My advisor is extremely unhelpful and unprofessional. I don't want to get into the details, but suffice it to say he has 0 interest in what he told me to do, and only rarely shows up for scheduled meetings, maybe 1/4 meetings and even then many hours late. (I came from a job in "the industry" where such behavior is completely unheard of.)

How should I deal with this? If I was still in the industry, I would just go over my advisor's head, and explain what is happening, is this a valid strategy in academia? (I am asking the question in the present tense, but I have already left the program).

Related question: Is such unprofessional behavior common in the academy? I never experienced anything close to this in my undergraduate education.


Following the advice in a comment: I did ask for advice from the graduate committee chair and relayed some issues I had with missed meetings. His advice was more or less "work harder". Well, I think the fact that I complained must have got back to my advisor because he was furious with me the next time we met. Out of the blue he scolded and said something like "I meet with you every time you ask me to." Of course this was completely false but I saw no point in arguing with it as we had plenty of other things to discuss.

  • Were you doing a PhD? Was it in USA or another country?
    – Alexandros
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 4:44
  • 1
    It does happen; I don't think it's "common". The usual solution is to switch advisors. Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 4:45
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    Echo to @NateEldredge. I think this kind of things happen "in the industry", too. The usual solution is to find another job or boss.
    – Nobody
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 4:48
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    re. your "mods" comment specific details to a general question is ideal. I think this question is OK and more details on the problems you've had with your advisor and how you've tried solving them may improve the quality of your answers (avoid being rant-ish though).
    – user18072
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 5:12
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    Time to find a new advisor.
    – JeffE
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 8:45

1 Answer 1


If you want me to take you at face value, it's not even worth completing the Ph.D. under your current advisor. You won't get a good problem, you won't get good guidance, you'll get stuck and won't get help, and you won't get a good rec letter for your next position.

That being said, a round of basic people skills may be helpful here. Have you tried asking your advisor such basic questions as how do they think your research is going? how can it be improved? You can even ask why they're frequently late. You can ask when would be better to meet, for instance.

That failing, the standard solution is to switch advisors, even though this is costly.

No, you can't really "go above" a tenured professor in any meaningful way, and even if you could, it wouldn't help you get sincerely better advising or a strong rec letter. Please research who else you can talk to though - another professor you trust who can advise you with some safety, resources through the grad school, etc.

  • 1
    Some schools have an "ombudsperson" - basically, a non-lawyer advocate who knows their way around the school and it's policies and can offer an impartial ear and hand to students.
    – tonysdg
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 5:13
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    @tonysdg at my university the ombudsperson was very clear that they do not act as a student advocate. If I remember correctly they are only there to explain the university's policies and procedures and to help navigate them.
    – fred
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 5:20
  • @someone: You're right, advocate was the wrong word! Apologies for that!
    – tonysdg
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 5:21
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    @someone honestly just ask other senior grad students. this is just a thing where very in-the-know, on-the-ground knowledge helps a lot. doing my best from my laptop over here but people who know the climate will be better.
    – user18072
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 5:24
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    @someone sr grad students, professor who laughed at your joke one time, and so forth.
    – user18072
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 5:24

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