Long story sort, I am a young undergraduate student (exact sciences) working on a project with one of my professors. I proposed the idea I had together with my references on him and fortunately he agreed to supervise my project, although it doesn't quite fall under his research interests and expertise(half of the project).

It looks like the project-thesis is going to lead in one or more publications. At one of our meetings he offered me a PhD position after I graduate, after seeing I got some potential, I assume.

Unfortunately I acknowledge myself as a bad student, in the sense of the relationship between the professor and the student. The student is supposed to listen to the professor's points and suggestions and ask for his recommendations-corrections etc.

I'm a bad listener, and quite impulsive, I have to admit. After he goes through my writings during the meeting and asks questions trying to understand I am constantly interrupting in order to explain myself.

Most of the time I know the material pretty well(I always provide a list of references at each meeting related to the work I've done the days before). I understand this may be perceived as me being arrogant and selfish. However this happens completely spontaneously as an attempt of defence; (I've had a professor in the past constantly asking questions at me until I don't have a complete reply or until it's wrong. Then he would just brag I have no idea what I'm taking about.)

By no means I want to harm my relationship with my supervisor. I am certain a change of my behavior is needed, but have no idea how to proceed.

  • 7
    You haven't actually asked a question. If the question is "I have identified that I don't listen enough and sometimes speak before I have thought things through, and I am worried that this may be hurting my relationship with my supervisor. What should I do?" then the obvious answer is that you should listen more and make a conscious effort not to speak before you think things through. It is hard to think of a less obvious answer based on the information given. Dec 10, 2016 at 1:56
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    The way I see it, you have spotted and acknowledged your own character flaws, which is something 90% of us have an expletive deleted hard time doing. Just work on what you already know you need to work on. Extra credit for anyone who gets the expletive deleted historical reference :P Dec 10, 2016 at 5:42

3 Answers 3


If the professor had concerns about your defensive behaviour, he would not have offered to sponsor your doctorate. He may feel that the behaviour will disappear once you've gained more confidence, or simply doesn't care. Changing your behaviour is only something you can do, if it truly bothers you.

  • Regarding the confidence thing, my heart still pounds when I enter the office.
    – user66150
    Dec 10, 2016 at 0:58
  • That's a normal response to stress, especially if you feel you have to prove something. At this point in your education, you're not expected to have all the answers, so don't put too much pressure on yourself.
    – Inde
    Dec 10, 2016 at 15:28
  1. Some collaborative relationships involve a lot of mutual interrupting. That drives me nuts but my spouse had a collaborative relationship of this type once, during a postdoc. I couldn't stand to listen to the two of them constantly jumping in on each other's sentences. But they were as happy as clams. I think they were so much on the same wavelength that they felt like Siamese twins.

    I don't know whether your relationship with your professor is like this or not.

  2. What about your ability to listen without impulsively interrupting with others? If you have trouble with this in general, you could make an appointment with your doctor for an evaluation for ADHD. Impulsivity is one of the hallmarks of ADHD. (If you turn out to have it, whether or not you decide to try one of the various medications that are available, just knowing that you have it can be quite helpful, in terms of understanding yourself, and learning coping mechanisms.)

  3. Is your relationship with the professor satisfying? Do you feel that he is contributing enough to be able to be your advisor? If not, I would suggest you work with someone else for your PhD.


I agree with Inde that the professor would not have offered you a PhD position if he were much concerned about your behaviour. However, you are wise to recognise this problem and want to change it. The good news is that you are likely to get better at this with age (at least that's my experience), but I have a few suggestions that may help.

First, when the professor gives you feedback, focus on listening to all of it before you even think about replying. Then, before you respond, ask yourself:

  1. Is it really worth correcting the other person? Will either of you care about this conversation tomorrow?

  2. Is the feedback entirely wrong? For example, I submit an article to a journal, and I'll get a comment back from the reviewer saying that I didn't talk about X. But I did talk about X! Then it occurs to me that if the reviewer missed it, maybe another reader might miss it, so it might be worth beefing up what I wrote about X, or making it clearer, or something like that.

If the answer to both questions is yes, take a deep breath (to give yourself one last chance to think it over), and then explain your side of things.

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