I'm a second-year (almost third-year) PhD student having serious trouble due to lack of scientific direction. I initially worked well with my supervisor, but when COVID hit she essentially ghosted the research group for some months and has been irregularly present ever since. Lately, I've noticed that she seems checked out when I talk to her and so I started explicitly asking for clarification as to what exactly I should be working on whenever I see her. Unfortunately, this strategy has been foiled by my supervisor changing tacks about every 2-4 weeks. For example:
-Conversation 1: "You should focus on x, then do y. Do not include z until those first two are set."
-Conversation 2: "Actually doing q is a good idea, let's work on q together (for a month)!"
-Conversation 3: "What you should present at the conference (in 2 weeks)? Show the data on z, that is the most interesting aspect of the project."
-Conversation 4: "No, you should not work on q anymore, that needs to happen in parallel to z."
-Conversation 5 (after someone at a conference explicitly called attention to my lack of including y): "I understand you are asking to work on y but I think you should try to extend x. But I suppose you can include y."
-Conversation 6, only one(!) day after Conversation 5: "What do you mean about doing y, you should do your whole project without y. Also you should work on a paper with (random collaborator) on k! And actually you should also do/have done x completely differently!"
This is pretty frustrating since all the "x,y,z,q..."s I mentioned tend to be at least partially exclusive and take at least 2 months to complete, so I have sunk a lot of work into projects that are half-done. If I work on something that has lost my supervisor's interest, I don't get feedback, which makes it difficult to wrap up anything. My project is also related to two different collaborations, at least one of which seems a bit pissed off and is now proceeding to publish without our input. (The other one has shifted to emailing only me directly now, which is helpful, but I know my supervisor left the first set hanging at least once/tends to view answering emails as highly optional so I kinda get where they're coming from).
In terms of other people to talk to, our group only has one postdoc, who tends to take about a week to answer emails and is not very forthcoming in terms of mentoring PhD students. The other two PhD students in my group are close to graduation, and struggle with the same issue in the short-term (e.g. getting told to write an answer to referees disagreeing with the corrections on an article, then getting criticised for not having applied the corrections) but have already set the main academic direction of their project.
I'm not really sure how to handle this: should I confront my supervisor about the inconsistencies? Trying to set another meeting to talk long-term goals? Just do whatever I think is best and hope I don't mess up too badly without feedback? My supervisor doesn't always take criticism well, and I'm afraid that I'll just get blamed for being a bad student because I haven't produced anything publishable in a year.