My PhD supervisor claims being first author of all the work I do. I also write research proposals for his grants and the rest of our group, he just redirects their emails to me and pretends that he's writing it.

He refuses to start my PhD programme - no idea for a possible subject.

I'm depressed, because I do not get ANY training or advice from him, just "write something fast with a big impact". I haven't even got a specific subject to work on. We basically meet each other during conferences or holidays. He does not correct any mistakes and barely knows what I'm actually doing. I'm about to quit my PhD completely... or leave academia just afterwards.

For obvious reasons I can't compare this situation with other universities, so that I'd be grateful for your opinion.

  • 21
    Absolutely quit. Find yourself a supervisor that does not abuse you.
    – J. Doe
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 12:51
  • 2
    Sounds like you're having a rough time bjp. Unfortunately, your question isn't really suitable for this website because it is very specific to your circumstances and no one here could give you much good advice without knowing all the gritty details. But don't get more depressed. Instead try and find another PhD student you can talk to about what's going on. Also, there's no shame in doing a PhD with the intention to leave academia afterwards, nor is there any shame in realising that academia isn't for you during the PhD and quitting out in the middle. Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 12:54
  • 2
    Don't quit, just change the supervisor. What year in the PhD program are you?It is in Eu/US?If it is in the start, then changing the supervisor is not a problem.
    – Nikey Mike
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 14:36
  • 10
    Don't walk. Run. Fire your advisor immediately. You can do better.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 16:47
  • 3
    @bjp "He's the only true scientist in the whole University." A true scientist does not behave in any of the ways that you described.
    – Corvus
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 6:21

2 Answers 2


Assuming all that you state of your supervisor is true, i.e.,

  • Claiming primary authorship of all of your work
  • Making you write grants and claiming it as his own
  • Refusing to start your PhD programme

Then you met up with one of the classic cases of an abusive supervisor. If that is the case, then continue no further as his student. Spare no time in moving away as you won't make much progress (at all) with such an advisor.

I feel sorry for the situation that has caused you to despise the PhD degree itself. My honest advice would be to change your advisor, not your path. If the current advisor claims primary authorship over your writings and grant proposals, then it is only a proof that you are really a worthy candidate for a PhD! Quit your supervisor, not your PhD!

Think deep and make your decision wisely, as it is yours to make.


Someone close to me was in a similar situation. He chose to keep the formal advisor but work informally with another person in his department. This might be an option for you to consider. (In addition to the obvious option already described, of switching advisors.)

Start with getting to know the people in your department. Try to talk to people about their work, about your interests. (Save the complaining for a later stage in the relationship.)

If you don't strike gold in your department, read an article that you are interested in, contact the author, strike up a conversation -- it might lead to a collaboration!

In short, pretend that you are a post-doc.

Edit to take comment into account ("Why I have chosen this one? He's the only true scientist in the whole University... Unfortunately"):

If I were in your shoes, I would be careful to arrange for a new advisor and a transfer institution before quitting. Thus, the advice in the comments ("walk, don't run") shouldn't be followed too literally. If there were someone good you could switch to in your own university, it would be different.

This is kind of like when you are in a bad job. It's usually best to find a different job before quitting the present job.

Note, if the university you are enrolled in is as bad as you say, then they may be rather lax in their requirements for graduation from the PhD program. Read some published theses in your field to find out.

Your strange advisor may sort of boot you out with a PhD after a certain period of time. That might leave you with a strange taste in your mouth. If that happens, no worries, just grab that piece of paper and run with it, to a two-year postdoc with someone who can give you plenty of guidance (almost as though you were his or her PhD student).

  • Working in secret under his nose is a dangerous business, if (or rather, when) he finds out, you are up for a world of pain.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 6:19
  • @Davidmh - It doesn't have to be hidden, and shouldn't be, in general. If following my procedure would not work without subterfuge, then clearly the OP would have to sever the formal advisor-advisee relationship. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 12:36
  • From the OP's comment: "Any contacts with external world (e.g. other professors) is strictly prohibited, everyone works alone", so, unfortunately, this is not an option.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 12:39
  • 1
    @Davidmh - Thank you for bringing that to my attention. Okay, this does fit the classic pattern of an abuser. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 12:57

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