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My advisor is crazy


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So I'm only in my second semester, and I love my PhD program. I chose my advisor because her interests matched mine, and she seemed very nice for the first semester (although I was hearing some weird things here and there). Now, a month into the second semester, she's teaching one of my main courses. As our instructor, she has morphed into a monster. Don't get me wrong, the course is excellent...we are learning a lot and it's well structured and we all find it very useful. But she is completely erratic. She makes assignments at the last minute, giving us little-to-no instruction on them, and is then angry when we don't do them correctly. When we try to email her to clarify the assignments, she refuses to respond. One of her "goals" for the course is to develop our professional vocabulary, but her method of doing so is to CONSTANTLY interrupt us, ridicule us, and then derail the original conversation so that she can tell us why we need to use one word over another. When someone asks a question about the material, she mocks them. It's a nightmare.

So my problem is that I cannot sit silently and abide abuse like this, and if she offends me in class I will tell her so right then. The rest of the class is FURIOUS with her, but until now I've been the only verbal one. So during my weekly advisory meetings with her, which occur the day after my class with her, she insists on discussing what "my problem" was the day before and how we can work on ME. Trust me, I am not the problem here. I have subsequently found out that this person has changed her name because she received such horrible reviews when she taught undergrad that no one signed up for her classes anymore. She has been denied jobs that she has wanted because of this. The entire department is very aware of her behavior (this is a consistent problem every year-- last year she called a student an "infant"), but seem unable to do anything about her.

Yesterday evening we had a huge blow-up during our meeting over the way she was speaking to me. She was being sarcastic and nasty and I told her I didn't need to be spoken to like that and walked out.

Has anyone else had a nightmare advisor like this? Or switched advisors due to personality conflicts (rather than evolving research interests)? I would love to hear from someone who has been in a similar situation.

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That is a real shame this is not a new problem but one that has been brought to her attention before! Can she not see there is a pattern? People are not responding positively to her teaching style? She must have one of the world's largest blinders! Also, is this aspect of her personality completely a surprise to you? You got to know her when she was not an instructor, was she like this? Something about being in the 'teaching' position makes her like this. Her behavior sounds like she may be over-dominating students to keep/establish the upper hand? Maybe she feels like, for some reason, she needs to assert herself...Anyways, this is just me rambling, don't pay too much attention to it :)

Anyways, it sounds like you were able to deal with her for a while before it got to be too much. Have you talked to the department head or ombudsman about this? I know someone who had to switch advisors because their relationship was going in a downward spiral, luckily the department was behind it and she switched and graduated - no problems.

I haven't been there myself though (knock on wood) but it sounds awful. I feel really bad you both left on bad terms...Good luck on the next step!

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That is a real shame this is not a new problem but one that has been brought to her attention before! Can she not see there is a pattern? People are not responding positively to her teaching style? She must have one of the world's largest blinders! Also, is this aspect of her personality completely a surprise to you? You got to know her when she was not an instructor, was she like this? Something about being in the 'teaching' position makes her like this. Her behavior sounds like she may be over-dominating students to keep/establish the upper hand? Maybe she feels like, for some reason, she needs to assert herself...Anyways, this is just me rambling, don't pay too much attention to it :)

Anyways, it sounds like you were able to deal with her for a while before it got to be too much. Have you talked to the department head or ombudsman about this? I know someone who had to switch advisors because their relationship was going in a downward spiral, luckily the department was behind it and she switched and graduated - no problems.

I haven't been there myself though (knock on wood) but it sounds awful. I feel really bad you both left on bad terms...Good luck on the next step!

She does seem to have huge blinders. This was not a complete surprise, partially because I had been warned about her erratic personality beforehand and partially because my interactions with her sometimes felt "forced"...as though she was making a HUGE effort to be nice and supportive, but that it wasn't coming naturally. I have a feeling that she can also become this way in the course of advising as well, but that I just haven't been there long enough to see it happen that way.

Apparently, when there have been issues with her before, our ombudsman was sympathetic but unhelpful. The department head is a very timid person whom everyone agrees would be largely ineffective. I am attempting to meet with the former department head who is very assertive and has been helpful to other students who also had problems with this particular prof. It's just so frustrating.

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