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I'am 2nd year PhD student and I'm in the phase of problem definition and exploration for my research. Other than research, I also do both RA (working on paper review, grants, etc) and TA jobs as well. On the TA job there are many things that I do, and she only recites the PowerPoint in front of the class.

I had a good (or OK) experience with her in the first year and I done pretty well in the courses. Recently I've started my research and as I work with her I find her more of judge, an angry boss than an advisor/mentor. And in my response to let's address this shortcoming she plays too late scenario. I agree that I'm not perfect but I think that I'm dedicated, motivated and smart enough to do a PhD. However, these believe has come to question recently as I am working with her and now I'm full of doubts. To try gives more clear and less subjective statements:

The Downsides

  • I'm working 8hr a day (56 hr a week) and she thinks it's not enough. So she demands more and signals (implicitly) me to cut my stipend. She demands something around 80+ hour per week at least.
  • I think she like more of an employee than collaborator and I feel she has no appreciation for creativity at all. She just like to be given some solved problem then she gives some feedback and the less time this process take, the better.
  • When I do something good, she is very reluctant to say anything positive but when some mistakes or shortcoming happen she is very quick to give you an entire speech about her experience and how good she were during her PhD etc.
  • While she put me in the not good enough mode, she doesn't give me clear feedback how can I improve it. When I offer a solution, her response is basically: "It's too late, but go on, surprise me (and don't think of less workload)".
  • I join the group with high confidence, fully funded, good records, grades, etc. I was proud of my ability in problem solving and now during these specially last 3 month I am full of doubts. I sometimes think she might be completely right and these frustrations all stem from the fact that I'm bad at doing PhD.
  • Not only my experience but for other lab member she is more of a Boss, a judge who can tell you're good or bad (binary feedback) and low tolerance for mistakes. This situation has a history before me and probably after me.

The Upsides

  • I have shortcomings and fragments in my foundations which I love to address. However, I'm in doubt that she thinks it's late. Or not willing to be patient with me growing. In my defense, I'm an independent and quite quick to grasp the concept, I think. However, I need time to address those (and not by 11hr/day all year)
  • She pays me well in relative to others, as far as I know.
  • I am not sure since not my field of research but safe to consider her as recognized in the field might not be top 10 but probably top 100. She is also affiliated with reputable university. However, I'm working in a field (a bit relevant to her but distinct) which he is not an expert by any means.
  • She has years of experience in her job and I respect her record of publications. She only demands good publications from students and try to force it.
  • All these confusing and cruel judgements? Sometimes I think this is her way of mentorship. She probably wants few one or two which survives this hardship as @buffy pointed out. But since she is pretty indirect I'm not sure about her intention it's always a mystery. One reason is when she gives harsh un-improvable judgement after a few days she become a bit kind...quite confusing for me....
  • She is hardworking, herself and I respect that.

My worries to change my advisor

  • It's possible to do so (and there is a good record of it) but since the professors are usually taken each other side and I probably need his recommendation for funds etc I'm afraid of the change because financially I'm depended heavily on this fund without the money I will be in an extreme financial hardship.
  • As @Buff pointed out, in recent months I had this idea that I can manage to prove myself to her and surprise her. However, it's extremely hard when you don't believe her well intention and sometimes frankly I think she doesn't like me to be succeeded. The only way, is to some great job that surprise her in a big way. I genuinely consider that, but mentally I feel too weak to do so.

The questions

I probably don't have enough experience or might not think it through but I'm considering change my lab. So here are my questions:

  1. Are this scenario pretty bad or something common in a PhD?
  2. If I change my advisors what are the consequences?
  3. She once said for a job in Academia you should work more than 11 hours per day (including weekends) to survive in academia. How accurate is this claim?
  4. Let say by whatever reason I'm not compatible with this advisor. Is it wise to just ignore and do my research independently and forget about her? I mean just considering having no advisor and do my own PhD by myself since she clearly stated that I should define my problem and I think I can solve a problem as long as she leaves me free and give me some time. The downside is that, I don't feel mentally good during this process.
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    Find another advisor... There are better ones around. – Solar Mike Nov 10 at 5:44
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    It is usually not possible to just ignore your advisor and do research independently to get your PhD. – Morgan Rodgers Nov 10 at 6:15
  • Honestly, what you're writing does sound a bit scary and definitely not sustainable in the long run. Do you have a PhD student representative at your university who you can talk to? Like the academic director of research or something similar? Maybe they can give you relevant advice that takes into account the rules/regulations of your university(and country). – Adam Nov 10 at 6:22
  • @Morgan-Rodgers, From the points I said, I'm sure about them. However, there might be some other points in her defense (I tried to address them above). However, since she has this attitude that someone do the job done with the least possible amount of hassle for her and specially in the first year I had many positive moments through courses with her I think this is also a choice. But as you portray it, I should not consider it as a choice. – Sodre Ledog Nov 10 at 7:46
  • @SolarMike, I know someone but I'm afraid of the current one and disprove of the other ones. I feed the other kind of trying not to support the student in this conflict over their coworker. – Sodre Ledog Nov 10 at 7:48
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First of all, you are not alone. Half the reason this forum exists is that getting a Ph.D. is an incredibly challenging endeavor. Funding security, compatibility with your advisor, relevance of the research topic-- all of this plays a big role in whether someone completes a Ph.D.

I probably don't have enough experience or might not think it through but I'm considering change my lab.

You definitely don't have enough experience-- you're a student, and the point of a Ph.D. program is to acquire the knowledge and skills for later directing your own research. But if you don't feel you're gaining those things in your current lab, it's definitely worth considering a change. Try to find a mentor-- a more senior grad student or perhaps another professor in your department in whom you could confide. Many universities these days also have counseling centers, some even focused on career planning. Seek out these local resources-- they'll be much better than some strangers on the internet at helping you figure out the right way to proceed in your particular situation.

Are this scenario pretty bad or something common in PhD? Should I change my lab/advisor? What are the consequences? She once said for a job in Academia you should work more than 11 hours per day (including weekends) to survive in academia. How accurate is this claim?

Such scenarios are bad and common. But being common isn't an excuse for being something that everyone should put up with.

You definitely do not have to work more than 11 hours per day to be a successful researcher. People who do that probably aren't managing their time well and, quite frankly, they're probably missing out on way more satisfying things in life.

Let say by whatever reason I'm not compatible with this advisor. Is it wise to just ignore and do my research independently and forget about her? I mean just considering having no advisor and do my own PhD by myself since she clearly stated that I should define my problem and I think I can solve a problem as long as she leaves me free and give me some time. The downside is that, I don't feel mentally good during this process.

I've witnessed some friends try to do this, and it just doesn't work. Research is big. It's not just about solving a problem; it's also about conveying that problem and solution in such a way that the community at large appreciates and understands it. As a student, this is really hard to figure out for yourself-- you simply don't have enough exposure or connections yet-- and your advisor (as the expert) should be the one helping you navigate the gap between your own work and the larger body of work. Furthermore, your advisor should be your biggest advocate when you starting writing your thesis and looking for jobs. If you've gone solo, though, there's no guarantee she won't fire you, let alone support you at the end.

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Is it wise to just ignore and do my research independently and forget about her? I mean just considering having no advisor and do my own PhD by myself since she clearly stated that I should define my problem and I think I can solve a problem as long as she leaves me free and give me some time.

This is probably the worst thing you could do. In order to graduate, you have to have your advisor (and committee) approve your dissertation. If you completely ignore her, you might spend three years doing something and at the end find out that she won't approve it. At that point, your options would probably be either start over (taking another 3-4 years) or give up and walk away with nothing to show for years of effort. You do not want this to happen. You want to be completely in sync with your advisor at every step of the way, so that when the time comes to submit your dissertation, the approval is just a formality.

So your options are either work out an understanding with your advisor now, or find a new one. Finding a new advisor will be very painful now. But if you don't switch now then things could be 10X more painful in the future.

  • "you have to have your advisor approve your dissertation." This isn't always true. But if it's not true, it's still a bad idea to skip it. – Anonymous Physicist Nov 10 at 21:21
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Should I change my lab/advisor?

Yes. All your complaints suggest you have the wrong advisor.

  • Thanks, I added two points in her defense with my justification. But I am afraid of the consequences because the professor are powerful and the student like me is almost had no power. – Sodre Ledog Nov 10 at 7:43
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    @SodreLedog Not true, in many fields if all the PhD students quit, the professor is left with no ability to do research. The power comes, in part, from the hard working students. – Anonymous Physicist Nov 10 at 8:41
  • True. But I think not applying here. This is one student against a system not a whole PhD student strike. The hosting professor likes to not bother himself over a student with a long-term coworker. – Sodre Ledog Nov 10 at 8:47
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You paint a pretty bad picture. I have no reason to doubt its accuracy. It is common enough to be worrying, but not universal. But, you haven't written any positive aspects - any upside. I suggest you consider whether there is an upside. If not, you would be well-advised to find another advisor or even a different institution.

Some advisors can be extremely painful to work with, but have so much standing in the academic community that a positive recommendation is worth a bar of gold. Students of such advisors may just tough it out, looking beyond the short term to long term goals and how to best achieve them.

As to ignoring your advisor and just getting the research and dissertation done: it may be possible or not, but will be difficult. Again, some students thrive in such an environment, being very self directed, hard working, and full of vision. But it also requires an advisor willing to go along with this and, in the end, approve of your work and sign required paperwork. You have to judge whether that is possible in your case. Most students need continuing support from the advisor as the answer of Daniel K implies. Only a few students can really be independent and it depends on both the student and the nominal advisor.

But first, look to see if there is an upside. Pain in the short term may enable bliss in the long term. But that isn't guaranteed. And the pain of switching institutions might be less than the pain of staying. But you need to assess that.

  • On the points I made, they're accurate as much as I can see. Being a judge or boss rather than a supervisor/teacher/mentor is pretty accurate portrait of her and pretty well known in the lab. She is also a very bad teacher, for sure. On the recommendation, she is not the best in the institution but since my university is considered a top university she has recognition but in a field that is not my topic of interest, I'm working in another field (not totally irrelevant) which she showed lots of interest when she hired me. However, I will try to update my question to reflect some upside points. – Sodre Ledog Nov 11 at 1:37
  • I updated my question in accordance to your answer. One bad thing that I'm dealing with is I don't know and can not trust her intention. I go for 2-3 month with the mindset you just said but right now I lose my trust in her intention. I am wiling to pay that price of hardship, but I am not sure if she really wants me to do so. She seems seeking already excellent students. I join as one of such students but seems mentally hard to keep myself in the green zone. It's very dreadful. – Sodre Ledog Nov 11 at 2:33

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