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I am average student completed my under-grad and grad studies successfully. I am doing PhD since mid 2015 (~7 years now).


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 people.

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. and throw in front of me saying: "See how good they are writing, you should write like them, but I don't understand what you write."

  • I have three other Ph.D. students, I have to work on their papers, thesis, I have classes to teach. I don't time for you. But later, I learn that he was actually working on some other projects that he get fund from.

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."
  • "Doing Ph.D. is not meant for you, you don't have enough capacity for it."
  • "I cannot compile you."
  • "I will give you 'F' if you won't complete your paper in 4 weeks."
  • "I don't believe that you implemented and tested your code" // I have actually done
  • "If I want I can help his journal paper but I will never put a single character on his journal" with a small smile on his face

Everything boiled up when I get F from my progress at Fall 2018 on my PhD studies. All lead to depression and anxiety.

Then pandemic started in 2019. I have semester multiple semesters and enter into progress again in beginning of 2022 and jury gave me F again and threated me that if I don't submit my journal paper till next semester they will give me the second F and kick me out. Since then, I completely disconnected from my advisor, start to fear from him, but keep working on my journal.

I have completed my paper and shared with my advisor 8 months ago, and updated version 2 months ago -- but there is no response from my advisor. When I see him face to face, he told me that he was busy and have to work for his other students' projects. He is completely ghosting me and does not even response back to my e-mails.

=> If he allows me to submit my work to a journal; and if I complete my second journal in this semester (~within 4 months) there is a hope that I am approaching to graduation. If I cannot submit my journal in this month I think the everything is over.

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 am actually not mentally and emotionally capable enough to be successful in PhD or even in any job from now on related to computer science and coding. I feel like have invested nearly 15 years (sum of undergrad and grad studies) of my life for something I am not worth of. And probably when I kicked out from PhD I will never ever code again.

=> 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?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 28, 2022 at 22:23
  • What country is this? May 4, 2023 at 20:05
  • 1
    @DanielR.Collins One of the best university in Turkey called "Boğaziçi University". Department has ABET accreditation. I returned back from States to complete my Ph.D. in this university, worst decision in my life.
    – no-one
    May 5, 2023 at 10:03
  • What language are the journal articles, thesis written in (Turkish, English, something else)? Is that the same as the classes at the university? May 5, 2023 at 15:02
  • 1
    @Daniel R. Collins Moderators here warn me not to write more regarding my question, I don't want to put them in bad situation. // Yes sir, journal articles, thesis, defence, class everything is all in English. But we interact with our teachers speaking in Turkish. One of the bottleneck I am having is even I completed my 12 page journal my advisor does not even read it and says its unreadable due to a mathematical notations and model section is not that clear on his end.
    – no-one
    May 6, 2023 at 9:19

2 Answers 2

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+50

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.

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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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