Recently I joined a Ph.D. program (1st year) and I have already been thinking of quitting multiple times. It comes and goes, but I am basically very disappointed of the intellectual and social standards of my supervisors. It starts to affect me and I feel like I am not doing well at all. For this reason, I want to reach out and talk through this, because I do not know anyone who I could really talk about this.

To give some context, I want to mention, that I have been studying hard in my Master's and therefore was able to achieve a perfect GPA. (Only one A and otherwise A+ throughout.) This came with a lot of revisioning lectures, correcting professors and their lecture notes, getting all the details down for exams and also doing research in my Master's thesis. Especially, I developed almost any idea in the thesis on my own and have just been working on what my idea was. My Master's thesis supervisor was happy about it and just did let me follow my ideas. We only met occasionally, I gave him updates and he trusted me. The thesis was fine and got an A+, especially because I did almost everything on my own. So, I find myself quite confident in my abilities and was excited to get started with my Ph.D. and to make this a great researching experience.

My Master thesis supervisor told me that he knows two more professors, I could continue my Ph.D. with and that he would offer me a position himself, if he had another free position left. Moreover, I think I would have had quite nice job opportunities with this transcript and next to that there is always an option to get into a business runned by my family. So I am feeling sometimes, that I decided very poorly. I almost regret getting to this new place.

But back in time: I wanted to follow a Ph.D. and moreover try to live in a new area, because I was living in the same city for Bachelor's and Master's. The Ph.D. project sounded very unique and interesting to me, because it incorporates different theories I had studied and was interested in. It felt almost like this position was made for me, so I was writing an application during the writing of my Master's thesis and got accepted. Actually, I thought this would only be an application to get familiarized with the application process, but it got accepted very fast. (It was only my second application.)

Now, as mentioned I am in my first year of my Ph.D. and I have developed almost some kind of aversion towards my supervisors. Especially one of them is very annoying and I do not want to meet her anymore. In meetings she is talking 80-90% of the time. She does not really care where things are going, but is just chaotically talking from her mind. After the meeting we mostly never end up with something fruitful.

She told me I should read her freshly released book as a start and to get going. However, this book is by far the worst book or script I have ever read. Even the easiest proofs (Bachelor’s and Master’s level) are done incorrectly. I have decided to not read this book, because this is not readable. That took some courage and I was letting that slide for some months, but the other supervisor eventually approved. So that is some of the first months down the drain.

Over time, she revealed the one or other questionable thing. For example, that she had copied some of the chapters of her Master’s students thesis. The „funny“ thing is, that we even met this student at some point. My supervisor then told the student: „She (pointing to me) did not like what you have written in your thesis.“ and to explain this „joke“ my supervisor mentioned to the student on the side, that she had copied some of the student’s chapters into her own book. Is this common to just copy parts of a students thesis and put it in your own book? That seems like complete fraud to me and this will most likely happen to myself in that case.

She also sometimes complains about collaborators that they are taking their time and it seems like she is trying to make it look like „we are on the same boat“. I believe she will not leave the best words about me neither, if she is talking like this about other people. She also mentioned at some point, that she just wants at least one paper with me, so she can justify that in front of some employment office or something. Just to tick one box of, so to speak...

I feel like this is really quite tactless behavior and I have not experienced that before with other supervisors. At least no one has ever just talked so openly about it as if it was nothing. Am I completely wrong here?

But moreover: I have not written a single piece of paper on research, because the guidance is so chaotic and unorganized, that I really just do not know, what I should read or what I should be working on. My impression is, that my supervisor do not really know themselves what they are trying to be working on. But I feel like the biggest thing that is holding me back, is that I dislike them for some of the above mentioned reasons. I do not want to be taken advantage of just like that and I think, this is another reason why I am not really working on things. There is not really building up trust here or I think it is even worse, that the trust is already broken at this point.

I do not fear quitting the program, but I do not know how to get into another program or a job after quitting. Also I was thinking, I just need to adjust to the new place. But then, on the other hand, I do not want to get used to this situation... Before my PhD, everything was going quite well, so I do not know, how a switch or a transition to another institute could be managed or if it is even possible. What options do I have? Do I just reapply for other programs and is that legit? What could I do and to whom should I talk to? Do people question me, if I act upon my own standards?

EDIT: Another bit of information is, that both have quite a lot of things going on in their private lifes and they have never had any PhD student before. Also, they seem to be very unprepared overall. We meet sometimes multiple times in a week and they seem to be not really informed about each other what should be happening. Then, it's really only them talking about some things vaguely and I mostly cannot contribute anything, because I do not know about any direction. As mentioned, I had written the application while writing my Master's thesis, so they had at least 3 to 4 months time to meet by themselves and prepare something. They could in fact discuss this on their own, but my impression is that they only ever meet up, when I am around in the meeting.

EDIT 2: I've addressed this multiple times to my first supervisor already. I even suggested that we should work on another project first in which she feels more comfortable, such that we can find a way to work with each other and create positive momentum. My impression is, that she did not really understand why I proposed this or why we should do this. Only after some back and forth she proposed several projects and said "We have these 3 options. I would probably take 2 or 3, but of course you decide." It's nice that she wants to give me options, but my main objective was, that she should pick something she is really comfortable with, such that we can get busy with something. She also feared that the other supervisor could feel left out. However, after some time this idea was dropped anyways and we are back to the original project. So nothing has changed really.

  • 2
    Welcome to Academia.SE. Unfortunately, your post is likely to be closed. Remember, our role is to give objective answers to general questions that others could potentially have in the future. I don't really see such a question in your post. It's one thing to give a few examples that help to illustrate the dilemma you're facing; it's another thing to tell your entire story. If you can, consider editing to boil this down to the key issue or tradeoff that you want advice about.
    – cag51
    Commented Feb 12 at 18:50
  • I’m voting to close this question because this is too long and discursive with excessive background --- get to the point with essential details and a clear question.
    – Ben
    Commented Feb 13 at 1:14

3 Answers 3


I hate to say it but the situation doesn't seem sustainable. You should consider changing programs, but, first, by talking to your old advisor who was helpful and supportive.

You probably still have access to other people who can write on your behalf and suggest alternatives. It might even be that your old advisor now has an opening, or expects one.

But, your current advisor sounds like someone interested only in their own career without sufficient focus on that of her students. She sounds very inexperienced at this.

If you stay, expect to do almost everything on your own. Some people can manage that. Others need more support. Consider your alternatives. Good luck.

  • Yes, I forgot, that both of my current supervisors haven't had any PhD students yet and I also know, that they currently have a lot in their private lifes going on. Commented Feb 11 at 14:10
  • Not a good situation for you. Not a high predictor of success unless you can manage it on your own and they won't interfere.
    – Buffy
    Commented Feb 11 at 14:11
  • Yes, this is sort of my whole point. I think I could probably do it on my own, but they are very chaotic. They sometimes want to meet multiple times in a week and try to tell me what I should be doing, even though - as I mentioned - I have quite some research experience and would like to keep working. It is really not enjoyable at the moment. Thank you for your answer. Commented Feb 11 at 14:15

I think there's a lot to untangle here.

First, you are unhappy with your supervisors and from what you describe here the frustration is understandable. It is unclear in how far you have already phrased your concerns with them and/or talked it over with your former supervisor (as suggested in another answer). Do both and do it ASAP and then decide if you see room for improvement.

Second, I am also getting mixed signals. You spend quite some time going detail on your independence and excellence as a Master student, but now you are a PhD student and you "really just do not know what I should read or what I should be working on". Do you feel/see the same freedom you saw as a Master student? Are your current supervisors preventing you from following your own track? Could it be that you yourself also find yourself in a new situation where things are unclear and it feels different because, well, it's a PhD and it's also in large part your responsibility now? It might also be beneficial to reflect on that. You cannot expect the perfect project or the perfect supervisor anywhere, probably.

Third: Do you really want to do the PhD? Not just here, but anywhere? You mention lots of other opportunities so be honest with yourself. Does your heart lie with research? Not forever, maybe, but at least for the next 4-6 years?


It is your PhD, your research, your topic. The purpose of studying Master by research is to train you to become a researcher. Sometimes supervisors may have specific topics and recruit PhD students for that... But most of the time, you would need your own...you need to develop your own research questions, and come up with options for the methodology. As supervisors, our role is to guide you... which includes ensuring the topic is doable (can be done in 3-4 years), novel (contribution to the knowledge), and follow scientific methods (methodology is correct). Your post has so much narrow irrelevant details which could be a sign that you haven't developed yet the skills to look at the big picture...My suggestion is to identify a topic that interests you and download and read everyday 5 journal articles on that topic for a week...then try to find a gap to work on...good luck


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