I have moved abroad to do a PhD in Europe (in a STEM field). Currently, I am in my second year, and I have realised that my supervisor has little to no knowledge about the fields (simulations and mainly physics) that I am working in. Whenever I ask him questions about these two things, he often replies with (if not every time): to be discussed at the meeting/ask others. Of course, he is not active in the meetings, where other team members instead reply and lead the discussion, where many times I feel that if he says anything, he is there to ask (introductory) questions to understand what I am doing, question my results and not replying with advice/papers. I interpret his replies as saying "I can't help you" or "I'm not interested in helping you." He has not managed to suggest a single relevant paper within either of my fields, although it would have been helpful given that I was quite new to both of those fields when starting my PhD and was expecting to receive help from my supervisor.

Given the unfortunate state of my PhD, I was at least hoping he would provide help from his expertise area (data/instruments) when comparing my simulations to the data. However, the reply I get is, you guessed it: "to be discussed on the meeting/ask others". This has led me to think about what he is any good for in my PhD. This has led to confusion, a lot of struggle, isolation, working alone, and not-so-quick progress. What I have managed to do in my first year is to approach and talk to experts in my field(s) at a few conferences, get them interested in my results, and successfully actually receive help from them by email, which has been useful.

On a personal plane my supervisor was not good in introducing me to the lab, the people were not interested in speaking English with me during the breaks, and he didn't try with others to speak English and thus include me in the discussions. He even continued speaking his mother tongue with others (I am the only non-native speaker in the lab), which led me to feel even more isolated and not well. This led me to search for a company to spend the breaks outside the lab, resulting in spending breaks in other buildings/labs that were warm and more welcoming. In my opinion, he didn't do a great job here either.

Recently he has also not shown interest in spending money for me to go to relevant conferences, saying they are not relevant/funding is limited, which is not true, and causes additional frustration and tension. I have tried to present my current situation to the student representatives and staff of the doctoral school but little support and empathy have been shown to me. I get the reply that I should either quit if I don't like my PhD or try to find people who can help me with my subject outside the lab. I am wondering here how to approach tasks such as finding willing professors when I have just started my Ph.D.? I have tried to reach out to a few behind my supervisor's back, but really no success.

I feel that all this burden is put on me, while my supervisor who I assumed to be an expert in the field(s) and should supervise me, is not affected at all.

In the end, I feel that I don't get enough support which results in not-so-quick progress and I am not sure if I will be able to graduate and am even less likely to continue in academia. I am thus reconsidering applying for another Ph.D. project, as there are currently several openings in the same city, and I know a few supervisors.

Do you mind providing any insights?

  • What do you mean by "providing any insights"? Do you want others to decide for you to whether terminating your Ph.D.?
    – User
    Mar 29 at 4:50
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    This is indeed a complex situation, and I sympathize with you. However, you will need to be a little more precise about what exactly it is that you would like answered. The way it is written now, you are not really asking an objectively answerable question. Mar 29 at 6:59
  • @IvoryTower Thank you for taking your time to read my post. I would like to ask if it is reasonable to do any of the suggestions which are in the title: changing PhD supervisor, staying in the project/reapplying for another PhD project. Feel free to also suggest other alternatives if you happen to have any.
    – Atom1667
    Mar 29 at 19:59
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    It is hard for me to understand why you hesitate. Do you see a path to success where you are now?
    – Buffy
    Mar 30 at 11:28

1 Answer 1


Unless you are (a) self sufficient enough in your study to do the dissertation on your own and (b) enjoying a good enough relationship with your advisor that they will approve of your work at the end, then RUN. Just about everything you say suggests that the path to success is very hard and narrow if it exists at all.

Some people can make it work under adverse conditions, some even prefer it, but not everyone can navigate such a path.

You seem to have options with other professors in your location. I hope you are exploring them. Lots of people change universities along the way.

Note, however, that this is an uninformed opinion since I know only what you have said here. Get local advice if you can, maybe from one of those other supervisors you say you know.

  • Thank you for taking your time to read my post and reply to it. I might be self sufficient enough in my study to do the dissertation more or less on my own (I get also some help from professors that I have approached during conferences), but I am quite confident that I will not get a favorable recommendation letter from him, which I am afraid will make it difficult for me to land a post-doc position in my field. I find it just a daunting task to do this on my own, since the doctoral school gave me the cold shoulder.
    – Atom1667
    Apr 2 at 16:28
  • By writing RUN I assume that you mean to quit the PhD and apply elsewhere, not merely changing supervisor (or both)?
    – Atom1667
    Apr 4 at 13:19
  • The supervisor might be enough, but you need to judge that.
    – Buffy
    Apr 4 at 14:09

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