I had asked a similar question after six months into my current PhD. Then, the question was too dependent on individual factors and hence the question was closed. I will briefly explain the situation now after almost a year and a half.


  1. I managed to do a detailed literature review and found my research questions. I passed my one year review.

  2. A lot of reading just before the review helped me improve both professionally and personally. I moved through to formulate the narrow scope of research by myself.

  3. I have a simplified boiled down model of the questions in hand. Two other researchers also like the idea of the narrow scope and they are positive that I can solve it.


  1. Discouraging environment. Supervisor doesn't know the topic more. Not supportive of creative ideas. Always wants me to remain under his shoes.

  2. The research is so isolated. Buying other researchers' time is not feasible always.

  3. Supervisor's history is also bad. More than 60% of the students had left under him. Rest had inter-department projects.

  4. Lack of motivation because the research area is deliberately redirected towards something that I don't enjoy.


The reason I asked this is because I want to finish my PhD in time (within two and a half years more). I see the research areas and videos of other places (that interest me) and I feel like I should do those things. At the same time, I feel like I should by hook or by crook finish this PhD and get a very good profile and get to the domain I want after two and a half years. This is because I don't have any publications yet. I do have one very good journal paper in the process, which was from my master thesis (Not related to my PhD).

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    Maybe it doesn't make a difference, but what subject?
    – Person
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 0:33
  • 1
    @Person It is a subject related to radar electromagnetic (EM) signal processing. The direction I am going for is more statistical signal processing now to solve a real-life problem using radar echoes. The area that interests me more is pure EM and physics-related things with EM.
    – CfourPiO
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 0:46
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    "Does it really matter how long the text is?" I don't think there is anything wrong with a really long question, but writing this much I think can unfortunately make people want to invest their time on more accessible ones. Besides, you can always edit more detail in if people ask for clarification :)
    – Person
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 1:04
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    I added an answer; I hope you find it helpful. However, I think you may find our site more useful and less frustrating if you check out a bit about our "ethos": for example, this article and/or this one. The very short summary is that well-received questions here tend to be "boiled down" or "factorized" to the point where they could potentially help other people in the future who have the same problem (just like StackOverflow).
    – cag51
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 6:52
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    Please explain: The research is so isolated. Buying other researchers' time is not feasible always.
    – Trunk
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 14:23

3 Answers 3


Normally your supervision situation should call for at the very least some level of concern from your institution. Even if changing supervisor is not possible, I'd say that having at least some form of co-supervision (even informal) could help, even only to avoid being stuck in a toxic relationship with this supervisor. Don't hesitate to go at the level of university ombudsman for advice, because quite often people at the department level are reluctant to go against a colleague they meet every day (and that they will probably keep meeting after you finish your PhD).

That being said, imho your glass is more than half-full:

  • Most PhD student discover towards the middle or end of their PhD.that their supervisor is not as knowledgeable as they were imagining. Sometimes it's a worrying realization. You've already reached this stage, so you don't have any false hope and the bad surprise is behind you.
  • Many PhD students have some kind of relational difficulties with their supervisor. It's certainly not ideal, but apparently you've managed fairly well with this so far.
  • You're clearly capable of doing your work autonomously, and you're progressing your PhD well despite the supervision issues. To me this means that you're significantly more mature than the average PhD student.

Imho the main problem is that you seem a bit (?) depressed, and while this is also common it's not a good idea to let your mental health deteriorate. The usual advice applies: try to take care if it with a professional if possible, and at least don't forget to manage your time so that you keep some real personal time off work.

About the main question, be careful that the grass always look greener elsewhere. From a very distant point of view, I'd say that you're on the right track to achieve a perfectly decent PhD in your current position, but obviously I'm not in your shoes. And let's face it, to you I'm just a stranger on the Internet ;)

  • I wonder how he could be on the right track to achieve a perfectly decent PhD when he feels that his supervisor always wants him to remain under his shoes.
    – Trunk
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 14:22
  • Thank you for the answer. I will try to maneuver. The grass is always greener I agree. To be prepared for the worst, I'll judge it for next few months. If I see that my efforts are not getting recognised and it's too difficult to get past them, I'll go for something else and won't fight through it. If I get some results by discussing with the people who know the direction well, I'll proceed and finish the PhD in time.
    – CfourPiO
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 16:22
  • @Erwan for mental health, when you mention to take professional help, do you mean consulting a psychologist?
    – CfourPiO
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 16:28
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    @CfourPiO yes, this is what I mean. Obviously it's up to you, but whatever direction you choose, preserving your mental health is crucial. Note that some institutions offer free counseling services.
    – Erwan
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 18:41

Only you can make this decision. But, I think there are two deciding factors that you should definitely reflect on.

(1) Is it more important to you to have a good thesis, or a done thesis? Both are valid options! In particular, there are three possible outcomes:

  1. You choose the good thesis and end up getting a professorship
  2. You choose the good thesis and don't get a professorship -- but you get a permanent, high-paying, interesting job elsewhere
  3. You choose the "done thesis" and get the same job as in option #2

Opinions will vary, but I think the only bad outcome here is #2. Yes, you may get some satisfaction and knowledge from your "good thesis"....but the opportunity cost in money and time is very high. Further, you don't stop learning when you get your PhD. So personally, I would only advise choosing the good thesis if you want a faculty position and think you have a very realistic chance at it.

(2) What are the odds that you can successfully complete your PhD with your current supervisor?

The above discussion assumes that you can get your "done thesis" in 2.5 years as planned, while a "good thesis" would take 4+ years. But your situation may have deteriorated to the point where you will not be able to produce a satisfactory thesis without transferring, and/or your advisor will not accept a thesis from you even if it is satisfactory. In this case, proceeding with your PhD may require finding a new advisor, regardless of the other considerations.

  • Thank you for this answer. The 2.5 years is not exactly 2.5 years. I already have spent 1.5 years in my PhD. In total, it's a 4 year PhD. I can not change my supervisor and I've discussed this many times with the head (promotor). Based on your category, I want a good thesis, but probably not for a professorship. All I can do based on your opinion is to avoid all the suggestions by my supervisor and discuss progress with the people who know this direction.
    – CfourPiO
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 16:32

I think you have a very common problem.

Many PhD researchers are initially so aglow with the novelty and potentiality of being on an independent research programme that they are fearful of challenging the quirks, wilfulness and, sadly occasionally, the naked narcissism of a supervisor. They often bury themselves in work and reading through the first winter. But the basic problem remains and has to be confronted.

You have to go to your supervisor first - and with a lot more determination this time - and get him to see and appreciate the work-plan you have determined. If to your mind he is not sufficiently engaged, then you must go to the Head of Department and seek a change of supervisor.

  • Thank you for the answer. I know some master students who dealt with the same supervisor. I know how agressive they were with the supervisor because he wasn't appreciative. I'm the one who's always calm with him and I don't like to fight. That's why I went to the head promotor) and complained. I have realised that I can't remove him as my supervisor. I have tried to make him appreciate my plan and ideas. However, he has his own ideas (I've worked on some and they weren't sufficient and very basic and vague). If I don't follow them, I'm already a bad researcher to him. My plan doesn't matter.
    – CfourPiO
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 16:37
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    Okay then I think that is it with this thesis topic and this supervisor: it's over because you can't proceed with this guy and you can't do it without meaningful supervision. You have learned how important a supervisor is. Choose better next time.
    – Trunk
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 20:22
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    I (and I expect all readers of this post) really do understand the heartbreak of this conclusion. The stark unfairness of it. The cynicism of the academic system allowing it. And the sense that it could all happen again. Right now, you have to speak with someone who knows you well about this. Preferably someone who has been through postgrad themselves. Also with your parents, if this is possible. Don't forget that you still haven't lost your own abilities and your work to date shows this. Take a bit of time off doing something affordable you've always enjoyed. Then reconsider your options.
    – Trunk
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 12:51

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