I have 3 advisors; two are great (main prof and a daily advisor) and one ('Jill') is not. Jill invited herself to my advisor team after coming back to work from a long medical leave and she's ready to Kick! Some! Butt! in the academic arena. The problem is that her help is not very helpful because:

  1. She is not directly involved in research and has little knowledge of my area so her feedback on my work is superficial, nitpicky or just plain useless.
  2. She is often late to our meetings which is annoying and a waste of time for me since the meetings are planned only for her benefit (I speak regularly with my daily advisor so he knows my progress but for some reason we have a weekly meeting with Jill as well).
  3. She is a Chatty Cathy and wants to make the office one big happy family. She's the kind of person who would judge you for being on the quieter side and make it her mission to prod you out of your shell.

I find her presence draining. She on the other hand is DESPERATE to help me and feel useful, so much so that it comes off as patronizing. Basically she treats me like her duckling.

I'm in my final months of writing and I just want to get my stuff done without having to involve her, but I can't get rid of her and don't want to burn bridges. The other advisors seem fine with her. How do I best manage this dynamic without going insane?

  • 13
    I know the type, we actually have our very own Jill in our office. They will devote hours to "help" students pick out the right fonts and colors for their presentations and make sure to single you out if you missed the "get cake together" meeting. Not saying bad intentions are involved, but Jill's personality doesn't mix up with everyone.
    – Miguel
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 18:27
  • 12
    Consider reposting this on interpersonal - this isn't at all specific to academia. Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 1:52
  • 4
    urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Chatty%20Cathy (in case others, too, were wondering)
    – Tommi
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 13:58
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    Claim you think you might have covid and she'll probably give you more space.
    – Uncle Iroh
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 15:52
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    Sorry. Hint taken. I'll back off. (! was only trying to help :-( )
    – Strawberry
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 16:33

5 Answers 5


Set a meeting with all three advisors, explain you'd like to focus entirely on the writing, and ask whether regular meetings can be replaced with less-regular meetings when you need support.

  • 4
    That is the best way. No personal feeling involved, I suppose the daily meeting with the advisor is informal so it will still take place, while the weekly meeting will be every two weeks and slowly fading out. For example, it does not hurt to send an email to Jill some days before the meeting stating "sorry Jill, I am behind with my schedule, i prefer to postpone our next week meeting" and CC'ing the first advisor ...
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 7:56

If she isn't a formal advisor you might just get by ignoring her. But if that doesn't seem right, I'd suggest working through one or both of your other advisors. They can quietly speak to her about the fact that her communications are disruptive and not helpful. It might be harmful for you to say the things they they can say comfortably. Let this be a faculty fight if a fight needs to occur, not a student v faculty issue.

  • 3
    Thanks Buffy, unfortunately she's officially on my supervisory team as a secondary co-advisor so it's hard to avoid her. She also doesn't do anything bad that I can complain about to my other advisors; they would see her as a helpful person. I think it's just that our personalities don't gel. I'd be happier if we could skip the weekly meetings and I could meet her specifically if/when I need help on something. I don't know how to frame this to someone who is obsessed with helping. Any advice?
    – seesaw
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 14:41
  • Can you get her to copy the other advisors on her communications? That might generate the needed actions without anything else from you, if the others get annoyed.
    – Buffy
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 14:50
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    @seesaw Surely becoming an advisor does not remove all someone's brain cells? ;-) If we here are able to see why your co-advisor is a problem, and not a "helpful person", surely your other advisors would be able to see this also, as long as you are careful about how you address it. Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 22:11
  • @GlennWillen, in my view, we only able to see it, because we accept there is something wrong with Jill. In practice, you cannot come to your adviser and claim that. All you can say is that your personalities do not gel, and this can be written off as your personal issue you need to work around yourself. Because from this reference point Jill did nothing wrong. Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 23:50

This sounds like a rather delicate matter. On the one hand, your request to not have your supervisory team shaken up while you are finishing your thesis is completely reasonable. On the other hand, if she was your supervisor before leaving it can be painful to come back from a long medical leave and see that your projects moved on to the extent that you aren't actually needed (or even useful) anymore.

If you have a healthy relationship to your main supervisor I would have a frank discussion with them. You should not complain, but saying that you feel that this de-facto change in your supervision isn't actually helping you is completely fair. However, as always in these matters, stick to the facts and leave out any speculation about her motives. Don't say or imply that she is desperate to help you or to feel useful. Just say that these additional meetings are draining your time and energy, and that you feel like you are not getting much feedback that is useful to you in this phase of the project.

Maybe your advisor will see the issue and talk gently to Jill, or maybe they won't. In the latter case, simply humouring her and sticking it out for the last few months is probably a better option than escalating this into a big conflict.

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    As a sidenote, I would also be slightly annoyed as your main advisor. I would generally not appreciate if people swoop in and decide to take my students "under their wing", because this implies that I am currently not doing my job.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 15:08

I'll be the one dissenting voice and suggest you look for the silver lining. Maybe the reason the other two advisors aren't pushing her out is because they also see the value of some grist in the mill. Life is about gleaning hidden lessons. Maybe she really does have something to contribute even if in a way you don't fully appreciate right now.

If her feedback is generally kind of useless it might be because she doesn't really understand what you're doing. If a member of your advisory panel doesn't understand then there is little hope for others outside your tight circle. Most academics work never gets out to affect the world because they write for an audience of 10 or at most 100 people in their field.

Just some thoughts. More than a comment. Less than an answer.


I've read the other answers and I don't think anyone else has mentioned the following.

This is a classic case of the old proverb, "too many cooks spoil the broth". Either that or you could present it that way.

You could explain that you simply find it confusing to get advice from so many sources and would prefer to limit this. Of course the risk is that you could lose one of the good ones. However if you present the matter as simply "too many cooks" and talk individually to the other advisers saying that you particularly like their help and you don't want to lose it, then there is no need to criticise anyone - all your words are positive.

This is just a suggestion and of course there are no guarantees in life that things work out perfectly. Good luck!

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