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I am a first-year Ph.D. student in an engineering field in my home country, and my Ph.D. supervisor is my master's supervisor.

The central problem is that he is very busy with administrative work, thus he has no time to guide his students. I must emphasize that this is very common, at least in my school (though I don't consider this to be right), so other students in the research group seem to accept the fact.

Also, there are other problems:

  1. I don't like the environment. I used to be a master's student for the same supervisor, but I was basically guided by another supervisor in another institution since I was working on a cooperative project. Thus I was not familiar with the current research group when I applied for the Ph.D. candidate. The supervisor has more than 30 students with around 10 Ph.D. students, thus the resources are very limited, and everything can be competitive (this is quite common in my country). The master's students seem to be very antiforeign for some reason. Though I don't really have to be close to them, it kind of irritates me.

  2. No money, the dormitory sucks, and the administrative department is not helpful.

Actually, I have reached out to the supervisor that I decided to quit after two months since I got in. But he persuaded me not to do that and promised me he would make some changes.

I have talked to one of the Ph.D. students in this group, and she also persuaded me not to do that because there are plenty of ways to get instructions. So anyway I decided to stay at that time.

But the central problem cannot be solved, and I have to be on my own to start my project with very limited help.

All I want is to get basic and systematic scientific training from a supervisor who is prominent in my field. The current situation is quite the opposite.

If I quit, I would apply for another Ph.D. project in another country (I am so sick of the environment in this field of this country). I want to know the situations in countries other than China: the majority of supervisors would give basic instructions or not, and how they treat students.

I'm almost 24 years old, and I think I can afford to quit and wait for another year. Anyway, there are plenty of struggles for me, as no one would support me to quit, and the language barrier (I have never been abroad), and whether I am qualified to get into a project.

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    I think this is an open-ended question that can receive answers ranging from not quitting to quitting and from moving to another country to staying. The situation you are describing can happen in any country. I had friends (in the US) with supervisors serving as Deans or presidents of colleges. You can never receive mentoring from supervisors like that (because they lack the time). Plus, learning to work independently is the whole point of a Ph.D. education so you might as well take that as a positive :)
    – cconsta1
    Apr 9, 2023 at 7:56
  • I think this question is probably too open-ended as is. But if you have a specific field of study and region that you'd like to ask about the typical size and feel of research groups from the perspective of a PhD student, that might work.
    – user137975
    Apr 9, 2023 at 16:34
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    Thanks for sharing your experience @cconsta1, which kind of comforts me that it's not the only situation in China. And really appreciate your positive attitude!
    – Lorraine
    Apr 12, 2023 at 6:27

2 Answers 2

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Hope you're doing well.

(Sorry for the length of my intervention)

I won't advise you to quit or stay, but I can just tell you that you're the only one who knows what is good or bad for you.

  • First thing first: As a PhD student you must have or build the ability to work independently (for most of the time without supervision). Since the moment you start your master, you must start build this ability or improve it. Here in my country and particularly in my University, a master student who doesn't know how to work independently will probably never defend his end of study dissertation because about 90% of supervisors will never ask you what level you are with your dissertation or how you're progressing. The student is the one who must contact him to show the progression of work and even suggest improvements 😅.

  • If you aren't comfortable with the environment and your security and/or health can be in danger, then you know what you have to do.

  • Don't already stuck on the idea that language is a barrier. As far as you can learn new concepts and notions in your field of specialization, why not do the same for a foreign language?!

In all cases, take the right decision (the one you think is right) for your good.

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  • Thank you for the huge help, ADJ. Point 1 seems to be very important as presented in every answer to my question, and I highly agree with that. Actually, I have intentionally tried building my ability to work independently since got into the Ph.D. program. But it was so hard as I am completely new to this field. Anyway, I will persist in doing this for your encouragement, and see what will change.
    – Lorraine
    Apr 12, 2023 at 6:40
  • And Point 3 in your answer can be very illustrative for me. As from a non-English country, things used to be difficult for me in reading, listening and especially speaking, but I appreciate your idea that language is not a barrier but a new perspective to learning new things. Thanks a lot.
    – Lorraine
    Apr 12, 2023 at 6:45
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When I was first looking for graduate programs, I met a post doc and asked him what he advise someone starting out in grad school. He simply said "pick the right advisor". It sounds like you picked the right advisor for your masters program, but not for PhD.

The central problem is that he is very busy with administrative work, thus he has no time to guide his students. I must emphasize that this is very common, at least in my school (though I don't consider this to be right), so other students in the research group seem to accept the fact.

I know in some countries, as it seems in yours, this is normal; in others, its highly variable and really depends on the professor. This same post doc I met advised that in America, "star students go with professors who are writing their last book and are nearing retirement; doctoral students who would prefer a more active advisor should go for the recent hire, who will often involve them more and also have more time for them." It's not a hard and fast rule but by and large I've seen this to be the case, and might apply to you.

All I want is to get basic and systematic scientific training from a supervisor who is prominent in my field.

Given what I just said above, this might not be possible with your current advisor. Also, cconsta1 is right when they said that supervisors typically lack the time, and as you've already noticed,

The supervisor has more than 30 students with around 10 Ph.D. students, thus the resources are very limited, and everything can be competitive (this is quite common in my country).

That is a crazy busy life, not to mention the administrative work.

I'm almost 24 years old, and I think I can afford to quit and wait for another year. Anyway, there are plenty of struggles for me, as no one would support me to quit, and the language barrier (I have never been abroad), and whether I am qualified to get into a project.

Plenty of time. The real question is whether the best use of your time and energy is to find a different program/advisor, or whether you should bare knuckle it and learn on your own, and pretend as if you don't even have an advisor, because as you've noticed even when asking for more involvement, you still got none. If you still aren't sure where to start, maybe ask your advisor what textbooks he would recommend.

I wish you all the best.

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  • Yep! The real question is which is the best use of my time and energy, and this question can only be solved by myself. I should think more deeply about this question and figure out what I truly want. Really thank you for the detailed analysis of my question, you can't imagine how much help it is to me.
    – Lorraine
    Apr 12, 2023 at 6:53

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