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I worked in the industry for a few years before starting my PhD and learned many do's and don'ts in the workplace for how you guide subordinates to attend meetings and do things you want them to do. I'm having trouble finding the right mix of transparency/professionalism/availability that I can expect to have with my advisor. Some examples that seem to be ok with my advisor related to availability include:

  • Advisor tells me I should work and come in over academic breaks
  • When I'm late for a meeting, sends me an email that says "you're late, get here". Advisor is often late for their own meetings.
  • On a flight back from a conference, holds a research meeting.
  • When scheduling a meeting, advisor asks for conflicts, then judges the importance of my conflict vs the meeting. Tells me the meeting is more important.
  • Advisor schedules recurring meeting over the time I have to eat lunch, tells me I should eat during the meeting
  • Urges that I come to weekend/post-5pm informal meetups, if I say I cannot attend, asks why my conflict is more important?

Other oddities include:

  • During research meeting with 15 students, the meeting table is crowded. I grab a chair 5 feet away. Advisor tells me to stand for the meeting (with a laptop).
  • Advisor tells me I must share a room with another student at the conference hotel

I can't help but feel demeaned by items on this list. I'm a bit older than other students and have a family, so my conflicts are more frequent. Is this advisor-advisee treatment common in academia? I'm trying to seek out the norms of this community.

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    I'm not sure your official "question" matches what you are really asking. I think the body of your question is more about your advisor's expectations with respect to his/her students' availability and time management, not broadly about "professionalism." Consider an edit to make the question more focused. – ff524 Dec 9 '14 at 20:39
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    Your list seems like a mixture of things I have definitely seen in industry as well, things that seem more like minor quirks than big issues, and things that I have certainly done myself. Meeting after 5? Check. Quick in-flight post-mortem of a conference? Check. – xLeitix Dec 9 '14 at 21:16
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    Advisor tells me I must share a room with another student at the conference hotel - are his grants paying for said hotel room? If so, that's not atypical. – ff524 Dec 9 '14 at 21:30
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    Advisor tells me I should work and come in over academic breaks - If by "academic breaks" you mean "times when courses are not in session," this is 100% normal and expected. Research does not run on a semester schedule. – ff524 Dec 9 '14 at 21:40
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    @ff524 Well, for many people, research runs almost only in academic breaks! (Unfortunately. If you teach 14 hours a week and have other duties, there's not much time for actual research.) – yo' Dec 10 '14 at 1:25
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As with most things, tone matters. All the items on your list don't scream terrible unprofessionalism to me, if done in the right tone and in moderation (ok, the "tells me to stand" one is a bit weird). For instance, I would not force a student to blow off their anniversary dinner for a standard meeting, but I have certainly asked them to cancel some other weekend appointments because of an important deadline on Monday. Further, you mention meetings after 5PM - given that much of my research is done in international cooperation, Skype calls at terrible times are unfortunately not unheard of in my group as well.

I can't help but notice that (as ff524 already mentions), the majority of your items are not so much about professionalism than about time planning. Indeed, in academia, you may need to get used to the fact that most professors require students to be flexible, maybe more so than in larger corporations (but not unlike startup companies, for instance). Nine-to-five workers are typically not popular in academic environments.

You added:

Advisor tells me I must share a room with another student at the conference hotel

The exact same thing happened to me as an employee of a large, international company. Not usual, but yeah - happens if funds for travel are low for some reason.

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    Interesting point about startups -- the most I have ever worked was for a startup and it spilled into all aspects of my life. I never expected professionalism there because we were in the trenches. Maybe this is the most similar? – y3sh Dec 9 '14 at 22:20
  • @JackWade I guess you can say that, yes. – xLeitix Dec 9 '14 at 23:05
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Here are my thoughts on each of the scenarios in the question. Most of these things are pretty normal and common in academia. For the scheduling things, they shouldn't become habit, but everyone is generally expected to be flexible, especially when deadlines are coming up.

During research meeting with 15 students, the meeting table is crowded. I grab a chair 5 feet away. Advisor tells me to stand for the meeting (with a laptop).

That's weird. Crowded meetings happen. But I can't see anything wrong with sitting in a chair away from the table.

Advisor tells me I must share a room with another student at the conference hotel.

That's normal. Is sharing a room that bad, really? It saves money, so I'm happy to oblige. If you have a legitimate reason to have your own room, it shouldn't be an unreasonable request. Though when there are limited travel funds, you might have to pay the extra yourself or forego a future opportunity.

A fun thing to do when travelling is to rent a short-stay apartment, rather than a hotel. It's usually cheaper (so maybe you can afford your own room), and you have a lounge and cooking facilities for dinner parties.

When I'm late for a meeting, sends me an email that says "you're late, get here".

Fair enough. Don't be late.

Advisor is often late for their own meetings.

That can be normal. Meetings between my supervisor and myself are scheduled "after the coffee break" - we have an understanding that that time is pretty flexible. Chronic lateness to rigidly scheduled group meetings really is an inconvenience, and I don't think that is acceptable.

If your advisor is late, you can always send him or her an email asking "we have a meeting now, where are you?".

On a flight back from a conference, holds a research meeting.

I'd say that's a useful use of downtime.

When scheduling a meeting, advisor asks for conflicts, then judges the importance of my conflict vs the meeting. Tells me the meeting is more important.

I don't think it's reasonable to ask for such details. You should (politely!) say that you dislike re-arranging your schedule and ask to find a mutually agreeable time. Try scheduling meetings with your advisor further in advance -- he or she will have more gaps in their schedule.

Advisor schedules meetings over the time I have to eat lunch, tells me I should eat during the meeting

I think this is a cultural thing. If it's the culture of the department where everyone actually has a proper lunch break, then you can insist on keeping your lunch break. If everyone tends to work over lunch and eat at their desk, that insistence is less likely to go down well (though you should by all means still have the right to said lunch break).

If your advisor is unusually busy, or there is a looming deadline, just roll with it.

Urges that I come to weekend/post-5pm informal meetups, if I say I cannot attend, asks why my conflict is more important?

Post-5pm? Maybe that's a reasonable request, especially if you don't keep regular 9-5 hours. Weekends should be off limits, though, unless something important is coming up.

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    Re: the split room thing -- having a family changes things. I'll get calls when I'm in the room pertaining to family problems I have to deal with and I value privacy there. Good idea about the airbnb-like reference, we could save money and have nice rooms. – y3sh Dec 9 '14 at 22:28
  • I like your other points - straightforward and highly valuable for me to know. – y3sh Dec 9 '14 at 22:28
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    @JackWade Apart from phone sex I can't think of any reason why you couldn't just take the call outside the room or in another part of the hotel. Requesting a single room just so you can make private calls in peace is highly unlikely to go over well. – Lilienthal Dec 10 '14 at 0:24
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    It's not uncommon to expect students to come in on weekends. – Kimball Dec 10 '14 at 1:17
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Some of the concerns that you have are reasonable, some are not.

However, I think the basic issue is that your advisor probably has not had practice and training in being a competent manager. He may be a brilliant researcher, but that doesn't mean he's a good advisor and mentor. It sounds like he may also be following what I've dubbed the academic golden rule: "Do unto others as you had done unto you."

My general advice to you is the following:

Where possible, take an active role in your relationship with your advisor.

What I mean by this is that where you see conflicts arising, head them off by trying to be the one to deal with them first. For instance, if you don't like the way your advisor is scheduling your appointments, try to schedule a regular meeting time with him so that there isn't a reason to schedule appointments at odd times.

Advisor tells me I should work and come in over academic breaks

This may be entirely reasonable depending upon which breaks your advisor is referring to, and the vacation policy at your institution. The typical standard in US schools is only two or three weeks of leave per year. Given that there is typically substantially more academic leave than personal vacation time, your advisor can expect that you be at work.

When I'm late for a meeting, sends me an email that says "you're late, get here". Advisor is often late for their own meetings.

This is a simple matter of brusqueness.

On a flight back from a conference, holds a research meeting.

This is unusual—but I would chalk this up to the eccentricity of the advisor. My undergraduate advisor once did that with a colleague on a plane—nearly got himself into trouble over it!

When scheduling a meeting, advisor asks for conflicts, then judges the importance of my conflict vs the meeting. Tells me the meeting is more important.

This is baffling, but I think reinforces the notion I've laid out above.

Advisor schedules meetings over the time I have to eat lunch, tells me I should eat during the meeting

This confuses me—I would think this would be somewhat flexible. Advisors don't normally assign lunch hours for their graduate students! If there's some specific reason that you need to eat lunch at a certain time, that's something you should discuss with your advisor (and perhaps the graduate officer of your department).

Urges that I come to weekend/post-5pm informal meetups, if I say I cannot attend, asks why my conflict is more important?

Except in unusual circumstances, this is unacceptable. Your advisor should not expect that you come into work during the weekend. If you personally feel the need to work to meet a deadline, that's a different issue. If the advisor is willing to give you a few days off in exchange for working over the weekend, that might be an acceptable tradeoff. But the pressure should not come directly from the advisor.

During research meeting with 15 students, the meeting table is crowded. I grab a chair 5 feet away. Advisor tells me to stand for the meeting (with a laptop).

This is rather ridiculous on your advisor's part.

Advisor tells me I must share a room with another student at the conference hotel

As a graduate student, unless you have your own budget and resources for travel (e.g., you're on a fellowship that provides a travel allowance), then you probably should not expect to have your own room at a hotel. It's fairly standard practice for advisors to ask their students to "double up" at a hotel.

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    @Jack sometimes it can be almost impossible to schedule large meetings, with everybody's courses, teaching, administrative meetings, meetings with collaborators in other time zones... I don't think it's unreasonable to schedule a recurring lunch meeting if that's the only time that works for everyone. – ff524 Dec 9 '14 at 22:45
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    @JackWade: I am a faculty member who strongly disagrees with the idea that "the advisor's time is more important." Everybody's time is valuable—which, as ff524 mentions, can mean that some people are inconvenienced because of the need to get things scheduled for everybody. – aeismail Dec 9 '14 at 22:47
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    I'm curious - why did your advisor nearly get in trouble for discussing research with a colleague on a plane? If they are both there and want to talk, why shouldn't they? If the colleague wants to sleep then trying to talk about research is perhaps inconsiderate but hardly something that would get someone in trouble. Was their research some sort of secret? – Nate Eldredge Dec 9 '14 at 23:24
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    @NateEldredge: Largely because blocking the aisle on a plane for the better part of an hour is bound to tick off the flight attendants. – aeismail Dec 9 '14 at 23:49
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    @nate It might also cause problems if the research involves such things as blowing up points on a plane. – Tobias Kildetoft Dec 10 '14 at 9:43
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Right now, there are 3 close votes, one "unclear what you're asking", two "too broad". I'd lean more towards "opinion-based".

In some academic groups, this is the normal modus operandi, and people are routinely expected to be available at ungodly times. The one other environment where I have observed this ("let's discuss this over lunch, since we both will likely be working until 10pm, and the presentation needs to be done today") is management consultancies. One element that is common to both environments is that most people working there are young, and that it's an up-or-out culture. In academia, you'll either leave with your degree and go into industry, or you end up as a professor - and in management consultancies, you either again leave, or end up at the top of the pile as a partner.

In both environments, there is much less emphasis on work-life balance, and much more emphasis on getting the job done. Young people are inherently more resilient than middle-aged ones, and of course it helps that the typical junior consultant or Ph.D. student does not have a spouse and family - that makes 60 hour-weeks over extended periods of time much more feasible.

Now, all this is very much opinion-based, and I'm sure there are working groups where professors actually respect your outside commitments. However, you seem to have entered a group where the professor has been conditioned by Ph.D. students who don't, like you, have family to attend to. This older answer of mine may be helpful in understanding what I mean.

Right now, I'd suggest you sit down with your professor and have an open discussion with him. Explain that you understand that many of your colleagues can bring youthful energy and few outside commitments to the table - but that you offer more life experience, and that your current situation with a family means that you have commitments you simply can't cancel on short notice, since you may need to pick your kids up at daycare.

Then again, you will likely need to accept a few things that may jar with your previous workplace experiences, like working through lunch, which really isn't all that bad, or working with your professor in judging whether conflicts in scheduling can't sometimes be resolved in favor of the professor's meeting.

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  • Trying to narrow in, but I don't feel I'll escape opionion based. I will note that many answers seem to be clarifying the norms of being a doctoral student. I think your final two paragraphs are strong and found your older answering enlightening. – y3sh Dec 9 '14 at 22:47
  • "there is much less emphasis on work-life balance" - I think this statement is rather misleading as is, at least with respect to academia. It's more that the boundary between work and life can easily be extremely blurry in academia, given that preferrably, your research is one of your major personal interests, and vice-versa, your major personal interests considerably shape your choice of topics and activities during work. – O. R. Mapper Dec 10 '14 at 10:45
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An answer to your 'question' (?) will depend on what you want.

Taken explicitly, the only really idiotic thing is the table. I have trouble imagining a situation where in a 15-people discussion everybody can cluster within 5 ft.

The other stuff: mostly harmless, you should consider that the Prof's time is more valuable than yours -- at least to him; and the Prof. probably needs to juggle more things than you have to. The conference room-sharing thing is actually really usual, conferences cost money, hence it makes sense to reduce costs by sharing [assuming, of course, the usual boundaries].

A better question might be how to handle expectations from your Prof. that you are not willing to say yes to. That depends on how willing the Prof. is to accomodate you. Especially since you have not said what happens if you do not, say, show up for meeting that doesn't fit in your schedule.

None of this means that you are a slave of some kind, but you have to accept that you are subordinate in certain matters. If you can't come to meeting I schedule at 5pm your excuse should be 'Doctors appointment', not 'I want to go home and watch TV'; I probably only have time at 5pm.

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    the Prof's time is more valuable than yours — [citation needed] – JeffE Dec 10 '14 at 2:03
  • @JeffE the part after the '--' belongs to the sentence as well. And to expand a bit: times between 10am-4pm tend to be filled with lectures, which makes late afternoons possibly the only time available. – choener Dec 10 '14 at 10:34
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You're a grad student. This means you're a slave to your advisor. I was a grad student once and I found the conceit that grad students are human beings and that they are to be treated with dignity beyond comical. Don't talk about professionalism as a grad student - this is not the time and the place, you are off-topic and unfortunately, you are making yourself look ridiculous. If your advisor pulls your chain, you go along quietly, with your tail wagging.

My little brother and I found a preventive cure for this kind of treatment: get a full-time job and go for your graduate degree in the evening. Your adviser is a lot less likely to give you lip if he knows that you, as a grad student, are also a senior engineer at Google :) As they used to say on 42nd Street in New York City in the 1970's: "Money talks and b.s. walks" :)

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    That's utter rubbish. – xLeitix Dec 9 '14 at 21:30
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    You generalize from a very bad experience. You should have moved to a different group, and contacted people in position to help. – choener Dec 9 '14 at 21:38
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    Other Professors, colleagues, the dean, family, lawyers, depending on what is going on. I don't know your specific case. Nobody forces you to stay with an advisor you don't like -- s.th. JeffE points out regularly. – choener Dec 9 '14 at 21:49
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    I think the reason this answer has so many downvotes is that you present it as a universal experience. This may be consistent with your experience (and some of your friends), but that doesn't mean you have to resign yourself to this kind of treatment if you want to be a grad student. – ff524 Dec 9 '14 at 22:27
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    You're a grad student. This means you're a slave to your advisor. — [citation needed] — Your adviser is a lot less likely to give you lip if he knows that you, as a grad student, are also a senior engineer at Google — [citation needed] – JeffE Dec 10 '14 at 2:05

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