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After achieving my masters degree, i applied for a phd program at the same university i was graduated from. In Germany, a person has to find 2 advisors to be registered as a phd student and thats it for the begining.

I approached a professor whose area is related to my research.I told my intention and research idea to him and he said he would like to be my advisor but he officially cannot be the first advisor due to the number of students he already has. Instead, he suggested that he can be my second advisor and i should find another professor as my first advisor, in this way we can continue working anyway.

I decided to approach another professor (who is also a colleague of 2.advisor) and I asked him if he could be my first advisor and he accepted. We have exchanged more than 10 e-mails, talking about my proposal. When he came to my city, we met and everything looked fine. I continued to work on my proposal and sent him after a while. I needed to get a reference letter from him, as I am applying for potential scholarships. Some of these scholarships demand the reference letter to be sent directly by the professors. He has written the reference letter and wrote me an e-mail saying that he has sent the letter to the grant givers i asked him to send. I have asked him to send the letter also to me as a pdf, since i need to upload it personally as well. He has not send it to me and since weeks he is not replying my e-mails.

Instead, he has sent me an indirect message with a friend of mine (also a student of his), saying that I should work more on my proposal and it would be difficult to get a scholarship with such inaccurate proposal. He told her that I have been rushing to finish it and I should stop and reconsider my steps. He also added that, due to the inner conflicts he has with the faculty, he will be resigning in two years so maybe i should consider to find another first advisor as well.

I found this indirect communication unusual, disturbing and i must say, unprofessional. I decided to send him another e-mail, asking him if he can approve what I heard from my friend so that I can begin to search for another first advisor. Because if he officialy does not write it, i'm still registered as his student and it would be awkward to search for another one while I still have one. He is not replying to this e-mail as well. I have been applying for another scholarship meanwhile (only with one reference letter which is from my second advisor) and today i recieved a note from this scholarship, saying that my file has been taken under consideration but i should send the other reference letter as soon as possible.

My professor is literally blocking me from applying further. I have understood what he meant by taking more time to focus on my proposal but for now I need this reference letter from him. It just doesn't make sense that I cannot have the letter when it is already written for me. My question would be, shall I contact and ask my second advisor about his opinion on this situation or shall I take a step back and wait for my first advisor's conflicts to be cleared and hopefully he writes back to me?

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    Find a new advisor who is seriously interested and who is able to communicate better with you. You will have a hard time otherwise... – Niko Mar 23 '15 at 18:50
  • Question to other Europeans--is it common that a scholarship application would want the person applying to upload reference letters or would they normally be sent straight from the references? I mean, could the OP have upset the advisor by asking for the letter directly. – mkennedy Mar 23 '15 at 21:56
  • @mkennedy I've thought about it as well, and I haven't personally seen recommendation letters for PhD scholarships required to be sent by the applicant. However, I've seen this for smaller projects (short-time personal grants, industry stages and similar). – yo' Mar 23 '15 at 21:58
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    @mkennedy it is common that applicants upload their recommendation letters online. not only short time grants but also full time phd grants. at least thats the case i experienced in germany. – stuck Mar 23 '15 at 22:13
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Have you contacted the second supervisor about this problem? If yes what does he think about this problem? Is he able to contact the first supervisor?

If you haven't contacted the second supervisor about this problem I would do so ASAP

  • I haven't. My concern is to create a chaos by talking about this with my second advisor, before the first one officially states that his decision is certain. I'm afraid to put myself (and my first advisor) in a bad situation by spreading a second hand information. – stuck Mar 23 '15 at 20:31
  • I understand. How long has your first supervisor been ignoring you? Could it be he is at a conference, vacationing, ill or otherwise out of reach? – Maarten van Wesel Mar 23 '15 at 20:34
  • @Marteen van Wesel I know for a fact that he is very busy due to his responsibilities in two different countries. He was/is quite famous with being successful in disappearing. Still, in this situation, i would have preferred to be directly informed with a short e-mail, i cannot understand how/why he chose such unusual way of communication. – stuck Mar 23 '15 at 20:47
  • Are you sure the message the other student has given you is a message coming from the supervisor? – Maarten van Wesel Mar 23 '15 at 20:51
  • yes, do you mean if she has misunderstood? – stuck Mar 23 '15 at 20:53
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If it's weeks passing and the Advisor One is not communicating, I would consider the case with him as closed. I would contact Advisor Two, explain him the situation, and after seeing that he is interested in advising you, send an e-mail to Advisor One clearly stating that you decided to reject to cooperate with him. You don't need to make it long, but you have to make it precise.

Unless you can reach the people in person, there's hardly anything else you can do. Well, one thing still: Do you know anybody well who knows Advisor One well? Can you reach such person directly and confirm that this could have happened? Can you consult someone else who's close to the situation like your master advisor?

  • I'm not sure whether i should talk about this with people before he gives me a confirmation. I'm hesitating because as i mentioned above in the comments, my concern is to create a chaos by talking about this with my second advisor, before the first one officially states that his decision is certain. I'm afraid to put myself (and my first advisor) in a bad situation by spreading a second hand information – stuck Mar 23 '15 at 22:19
  • @stuck We can't see so deep inside. From what I see, it's finished with your Advisor One. That's why you have to make it clear to him. I would only contact the second advisor before to make sure that at least something is sure. – yo' Mar 23 '15 at 22:30
  • the thing is, i'm not sure that it is finished with the advisor one. He did not state such thing to me directly. Can one take a second hand information for real and act on it? Especially if it will effect my future largely? Moreover, I want him to remain as my first advisor because he is very successful and well known in my area. – stuck Mar 24 '15 at 9:44

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