I've been working with Dr.X since the summer of last year. Things were going well until this past fall. He mislabeled some research files and asked me to do some analysis to help me determine if they were "A" or "B". I've done this type of research before in UG and never came across this level of disorganization. In any case, everyone makes mistakes so I tried to make the best out of it. After spending 2 months analyzing dozens of files, I told him many were too similar to separate confidently. Worse, the files that were supposedly labeled correctly (IE. "the same") were dissimilar. At this point, I was starting to get very frustrated (I didn't share that), because I wasn't doing actual "research". I told him I was supposed to state our research progress to the department and he decided we shouldn't (obviously) because nothing was done. I thought this reflected poorly on me, but I agreed. I was then out for the rest of the semester on maternity leave. I wrote him some code to process the files once he figured out which files were which. He may have just guessed. I really don't know what happened. Fast forward to this spring, he was away fixing equipment but stated we simply had to make great use of the time we had available. I agreed to meet him one morning and he completely flaked. He didn't email me. He showed up hours later and tells me he has to "go" and just rants about equipment breaking. Then he tells me to just read some paper, which I do. He also said he doesn't remember where we left off last semester. I reminded him and he said he wasn't sure if he ran my code yet. I told him we need to present research this spring, and he hasn't emailed me back (this was weeks ago). I emailed him this week asking him if we could do work remotely and have heard nothing...yet. I am losing respect for him and don't even want to work with him anymore. Is this a typical scenario? Oh, and there are rodents living in his office because he is so messy. I'm not joking. He was actually written up by the school. Our department is so tiny I don't know how to handle this situation. I did tons of research in UG and have published work, but have nothing started research-wise in my program. I'm a second-year student at a competitive school. Am I overreacting? TIA

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    It's time you changed advisor. As soon as possible, if you can. Someone who is messy to the point of having rodents in the office is dangerous, not unorganised. And I wonder why the university doesn't take action against such a serious health threat. – Massimo Ortolano Mar 20 at 0:53
  • Thanks for your response. I'm writing the chair tomorrow since he isn't even responding to my emails. I've done all he's asked, but he's ghosted me. I know he's around because he sat in as a secondary instructor in one of my online classes and all of his traveling research has been canceled due to the virus. – Astroturf Mar 20 at 1:20
  • Consider if your advisor might have attention deficit disorder. It's very common. If he does, that will not tell you the answer to your question, but it might help you decide how to respond. – Anonymous Physicist Mar 20 at 4:14
  • I do not think you are over-reacting. It seems like you are not reacting at all, and you should. – Anonymous Physicist Mar 20 at 4:15
  • I sent a less pedantic email to the chair recently. I'm looking forward to actually doing research again. "It seems like you are not reacting at all" LOL I feel like I just lost 100 pounds of mental baggage. – Astroturf Mar 20 at 20:18

Advisors are not expected to be perfect but they are expected to do their job. Yours doesn't, he's endangering your PhD and his institution (probably his career too but that's not the point).

Is this a typical scenario?


Sure, some researchers are disorganized, have a messy office and/or hard drive, it's quite common. Some advisors are also known to occasionally abuse their role and give their students jobs which aren't related to their PhD, that's frowned upon but often tolerated. But whatever their shortcomings, an advisor must be able to fulfill their professional duties, and your advisor doesn't.

Am I overreacting?

Not at all.

Contact the head of the department, the institution ombudsman or whoever is in charge. It's not too late but it's time. Don't hesitate to go over the department, your institution has a responsibility to provide you with proper supervision.

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