I completed my MS in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and was planning to do an PhD in Operations Research. But after first few weeks in program , I decided it was not what I wanted to do in long term and dropped out.

There is a background to this- my untenured MS advisor refused to sponsor my PhD . Another well known professor in the department came forward and offered me a good stipend but I dropped out from his lab after couple of weeks.

Things had become too caustic even before I joined his lab. The PhD professor wanted me to help him with some algorithms in the final month of my MS, but my MS advisor shooed him multiple times saying that I was very busy, when in fact I was free all the time. My MS advisor wanted me to make her a co advisor and get her a piece of the tenured professor's project, it didn't work out and since then she has become pretty vengeful towards me. She rejected job offers from our research sponsors after MS saying I was doing PhD and was not interested in working for them.

I think at this point I have lot of ill will against me in my department mainly due to active efforts to undermine me by my MS advisor.

In my university ,we need to take around 30-40 credit hours of subjects and pass candidacy and continue the dissertation.

I am taking an completely different route to PhD. I am taking 9 credit hours every semester (full time course load is 6 credit hours) and at same time working full time as Data warehouse SW developer.

It's very strenuous(My long commute, job and courses and assignments occupy at least 17-18 hours of my day) but I am able to manage them and it's working pretty well as I get paid around 135K at my job.

Is this is an ideal approach until I finish my subjects and then see if any HCI lab in my department can take me in? Can I expect things to calm down in 2 years time.or what can i do right now to improve on this situation?

Or am I really hurting myself here. My concern at this point is after my candidacy, no lab will take me back because of no recent research work. By the way, I don't need to finalize an advisor for the dissertation right now, I can take candidacy exam in dept. by forming a temporary committee .

One advantage I may have is I will have enough money by that time to volunteer in a lab for around an year to prove my worth. But again I am afraid my MS advisor may actively sabotage any of those efforts. I have been afraid and tensed for past few days thinking about this.

Edit : I am from Midwest US

  • What is HCl? How long is a PhD in your country? Who funds you? Also, why would you MS advisor actively try to hurt you? If you have some proof, you should consider bringing this up to the department.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 12:14
  • I don't understand either how your PhD prof. offered you work, but she managed to reject it. Did he offer it to you through her? How did you learned that he made an offer? Why didn't you tell him you were indeed free?
    – Davidmh
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 12:16
  • 3
    @james234 did you tell her you were actually free? Did you followed up with her, asking if she had forwarded your CV to the sponsors? I still have a hard time figuring out a reason for her to do active sabotage.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 14:07
  • 6
    If "135K" is in USD, why do you want to break your back over getting a PhD when you're already earning $135K pa? That's an extraordinary amount of money. Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 21:15
  • 1
    @james234: Whatever your country is it is mental Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 11:37

2 Answers 2


I think it's better to be involved in research from the beginning of a PhD program, but I've seen plenty of programs designed to discourage starting research until the student has passed the qualifying exams. Both models can lead to good PhDs and good careers afterward. You appear to be in the enviable position, assuming you can sustain it, of being able to save a substantial portion of the salary from your day job so that when it comes time to start some research, you can do so with your own funding. If the project goes well, and you are good at research, you may be able to complete your dissertation more quickly than someone who has to work on a funded grant which has deliverables other than your thesis.

  • 1
    i am in a pretty weak position within my department now. In Worst case scenario , i may have to go back to my MS advisor till i pass my candidacy. I need guidance on which subjects to take to reach candidacy. If i ever have to go back to my MS advisor , can i face any potential adverse consequences like willful sabotage of my Phd ?
    – james234
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 17:58
  • 5
    Yeah, but if the reason she was sabotaging everything else was because she wanted you to do you PhD with her, then the odds are somewhat lower that she'll sabotage the PhD itself. Though, if she's mad enoug, anything could happen. That being said, I think you need to find someone trustworthy in the department to talk to about the prior sabotage. If it happened as you said, it's something a good department would want to look into and stop.
    – Bill Barth
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 18:07
  • i just took your advice and asked an office assistant( a close friend) who processes GRA contracts asking if she has any info. It seems my MS advisor has hired a new Phd student from outside . I have been her MS student for past 2 years and the assistant thought my MS adviser may have asked me to leave univ. so that she doesn't look bad in the dept. ( the fact she ditched her student and hired new face from outside ).So if i had left the univ. following her advice she could have told people in department that she wanted to offer me Phd but i left for job on my own volition.
    – james234
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 9:23
  • 12
    Find a new advisor, as quickly as possible.
    – JeffE
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 12:50

Where is the department Chair in this situation? Depending upon the structure of your college within the university, that is generally the individual with whom you can discuss both your questions regarding research and your situation with your MS advisor. It sounds as if you need someone who can deal with the administrative aspects of the situation - the person who signs your MS advisor's annual review.

If that doesn't work, you can go to the Dean of your college, or perhaps the Dean of Students. In my years working in Academia, the Dean of Students was always a powerful individual within the university. You shouldn't have to deal with the petty issues that you're experiencing. You should be able to focus on your degree and its associated research.

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