Post Q2 2016
I am in the final stages of writing-up my thesis. Unfortunately, my findings don't seem to reflect well on my supervisor. I have just had a key chapter returned with many comments like "rubbish", "full of mistakes", etc. I don't think they are justified.
I am reporting on the quality control of a trial for which she was PI. There is clear evidence of QC problems and it seems to me that there is a conflict of interest which is preventing objectivity in the feedback I'm getting. I feel that I'm being pressurized into coming to conclusions in my thesis that I don't agree with - i.e. the trial didn't have any significant QC problems.
My relationship with my supervisor was amicable enough before I sent her this chapter. In order to complete my conclusion I need to reach some sort of agreement, but after her recent outburst I feel this will be difficult.
My University doesn't seem to have any policy about this type of conflict of interest, yet it must be common enough. What should I do?
UPDATE (June 2017):
The good news is that I submitted my thesis and it was accepted with minor changes at my viva. My examiners were kind and described it as a 'tour-de-force', though after five hours of argument I suspect they just wanted me to go home ;-) Therefore I have my PhD.
The bad news is that the papers derived from two of my PhD chapters which detail the quality failings in the trial have yet to be published. This is despite significant support from my examiners who both felt it was very important for the information to be published. At present there is a big row going-on at the highest levels of the University with good scholarship being pitted against the medical school's desire to avoid reputational damage and potential loss of future grant income.
I sincerely hope that no other PhD student is going through this sort of debacle, but just in case I give the following advice:
- Don't give-up. Just keep on writing the best thesis you can. Let the pages become chapters and the chapters become a finished thesis. Save worrying about your viva until after its been submitted.
- Don't keep quiet about problems with your supervisor. Stand-up for yourself and keep in the light. In my case I made sure senior management knew was going on and also that I was documenting everything. This wasn't something that they could easily sweep under the carpet. In the end it became very much in everyone's interests that I got my PhD.
- Try to maintain a relationship with your supervisor and keep the arguments on a professional than a personal level. You want your supervisor to congratulate you on getting your PhD and write-off the arguments over your thesis as healthy academic disagreement.
I must thank the >1,000 people who have viewed my original posting. Good luck to all PhD students and remember that careers are built on results not methods ;-)
UPDATE (March 2018):
My main paper was accepted by the key journal in the field in August 2017 and finally appeared in print, March 2018. I'm still working on getting the second paper accepted.