I am a PhD student and I hate my supervisors. they are bossy, do not allow me to explore my ideas because they have their own agenda and vision. Force me to publish in mediocre conference. Force me to cite all their friends and other students even if their work is irrelevant. They do research to further their academic careers rather than the love for science.

I have followed them and have finished 2/3 of my PhD life successfully. They have given me good feedback in recent yearly reports.

But I suddenly realise that this is not for what I started my PhD. I started my PhD to learn and explore Science. Gave up a top position in a company as a scientist to educate myself more and see myself stuck doing nonsense.

Now I am considering leaving my supervisors and alter my direction of study with someone else. Which implies I might have to work doubly harder and spend more time and probably eat up all my savings.

Should I live the hateful life and just get done with my PhD or should I take a bold step and do what I am passionate about. I have no interest in academia. I want to work in industry. I have come here to learn.

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    Why not polish up your resume, start job hunting, and return to industry as soon as you find a suitable job? Do you need the PhD? – Patricia Shanahan Sep 21 '17 at 13:10
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    If you're already 2/3 done, you can probably push to graduate quickly. If you have no interest in academia I wouldn't start another PhD... – nengel Sep 21 '17 at 13:13
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    You should decide whether you want to punish your supervisors, get a PhD, or pursue your direction of study. These three goals lead in different directions. – Dmitry Savostyanov Sep 21 '17 at 13:15
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    As someone who has changed advisors and directions with it, it's a significant setback that will probably add a few years to your PhD. – nengel Sep 21 '17 at 15:08
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    @QPaysTaxes It's surely a grey area, but in many cases, it's hard to pinpoint that a work is clearly irrelevant. You can always find some somewhat plausible connection, e.g., identify a common principle, or a meaningful way to combine two ideas. – lighthouse keeper Sep 21 '17 at 18:20

I'm addressing your particular goal of "I wish to change the direction slightly and explore more relevant techniques to solve the same problem I am dealing with".

One particular suggestion is to use a kind of "red herring" strategy: Work on two directions in parallel. The one direction is the boring/phony stuff that your supervisors want you to do, and that you will mainly discuss in meetings, thus giving them the impression that you buy into their game. The other direction is the direction you actually want to follow. The time to first mention this direction is when you have made some substantial results - you may then calmly announce that you plan to submit them to a specific conference.

  • I discussed some of the ideas when I was sure it will work. After a lot of fight they finally said that unless some top researcher does it and shows I cannot try it because it seems very new. Then, I decided that I must not work with these people. They just undermine me and want me to publish in mediocre conferences. Moreover, I have been offered help from a previous supervisor and I will have to include his name in a good work I wish to do now. The current set of supervisors will collaborate only with their friends - just a mention of my previous supervisor infuriated him. – skyislimit Sep 21 '17 at 14:08
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    @skyislimit 1. My suggestion is to confront them with results, rather than ideas. This corresponds to the idea to "ask for forgiveness, not permission". 2. Your conclusion that they want to undermine you is unnecessarily negative. One can easily assume that they act in good faith and just want to avoid risk, which is indeed always associated with proposing big ideas at big venues. – lighthouse keeper Sep 21 '17 at 14:48
  • The problem is simple. I do research because I love the challenge in exploring new ideas and making them work to solve problems. My supervisors do research to make sure they get published and get promotion, funding, new students and fame. New ideas are indeed risky but that is why I do PhD and left industry because in industry we make money - and they are honest about it. Eventually my PhD should be solving a problem in real life, not just end up as a useless publication which only my group will read and cite. – skyislimit Sep 22 '17 at 12:19
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    @skyislimit You're ranting about a situation for which you have the full responsibility: you agreed to working with those particular supervisors. Their research interests is something that you could have easily found out before doing so. Please quit the ranting, it's now time to focus on getting the job done. – lighthouse keeper Sep 22 '17 at 13:04

PhD times can be very frustrating; still, it's crucial to set aside frustration and clear your mind in order to achieve your goals. Please bear with me as I go over a few points:

You "Gave up a top position in a company as a scientist" but need a PhD to get the job you want (I guess that corresponds to a "top job") in industry? Clearly something is missing in this picture. Do you need that PhD or not? If not, you can stop reading here.

If you really need a PhD to get the industry job you want, then all you have to do is to learn what most of us learn too late in life: compromise. Yes, in academia as in industry the professors/managers set their own agenda yes they have their supporters and work mostly with them to achieve what is sometimes new science/value-added in the company, and sometimes personal interests/career goals.

That being said, nobody "forces" you to work on some goal off your working hours. And yes you can define "working hours" even as a PhD, they're just perhaps 50% longer :)

Arguing over your own ideas without showing at least a proof of concept won't lead you anywhere. Trust me, I have done the same mistake a million times. Go back home, study your own ideas, experiment with it, and come back to your supervisor only when some results (not ideas) are mature enough. Or if you prefer, take your former supervisor and work with him in parallel. Nobody is going to object if you use your spare time to explore your ideas, as long as you keep churning out stuff for your current supervisor.

If you accomplish something along your independent line of research, surely someone will notice and make room for it. But I insist: to accomplish is not just to have a brilliant idea: is to work its details out until it's clear that it's original enough and carries potential.

If you do that, you can 1) get the PhD title you need 2) get the positive feedback and recommendation letters you might need in the future 3) learn and do all the science you care and need.

  • Compromising means I have to do things I do not like. My current research area (narrowly focused on one method) is not worth getting published in top journals in my area. So if I pursue this I will not achieve my goal, that is, the top job as I need to contribute in the highest order. – skyislimit Sep 22 '17 at 12:22
  • I am aware of top academic jobs that you obtain accomplishing many things, among them publishing in the top journal in your area. And of industry jobs, where the name of the institute from which you graduate really matters, and what you have done in that time may be taken into account. If an industry job exists that focuses on a corner of your research field, that job may not exist by the time your graduate. Companies are aware of technology pace; that's why they hire PhD not just because they're familiar with the stuff they need, but more importantly because they assume you can keep learning. – famargar Sep 22 '17 at 12:58

It sounds like your advisors are risk-averse. This may be a good tactic if your main goal is to finish your PhD. However, you may still be able to sway them to your side by using an incremental approach.

One of my favorite advisors had a lesson she would impart to students eager to switch to a "new and exciting" topic. They idea was: don't come to me saying you have a brilliant idea and want to switch your research agenda. Instead, say that you have spent 2-3 days looking at this and feel the project is feasible and promising for the following reasons. Then ask for a specific length of time to generate "proof of concept." After that the right course of action will be self-revealing.

  • Unfortunately my supervisors are not motivated by science, but by greed to publish more and claim expertise in their fav. narroe technologies. So they do not let students explore anything else at all. – skyislimit Sep 21 '17 at 17:57

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