team or expand your PhD panel. Every university would have different expectations and limits. It is worth checking out what the guidelines are.
    – Poidah
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 22:16
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    This is definitely on my radar but is something I'm not in a position to change right at this moment.
    – Calvin
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 22:51
  • I think this suggestion sounds great, but does not typically work with a "very busy" advisor. Such an advisor may not commit to a regular meeting slot, or, worse, you may end up with a "regular" meeting that gets cancelled / moved / forgotten about almost every time.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 10:10

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