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During my last PhD year there were several disagreements with my supervisor. I am out of funding and got warned of being forced out of the PhD program if I disagree in the future with the supervisor or the terms and conditions, both related to research and timeline. The warning is based on fabricated narratives from the supervisor, the Faculty, distortion of evidence, attempted gaslighting and retaliation. They give the impression that they can force anyone out of the program either if it's with ethical or unethical measures, regulated or unregulated measures, either enforcing or undoing written agreements.

Some advisers have recommended me to just accept whatever they throw me on, don't risk the opportunity to get the PhD, and think this as a win-win situation. For me this sounds as more gaslighting.

Is there any point in going on with the PhD when neither the supervisor nor the Faculty trust in you and the suggestions of low chances for the thesis to be approved? Or would you ditch ethical principles and prioritize the degree on the CV?

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    You should clarify what you mean by "ethical principles". Are you being asked to engage in academic dishonesty or otherwise violate the understood codes of ethics of your discipline? Or, rather, are you saying it is against your principles to accept how you are being treated socially. These are very different things. – GrotesqueSI Dec 23 '19 at 20:15
  • Do you being "forced" out, or "enforced" out? I think you have a typo. – Richard Erickson Dec 23 '19 at 20:20
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    what makes you think your thesis have low chances of approval? Sometimes people approve stuff they deem sub-par just to get rid off people. – Boaty Mcboatface Dec 23 '19 at 20:42
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    Surely this abusive behavior (or to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, this significant difference in expectations) isn't coming as a surprise now. Why on earth haven't you already left? – JeffE Dec 23 '19 at 21:33
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    Too vague. What precisely is it you do not agree with? Your supervisors may not agree with a way a paper is written because of a weak result, bad presentation, or they want to fake results. These three motives are very different. However, your question indicates your disagreements seem to be based on the meta-level, rather than the concrete work in your thesis. What indications do you have that your own position is right and everybody else in the faculty is wrong? In addition, what indications do you have that your concrete research work is up to par? Not saying it's not, just checking. – Captain Emacs Dec 24 '19 at 0:18
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Since you have not explained the ethical principles you are purportedly being pressured to discard, it is not possible to offer an opinion on that matter. In cases where there is a highly strained relationship between a student and the supervisory panel, it is often worth considering changing supervisors, or even changing universities, but this depends on a range of factors, including how much time you have already invested in your present topic. The vast majority of academics are capable professionals who can proceed with work even in cases where the relationship with a student is strained, to it is usually possible to proceed if you wish to do so. If you have been given a warning or other treatment that you consider to be unfair, you will need to decide whether to take action against this (through appropriate university procedures) or else accept that warning and continue despite your candidature in compliance with the requirements you have been given.

The main requirement of a PhD candidature (the only requirement in some cases) is to produce a dissertation that passes peer review by outside examiners. This usually entails submitting and publishing papers during the process, to get peer review of individual parts of the dissertation. It is usual that you would submit your dissertation to your own supervisory panel prior to it being sent out for formal review, so they can review it and give you feedback. Ultimately, the dissertation will be assessed by outside examiners in the profession, and so long as you can produce work that is up to the required standard of these reviewers, the misgivings of your own supervisory panel ought not be fatal to the success of the candidature. Having said this, if your supervisory panel are telling you that your work is unlikely to pass peer review, this is an opinion you should take seriously. Most academics have a lot of experience publishing academic work through the peer review process, and it would be rare for their opinion on this matter to be incorrect.

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There are three possible main reasons for getting a PHD

  • you are interested in the subject and have time to spare (well, in that case it's probably the best to follow your instincts)
  • you (believe that you) need the title for your career outside science (In that case, make a plan in accordance with your personal moral compass what you are willing to do)
  • you seriously want to stay in research and follow a career in the subject. In that case it depends on:
    1. The subject you are in (what is ok in Medicine or Law may be not ok in Physics or math)
    2. The influence of your supervisor
    3. if he/she is egocentric (bad) or egoistic (good, everything is a deal)
    4. The competition in the field: Easier to take and extra round if you are in a field where everybody gets a postdoc position.
    5. Your personal connections (if you know a lot of people, maybe you can swicth positions)
    6. How small the field is (i did my PHD in a field so small that everybody knew about how honest or not other groups are)
    7. If your mental stability allows you to take such shit without serious damage
    8. The likeliness of you getting caught (it's a difference between dropping two datapoints and copying a whole dataset from the competition).
    9. Your moral compass

I luckily was in a subject and position where such complex considerations were not needed.

Good luck.

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It seems you are misplaced, at least. It is hard to recommend continuing in this environment and no one should recommend unethical behavior. But, perhaps, your best option is to seek a different supervisor or even a different university.

I also don't have any way to know if you are merely an innocent victim or a participant in the current situation. But, either way, a different situation would most likely be an improvement.

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I agree with the meta-level comment from Captain. Unfortunately, as a PhD student, what you perceive as dishonesty may be a difference in perspective and experience. There are varying levels of transparency and discussion which you may perceive as gaslighting. Unfortunately, discussion and deliberation can be very limited in most research teams. A full airing of differences is not usually the norm. Authority and deciding to which direction, whether to amend, to publish really depends on the research team. I guess as independent authors, it may be different, but every team has a different level of autonomy which may be uncomfortable for some within the team.

What is disturbing from your OP and the comments is the lack of input from others. It would have been nice if you included other people's opinion and perspective of your situation too. If others agree with your assessment of gaslighting, academic dishonesty, distortion etc then it would help to show us how they came to that conclusion too? Otherwise, what you feel is unreasonable, may be reasonable for just about everyone else? Your anger about having a timeline and accountability although it may feel like an attack, but maybe that is what is needed to help you finish your PhD, unfortunately if you are not meeting deadlines, there may be an increase in accountability and reduced autonomy that you were given before, especially if you are already late with your PhD resulting with you running out of funding?

Sometimes there is no "right" way, but having support and having others support you cope better may be the best way forward. After your PhD, you can join research teams that have a research style and approach that suit you!

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