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I am an international student at a US university and I have a fantastic, caring and supportive adviser who I find fosters a happy work environment for all his students to grow in.

Here's the drawback to this happily unfolding story:

  1. He advises 9 students, 5 of who are PhD students (I am one of them).
  2. 4 out of the 5 PhD students are in the final stages of their PhD program (me included).
  3. 3 out of these 4 PhD students have families and should have graduated at least about 5-6 months ago but because of "family pressure" they haven't. I don't relate to that because I don't have a family and I want to defend and graduate

My adviser has always had goals that are generally considered unattainable in my group. I had been given 3 weeks to finish my dissertation in 2012 with the dangling carrot that I could defend and then focus on writing papers perhaps.

I met this goal one whole week short of the 3 week goal. However, my advisor has been postponing my defense for a variety of reasons (all of which are true) and is being pulled in several directions at the same time because of an important position in the research area of fuel cells.

So these constant vacillations have led to my defense being pushed to the end of Feb 2013. Now I'm told they don't know when I'll defend.

I find that this is rather unfair and considering that I generally have a good rapport with my advisor I am unsure of how to broach this topic. Why am I so worried? I come from a country where demanding things from your adviser is sinful and gets you kicked out of graduate school.

I'd really like to say that I want to defend and figure out the next step in my life! I am not talking getting a job necessarily but just life in general — get married, have kids, find a job, move to a different place (in no particular order) what have you.

Any advice or similar experience that I can draw from?

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    I think you should be more patient. Besides after PhD you will see the world is way scarier place than your grad school, especially in third world countries.
    – user4511
    Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 13:24
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    I'm a bit confused about why it's important to you to defend early in the semester rather than later. It's all the same semester after all. It may be that your advisor is thinking about this the same way as me, and doesn't understand that defending earlier in the semester is a big priority for you. Talk to your advisor and explain why it's a priority for you to defend earlier rather than later and ask if there's anything that can be done. Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 15:40
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    @NoahSnyder - Semesters aren't meaningful when doing full-time research. Every day on which you could have done your defense but didn't is another day you haven't advanced your career.
    – eykanal
    Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 15:42
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    @eykanal: I still don't totally understand what you're saying, but really that's beside the point. The point is that there's a good chance the advisor doesn't understand that graduating earlier in the semester is a priority, because it's quite common for academics to think of time in semester units rather than days, weeks, or months. Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 2:59
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    @eykanal: I'm confused. Why can't you work on a different research project while you're waiting to defend? The defense is just an administrative hurdle, after all. Or do the results "rot" somehow?
    – JeffE
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 5:16

1 Answer 1

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Talk to him (I'm gonna make a template out of that one)

Be professional, stay fact-based, don't say it as a criticism (veiled or not) of him, and you should be in the clear. Say something like:

I wanted to ask you, given your experience on this matter: I had expected that the final period of my PhD, between finishing the thesis and defending, would be quite short. Given that it's not the case, I was wondering: what is, in your expectations, a typical schedule? Am I doing something that hurts my ability to defend sooner? Could I do something to speed the process?

That should open up a dialogue about your expectations, his expectations, your constraints and his, and possibly help unknot the tie you're in.


However, you're not giving us much information about the exact nature of the core issue:

he has been postponing my defense for a variety of reasons (all of which are true)

If all the reasons given for postponing the defense are valid (I assume “true” here means “valid”), I don't see why you expect to defend. Do you think he's setting the bar too high? Is it merely a scheduling/timing issue? You say that your thesis is ready, has he gone over it, commented, critiqued, discussed it with you? Is the problem with putting together the committee?

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    Very good answer! You sound like my dad -- in that your answer is extremely professional and to-the-point in an unpassionate manner!
    – dearN
    Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 16:56
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    @drN Luke, I am your father… oh, wait, you're not Luke?! — joke aside, I am on the other side of the fence (meaning, I am a advisor, not a student), and seeing these situations without emotional attachment comes more easily
    – F'x
    Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 22:03
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    sorry... didn't quite get the reference although I suppose its a star wars thing. To me there is only Picard and nothing else! :P
    – dearN
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 17:24
  • @drN yeah, it's a Star Wars thing…
    – F'x
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 17:25

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