TL; DR How can I go about either convincing this unwilling advisor or others in my department to keep me despite poor performance?

*Thank you so much for your comments. It's beyond valuable that you are taking the time to read and share opinions. *

Background: I started PhD in management in a reputable institution in US, immediately after undergrad in a small university in Europe. The system works much more differently than I was used to and now I have invested all I can to this area. However, I lack prior experience in research, and especially when changing areas like this, need to develop very specific skills that were hard for me so far. Now I'm pretty beaten up and discouraged by potential advisors to go for a PhD.

The catch is when I applied, one senior faculty jointly appointed with this program and others was my primary "advisor"-candidate- and a second one supported this. Now, the second one has left the institution without any progress with research; and no one else in my department with similar topics is willing to advise me or fund any research I want to do. Without guidance or funding, this seems like a no way out. I really love the research the primary "advisor" is doing and want to continue on the topic I am in, but the topic is not the most common to find among researchers in my field.

My primary "advisor" is already planning to work with other students and my funding is not covering more than tuition after this first year. I really need someone to support me, and help me figure academia out as my first year was really bumpy. The department liaison and chairs are encouraging me to drop out and keep their money in...

  • I thought you're supposed to take courses in the first year of PhD.
    – Nobody
    Jun 25, 2017 at 5:25
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    @scaaahu that very much depends on the place.
    – Davidmh
    Jun 25, 2017 at 8:28
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    Your chance of convincing someone to keep you "despite poor performance" is low. You need to demonstrate that your performance is/has been improving. If that will be successful depends on how poor your performance was, how much it has improved and on your advisor and the competition at your institution.
    – user9482
    Jun 25, 2017 at 9:06
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    Also, you may need to be flexible about research area. Remember the objective at this stage is to learn to do research, not necessarily to work on a particular problem. Jun 25, 2017 at 10:36
  • @Roland , I truly agree on the necessity of an upward trend to show my true colors. Jun 27, 2017 at 9:29

1 Answer 1


Have a careful think: what makes you think that you will make a success of the PhD? I don't mean that in a harsh way, but as a genuine question. Your potential advisors seem to be recommending that you don't pursue the PhD, presumably based on their assessment of your performance over the first year. But perhaps you have abilities that they haven't really seen yet, or perhaps there were mitigating circumstances that led to poor performance, but you believe you will be able to turn it around. Once you have made this honest assessment, you can then make your case to your potential advisors to try and persuade them that you will be able to make a success of the PhD.

Of course, you also need to consider the possibility that these academics are right, and that you don't have what it takes to succeed in a PhD at this point in time. While it's not easy to face if this is something that you have set your heart on, they may have your best interests in mind. PhDs are hard, and are not for everyone. It might be the wrong thing to do to start off on a tough course, struggle through for a year or two more, and then discover that it really is not working out. Or you might stick it all the way, scrape through, but emerge exhausted and disillusioned. This may be what your potential advisors are trying to avoid, they have probably been through similar things in the past. I'm not saying they are right - they might not be. But equally, they might be. And perhaps your strengths are elsewhere, and they would be doing you a huge favour in directing you towards a more productive route.

You mention that you found it a big step up from your undergraduate studies, and that you lack research experience. Perhaps one option is to consider a research-based Masters course? This would provide you with something of an intermediate step, helping to clarify whether you are "cut out" for research, and giving you that vital experience. If successful, it would be a great way to provide clear evidence that you have some of the skills necessary for a PhD.

Again, please don't take any of this as a personal judgement. I don't know you, and I have no idea of your strengths and abilities. I just think it will be important for you to take a step back and make an honest appraisal rather than pressing forward with a single plan no matter what.

  • This is a very considerate way of evaluating my situation, therefore I will gladly take up on your perspective. I have this impostor feeling creeping up from the very beginning and cannot deny it. The only fact in there is that my program has accepted me to be under their supervision and funding, which I am losing faith in but should probably give more thought into. I wish I knew the way that "successful"& bright phd image emerges. (Perhaps even more so without a masters) However, my actual aim is to learn best practices in this research, hopefully staying in my current program. Jun 27, 2017 at 9:24
  • What I had some trouble in the beginning was that I didn't know I was so expendable, that I'd have problems financing my research. Would you suggest I try to focus on a narrower set of core skills such as statistical analysis of secondary data, as one way to mitigate lack of funding? Or am I way off with my current thinking? Jun 27, 2017 at 9:28
  • @curiousyetinexperienced I'm getting slightly mixed messages from your different posts. Is the main problem that your advisors don't feel you have the ability to continue (as implied by the TL;DR at the top), or is it that they lack funding, but would be happy to keep you on otherwise? Jun 27, 2017 at 9:58
  • I have been told that currently I need to be independent and initiative taking in terms of getting into research. From that I infer that faculty is neither fundamentally directing me outside of academia, nor taking a stance to help me with doing this project. Therefore I thought that financing was the primary reason of their neglect, but it's equally possible that they wish for me to drop out Aug 10, 2017 at 3:34

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