I have been working as a postdoc with my PhD advisor since June 202O. Since March 2021, my funding comes from an industrial project X that is very new to me. I never worked with the simulation technique before. I spent March and April to install the software, trying out basic examples and understanding the theoretical foundation.

Since May, I have not worked on the X project. I have been working on my projects from last year and other collaborative works, which has resulted in the submission of one first author paper and two co-authored (2nd author) papers. And, I am also finishing writing up the first draft for another first author paper.

In addition, I have been feeling homesick and unmotivated for the past 6 months. I have barely worked 20 hours/week for the past 3 months.

I have had meetings with my advisor and the industrial partners every month since March and I have been presenting the theory or just some basic stuff. I am yet to do actual work on the project. I was planning to complete a majority of the work by August end. Now, I am totally at loss.

I am afraid I am going to be fired. How do I get out of this? My contract ends in June next year and I have nowhere else to go this year if I get fired!

What can I say to my advisor and the industrial partners? Should I tell them the truth during the next meeting (to be held next Wednesday) that I have not worked on the project for the past 3 months?

2 Answers 2


Talk with your supervisor first.

Sure, you're behind schedule because of working an inadequate number of hours over an extended period of time, but you know what won't help? Covering it up and pretending everything's fine until the deadline comes and there's nothing to show for it.

Come clean, talk to your academic supervisor, and work out a plan for the two of you to meet the requirements of your industry partner in time to deliver something to them. I imagine that one of the steps of this process would be to increase your hours up to the equivalent of full-time work!


I would just start working and on the next meeting honestly present what you have done (installing the software, trying out basic examples and understanding the theoretical foundation counts towards that though your partners would, probably, expect a bit more) and what is the next stage (I hope that you haven't made the mistake of claiming that something that you haven't touched yet is ready and functional; that would really screw things up). You don't need to state it explicitly that you didn't touch the project for 3 months or to explain all reasons for why the things go slowly unless somebody asks directly, but you certainly need to give your partners a very clear idea of where you stand now, what has already been accomplished, and what difficulties you are currently facing in the process, and that is something that should normally be done during every meeting from now on.

If you can get something working by the time of the next meeting and present it, it will surely allow you to avoid many awkward questions. It doesn't matter whether it is big or small, just make sure that it works and goes beyond "general theory and basic stuff" you talked about all the time before.

How much to disclose to your advisor beyond this on your own accord depends on your relationship with him/her. Just play it by ear and be reasonably honest (meaning "always say the truth, but, perhaps, not the whole truth"). If you are new to simulations, your advisor should be aware of that, so you'll get some "discount" based on this fact. In general, normal people understand that hiccups and delays may occur now and then for whatever reasons and have learned to tolerate them. What they usually don't tolerate is either complete stalls, or false progress reports.

Setting up a work plan with your advisor, as nick012000 suggested, is a great idea regardless of whether you are falling behind or not, so you can just approach him/her with "Here is where I stand now; the things go slower than I expected, so I got a feeling that I need a clear plan and some of your help to meet the deadlines; what can we do?". I believe that your advisor is more interested in having the project completed than in finding someone to blame for its failure, so he or she would spend most time discussing with you how to get things done rather than why they haven't been done 3 months ago in that case.

Good luck with straightening things out :-)

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