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hannes52

Should I tell the supervisor how I have been feeling?

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Dear all, 

Thank you for spending time reading this. I have been struggling with getting support from my current supervisor as she is the head of my department who is always very busy. I am a first year graduate student who started in this MS program last August and now it is only three weeks before I have to do a presentation to introduce my final project to  all the professors in the department. I have decided on this topic agreed by my supervisor in late February and have been working on a research proposal for the past a few weeks. I sent her the proposal before but never got any feedback as she has been really busy.

I have been meeting with her but not very regularly as the meetings have been delayed or canceled as things always come up and she could not meet me. This morning I was waiting for her for 10 min outside of her office only to receive her email saying "I am sorry I have to cancel our meeting". Turns out that she had a family emergency as well as a work emergency. OK fine if you have an emergency, but when I asked her about when we could meet again, she replied with one comment saying that I should sharpen my research question and work on the literature review before schedule another meeting with her and this second supervisor that I only met once. Even if it is a crappy proposal, I deserve more comment on two sentences. 

I have been feeling so lack of support from her and am just crashing down in the classroom now. I feel that I need to change the research topic because it is going nowhere while thinking that it is possible that the disappointment from communicating with this supervisor is stopping me from doing a better job. I feel that I need to change a supervisor but am too anxious to confront her as she has a lot of authority in the department. I just don't know what to do.

Any suggestions from anyone is appreciated.

Thank you!

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Is there anyone else you could meet with instead? Maybe you can add a second advisor instead of replacing your current one, so you don't have to have that conversation with her. A lot of the fit that goes into a supervising relationship is personal, not professional. If you need more attention than she can give you and that's affecting your well-being, you need to seek the support you're lacking. I'd try and view it as an incompatibility between work styles, which then means you don't need to blame her for anything. It's a simple reality that she's chair and is busy, and you would prefer to work with someone who's more available. This said, it'd be advisable to have someone in mind and to have at least some idea that they'd actually be a better fit and willing to take you on before you make any moves. So, what are your other options? Have you tried chatting with your advisor's other students about how they handle working with her? Try and talk to those who are a year ahead of you about how they went through the process. They might also have thoughts about who among the faculty gets along with your advisor and would be a good candidate for a second/replacement advisor and who might not be. The last thing you want is to hit some political hornets' nest. (As in, picking a second/replacement advisor who doesn't get along with your advisor, leading to either resentment or in-fights.)

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@fuzzylogician 

Thank you for your advice. I spoke to one student who is a year ahead of me and turns out that both her and another student felt exactly the same isolation and lack of support during their studies. Unfortunately it seems to be the pattern in this department and a lot of graduate students had to extent their studying period and delay graduation. She has suggested me to speak to my second supervisor and I have sent her my proposal to read. I don´t know what suggestion I will get from her(if any suggestion at all) but am just hoping for the best. 

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And I got a reply saying that she will read my proposal next week. Next week?? Really? I don't understand why they recruit people in the program as they clearly have to time for students!

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5 hours ago, hannes52 said:

And I got a reply saying that she will read my proposal next week. Next week?? Really? I don't understand why they recruit people in the program as they clearly have to time for students!

Hold on. You emailed someone and asked them to read your proposal. I'm going to venture a guess that they weren't sitting breathless by their computer just waiting for you to email; they might have actually already had plans for how they were going to spend their time this week, possibly even next. If you're in the US, the semester is wrapping up. They probably have other students, publications to work on, and many other demands on their time that are already in place. I think it's totally reasonable for them to take a week to read your proposal. This seems like an over-reaction, or unreasonable expectations for what you should get from your advisors and on what timeline. 

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thanks for your reply. Yes I agree with you and am overreacting now. I should have thought about professors being busy doing other work. I guess I just got very disappointed as I have been waiting for feedback on this proposal since march and have not gotten any from anyone.

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I had to switch advisors, so I understand a bit of your anxiety--though my circumstances were very different from yours and the support I needed was in a very different area. I find that faculty get a  little (or a lot) frustrated when students come to them with open ended complaints and no specific request or plan of action. It's not that they are rude or don't care about you. They just don't know what to do for you if you can't identify what it is you want from them, so they make you wait until they have an opening in their schedule big enough to untangle your problems with you. If you can go to your advisor and say something like "I need  ten minutes of your time to talk about x, y and z ideas" or "I would like feedback on these specific areas of the proposal, but I am also considering switching to this other topic and I have prepared an abstract of that potentially new proposal right here for you" you are more likely to get the concrete feedback that you crave. Nebulous, unconstructed commentary like "I feel I am not getting supported" results in equally nebulous, unhelpful responses. 

To answer your other question, some faculty get touchy if you recruit a new advisor before you talk to them. Others don't care. This would be something to ask of the other grad students in your department.  You don't want to offend your current advisor (and chair of your department) by announcing that you found someone else before you've even had a chance to clear the air with her, but you also don't want to waste her time. It really depends on the faculty member and your relationship with her.

Good luck!

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On 4/16/2018 at 2:20 PM, hannes52 said:

[...] she replied with one comment saying that I should sharpen my research question and work on the literature review before schedule another meeting with her and this second supervisor that I only met once. Even if it is a crappy proposal, I deserve more comment on two sentences[...]

If the brief comment had been exceptionally favorable, would you have been as disappointed? 

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Just some updates about this.

I decided to change my topic and came up with a new proposal before asking for a meeting with my supervisor. She agreed to meet with me and brought on board a second supervisor who I felt that would have more time for graduate students.

From autumn 2018 until now I have been working on my literature review and contacting potential interviewees and so far I have conducted four interviews, which have been sent to my supervisors for advice. After that I met them in Oct. 2018 before going abroad for an internship in Nov. I came back in Dec.and kept on working on lit review and interviews and sent updates to them in early January. There has been no reply from either of them and I sent another email on Feb. 1st and haven´t heard anything so far. I spoke with other graduate students who are a year before me and unfortunately she had to go through the same thing. They never read anything she wrote and they never reply until it was too late. Every single one student had to delay graduation for at least one semester, although am not sure if this is the reason. So, by now i have accepted the fact that I need to do everything independently and have been giving myself deadlines to send things to supervisors.

I am not gonna quit something I started, especially when I am so close to finishing. 

 

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On 4/16/2018 at 4:20 PM, hannes52 said:

I feel that I need to change the research topic because it is going nowhere while thinking that it is possible that the disappointment from communicating with this supervisor is stopping me from doing a better job. I feel that I need to change a supervisor but am too anxious to confront her as she has a lot of authority in the department. I just don't know what to do.

Sounds about right. That's grad school for ya! You'll constantly question your own decisions, and you'll perpetually have this vague feeling that you're doing something wrong. Heh! Fun times.

Don't worry, it'll all work out (probably), and you'll look back on your first year project later and realize nobody cared. Just kidding. Kind of.

On a more serious note...hey, look at it this way! When you've done everything you can, and you're just waiting on your advisor to follow up, the "ball is in his/her court." Nobody can blame you for taking too long because you've done your part, and you've made efforts to contact your advisor all you can. It's up to them! You're totally blameless at that point. That was the approach I took to allow myself to relax throughout grad school. Granted, I took 7 years to complete my PhD, but hey! ?

Edited by Arcadian

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On 2/9/2019 at 12:20 AM, hannes52 said:

Just some updates about this.

I decided to change my topic and came up with a new proposal before asking for a meeting with my supervisor. She agreed to meet with me and brought on board a second supervisor who I felt that would have more time for graduate students.

From autumn 2018 until now I have been working on my literature review and contacting potential interviewees and so far I have conducted four interviews, which have been sent to my supervisors for advice. After that I met them in Oct. 2018 before going abroad for an internship in Nov. I came back in Dec.and kept on working on lit review and interviews and sent updates to them in early January. There has been no reply from either of them and I sent another email on Feb. 1st and haven´t heard anything so far. I spoke with other graduate students who are a year before me and unfortunately she had to go through the same thing. They never read anything she wrote and they never reply until it was too late. Every single one student had to delay graduation for at least one semester, although am not sure if this is the reason. So, by now i have accepted the fact that I need to do everything independently and have been giving myself deadlines to send things to supervisors.

I am not gonna quit something I started, especially when I am so close to finishing. 

 

My supervisor too did not give me any of his time. Even if I wanted to discuss with him a point or two, he would show all the work he had to finish for the day and send me back. Part of the reason why he did not show any interest in my work was because he was expecting me to get a Ph.D. under him and I had denied his offer. Anyway, all other other students under him also felt neglected and were doing sub-par work which really frustrated me. But at the end of the day, after I convinced myself that no help was coming from anywhere else, I started working on my own and fortunately, the results came out to be correct.

The bottom line is, help yourself and turn off the self-pity mode. The satisfaction of doing your best even if the results take time is an accomplishment in itself. 

All the best!!

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