I am in a Ph.D. program. In my program, I declared my preliminary advisor who is supposed to guide me when writing my first field paper.

Firstly, after I passed my qualifying examination in the last summer, I asked my paper advisor to visit his office to discuss and determine my research topic. He just ignored my email and did not reply at all.

Secondly, one month later I sent an email again and visited his office. I got a research question from him. I read some papers and then visited his office to discuss the next steps. I told him about my rough ideas, then he told me that they will not work. He told me to change my research topic if I would not have a skill set to deal with the problem. I majored in a field of study which specializes in the required skill, so I kept going on doing my research. Then he refused to see me when I asked him to visit his office later and get some feedback on my research work.

Thirdly, he had not given me any guidelines on my research as a paper advisor other than giving me some papers.

Fourthly, he ignored my email later when I asked him to write a letter. I can understand that he would not write a letter for me, but he just ignores my reasonable emails several times.

Fifthly, he would not advise me anymore as the main advisor since I did not know some stylized facts when I started my research and since I did not produce an immediate result within a few weeks.

Lastly, all the Chinese Ph.D. students in my research group only insisted to work with my paper advisor because he is also Chinese, though there are at least three other professors. So he said to me that he has too many students, which is an excuse to support his decision that he does not advise me.

I am wondering whether or not these are reasonable. What should I do if there is no one other than him whose research interests lie in mine? Looks like I just have to endure several year's loss in my life due to a bad decision of mine. The intended field of study is very narrow, so it is difficult to find another professor at another University since my Ph.D. program is evaluated around the margin of ranked universities that have professors in my field of study. Do I have to transfer to another different program with a different major?

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    We are not judges here. Do you feel abused? – user115896 Nov 27 '19 at 7:06
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    There are very clear markers for an abusive academic relationship, it's possible to judge this IMO. – Spark Nov 27 '19 at 7:14
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    You need to clarify what you mean by abuse. Abuse has multiple definitions, but when talking about human beings and animals, it specifically means a repeated pattern of cruelty or violence. Simply not being responsive is not abuse under this definition. It might be abuse of his position if he fails to properly follow up on his responsibilities, but that does not mean the same thing as abusing a person. – barbecue Nov 27 '19 at 16:44
  • He says himself that he has too many students, so imho you need to talk to the director of studies and tell them that your supervisor can't work with you, you need another supervisor. – Erwan Nov 28 '19 at 14:44

I would not call this abuse, but I would say that this professor is clearly not interested in working with you. Not answering emails, not meeting with people in a timely fashion etc. are all indicators that the professor just thinks that you're not worth their time. This may or may not be true, but that really doesn't matter - it takes two to tango in an advisor/advisee relationship, and you don't have a partner in this professor.

I don't quite know how your university works. It sounds like you were assigned to this professor semi-randomly to (I'm guessing here) start some project while you look for a permanent advisor. Whether the professor violated some of the rules of this mentorship process (say, they have to meet you a certain number of times or help you actively, however that's defined) is really not for me to judge - you should consult with your student counseling center/ombudsperson/graduate handbook about this.

Overall, my advice is to look for someone else to advise you, ASAP. This professor is not going to offer you a happy PhD experience in my opinion. If that means changing your field slightly to accommodate some other professor's interests, I would do it. If that professor is the only person in the department qualified to advise you on that field, and you are unwilling to change fields, you have a problem. No one can force a professor to advise someone (I would never want to work under someone who was forced to take me anyway, that would be hell for us both!), so you need to figure out what matters to you more - staying within that narrow field, or actually getting an advisor in that university.

Good luck!


I wouldn't say it's abuse, but I would say the professor is not delivering on the most basic requirements of being an academic adviser. In effect, they have unilaterally backed out of their commitment to be your adviser, without even deigning to tell you. Unfortunately, universities do not have a good track record at holding their academic staff to account in this regard. As a result, it is likely unproductive to speak to university management about this issue. At best, it will result in you being assigned a different adviser, and at worst, you make yourself a formidable enemy in your current one.

Instead, ensure the best possible outcome by looking for a better adviser yourself. More generally, if you want to succeed, you cannot wait around for either people to come to you with solutions to your problems. You'll need to adopt a more assertive set of behaviors than those you have described in the question. Get yourself the help you need, and indeed deserve in your position as a graduate student. Perhaps a professor you are friendly with, a fellow student, or a student councilor can provide some on-the-ground mental support.

Be aware that, despite the fact that your current adviser has wasted your time and treated you like trash, it is in your personal interest to refrain from pointing this out in public. Professors are in a position of considerable formal and informal power, and can make your life difficult. So you'll need to be diplomatic and treat your adviser with the utmost courtesy. They have provided themselves with a justification to gracefully exit the relationship: there are just too many students to support. Quelle surprise to the person who signed on to support them, but it is probably not a complete lie, so you can give this as the reason when you are asked why you want to change advisers.

I wish you all the best in resolving this issue.

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