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I'm a PhD student and my supervisor complained several times before about me getting a bit more money than the rest of PhD students just because I'm a foreigner given the fact that the scholarship that I have is considered normal in Europe and in some other countries, students get paid double the amount. I got accepted with such a scholarship and the decision is from a higher position in the university.

What makes me upset is that my supervisor told me if it was up to him, he would have removed my scholarship. He also mentioned to me that I should be paying instead especially that I'm studying in English.

I try to just ignore that. He says that only rarely. But recently he was complaining that he's supposed to get paid for supervising me and I think he means that since I meet him normally once per week. He's very busy.

But he accepted me as his student so if he doesn't like that then he shouldn't have accepted me from the first place. And at the same time he doesn't like me to leave!

He's the type of person who is very direct and even though him saying all that doesn't change the situation - I will still get paid and he won't get money from supervision.

I was thinking about suggesting that he takes a small part from my scholarship but I don't think he or the university would accept that.

I'm just upset and feel disrespected to be spoken this way. In such situations, how should I behave? I know that arguing with him doesn't help.

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    I'm sorry this situation is happening to you. However, this question sounds like venting rather than eliciting a valuable response. What concrete question would you like us to address?
    – Ian
    Mar 4 at 22:49
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    ‘[M]y supervisor told me if it was up to him, he would have removed my scholarship.’ I wonder, like you do, whether this actually happened to anyone. Mar 5 at 2:00
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    How is your supervision otherwise? Are you supported in your work? Are you progressing well? Mar 5 at 16:22
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    @civitas The job duties and salary sources for a professor are sometimes a bit disconnected from each other, as are the concepts of what is required for the job versus what may come with some social expectations but no tangible incentives. Some people put in that position take on a lot of "extras" that they aren't really compensated for; others take advantage and do as little unrequired work as possible. Most fall somewhere in the middle.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 5 at 18:30
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    Whatever you decide, get proof, it will help have a leverage if things go terrible.
    – RomainL.
    Mar 5 at 19:49

4 Answers 4

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This situation sucks, but if it's just some shitty comments, then you need to just ignore it. Unless it's so bad that you feel compelled to switch advisors or leave the position. It seems like those are your only two options.

I was thinking about suggesting that he takes a small part from my scholarship but I don't think he or the university would accept that.

DO NOT DO THAT. Never, never, never even think about broaching that subject. There's so many things that could go wrong with that. It could look like you're offering a bribe. Worse, you could wind up actually paying a bribe. This is a third-rail issue that you must not touch.

Get your poker face on and absolutely ignore this kvetching.

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    It's probably worth emphasizing that the situation sucks and it's 100% the supervisor's fault that it sucks—the OP has done nothing wrong. Mar 5 at 21:54
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    If the poster just tries to ignore the supervisor's bad behavior, which sounds like bullying, there's a very high chance that the behavior will be repeated or escalated over a period of years. That could have a number of serious impacts for the poster. I think it's wiser to get a new supervisor.
    – Eggy
    Mar 6 at 0:23
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    "third-rail issue" - excellent picture. Mar 7 at 2:14
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    @Eggy OP is inexperienced, but clearly cool-headed. I think if it does not exceed the level of grumbling and the supervision is reasonably good, they can stay. But never, and I 265% agree with Daniel, never, ever offer to complement someone's flea-ridden budget. This is wrong on so many levels and in so many completely disparate situations, and certainly in the OP's. Mar 7 at 2:26
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My first thought reading your post is that this is a completely untenable situation and you should try to get out of it as quickly as possible by changing to a different supervisor. Someone who has contempt for you cannot be your advisor, you will rely on them for far too much: for day-to-day supervision, for recommendations for future jobs, for career and other advice, for support and encouragement to get through graduate school. Different supervisors provide each of these things at different levels and in different ways and there is no right balance for everyone, but I can't see how contempt is a useful ingredient for anyone. "Run, don't walk", to borrow a phrase from a long-time Academia.SE contributor that I haven't seen in awhile.

Another possibility is that this is indicative of some combination of social errors and perhaps even humor attempts. Maybe your supervisor is otherwise supportive of you but has just chosen a very very poor way of expressing discontent with a circumstance that is not really your fault. The inequity they point out - that different students receive different levels of support based on their home country - could be a legitimate complaint. You are the wrong person to issue that complaint to, but perhaps they're just a bit clueless about how this would affect you and don't mean any actual personal harm. Some of the other things you mention seem to support this possibility - that they've taken you on as a student, that they've expressed wanting you to stay, etc. You say arguing won't help, so I think if you believe this describes the situation I think your only option is to try your best to ignore it and focus on your work. You definitely should not offer any bit of your scholarship or any other compensation - as Daniel Collins points out this is too close to a bribe whether intended or not.

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    I agree with your well-phrased first paragraph. That's it in a nutshell.
    – Eggy
    Mar 6 at 0:28
  • I actually find him confusing. Sometimes he is encouraging and sometimes he's the opposite. I know he's not bad person. That's why I'm still with him. But he has problem with his personality. He says what's on his mind. For example, in my first year he told me that he doesn't think I'll be creative. This left me devastated for several days, thinking I'm stupid or something. So I confronted him and he replied he should have been diplomatic with me. I also again reminded him about it and he said I can do "standard work", so I think he means now there's no need to come up with something creative.
    – user134613
    Mar 6 at 9:28
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    My only solution is to be patient as he doesn't do this regularly at least. I learn to ignore this type of criticism/bullying. And just focus on my work.
    – user134613
    Mar 6 at 9:36
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    @user134613 as one gets closer to graduation, one expects more help from a professor - discussions of the thesis topic and content, strategy for defense, paperwork to be signed and filed, (presumably enthusiastic) letters of recommendation to be written and sent in a timely manner (i.e. before a deadline) to future positions... Have previous Ph.D. students had favorable outcomes from this supervisor or do others (if you enquire discretely) report having been "burned" at the end? Or are you the first? This is not sounding good to me.
    – uhoh
    Mar 6 at 22:23
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    For now I don't have a good alternative. His previous student also had problems with him, and she defended her thesis a bit late. She has been his student since her bachelor studies, and she told me I can't change him. Now she is his postdoc. I assume its possible to survive with him. I don't plan to stay working with him after my PhD.
    – user134613
    Mar 7 at 10:00
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I think if it's just ranting, there are such supervisors. However, if the supervisor seriously is trying to wheedle money out of a PhD student, that's utterly unacceptable.

Maybe your supervisor just has bad emotion regulation. But, understand: this is your money. You got it fair and square. If there is an imbalance in how much your supervisor has to work and how much they are paid - repeat after me - it's not your duty to fix that.

And, let's face it: a supervisor usually profits from a good PhD student. They are getting something out of the deal. Papers, results, progress. Your supervisor seems to have a freebie, a student with a scholarship. I assume so, since you did not mention that this scholarship was taken out of a pot that otherwise would have gone to, say, two other students of said supervisor.

Really, they have no reason to complain. If they just grumble, and it does not bother you too much, you may ignore it. But if it builds up, or leads to other and accumulating disadvantages, get out, and sooner rather than later!

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Do you think pressure on you will go away when you invested more time of your own into it and try to get your thesis accepted?

Let there be no mistake: If He/She gets paid from University and tries to extort money from students it is corruption, nothing else. Indicating from a paid position that doing their job depends on a student giving me money has nothing to do with "getting paid".

Also, if you pay you may commit scientific misconduct by creating an undeclared conflict of interest into them being your coauthors.

Two options

  1. Run. As soon as you can as fast as you can. - if you have another option and can take your scholarship with you. In case of doubt talk to the institution granting the scholarship on advice.

  2. Report them to the corresponding place for misconduct at your university - if there are other people which are capable of supervising your thesis ask for swapping out your supervisor - if you think the overall structure is ethical enough.

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