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JuniusBattius

Confusing and Absent Advisor

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Posted (edited)

Hi all. I've been in a confusing situation with my advisor for the past few months. I am worried that they are leading me down the wrong scholarly paths or, for lack of a better phrase, on wild academic goose chases. Some of this is venting, but it's also helpful for contextualizing my issues, and I would appreciate any advice that you might have.

For some time, they have been urging me to publish a paper that I wrote for one of their classes. The paper was bad. Very bad. But, I wanted to trust this person and appreciated the encouragement, so I continued researching it in what little spare time I had. As soon as I passed my exams, I set to work on synthesizing my research and revising the paper to make it something sensible, meaningful, and substantial. I sent several drafts to my advisor in hopes of getting feedback, but if I received any at all, it was superficial or vague ("This paragraph is nice," "You want to use a $100 word here when a 69 cent word works just fine," and "You need to write for a broader audience," as examples). 

Finally, feeling a bit defeated,  I sent a draft to a trusted peer, who gave me meaningful criticism and feedback. I employed it, and then asked my advisor which journal I should be submitting this thing to anyway. Their response was that I should send it to the Big Name Journal in my field, which was anxiety-inducing to me, but I sent it. And, as I had anticipated, it was rejected. Which didn't upset me, but... 

... upon informing my advisor of this (via text message, as they are virtually unresponsive to my emails and not dependable for meetings), I received a wave of texts criticizing my theoretical approach and how I need to "write differently" and "re-orient [my] head." None of these criticisms were made by the journal - in fact, their remarks directly contradicted the approaches I learned from my advisor's classes. So, I told my advisor that I need more specific criticism from them and that I don't want to publish in this journal right now because I'm a young scholar and my work isn't quite mature enough for such a publication. They went completely silent.

They are presently overseas, which understandably causes delays in communication. My emails to them have gone largely ignored, but they have emailed me about pedicures and nights at the bar with their colleagues, and messaged me on WhatsApp to request that I run errands for them on campus. To top everything off, they asked me to nominate them for a teaching award when they return to the US this Fall, and I know that if I don't do it, their behavior could worsen. 

I don't know what to do - I am horrified that this person is just stringing me along because they are contractually obligated to have graduate students. I've already passed my exams so it seems pointless to try to transfer out or acquire a different advisor. Is there any way that I can maneuver this person into caring about my scholarship beyond a superficial degree? 

Edited by JuniusBattius

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Posted (edited)

Not sure I'm in the best place to give any advice, but I always put my mental health first when doing research, because I cannot produce anything of quality if I am not mentally well. I'm saddened to hear about what you're going through.

It sounds like you have tried to be direct with them but they have not reciprocated. I don't know of easy 'maneuvers' to change how advisors treat students- when I have seen a change in an advisor's behaviour in a positive direction, it was very gradual, taking several years.

Have you talked to grad students who have the same advisor? If there are ones more senior, some may have thought of workarounds.

I'm not sure how exams work at grad school- does this mean you are several years into your PhD? Can you clarify what you mean by it seeming pointless to transfer/acquire a different advisor?

 

Edited by PianoPsych

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Sorry for the lengthy delay in response. The semester started off relentlessly.

I just passed my comprehensive exams and prospectus defense this past Spring. In theory, all I need to do now is write my dissertation. This seems impossible to do without feedback, which I don't predict I will get.

I'm also concerned about what this advisor's letter of recommendation looks like - they've claimed that I received a fellowship because of their letter in the past, but said letter was turned in late and I went into the interview extremely prepared anyway. It's very... uncomfortable.

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On 7/28/2019 at 2:37 PM, JuniusBattius said:

Is there any way that I can maneuver this person into caring about my scholarship beyond a superficial degree? 

Unfortunately, @JuniusBattius, the answer is probably "no." You may be better served by coming to an understanding that this individual is not going to provide the support you need the way you need it, to say nothing of the support you deserve as a young scholar.

Can you explore opportunities to shuffle your dissertation committee so that this person remains on it but in a less prominent role (not chair or first reader)? Before making the switch, you will want to make sure that your ducks are all in a row.

A part of this process should include having multiple copies--both physical and digital--of the person's unprofessional texts and emails to you as well as all communication that made you feel very uncomfortable personally. This latter category should include the requests for personal favors and errands but maybe not the feedback on your writing or your approach to your craft or the boasting about the LOR leading to your fellowship. The two are part of a larger screwed up whole but the sledding will be harder if you attempt to make that case.

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