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Last week, my PhD advisor commented that I can postpone my thesis defense for couple of months if I was not ready to defend. However, I was adamant of completing my defense this year. As a result, my advisor has scheduled my defense for december and I have few weeks to prepare.

Now, on second thought, I was wondering that probably her suggesting the postponing of defense was a way to tell me that I am not going to pass the defense.

In that case, is it possible that the advisor thinks that I am unsuitable for PhD defense and she just wants to pass the onus of passing on the judgement about my qualifications/research output to the committee. Probably she doesn't want any confrontations with me but doesn't approve of my research work either.

Is it possible that she aggreed to defense scheduling to get rid of an underperforming student?

I am in Canada.

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    I would say probably no as (a) a good advisor should want their students to succeed and (b) their statistics on graduating students might be tracked inside the department or otherwise. But, no experience at all with the Canadian system, this is just a general observation
    – penelope
    Nov 19 '19 at 15:02
  • It's possible, but I think that the question is impossible to answer without more details. It really depends on your PhD performance, your relationship with your advisor thus far, her personal opinion of you, your committee, your school's attitude towards graduating students etc...
    – Spark
    Nov 19 '19 at 15:05
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    If you were "adamant" even after your advisor's suggestion to delay, what did you expect but that they'd agree? Nov 19 '19 at 15:11
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    So you asked for your defense to be held this year, and she agreed, and now you are looking for hidden intentions behind the schedule?
    – user116079
    Nov 19 '19 at 15:35
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    Context matters. Is your advisor the sort of person who tries hard to be non-confrontational and prefers to "hint at" things instead of saying it straight out? Has your advisor a habit of deferring to your judgement at multiple points throughout your PhD career? Absent a knowledge of how you typically interact with your advisor, there's really no way for a third party to answer your question. Nov 19 '19 at 16:08
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Based on what you say, I doubt that there are any issues other than getting yourself prepared. The comments here at this writing are all valid. It seems like she just deferred to your own judgement about scheduling but was giving you a way to extend prep time if you thought you needed it. I don't read anything negative in to that.

Likewise, I can't see any professor scheduling a defense just to "get rid" of a student, whether a superstar, a typical student, or an underperformer. In fact, in the latter case, most would rather give the student time to come up to whatever standard is expected.

Some professors, of course, when faced with a seriously underperforming student would be more likely to counsel them to leave academia and find a more suitable career before possibly facing a failed defense and then carrying that record for the rest of their lives. But there is no hint of any of that here.

Some professors press their students pretty hard to finish, but because they judge the student ready to move on.

But, you did ask, and you were adamant. You can live with that and get ready, or you can go back to her and say you misjudged and would, indeed, like a bit of extra time, if that is what you really want.

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Keep in mind that failing a student during his/her defense is an immense embarrassment for the advisor, who surely wants to prevent exposing him/herself to such situation. I have heard of advisors forbidding their students to defend, they were lound and clear. The only situation close to a student defending a failing thesis I've ever hear about happened when his advisor had some very serious personal problems and did a very lame advising job. Even in that case, a member of the committee readily pointed out well in advance for the defense that the thesis had serious flaws, and thus the defense was postponed.

A few alternatives you might consider to explain the situation:

  1. Perhaps, your advisor is very busy by the end of the year, and is eager to postpone stuff. Often people will accumulate tasks by December.

  2. Maybe your thesis is okay, but you likely need to prepare slides for your defense, you need to rehearse your defense, and you need to rehash it a few times. If you are not that used to public speaking and slide preparation, your advisor should instruct you to do so. He/she should be more open about it, but it could come across a bit awkward to tell you that "your thesis is good, but your presentation is not ready yet".

  3. Maybe, other than the actual thesis work, you are also responsible for doing lab work/preparing classes, grading exams and so on. If you defend in December rather than in March, maybe your advisor will have no one to perform these tasks for him. Very petty, and only his/her problem, but I'd find it very plausible that an advisor in this situation would try to stall the student's defense without giving clear reasons.

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