I am average student completed my under-grad and grad studies successfully. I am doing PhD since 4.5 years.

I was a hard-working student. I was a self-motivated student always wanted to do PhD and stay in Academia. I was hoping somehow my work will help to world.

If I compare playing tennis to a PhD studies, I feel like my advisor is breaking my racket to motivate me and I cannot keep up with a broken racket, which is my will to move on.

These are the some stuff that my advisor told me multiple times. I cannot forget or over-write them:

  • "You disappointed and hurt me. I don't know what am I going to do with you." // One year later, during a meeting over zoom, when I told him that these words offended me and I do not want to hurt you anymore, he just closed the zoom meeting to my face saying I am not your psychologist.

  • "You are like a turtle. You can't even graduate in 20-30 years."

  • "You are bad at time management and always lost in details."

  • "Your model is junk. I won't write my name on top of this model."

  • "Even high-school students won't make the mistakes you do. Should I keep going?" [Me]: "No, please don't."

  • He threw a book at me and told me that: "You should learned from it"

  • He keep showing his other students Ph.D. saying: "See how good they are writing, you should write like them."

In front of all the jury members he also mentioned:

  • "I am giving you F to motivate you. I trust you keep working."
  • "I never helped that much to any of my student in my life. I don't know what I can do more."
  • "I start to understand the way he thinks and explains his work after 4 years. He is very complex."

Everything boiled up when I get F from my progress on my PhD studies. All lead to depression and anxiety.

Overall, I am not blaming my advisor, instead I chose blame myself and think over the following questions:

  • Where did I do wrong? What did I do to deserve all this?
  • Why did I start PhD journey?
  • Did I lost most important years of my life for nothing?
  • If I have chosen a different advisor, would it be the same?

All these let me to realize that I actually not capable enough mentally and emotionally to be successful in PhD or even in any job from now on.

=> Should I conclude that I am not capable enough to do PhD with the words of my advisor? or Should I give myself another chance?

Note: If this is not a proper question to ask, I can delete right away.

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    Your advisor is abusive, nobody will disagree with that. At this stage - 4.5 years - I assume you’re almost finished, so structural change might be difficult to come by. If you are not almost finished, you need to bring this to the attention of the department chair and request a solution be found. Do not allow yourself to be trampled on by anybody, regardless of their status. Tough love is one thing, blatant disrespect and abuse is another. – GrayLiterature Jun 25 '20 at 14:28
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    Based on experience with professors in your country, could you believe that most profs would behave like this? – user111388 Jun 25 '20 at 14:54
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    @no-one I don't know if this is applicable to your or not, but a lot of universities have open online training that they require their faculty to go through regarding ethical research conduct. A lot of times, there will be a session on how faculty and research PIs are to treat graduate students (i.e. mentorship sections). If you perhaps take this training, you may learn the university's expectations regarding how PIs are to treat grad students. If you have evidence that the professor has violated these expectations, then you may have a case for future complaints. This approach has helped me. – fuzzylowhand633 Jun 25 '20 at 19:30
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    "depression and anxiety." You should talk to a mental health professional about this. Advice from internet strangers is not appropriate for your situation. – Anonymous Physicist Jun 26 '20 at 1:31
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    @fuzzylowhand633: Thank you, I will look into this. But I think profs. are highly untouchable in our universities. I told my advisor that I get affected badly when he reacts me like this. For now, he is acting more calm down towards me. – no-one Jun 26 '20 at 10:29

Though I can't relate to your situation, I have friends who were in a similar situation during their Ph.D. They were mentally abused and constantly demeaned by their advisors. Though this behaviour is predominant in South Asian universities. But it's quite prevalent in many western universities too. However, all my friends who went through such hard times, they did one common thing, they persevered.

They did not lose hope and did whatever was necessary to get the degree. After they graduated, they went their own way and are leading happy lives years after graduating.

What I trying to say is, you know that you are hard-working and a good student. What you are going through is because of your circumstances. You have worked hard for the past 4.5 years on your Ph.D., don't lose hope now. Do what's required for being eligible to defend and then change your circumstances.

All these let me to realize that I actually not capable enough mentally and emotionally to be successful in PhD or even in any job from now on.

Don't focus on something that hasn't happened yet. Your job now is to complete your degree. Don't worry about the success and job at the moment. Those will come. You are capable, that's why you are in a grad school.


Should I conclude that I am not capable enough to do PhD with the words of my advisor? or Should I give myself another chance?

No you shouldn't conclude that you are incapable of doing a PhD. Whether or not you should give yourself another chance depends entirely on you. We can help you with identifying the salient points that should play a role in that decision. (More on this later)

Overall, I am not blaming my advisor

That shows that you are mature and capable of being critical of yourself. But your supervisor was abusive. That behavior you described is not normal and it should not take place anywhere, let alone a university. Your supervisor has a lot to be blamed of, keep that in mind.

All lead to depression and anxiety.

That is understandable. But please don't overlook this. We (or at least I) are not qualified to give you advice on how to deal with depression. But I can suggest you to go see a medical professional. Health, and in this particular case mental health, is important above all.

What options do I have?

It greatly depends on the university. In my university for example we have a "mentor," which is a professor assigned to you who checks in on you periodically and acts as a neutral party when you have problems.

For instance, I could go to my mentor and tell him "look, my supervisor is being abusive. Am I crazy or am I right? What can we do?" And he might suggest to change advisor, mediate the conflict etc...

Maybe you don't have such a figure. In another university we had a similar figure but it was more general, not assigned to you personally. Check if your university has such a thing and do go talk to them.

If not, you could consider changing supervisor. That of course depends on various things

  • How far along in your thesis you are. If you are almost done, it's probably not worth it.
  • Is your supervisor an influential professor in your department, or is s/he generally admired? In that case your next supervisor might resent you for the choice you made.

You might also consider changing university altogether but that would likely mean starting from scratch. Fresh starts are good, but also very energy consuming.

Given what you described, it seems that your supervisor is breaking ethical rules that nearly any university would have. You may look at the appropriate department in your university and seek to file a complaint. This is an action that you could take together with one of the previous two suggestions.

Finally you could also hang in there, hope to get a decent letter and start a postdoc in a better place. However you should check that your anxiety allows you to do this. If the situation becomes unbearable, don't try to resist it.

Should I continue academia?

Like I said, we are not going to make a decision for you, but consider these

  • Do you still love doing research and, in particular, do you love your particular area of research?
  • Would you like to teach at university level?
  • Do you believe that in a more supportive and encouraging environment you would be able to perform better?
  • Are there any other jobs that you would consider doing other than academia?
  • Have you taken under consideration alternative options, like leaving academia and returning at a later moment.¹

Answer to (not necessarily only) these questions sincerely to yourself and decide accordingly.

¹ Gaps in the resume might be hard to motivate and might get in the way of getting a job in academia after having left it. But, even though I cannot provide any examples from my experience, I don't think that it would be absolutely impossible to re-enter.

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