I am a second semester PhD student. I have no publications until now. In the lab I am currently, we use some sort of academic journal to keep track of our progress. Due to classes and TA workload I did not make research progress for two weeks. When I saw my advisor I had not properly structured my journal update. To make things worse when he asked me how much time I did spend on non research activities I was unable to answer as I did not keep track of time.

This discussion ended up with my advisor saying that he might have to convert me to a master's student if I progress like that. He fears I may not be able to make any research progress within the semester with the current rate. He mentioned this warning will be given only once. He said that I should have adapted to the lab's pace until now.

I recognize that my progress was not appropriate, neither was the way to report this through the journal. However, I felt that being converted to a master student is something I really want to avoid.

Therefore I want to try really hard as my goal is the Ph.D. However, doubts have clouded my head and I felt I may also have a collaboration issue. I may need to look for another advisor too, although I still believe that if I don't improve something like that may happen again regardless of advisor.

I believe my advisor is a really good and experienced scientist and I respect him, but:

  • He has converted other PhD students to Master status in the past.
  • Also, he is very busy and it is not possible for him to discuss research with me for more than 20 minutes per week.

  • Other students of the lab manage to make appropriate progress but most of them seem stressed.

  • My advisor encouraged some students to publish survey papers. However afterward he mentioned that they can not yet graduate as the 6 papers he wants us to publish can only be research-related and not surveys.

In this post, I tried to give both my failings and my worries.

What are your suggestions for my situation?

Should I ignore all these and just try harder or should I change my course of action? Or do both?

closed as too broad by Brian Borchers, user3209815, gman, David Richerby, user2390246 Oct 10 '16 at 12:56

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • is the 'academic journal' you speak of to keep track of your progress an electronic logbook or some method of documenting and logging your work? It sounds as if it is, do you not think it is important to document what you do in the format that is required? – Carol Oct 9 '16 at 12:37
  • Unless you can make this question more general, ie applicable to people other than yourself, I think it's off-topic, as none of us can know whether your advisor's view is reasonable. Are there any other members of academic staff who know your work and know your advisor who you could turn to for advice? – Flyto Oct 9 '16 at 18:59

You have identified both strengths and weaknesses in your advisor, and pros and cons to staying the course. This is constructive.

One important thing I couldn't find in your assessment, though, was an overview of what the alternatives are. In other words, are there any other professors that would be a good fit for you?

If not, then I suggest, first, that you find some additional mentors, since 20 minutes per week, on an irregular basis, is not much. Second, that you get really good at writing those journal entries. On weeks when you have some extra stuff to report, file it privately, so you have something to pad your entry with on a week that might not look very impressive.

(If yes, then take a class from the other possible advisor, to get to know him or her. And don't burn your bridges prematurely with your current advisor.)


It is normal this issue makes you upset as it will have a huge impact on your future. Everybody has doubts, and it is good to explore them and not to rush into things wihtout thinking.

First, about your advisor : he seems to be a respectable person (as you say it yourself) so what he is saying needs to be heard. Maybe you are not meant to do a PhD and it will be better to do a master. You need to ask yourself why a PhD is important for you?, is it mandatory for the professional goals you want to achieve? Are you willing to sacrifice (hobbies for examples) and work more for it?

If you think your advisor doesn't spend enought time with you, you should say it to him and ask him to provide help : by himself or to appoint to you a more senior student.

Final question you should ask yourself and maybe the most important one: besides your advisor, the puplications and other things, do you enjoy studying/working on the content of the PhD?

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