I'm in my first year of a PhD programme in the UK. In this year of the programme we do a few short projects with different supervisors and then choose a supervisor and project for the next 3 years.

My current supervisor is fantastic - I work really well with him and he also thinks highly of me. I am making great progress with my work, everything is going well. Of the ~4 supervisors I've worked with in the past, this experience is by far the best I've had. My supervisor is very keen to have me continue with him for my main project, and I am too.

The problem lies with the head of my supervisor's department, who also happened to have been the head of my master's programme that I took last year (before becoming head of dept this year).

He taught me for a total of three weeks during that master's. I made a bad first impression in the first week when he called on me in class with a question that I didn't know the answer to and I replied with something silly. The second week I was seriously ill and had permission to be absent, but when I came back in the third week he was angry with me for having missed a week. At the end of that short course he gave me a failing grade. I appealed the grade unsuccessfully.

My supervisor has told me that before I started working with him the head of department "warned" him about me and said "I don't want a person like that in my department".

Now my supervisor, having worked with me for a few months, disagrees completely and doesn't understand why the head said that. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, my supervisor doesn't have a very good relationship with the head of department either. I worry that the head will not take his opinion with much weight.

I'm worried that I won't be allowed to continue in this department with my supervisor, and that even if I am there will be trouble down the line. What can I do?

  • 1
    How does your PhD programme work exactly. Presumably your head of department doesn't have a unilateral veto? Since you are already admitted, they would need an extremely good reason to kick you out of the programme.
    – MJeffryes
    May 24, 2016 at 10:07
  • I'm not worried about being kicked off the programme (which the head of dept has little/no authority on) but being disallowed from working with this supervisor in this department. I don't know how much formal power the head of dept has to make that happen but he at least has a lot of informal power over things.
    – user54595
    May 24, 2016 at 10:10
  • 8
    If you want to work with this supervisor, and they want to work with you, that's about as sure as you can get that you can stay on. The head of department has superiors as well, and if this escalated to them, it would be hard to justify such vindictive behaviour. I don't think this question is answerable except by someone with specific knowledge of your department, but since you get on with your supervisor so well, you should discuss it with them.
    – MJeffryes
    May 24, 2016 at 10:13
  • 1
    I'd say those people generally have other things to care of that a PhD student that is under supervision of another person in the dpt. He is wary about you, fine. If you are really doing well, he will change his mind in a few months. Just be patient and focused. May 24, 2016 at 10:28

2 Answers 2


You shouldn't worry so much about political issues in the department. What is important to you right now is to focus hard on the research and publish in significant journals with your supervisor or collaborators. Hence, in this way you can justify that are a serious student in the department, and you can established connections for you career after graduation the PhD program.


The key message here is: your work ethic and productivity will be the determinants of your success.

If anything, use this "bad start" to motivate yourself to prove him wrong. I'd be very surprised if the Head of Department thinks too much about his initial assessment, and likely will be pleased to see you succeed.

However, you clearly are concerned that he will act to evict you from the department at some point. I think this rather unlikely, but the only academic trigger would be a failure to demonstrate sufficient progress at a progression board (which may be titled differently at your institution). This will be determined on your output, not his views, and in any case there will be appeal mechanisms within the university and at the OAI which protect you.

-> Don't worry and work hard!

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