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I am contemplating a PhD degree where an industry partner connected me with a senior lecturer at University.

I have full confidence in the said partner as their contributions to the discipline are many and have substantial dollar value attached to them. Put simply: they work on real-world problems and have proven ability to deliver complex projects.

That being said, I don't have a sense of connection with PhD supervisor. There are two major concerns:

  1. Their expertise is alarmingly non-technical given the directon of work. I have scrutinized their publications and was left wondering how much they can contribute to the subject matter. I was told there is no "research group" and supervisor expects PhD candidate to work in relative isolation.

  2. It has proven to be rather hard to have an open conversation with them regarding the project. I do receive a rare cold letter referring to "other candidates" though, so at least they are reading my e-mails.

Now, the problem is that I actually want to do the research. Despite the fact that I will need to move to a different state. Notwithstanding that I will live on a stipend that is <50% of what I was earning while working in the industry.

I believe this problem is of high importance and have few ideas on how we can improve current state-of-art. What I would appreciate from this community is an advice and their own experience that might relate to my situation.

Positive:

  • I might be able to create a positive impact in an area that (literally) saves lifes.

Negative:

  • Might turn out as 3 years of misery with apathetic PhD supervisor.
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    I've voted to close as this is too personal for someone to give you good advice. Some people can do it and others would not be able to succeed. If you are self-directed enough and have the background to carry on without needing an advisor it could work. But not a lot of people are like that, I think. Risky, perhaps, but you know yourself better than we do. And, do you have alternatives? Good luck.
    – Buffy
    Nov 30, 2023 at 12:50
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    @RJA before deciding anything, I would recommend an on-site visit to chat with the potential PhD supervisor. Also try to find contact information of their previous students / postdocs and ask them for an informal chat about the supervisor, location, etc. That should help you get a better feeling about the potential PhD.
    – user126108
    Nov 30, 2023 at 13:15
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    @RJA seconding leonos: look into the larger department and/or doctoral school as well. What is the framework like- if you have a cohort, thesis committee and larger supportive department, the involvement of your supervisor is lesser. Nov 30, 2023 at 13:28
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    @leonos, rather expensive given the distance and their expectionally tight schedule. I can't get a Zoom call with them, not to mention in-person meeting.
    – RJA
    Dec 1, 2023 at 9:04
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    @RJA if the potential future PhD supervisor cannot even find the time for a zoom call with you, that is a big red flag! Abort!
    – user126108
    Dec 1, 2023 at 10:14

2 Answers 2

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To sumarize your problem, the industry partner is ready to fund a PhD position, but their academic reference person is not responsive.

You have a simple choice in front of you:

  • if you are motivated to pursue a PhD, ask the industrial partner if they are open to look for another supervisor with your inputs (i.e.: you look for a receptive and possibly technically involved supervisor);
  • you take the money and you prepare for looking for another supervisor (risky: the current non-responsive supervisor will still be official PI with the industry money, they may feel overridden by you ... you risk finding yourself after some time in having a good external supervisor, but no funds)
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The advice I always give to those who are considering collaboration/supervision (especially to undergraduates and masters students) is that you can't just work well with the other person on a technical level. You need to be able to relate well to them as a human, as well, obvious as this might sound. Sometimes, both of these things are imbalanced, sometimes it's one more so than the other. So, I would look for another supervisor, in this case.

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