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My thesis advisor asked me on a date


PsyD108
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Well, I have started working on my thesis recently under the supervision of my advisor who is very attractive and well known in the community. We are not far apart in age and have a lot in common. He recently asked me out and though I said yes, I am now wondering if that was the right choice.

I am worried that if others find out we will both be reprimanded. I am also concerned that if the relationship doesn't work it will make our professional relationship very akward. I don't know if anyone else has found themselves in my position (though I assume some have) but I would appreciate some input on this predicament. Thank you

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There are reprecussions to consider in case you get caught. He would be reprimanded and some action could be taken against him. I'm not sure you would be reprimanded but you still stand to lose a lot. You might be asked to switch advisors, in which case you might have to start over or change your thesis topic. Your joint work, or even your solo work that was done while he was your advisor could be suspected of being the product of his work, not yours. I've seen on a number of occasions the talent and dedication of younger (female) students be questioned and the results of their work ascribed to their senior (male) advisors. Similarly if the relationship becomes serious, you'll have to report it to university officials and it will become publicly known, in which case again the above outcomes are both likely.

If the relationship doesn't work out, regardless of whether or not you get caught, again you stand to lose more than him. If the working relationship becomes uncomfortable, you might be forced to leave or change advisors. If you stay and feel that he treats you unfairly, you'll have a hard time explaining why and finding someone to defend your rights. You won't be able to get a LOR from him in the future, which could seem suspicious to hiring committees.

I'm not saying not to go for it necessarily - I've seen some of these relationships work and make both parties very happy. But consider seriously the risks that are involved before you make a decision.

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I think its a very bad idea, of course it could end up great, but the chances of that are so very small, and the chances of it ending up incredibly awkward or worse are so great. I don't know if you have the kind of relationship with this adviser where you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts with him, but if you have doubts about dating him, then you should probably tell him rather than just going along and seeing how it turns out.

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You should decline and possibly switch thesis advisors (if you think things will be uncomfortable) as mentioned above. This really cannot turn out well for your professional relationship/reputation. Even if you're a good researcher, it might come back to bite you by the university OR even in the future if it gets out that you dated him. Even if you know you have common interests/you're attracted to him, others might assume you're doing this for the wrong reasons--which might hurt your reputation when looking for jobs in your field.

If you do find him attractive and find it difficult to tell him no, tell him that if he's truly interested in you, he should back off. If he truly cares about you, he'll consider how this could hurt you. There's always the option of telling him that once you have your Ph.D/landed a position, you're open to the possibility of dating. Best luck in this situation..

Edited by quantitative
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Just sounds to me like the risks (having to switch advisors, possible time lost on thesis) outweigh the benefits (sex and companionship).

If one very attractive man asked you out, chances are there are probably plenty more very attractive men (with possibly better professional ethics) at your university who would like to date you.

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I don't know about your university, but at mine, that's illegal. You're not supposed to date someone you supervise or even someone you might supervise in the future.

Let's say you aren't caught, though, that you can "get away with" the relationship; think about what sort of relationship it would be. If you ever decide that it isn't working, you will trapped. You'll be afraid to tell your advisor that you want out because of the way he might take the rejection. And even if you are brave enough to say something and he does take it well, it's gonna be incredibly awkward working together after you've split up.

It's just a very, very bad idea.

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him asking you out is definitely unethical, but it isn't illegal at every school. it's worth finding out whether it's illegal at your institution before the date.

in my second hand experience, this will NOT adversely affect him, even if the relationship ends terribly, and WILL adversely affect you even if the relationship ends up great. if things go great and you get married, you will always be the advisee that he married. your colleagues will not take your work seriously, they'll assume you received your jobs and grants because of him, your career will never match his let alone surpass it. in your professional life, you will (at best!) be nothing more than his wife. if the relationship doesn't go well and it ends, the best case scenario then is switching advisors and not needing him on your dissertation committee. more likely is that one of you will think the work relationship is still fine and keep being his advisee, but he'll hold you up, actively sabotage your progress, ignore you altogether, or derail your dissertation.

listen... a few years ago, at my undergraduate institution, a female graduate student started dating her advisor. he dumped her, harshly, and then she killed herself. her suicide note said it was because of him. if he breaks up with you, you don't just lose your relationship. you risk losing your career, everything you've work for over these years. i hope the dick was worth it.

also... the power dynamics between an advisor and an advisee dating are so incredibly unbalanced. he is in a position of power over you, there is NO WAY you could EVER have a truly equal relationship, as awesome as he may treat you. whether or not it's illegal it's hugely unethical and you should question the character of any man that thinks it's okay to date one of his subordinates.

don't shit where you eat.

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Don't sh*#% where you eat. Sorry but it's true.

Ask yourself why you're attracted to him? Be honest with yourself. This man is in a position of power over you, and despite how you want to look at it, this situation is extremely one-sided.

If you are doubting yourself already, listen to that little voice inside your head. It's speaking for a reason. Hope things work out whatever you decide.

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At many unis, it is not allowed as there is a huge conflict of interest.

Even if things work out great between you guys, and you don't get caught/there are no obvious negative repercussions, it is not professional and will most likely make your colleagues (other students, faculty) feel very uncomfortable. Some might say that you shouldn't care what other people think, and that there isn't favoritism despite the circumstances, but those claims are misguided and frankly wrong. This is a workplace and once you disregard the advisor/student boundary, it can really change the dynamic not only between you and your professor, but you and your colleagues (as well as him and his colleagues).

I would advise against it. Frankly, I am rather shocked that he would ask his student out on a date... I would consider that an abuse of power. Even if the attraction is mutual, if he has no respect for the advisor/student boundary, then who knows what may happen down the line. The advisor/student boundary is good to ensure that conflicts can be easily resolved, and as anyone knows... something simple + sex = something complicated.

edit: I would like to add that I have seen this happen. Multiple times. It is awkward for everyone.

Edited by katerific
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Aside from the unethical aspect of this situation, and what's been mentioned above there are other consequences to think about...(As katerific and others noted above... )

  • Your academic credibility amongst your peers (other grad students/future colleagues) may be undermined. They might feel that you are getting preferential treatment that's based on your romantic relationship with the professor, rather than your own merit and abilities.
    • Spinning off from this, if you stay in academia, then you might be ostracized once you graduate and try to look for a job. Your cohort now - regardless of school - is the generation of academics who will be your peers and your professional colleagues.

    [*]If your relationship works out and let's say you make it official, get married, have a kid or move in together then your relationship will be well known and again, your academic credibility might be judged

    [*]If your relationship doesn't work out then it can be massively uncomfortable and you might STILL be ostracized once someone gets wind of it. People tend to complain or talk too much when relationships go sour; in a worse case, the other party might turn vindictive and again, you'd be in an awful position.

All in all... a bad decision...

On the up side, is it possible that the request to go out is not romantically intended but was supposed to be a purely platonic thing?

Edited by anthroDork
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Are you interested enough to switch advisors, and possibly fields, for a chance at this relationship? Because that's what it would take, assuming you'd like to have a career. (You should probably switch advisors anyway, but if you're serious, you'd need to get out of his sphere of influence altogether.)

Maybe you're soul mates, or maybe he's the department bicycle (every student gets a ride...). It doesn't matter. Even if you're fantastic at what you do, nobody will believe him about it - they'll assume you're just fantastic in bed, and he'd like to keep you happy. Plus, you aren't likely to get the advising you need. Personally, I'm in grad school to get better at what I do; I want an advisor who will tell me why my work sucks and how to fix it, not a supportive boyfriend who will let me slide, or worse, a bitter ex who I'm awkwardly avoiding.

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Wow - I would run for the hills were I you. I know my response is not as eloquent as those above, but I am a bit shocked. The preceding advice is all very sound; your situation has no happy ending. Something (if not several things) will suffer: your career, your heart, your peer's opinions, etc etc etc.

Cancel the date. Switch advisors.

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I think everyone here has already stated the basic pros and cons- the only thing I would add is small, but I would say it's not much different than an employee dating the boss. Not only are authority blah blah blah issues in question, but also, personally, you are erasing any boundaries between private life and work/school life. If your adviser should be pointing out flaws or giving you a hard time with your work, once you leave that office, he/she doesn't change personalities or personas- your adviser is the same person. So either you will find it even more difficult to deal with critique, or the adviser will not give you the push/challenge that you need to excel in fear of offending you. I think things are bound to get complicated in a situation like this.

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Bad idea, but you are kind of stuck; as soon as he asked you on a date you were put in a bad situation with no good options, and saying yes just made matters worse. Is there any way you can pretend that it isn't a date? Make it seem like you think it's just a casual meeting or something along those lines? In any case, I think you should get a new advisor if you can.

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I for one would really like to know when and how you resolve this, OP! Its an incredibly awkward, uncomfortable, and even unfair (?) situation to be put in. The solution can seem really obvious and straightforward to GC posters, but we aren't having to deal with this firsthand. I completely agree with the other posters about retracting your acceptance of the date/dinner/get-together/whatever and working to find a new advisor and just want to say good luck! Being a grad student is hard enough!

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Are you interested enough to switch advisors, and possibly fields, for a chance at this relationship? Because that's what it would take, assuming you'd like to have a career. (You should probably switch advisors anyway, but if you're serious, you'd need to get out of his sphere of influence altogether.)

Have to agree with this. A friend of mine fell in love with her grad advisor. She ended up having to find a new advisor and a co-chair from another department. The two of them were working in related fields, obviously, but now their work is a bit differentiated. They actually got married well before she finished her PhD (started dating years before that) and are now lucky that she managed to get a government fellowship that allows her to stay in the city where he's got a job as a full professor for the next few years. They're happy and have managed to work things out. BUT, that was in a department with a history of male profs dating (and in some cases marrying) their female grad students. The story I just told is one of 5 in that department where the male prof married his former student. Key word in that last sentence being former.

I for one would really like to know when and how you resolve this, OP! Its an incredibly awkward, uncomfortable, and even unfair (?) situation to be put in.

Agreed. I would love to know what happens.

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To the OP: since you (and presumably your advisor) are in the field of psychology, you should be aware of the literature on dual relationships and their potential negative consequences. See, for instance, this article titled "Avoiding Exploitive Dual Relationships": http://kspope.com/dual/gottlieb.php.

Frankly, the fact that your advisor knowingly asked you to enter a romantic relationship that will inevitably complicate and endanger your professional relationship sends up all kinds of red flags. I strongly doubt the professional and the personal integrity of your advisor. Danger, Will Robinson, danger!

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