I have currently completed four years of my PhD. My PhD supervisor was nice at first, and I actually thought I was lucky to get her. However, things quickly turned bad and have been bad for the last three years. There are three of us (pHD students) and together we ran and executed a rat model on a drug designed in our lab. However, numerous errors were made during the rat model (which I objected to at the time such as the concentration and mode of administration of the positive control) and after two years of analyzing the data, the drug did not have any affect and the positive control did not work at all.

Every time I brought my supervisor negative results based on these findings, she would say I am lazy or that there is something wrong with me for not doing the experiment correctly. During these meetings, I would defend myself and my technique, but I quickly learnt that the wrong thing to do. She started locking up reagents from me such as Trizol for RNA isolation and instead told me to make up my own from scratch (this included me going to another department and begging for chemicals such as phenol). This occurred for a year, in which every day I came in and tried to isolate RNA from expired reagents in a homemade Trizol solution. I had received external funding (Which I have to pay back if I leave), and every time I objected she threatened to write to my funders and tell them I was lazy as I hadn't made any progress.

During this time I thought I was the only one being affected in this way as the other PhDs (the two others who ran the model with me), looked fine. I only found at later that they were just as affected.

Anyway, during this time in meetings she called me lazy (I graduated top of my class in my MSc), selfish, and constantly threatened me with a bad reference to my funders. She called my PhD patchwork among other things, and said that it didn't make sense (even though she was the one who told me to do everything).

During meetings with my co-supervisor she would outright lie to make me look bad. I became very depressed, started to think of suicide and started to drink (I was never much of a drinker before the PhD).

I wrote up a paper and it kept on getting rejected due to the bad science (positive control not working), and when I told her we would have to correct this, she lost her mind and said that she has put too much money into the project and that I am wasteful. From that moment she cut me off reagents, I could not even get tips for my pippette or gloves, and had to go and buy some with my own money from the reps. During lab meetings she would repeatedly target me and crap on me for some small thing in front of everyone else. The humiliation was endless.

Every week we were having weekly meetings where she would offer no form of advice. During these weekly meetings she would again tell me that I am a failure, that she wishes she never took me on as a student and that I am wasting taxpayers money. During this time I managed to convince my co-supervisor to let me do some work in a lab in an adjacent campus. During this time all my experiments worked (because the lab was not toxic and didn't use expired reagents). Things went well, I thought my life was improving. The other PhDs were also working in that lab and slowly we began to open up and share our experiences.

However, as of November 2019 I am back in my original lab and as usual the experiments are not working.

For example most of the reagents are expired. In order to do protein assays we have to use re-washed plates which compromises the science. I worked straight through December and didn't take a break in order to try and finish my last remaining experiments, however, with a lack of resources, I was unable.

My funding has run dry and I am without money to register for this year. However, someone from another department has offered me a lecturing post that would keep me on campus and not force me to find work outside the university. I told my supervisor about it and she wrote me a long email noting how I am already behind on my PhD, and cc'd this person in on it, but still leaving the decision up to me. She also noted that my progress over December has not been good, even though I was sending her emails with my stuff every week which she never replied to.

I went to this person to go and take the position, only to find out that my supervisor had already contacted them and told them I was too behind and unable to do so, even though she knows I need the money. My supervisor and this person are friends outside of work so I didn't even bother raising my case.

I am at my wits end and feel like this will never end. Has anyone had any similar experiences? I have committed four years and lots of money to this, but I am seriously considering packing my bags and leaving. The only thing that is stopping me is giving her the satisfaction that she has ruined my life. However, I feel like she is trying to exhaust my resources and waste my time until I leave.

Any advice would be appreciated.

  • Related, yet not the exact same situation : academia.stackexchange.com/questions/141199/…
    – Bromind
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 15:13
  • 1
    "I am seriously considering packing my bags and leaving" it is wonderful to hear. I feel so depressed for the hundreds of PhD that cannot even think that choice. The system is deeply rotten.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Apr 26, 2021 at 12:59

1 Answer 1


Many people have quitted PhD studies before, some of them have asked about it on this site.

If the situation is as bad as you describe it, it is probably best for you to to try to switch to a different advisor, either at your university or at a different one. Maybe you can talk with the people in the other lab you worked. If you did well there, they might be interested in your work. You might also ask your co-supervisor about this, if you feel they will be more supportive.

If you cannot find any advisor to switch to, you will have to decide whether you want to stay and try to finish as soon as possible, start a new PhD somewhere else, or quit and go to industry. Whether the first option is possible will partially depend on your current supervisor. None of the two latter options are impossible, and many people have done them before. If the current situation is negatively affecting your health as you describe, you should seriously consider them. But it needs to be your decision.

Finally, and importantly, you say

The only thing that is stopping me is giving her the satisfaction that she has ruined my life.

This is not a factor to consider. At all. You should care about your own career and well-being. The fact that you "give her satisfaction by quitting" should matter exactly zero in your decision.

  • Definitely agree with the last point and, ultimately, while you may think it would reflect poorly on you to quit after four years, it also reflects poorly on your advisor. If their behavior persists and is similar with other students, no doubt they will quickly have a very poor mentoring track record.
    – Greenstick
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 0:12

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