I have two advisers. One primary adviser (PA) is from my department. The second adviser (SA) is from another department. The PA appointed the SA (as my co-adviser) unofficially without asking me 2-3 years ago. However, the SA is not my adviser on paper.

I wrote 5 chapters out of 6 (the conclusion is left). They like my argument. They like the chapters I sent them. 3 chapters are approved by them in email and by phone. I am editing chapters 4 and 5 they liked.

In an email, PA suggested I extend my program into Fall 2021. I said I do not agree with this date when my chapters are written. I did not see my family for more than a year due to COVID restrictions and because I worked only on the dissertation. Like anyone else, this impacts my well-being.

PA was not helpful in their email. The PA emailed again apologizing for the PA's email earlier. The PA proposed a meeting to get this dissertation to the finish line.

The PA at the meeting apologized for her badly worded email again and told me "send the full dissertation draft by "a date" so we can work on it.

When the day came recently, the SA responded to my email and said "do not send us the full draft." I said, "but the PA asked me to do this." The PA denied the PA said something like that at all.

What lines can I use to convince a department head to take my case and really pressure both the PA and the SA for a defense date at the end of August 2021?

Info about Me:

  • is at an R1 university in the US
  • deemed active, good, and successful.
  • has their dissrtation's contribution to the literature ready.
  • does not need reference letters by the PA and the SA to survive after grad school.
  • The process for scheduling a defense varies by region; what country is your university located in? Jun 7, 2021 at 8:28
  • 7
    Defacing your post is extremely rude to those who spent time responding to it. Jun 7, 2021 at 10:01
  • 2
    Please do not deface posts after receiving answers. You can edit to remove anything that's too specific if necessary, and if something is sensitive you can flag for moderator attention to get it removed from the post history. Please see this for further details.
    – GoodDeeds
    Jun 7, 2021 at 10:25
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    Sorry everyone; I do not know how this site works. I anonymized details. Thanks for your input. I did not mean to be rude but erase my identity. I guess I could just edit it but I had no idea at the moment.
    – Florence D
    Jun 7, 2021 at 11:41

1 Answer 1


I can’t think of much more than you can do other than to present your case to the department head calmly and clearly (much as you have done here). But here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. There are two sides to every story. The department head would likely want to hear the other side’s version as well, so you should not take it for granted that your version will be deemed the official or correct one.

  2. Even if PA did say to send her the draft by a certain date, she might have forgotten (especially since this was not documented in writing) — so one should not assume malicious behavior when there may be more innocent explanations. And she might actually have changed her mind and could legitimately think now that you need more time to finish your dissertation. Even if she is lying about not saying that, for example out of embarrassment and not wanting to admit that she changed her mind, it would not make her current position invalid from the department head’s point of view (although it is of course an inappropriate thing to do - but my point is it’s inappropriate in a way that doesn’t necessary strengthen your case that you should be allowed to graduate this summer).

  3. Department heads are not as powerful as you might think. Even with the best of intentions and a desire to help you, the department head may have a limited ability to pressure a faculty member on a matter such as this, particularly if the faculty member is senior. The power wielded by department heads is usually a kind of “soft power”: the fact that they are generally seen as sensible, trustworthy people whom people respect and who hold a modest amount of authority. So whether your adviser will listen to the head depends on local department politics, the specific personalities involved and various other factors.

I am sympathetic to your desire to see your family, but in academia if your adviser doesn’t think your work is at the level where they are ready to approve your dissertation yet, it’s really their call to make, not the department head’s. Anyway, good luck!

  • 1
    +1 for the "if your adviser doesn’t think your work is at the level where they are ready to approve your dissertation yet, it’s really their call " part.
    – sleepy
    Jun 7, 2021 at 8:14
  • Thank you. I guess I will go back to my country. Probably defend there since I am not good enough for the United States. I guess...
    – Florence D
    Jun 7, 2021 at 11:42
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    @FlorenceD it may still be worth talking to the department head, I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. Perhaps they do have some influence, or they will see a solution to your problem that were not seeing. Good luck.
    – Dan Romik
    Jun 7, 2021 at 13:32
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    @FlorenceD I would separate the issue of quality of work from the personal wellbeing issues; you seem to entwine them. It does not seem that your work is not promising to be at the desired level, only that it may not be there in the time frame you insist it should be. The advisors are the ones who aim to help you make your work achieve the appropriate level of quality. It's understandable that you want to see your family, but you should detach your desire for being able to visit your family from the requirements of the PhD work. Perhaps you can get a visitation visa break for the summer? Jun 7, 2021 at 14:59

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