Kalyan, first of all, I'm so sorry that you've found yourself in this situation. It isn't your fault. There are bad people out there.
Before I launch into my answer, I want to challenge you on one thing that you said. You said:
I'm 29 years old and I'm actually not in a position to take a risk.
I don't know what your age means here (do you feel like that's old?). I'm 33, am starting my fourth year of PhD, I have a child on the way, and yet I can take risks. Reasonable risks of course. Life is full of twists and turns. You're employable. Worst case scenario, you'll have to go home without a PhD. But you are still a good person. He's the scumbag. Remember that.
Ok, let's break this down, and see what we can do. What are we facing?
- You are dependant on your supervisor for funding and your I-20
- Your supervisor is interfering with your research process, and not mentoring you
- Your supervisor is abusing you
- You haven't published yet
We'll start with number 1 -- this is the most urgent issue for you. However, this might also be the thing that needs the least attention on your part. For one, I think it's extremely likely he'll renew your I-20 because:
- You are free labour for him. It's to his advantage to keep you.
- If you leave without completing your PhD it will reflect badly on him
I know you feel powerless, but if these two things are true, then you have a very small sliver of power in this situation. You can use it to turn this situation around. And I will suggest ways that you can increase your power in this situation.
If he doesn't renew it, well, then no choice -- it's time to go home. This sucks, but there's no tough decisions to make. It will turn from a nightmare into a bad memory, and you will move on.
I want to spend quite a bit of time talking about issues 2 and 3, which are related.
You sound like a sincere person who really tries to do what they are supposed to do. It must be confusing to interact with someone like your prof, who is not like that at all.
For the sake of your mental health, and your effectiveness in handling this situation, adopt a pragmatic approach to managing your professor. Figure out what makes him tic, and how to hack him. Do not take anything he says seriously, but rather, consider it as data.
If he get's upset, that's data--and very useful data! When a person gets upset, it suggests that they were threatened or it may be that they are trying to use intimidation as a control strategy. Both of these things create major opportunities for you to get the upper hand.
Based on the behaviour you're describing, it seems like your prof gets upset during technical discussions, situations in which his outdated awareness of methods is at risk of being revealed. I suspect he is insecure about that.
If true, this is a source of hidden power that you can seize. Using someone's insecurities might be a foreign idea to you, but it's justified in self-defence. Your goal will be to use his insecurity, and your ability to alleviate it, as a subtle control strategy. Put the following things into practice:
- If he gets angry at you, stay very calm, speak in a low tone, as if you are quite comfortable. Practice visualizing this. It's good to combine tactfully formally submitting to him, through your choice of words, while using your body language and tone of voice to indicate that you aren't intimidated at all, and not intellectually submitting to him. If you show no signs of worry when he gets angry, it will disarm one of his main control strategies.
- When he says something that isn't true about the literature or the methods you're using, you need to react in a very specific way:
- frown ever so slightly, as if mildly disappointed
- look off to the left, as if you are thinking of how to say what you're about to say gently
- then gently indicate you know he is wrong while not saying so directly, and graciously saving him some credibility.
If you start to establish yourself as more knowledgeable than he is (of course without that ever being acknowledged), you will be in the position to control your conversations with him more.
Now, whether these very specific recommendations work at all has a lot to do with your prof's personality. It may also be more difficult for you if that isn't how your personality normally works. Try to remember that his getting angry is pretty silly. If he was a serious researcher, anger would be totally unnecessary.
My main point here is to try to illustrate how you can engineer your interactions with him with a concrete example. Generally, you should approach him not as a person, but as variable to be managed using careful and calm strategy.
An important part of making this work is to cut yourself off emotionally from him. This doesn't mean not expressing emotion (do, strategically), but rather don't let him drive your emotions. He has shown himself unworthy of that level of concern.
Let's touch on item 4.
I think it's easy to overestimate how big of a problem item 4 is. I know people who didn't publish until their 4th year, and people who didn't publish at all. It's true that it closes off opportunities to become a prof, but Academia is not all it's cut out to be. This doesn't prevent you from finishing your PhD, and it could be quite a fine PhD too.
There are some other things you can do to substantially improve your situation. Probably the main reason that this situation is so difficult is that you are so dependant on your prof. You can significantly reduce how dependant you are by building and strengthening your alternatives:
- seek out other professors that are working on things related to your research, and find excuses to meet with them and discuss their research. Many profs are very kind and open and interested in intellectual discussion. Form professional relationships based on your field and your knowledge. Explore collaboration and co-supervision if it makes sense. Co-supervision is a great way to pivot out of bad supervision relationship without having to hurt the original supervisor. It's a potentially win-win situation and I know people who have used it to get out of a bad situation.
- apply for jobs. You have a mechanical engineering undergrad degree I assume. Many employers would understand that you want to get out of your PhD early -- Academia is not for everyone. Of course you would be paid less, but still decently well, especially if your research is relevant.
- Reach out in your network -- acquaintances, friends, family back home, and really explore all of the opportunities and resources that are available to you. Are there people in your life that can offer some support emotionally, financially, or with transitioning out of this situation?
- Find out if leaving with a Masters is an option, and what you need to do that.
There are two reasons to engage in these activities. One is you might find a way out that is better than finishing your PhD.
The other is that letting your prof know you have a real alternative will fundamentally change your relationship. It doesn't need to be a great alternative, just a real one.
If you alter your interactions with your prof by staying calm when he is angry, signalling your superior knowledge of the state of the art, and developing viable alternatives, it could really change your position.
Now, imagine a scenario where you aren't held back by this prof. Imagine it is just you in an office -- no professor to help, but also no professor to interfere.
Given the work you've done, don't you think that, in another year or so, you could publish your work? I bet you could. Could it be that to take care of the fourth problem, you really just need to manage your prof enough to protect your intellectual freedom? This isn't easy, and most PhDs don't need to manage their prof while trying to get the hang of research. But I'm trying to suggest that it is doable.
One last thing you should do is seek out internal resources. There are probably support groups at your University for students that find themselves in tough situations with their supervisors. There may be university staff that you can confidentially discuss your issues with who might let you know about other options. Institutions have different kinds of rules and safety valves to handle irresponsible people like your prof. You might be lucky if you work at making your luck.
Do these things. Develop alternative exits. Manage your prof. Keep working while you're there. You can turn this around. Maybe you'll have your PhD after 5 or 6 years. Great! Maybe you pivot out to something else. Also great! Maybe you'll be out in two months -- at least there will be relief! It's uphill from here Kalyan. I know you can do it!