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If I make a formal complaint against my PhD supervisor, where I have evidence of them failing to comply with university policy in Australia, is it reasonable to be afraid that they could essentially try to "blacklist" me (or any other repercussion), as I'm in a close-knit field? Are formal complaints even taken seriously?

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  • Of course that's reasonable. Your question should be if that is a valid concern and how to mitigate the risk.
    – Roland
    Jul 20 '21 at 14:30
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    What regulations are they breaking, and why is this so important to you? Jul 20 '21 at 14:56
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    By the time you get to filing a formal complaint, all bets are off - the relationship is broken.
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 20 '21 at 15:55
  • I agree with the previous comment. I suggest you make the complaint after you've changed supervisor. If you want your supervisor to change his/her behavior and still continue to working with him/her, then do it informally. Jul 20 '21 at 21:56
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Assuming that Australia is like most other places, yes it is reasonable to afraid, as well as potentially dangerous to your career. If someone is not adhering to policy in some area, they may well be someone who thinks more highly of themselves than is warranted and will brook no contrary talk, especially a perceived attack.

In general it is a bad idea to get into a serious dispute with your advisor. They can hurt you in a lot of ways if so inclined.

However, if their breaking policy affects you directly, then you might explore other options than a direct assault to get your needs met. It may be that a "quiet word" with someone would be more safe and effective than a confrontation. A department head, dean, or even another faculty member, perhaps.

But, if you are willing to change advisors and even universities in an extreme case then there aren't likely to be long term consequences, though it is possible for an especially powerful-evil advisor.

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    Even if the advisor is professional enough not to respond by actively trying to 'hurt you', it seems inevitable that making a formal complaint against them is likely to obliterate any sense of goodwill that currently exists. Rightly or wrongly, many things in academia are much easier if you have a supervisor who is willing to support you and put in effort on your behalf.
    – avid
    Jul 20 '21 at 15:45
  • Agree that if a formal complaint is necessary, it's time to request a change of supervisors, and it may be worth considering whether that change of supervisors is enough to resolve the issue to OP's satisfaction. OP has every right to make a formal complaint if the supervisor has violated policy, but shouldn't feel obligated to do so if the personal/professional costs are too high. (Assuming this is a "supervisor is being a jerk to me" kind of issue, and not a "supervisor is doing unauthorised human subjects experiments" level of misconduct, anyway!) Jul 21 '21 at 1:05
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The big issue here is that most of the important things that an advisor does are well beyond what is formally required of them. An advisor doing a kind of "work-to-rule" is not going to be an effective advisor for you. If there's really no way to work out this situation directly with the advisor, or at worst some sort of informal meeting with the director of graduate studies, it seems likely that you will need a new advisor. The concern you ask about (getting "blacklisted") is not really the main thing to be concerned about and is much less likely, they're unlikely to advocate for you but it's relatively unlikely that they'll take on some kind of time-consuming vendetta. That said, you do need someone to advocate for you, which is why you'd need to look for a new advisor if your relationship with this one has completely broken down.

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