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Over the space of a now concluding 20 week long project, my appointed supervisor has made a number of questionable decisions that appear to have negatively affected my work and solidified her grip over any avenues of complaint i can make.

One of the more recent incidents included her refusal to complete a strictly compulsory progress report, unless i removed a statement about her absence for a three week period that affected my ability to receive feedback. Stating during the incident, that if anything reported made her look bad, then it would be reflected on my final grade(As she is one of two, who marks the project).

Her general lack of support throughout the entire process has been difficult and while i appreciate that some supervisors and some students prefer the more independent approach, it doesn't work for me and I've made this clear many times. She has also enforced a number of design decisions that convert the project to a very similar format to one she had previously partook in. Additionally insisting on heavy reference to her previous work.

I'm at a loss of how to proceed and the advent of the global pandemic has only narrowed my ability to discretely contact any support staff.

UK, final year undergraduate student

  • Talk with the other person who marks the project. Are they aware of her 3 week absence? If not why not? – Solar Mike Mar 21 at 16:29
  • @SolarMike The second examiner isn't known to the students, and is primarily for cross examination of work. i'm not sure they're actually part of the university staff. – Steven Mar 21 at 16:31
  • Is this undergraduate work or other? – Buffy Mar 21 at 16:32
  • @Buffy Undergraduate, but i'm in my final year with this project being worth 100% of the module and is worth twice as much as other modules – Steven Mar 21 at 16:33
  • What do other students have to say about this prof? – Buffy Mar 21 at 16:39
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Let me make two suggestions, though I can only really recommend the first.

You could just go along and get along, but mostly as a strategic move that helps you get away without damage to your future. For a single course a nice grade would be good and you will have learned a lot from the project no matter what the write-up looks like. If it is to be published, especially as a joint publication, then you need to take care that what you say is actually valid, of course. I recommend this course since the professor has power over you and has threatened to use it against you. Strategic retreat is often the best course of action.

The second, burn the bridges strategy, is to send the entire correspondence stream to the department head and ask for advice. This may be what you really want to do, and it might have some positive outcome for others in the future, but it is also the one most likely to damage you and your career. If you embark on this course, copy the head on all correspondence.

There are options in between but most of them might have the flavor of one or the other of these. I recommend something closer to the first option.

For doctoral research, however, the situation is a lot more dire and might require drastic (escape) action such as changing supervisors or even institutions. But your undergraduate program will ultimately be judged on a lot of things, not just this project.

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    Thank you for taking the time to answer, i honestly will take you're recommendation for the first answer as its looking like, for my institution our exams will be cancelled and the grade will be solely determined by course work (this report included). So it puts even more importance on this report. Maybe after graduation i can make a formal complaint as i wouldn't wish any other student to endure my experience. – Steven Mar 21 at 17:04
  • The bridges are already burned. – Anonymous Physicist Mar 23 at 2:49
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Some of the actions of your supervisor that you are describing may be defensible, but some sound to me to be highly innappropriate, and they compromise the feedback mechanisms you have mentioned. As the academic supervisor on the project, your supervisor probably has a legitimate prerogative to steer the project in the direction she prefers, in terms of research design, etc. This may simply be a matter of steering you to a project in which she has the proper expertise to supervise. If this makes the project similar to her past work, and makes her past papers relevant references for the work, then it is probably also reasonable for her to expect that these papers will be cited in the new work. If you raise a complaint on these grounds, it is likely to be quite tenuous, and unlikely to be successful. However, it is dubious for your supervisor to demand that you censor your progress report to remove mention of her absence, and it is certainly not okay for her to threaten to penalise your grades in the event that you give feedback that raises matters that she would prefer you not to raise. If your supervisor has been absent, and has a reasonable reason for this, she should let you mention her absence in the progress report, and then respond to that issue in an appropriate way.

As Buffy has suggested, you are going to need to make a decision of whether to "go along to get along" or raise a complaint. Since you at the end of your undergraduate degree, this might be a case where discretion is the better part of valour, but you have the option to complain formally to the Head of Department under the relevant complaint procedure (look up the details for your university department). One advantage of this latter course of action is that the complaint rules probably prohibit "retaliation" and "victimisation" of a complainant, which would include penalising the student's grade due to the complaint. If you do decide to complain, I recommend you focus solely on the absence of your supervisor (and its effect on your project), her censorship of your attempt to mention this in your progress report, and her threat to penalise your grade if you raise this issue with her. Bear in mind that if this was just a conversation, she may deny saying this; a person who is willing to penalise a student grade when they raise a complaint is probably also a person who is willing to lie about a threat they made.

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