I'm working on a Masters thesis and have been feeling really uneasy since working with my supervisor. From the beginning, she would not discuss expectations, and given the exploratory nature of the topic, I thought that was odd especially since it's in the guidelines that supervisors are supposed to set expectations. When I hesitated to accept the topic, she insisted that since the work is beneficial for her company (usually she just supervises students whose work she does not care or get involved with from what I've heard) that she would be able help me.

Long story short, a lot of problems happened and I could not work with her data without her. I really don't think she even thought the topic, which she offered to me, through. Several times I got the impression that I could not trust her. I even thought about changing topics and she found out. Although she was polite about it, I think she really wanted me to continue because she had told others that this was going to get done. I tried to stay positive and we made progress but now at the last moment she drops a bombshell saying I'm supposed to do and understand some difficult analysis which I have never seen from her or anything I've read, let alone learned how to do this. She's going through it like it's nothing and telling me it's basic and I'm telling her I'm not going to be able to learn/do this in time. She tells me that even the program expects me to understand this, which I don't think is true if I haven't even seen it before. She even mentions that her other students have done it and have had no problems with it, so I looked into this and saw only one person who had done a thesis using the same method with her. Except this person did something not even remotely close to the level of difficulty I was doing, and the amount of work was nothing comparable to mine. Yet whenever I speak with her she constantly implies that I haven't done much, aren't willing to much, and that my abilities are not up to par.

So, I am really confused what is happening. A part of me thinks I'm being abused and wants to report her, but I'm not sure what the consequences of that would be. I'm afraid that I might have to start over with a new topic and that other professors won't want to work with me (and that she won't even be reprimanded). Another part of me wants to give her the benefit of the doubt and just try to complete the work (maybe later make a complaint if I fail) but I also don't really want to do the work only to find out that she fails me.

TL;DR. If my supervisor is having having different expectations for me (much more and harder work), how should I approach this? Is this allowed and can she fail me while passing others? (European university)

Does anyone know anything about laws surrounding european universities and could maybe take this into consideration?

Also, should I tell her about the other student's work that she passed?

Thank you.

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    The wording is so vague this is barely understandable. Jul 4, 2022 at 1:18
  • isn't that what the summary question is for...? Jul 4, 2022 at 2:06
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    The questions at the end are the sort of thing we might be able to help with. Consider changing the title to something like “my supervisor expects much more from me than the other students, presumably because they want my work for their start-up. How to approach this?” (and focusing the rest of the post around this aspect of the question). (Edit: Now that there is a good answer to the existing question, you should do this is a new post, or by editing your old closed question, rather than making huge changes to this question)
    – cag51
    Jul 4, 2022 at 3:13
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    "...should I tell her about the other student's work that she passed?" - Yes, you can talk to her in a calm and professional setting, and NOT in a confrontational tone (that implies "Hey, I think you abuse me" or "You lie to me and exploit me"). The purpose of that meeting should be for your understanding and for her to explain her points, and to build the bridge between you and your advisor. The goal of that meeting should not be to cause any conflict between you and your advisor. Jul 4, 2022 at 7:21
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    "Does anyone know anything about laws surrounding european universities" You mean laws which apply, for instance, to Autonomous University of Madrid, University of Oxford, Open University, ETH Zurich, École normale supérieure in Paris, Moscow State University, Istanbul University, and Kyiv Polytechnic Institute? No offence, but I am continuously wondering what makes people who live in a European country believe that higher education throughout europe were so homogeneous or unified that such a question would make sense. Jul 4, 2022 at 8:30

1 Answer 1


If my supervisor is exploiting and abusing me, what should I do? (European university)

If you are sure your supervisor is exploiting and abusing you, then you can escalate the dispute. Note the word "escalate". The consequences will be serious, and there's a good chance your relationship with your supervisor will never recover.

You can check your local university's procedures about how to escalate. Here's an example from University College Cork, Ireland, and should be typical.

The guiding principle of this policy is that parties should seek to resolve disputes at the most local level possible, and avoid escalating the issue unless it is unavoidable. In addition, disputes should be resolved at the earliest available opportunity, as this is likely to be more conducive to a satisfactory outcome.

It is recommended that students, in the first instance, make a reasonable effort to resolve the matter causing concern informally through contact with their supervisor(s).

If this does not resolve the difficulty or is inappropriate, then the student should contact one of the following:

  • Co-supervisor or advisor; or

  • Chair of the local Graduate Studies Committee (who may, at his/her discretion, consult with the Head of School/Department).

Should the matter still not be resolved, then the student should contact one of the following:

  • Head of School/Department; or
  • Head of Graduate School of your College.

The document goes on to say what happens if none of these manage to resolve the dispute. You then have to prepare a formal complaint, which will be heard by a board in a style not dissimilar to a legal case. Your supervisor will get to defend themselves and possibly file counter-complaints against you. The board will deliberate and produce a recommendation, which can lead to change of supervisor, change of working environment, or change of your student status.

I'd recommend making pretty damn sure that "my supervisor is exploiting and abusing me" is a true statement before proceeding, because if the board finds against you, your academic career is probably over.

Good luck.

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