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Pls help!!!, how do I graduate with MS after 2yrs and 1.5yr of unending thesis corrections?????

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Hi guyz,

Im seriously impressed with suggestions offered on this forum to graduate students. I 'stumbled' over this excellent site while trying to find sincere advice on my current predicament. I am currently a grad student working towards MS in Electrical Engineering with concentration in Control Systems and Power.

Ok, long story short, here is my predicament.

I have been an RA in my grad program for 2years, started Fall 2010 and this is Fall 2012. To ensure I graduate on time (May 2012). I started working on my thesis by Mar 2011. I completed about 80% of my thesis by February 2012 and filed for candidacy December 2011. While trying to get my thesis committee memebers about my defense date by April 2012, suddenly my thesis advisor tells me he does not agree with my thesis results and started suggesting changing my thesis. I refuted and complained to the head of department.

But little did i know that the chair only wants to be in good terms with my advisor and he did not support me changing advisor. With all pressure coming from my advisor to change topic, i later started working sleepless nights on any changes he makes. Now, he has made several corrections up to the point I can say im now doing like a 3 year funded proposal. I work on my thesis everyday to make all changes and STILL does some part of his research and reports.

Now, my advisor is delaying my defense by defaulting to pay my Spring 2012 tuition so I defend this Fall 2012. I stopped working on his research recently when it seems pretty clear he wants to keep me as long as possible to work on his research and do ALMIGHTY thesis. the head of department is not helping when i complained of changing topic and advisor. Now, im stuck and frustrated and finding all possible means to get out of this mess. Honestly, I have totally lost interest in updating my thesis and would appreciate any advice on how to handle this situation. Moreover, I just want to get my MS and I have told my advisor I am not interested in a phd. Over the years, he hardly graduate students cos his focus seems to be on publication and grants since he is a full professor. please, i need help and advice on how to get out of this situation. it is 'eating' deeply into my emotional stability.

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First, this sounds awful. So lets start by taking a deep breath. Now let it out.

OK, to the task at hand.

I have some questions for you that will hopefully let us narrow in on the best course of action:

1. Were you meeting regularly with your adviser prior to this April?

2. Do you have other avenues of faculty support such as an academic adviser/faculty student liason (not your research adviser) or a dean?

3. Is there any pressing need to be done beyond being feeling tired with the topic? ie will they pull funding, do you have a significant other that is moving, do you want to apply to jobs?

4. Can you clarify where the prof is coming from? You state that he hardly graduates students as a fully tenured professor, which seems abnormal--generally it is young faculty that want to keep their trainees on. Does your prof have a lab tech/manager, or is he using you as one?

5. Can you please clarify how exactly he is preventing you from graduating? His act of paying your tuition for this Spring shouldn't force you to stay.

I think the first course of action (which it sounds like you may have already done) is to have a sit down and explain that you don't want or need a perfect thesis, at this point you want to be done. Explain why your work is acceptable/accurate and should be signed off on. He can't ethically sign off on something that he believes is deeply flawed, so try to clarify whether he objects to your work or simply wants to tie up more loose ends (a more complete thesis). I'd also point out that you have hit the breaking point on this and are not interested in pursuing the topic further--it is no longer motivating.

If this isn't getting you anywhere, the next step is to find an authority figure other than the department chair who will listen to both your vies and your profs, perhaps at together in a group meeting. You should be able to provide compelling evidence that a) your work is of thesis quality relative to the department standards, and b ) you are being prevented from graduating for reasons unrelated to the department's expectations (not your adviser's).

I want to point out that trying to jump advisers when you already have thesis work and writing essentially complete seems like a far worse option than pushing things another 6 months. No program I know of will let you simply switch advisers and publish the work you did with someone else and that the new adviser had nothing to do with.

Edited by Usmivka
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Thanks so much for expressing your views on my situation. I sincerely appreciate your viewpoints. I would appreciate more suggestions if you could take time reading my answers to your questions. My response may be a bit lumped up as I had to respond using my phone.

#1. I was meeting with him at least twice a week and doing presentation on my progress every 2weeks. The chair of the department had called for a meeting sometime in November 2011 and advised me and another colleague in like me about trying our best to do our thesis on time 'cos he is aware most students of this professor do not graduate at the time stipulated on candidacy form.

#2. At the moment I am funding myself. I had made several attempts to source funds from other faculty members. But little did I know these professors always inquire from him that they want to fund me and immediately he paints me black and gives flimpsy excuse that I am in the middle of completing a project. So did I complete 2 projects in my first year that led to 2 papers and subsequent funding from a new agency this year.

#3. Seriously, I had made efforts to apply for jobs and was given offer letter which were later rescind because I my school immigration officer stopped my OPT ie. Work permit based on my adviser communication with him that I had not complete my thesis. I explained my situation to this officer but he told me he cauld have helped me with the OPT if I had defended. Because of this loss, I notarised the changes being requested by my adviser and indicated that I would defend by October. But by him failing to pay my spring tuition I can't register for 1credit thesis so I defend. In other words I have financial hold preventing being eligible for defence. It is this development that really got me frustrated. That's why I stopped working for him immediately but lost total interest working for him.

#4. My prof does not have post-doc, lab manager or any senior researcher like phd student. He has the reputation of delaying students graduation of which I was not aware of until I started my program. The chair has assisted me to but he seems to be mindful of being in good terms with my advisor instead of hitting the nail on the head. From my perspective, he seems to be a sadist that does not want his students succeed.

The position of my chair on this matter does not surprise me. My prof had been chair for a decade before this new chair and he has this reputation of continual funding from agencies which makes the chair always want to be in good terms with him. In my observation, starting from graduate school to my department, each authority figure seems unconcerned about students success or graduation but they are much more interested in the level of funds coming from each faculty member. I don't know why they are not reasoning that students are assisting in securing these grants, though not in all situations. But for me, my prof depends on me a lot. Right now, he might loose a grant 'cos I'm not assisting him in the grant report. He does this so that if there is any rejection of any of his work, he shifts the blame on the student that assisted him. Moreover, the report is not related to my thesis.

Even if I somehow force myself to complete the notarised changes in the thesis, how am I gonna defend it. Another thing hurting me deeply is the time I'm loosing in my life. I really tried to work ahead on my thesis so I move forward with my life on time. Seeing my colleagues graduate, get jobs while for me at each passing day, my dream seems to be drifting away into mere 'conception'

Please I need more suggestions 'cos I'm not sure if a lawyer can bail me out of this matter.

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Hopefully some others will chime in here, I'm afraid this may be beyond me.

So you've been in regular communication with your adviser and you are both clear about your goals and expectations as well as his?

I'd still like to find out who else it is possible for you to get help from (a dean, an ombudsman, etc?).

If you haven't graduated and are here on a student visa, you can't take a job. This is US law, not the school official's fault.

So the central issue here is that the prof will not approve of you defending this spring. If he does, everything else can be solved. You and the prof seem to have agreed to a series of steps that you will take before he will consent to signing your thesis--you appear to have accepted these in the eyes of any impartial arbitrator by having the conditions notarized, which is a highly unusual step in an academic setting (so stop trying to get out from doing them at this point). This really limits your options, and because you are refusing to help him (however justified), it seems unlikely he will ever willingly allow you to graduate. And I don't see other faculty helping you because you appear to have tried to circumvent him by that route already without being fully prepared to make your case.

I don't see a way out of this, other than again appealing to the chair (with well laid out arguments), the dean, or the university ombudsman. You will also need to present a well documented timeline of correspondence reinforcing your assertions that he is unfairly preventing your defense for reasons that are not related to the school's expectations for a thesis. But you will have to show that you have done all the work that you consented to already.

Edited by Usmivka
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As others have said, I also think you need to look beyond the department chair and see if there is anyone in the graduate school you can consult with. This sounds like a no-win situation for you.Tell your "advisor" that you have no money left to self fund beyond whatever term, and you either need to graduate by then or drop out. Maybe then he will stop taking advantage of you. However, you may actually need to drop out to extricate yourself. So sorry you are in this situation.

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In addition to what others have said, you could try looking into the resources that your university provides for problems such as yours. For example, there may be councilors you can consult for legal rights as well as for general advice about how to proceed. Perhaps the student council can find someone experienced to support you on-site on your campus, or can provide someone to advocate for you with the program or school authorities. Maybe you need to seek out the ombudsperson or the assistant dean in charge of graduate students.

All these contingencies depend upon you being able to prove that your advisor is unfairly taking advantage of you and that he is not letting you graduate for irrelevant reasons so before you talk to anyone you need to decide what you can prove. If all else fails, I think that emmm's suggestion has a high chance of working. Once you make it clear to your advisor that he can't take advantage of you, he'll have to let you go one way or the other - you just need to make sure it's the way you want, with the degree!

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  • 2 months later...

I'm from a completely different context (Europe) but I do feel for you.

Adding to what fuzzylogician says - If you have any good trusted friends in the faculty or at other universities then I would have them look over your thesis and give you a decisive estimate (yes this is ready or no). You obviously need to bypass your advisors and proving that his judgement is completely biased by his own motivation should be the best way. At this point I would not be afraid of becoming enemies with him since he is just holding you back.

At my university (or rather - in my sub-department) there has been a tendency of being allowed to defend a thesis but then being held back to "improve the finished product" until you can publish it. So if you defend by end of spring term then they will hold you until they feel you are ready to leave. Feels like an increasing trend in Research-heavy places.

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  • 6 months later...

Thank you guys for your suggestions and contributions.

I eventually graduated this Spring semester. But, it took great efforts from the Provost as well as the Provost's Associate to assist me graduate despite all efforts made by my advisor not to let me. As you guys suggested, I already quit the program before getting to know the University's ombudsman. I was able to set up appointment with him and eventually convinced him that my advisor is deliberately making me not to graduate


I knew that certainly I had to stop working with my advisor 'cos his support is annually. By last Fall, I had no obligation with him. The only outstanding issue I was having with him was for him to sign my thesis.


The University ombudsman took up my case seriously. I was in touch with him till I graduate and later I started talking with the Provost directly. Sometime last semester, the Provost got in touch with my advisor to give the reason in writing why he did not pay for my last Spring tuition on time. Well, he gave flimsy excuse 'cos he knew the Provost would be on him since he cannot use his grants to pay for any past semester. Somehow, the Provost paid all my tuition and fees till I graduated this Spring semester.


I am so glad the Provost and the University ombudsman understood my situation perfectly. It only took one meeting for them to understood what I was passing through. I got to know later that the school's admins are aware of how this prof take advantage of students. They told me they were glad I reported to them and that they wished previous students had open up as well to the Provost. 


Thank you guys once again for your suggestions, I appreciate.

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  • 3 weeks later...

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