Jump to content

The abusive, prestigious advisor - or the one who's relatively nice but nobody shits their pants over their research?


Recommended Posts

Title says it all really...

 

1. Very well known. Nearly every person in their group has told me not to work for them, and several say they regret working for them. Even my tutor "wouldn't go there". Very, very solid science. The world is watching them. When I talk to people about this professor and say I might work for them, they're impressed. Partly due to the science, partly because if you get through this group, it proves you can take that much shit and still be standing. Top 3 institution. 

 

2. Quite well known. The group and others in the department like them. Great science that I would be excited to do. But none of the badass factor. Feels like second best. Top 15 institution, on its way up. 

 

OBVIOUSLY I'm scared about 1. I'm ready for anything, but I'm still scared about 1. 

FREAKING THE HELL OUT. IT'S TOMORROW :( :( :(

Link to post
Share on other sites

"Abusive" is not a quality that you want in a mentor, no matter how good this person's research is. If nearly everyone associated with that lab is telling you not to work with this person, then there must be a good reason why. If it were just one person telling you this, I'd suspect that it's just an underlying personality mismatch between that student and the professor, but a large consensus makes me think that there is some truth to these complaints. Never, ever work with a professor that you would describe as "abusive." An intense professor is okay if you work well in that kind of situation, but "abusive" is never good no matter what. S/he may be doing really good science on a topic that is currently "hot," but if s/he really is abusive and hard to worth with, then your own work will suffer, as will your mental/emotional health most likely.

 

Go with the second advisor. It sounds like the lab is well respected, and a Top 15 institution is still very prestigious. You're also genuinely interested in the research being done there. Remember that your research will inevitably be somewhat different than your advisor's-- the whole point of a PhD project is do something original. So, perhaps you can come up with a project of your own and make it have that "badass factor" that is missing in your advisor's work. Perhaps you can spin it a certain way or approach the question from a new angle or incorporate techniques from another field. Your project can be as amazing as you make it be. And it will definitely be easier to make it amazing with the help of a supportive PI.

 

I feel like it's a clear choice here... you really don't want to spend the next 5+ years in an abusive relationship. The stress and depression just won't be worth it. And if you're stressed and depressed, then there's a good chance that the work you do will not be your best anyway.

Edited by zabius
Link to post
Share on other sites

Is there someone else at School #1 that you would like to work with? Sometimes superstars like the advisor you mention in School #1 could be great as a secondary advisor or a collaborator if you find someone else to be your primary advisor and mentor. That is, assuming that there are multiple profs working on related fields, you could work with someone else (who would be a good fit/advisor) and then just talk to the superstar prof for extra advice or bring them on as an official collaborator later. This way, you get all the benefits of the superstar's great research experience (and potentially, the brand power of having their name on your abstracts) without having to directly work for (and be responsible to) them.

 

I'm not sure if you only name one prof at each school because that's the top choice at the school, or if the departments are small enough to only have one prof on each topic, or if you only have one person you'd like to work with at these schools. If it's the last case, I'd also be worried that since you only have one prof in mind, what if things unexpectedly goes bad?

 

Finally, I'd like to add that I've known many friends who decided to go with the prof that everyone warned them against. Every one of them have regretted it. It's hard to take advice from basically strangers (as you don't know the current students that well yet) and many people think "I'm different, I'll handle this!" but all the ones I know have regretted it (to the point of switching advisors, switching schools, or dropping out altogether). 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I would try to see how many students they have had who haven't finished and dropped out, because that is the biggest warning sign. From what I've seen, having a bad fit with an adviser often means a delayed graduation or even not finishing so I would go with the second person unless they are a complete unknown and the funding is substancially lower.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Actually... I did research as a visiting student with #1. I've heard every horror story. And exactly how many students have dropped out (a few. Well, quite a few). 

 

Some profs I've spoken to tip #1 for a Nobel prize in the distant future. And my end goal is to be an academic, hoping for top 20 school.

 

I've been thinking forever. I think I'm going to go with #1. Maybe it's better to do it and feel like I regret just because the grass will always be greener. No, I'm getting sure now. I don't think I would feel unfulfilled with #2 at all, but... 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Speaking as someone who really likes a big, solid, tough challenge, and, as a result, can really understand why uni #1 is so tempting to you, even beyond the science: you may want to entertain the question of what on earth you will do if the big, solid, tough challenge becomes insurmountable. Or, to put it differently, if the challenge is not so much a challenge, but, as the other students have warned, a surefire disaster. You write that your decision is, "Partly due to the science, partly because if you get through this group, it proves you can take that much shit and still be standing." And I really do understand that--I think many fellow grad students would. But what if you're not left standing? In that previous question and this following one, I second TakeruK: do you have a Plan B at uni #1?

 

I recommend searching through these forums for the word "advisor." Maybe also look for the same word in the Grad School subforum at the CHE forums. Things can get hairy, to put it mildly. The bottom line is: if you have an advisor who does not want you to graduate, you will not. Your advisor will continue to be someone spoken about with awe and Nobel Prize murmurings, but you will not be, and it might even come to pass that telling others that you work with this person, which once felt like such a huge coup, will start to feel like an albatross around your neck. At the end of the day, as you yourself write, you are looking to work in academia, and to do that, you're going to need to graduate with good work that has your name on it and an advisor who will recommend you for future positions.

 

If you're still committed to uni #1, you may want to seriously consider moving from generalities ("abusive") to specifics (behaviors A, B, C, and D) and considering, concretely and dispassionately, how you would address them. Also, you may also want to speak with someone who did successfully make it in and out with the same advisor you're considering. 

Edited by pinkrobot
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 year later...

Posting on a zombie thread to say that everything TakeruK said was completely correct. 

 

Luckily, I had my massive disagreement with Advisor #1 before I joined the group. So lucky. In fact, I ended up doing what TakeruK said and working for the other big badass in the department - who is known for his science and only his science. Not known mostly for his stupid bullsh*t and posturing. 

 

My advice to anyone else in the situation above, because you probably won't get lucky like I did and get Institution #1 without Advisor #1... GO FOR NUMBER TWO. 

 

It's pretty rough, because #1 still 'hates' me, and tried to get my boss not to take me; I have no proof but she's also done other things to try and discredit or devalue me. It's rough seeing her around the department, and feels like there are constant fireworks. This is not fun. You do not want an Advisor #1 in your life.

 

So, the point of reviving the zombie thread was to thank you all for your great advice. I didn't take it, or anyone else's, and it's just by a tiny chance that everything still worked out for me. Thank you. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree 100% with Zabius - there is not any circumstance in the world that should compel you to enter an abusive relationship. 

 

Check out this article:

http://www.gwhatchet.com/2012/09/20/former-student-sues-for-emotional-distress/

 

GW University Ph.D student became suicidal because of his adviser. 

 

Edit: Oops I didn't go through the entire thread and didn't see that this thread was a couple years old. Still, I agree with what posters have said and the article I cite is relevant. 

Edited by MastersHoping
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 4 weeks later...

This is the BEST revived thread ever!  I had a similar experience and had to switch advisors to finish my MA, I can't imagine a PhD under this kind of person.  I just want to add, for the poor soul who reads this and thinks...I think I could take it....

 

You might.  People are tough, and driven people are incredibly tough, but here is a story that convinced me that I needed to leave my own situation. 

 

Sometimes, it doesn't matter how tough you are.  If your advisor is abusive, they can find ways to make it impossible for you to finish.  In the case of this story, this person was nearly done with his PhD.  Classes done, research nearly completed, big portions of his dissertation were written.  THEN, his advisor literally packed up his research collection and SHIPPED IT AWAY to another researcher across the country.  He literally showed up at the lab and his project wasn't there. 

He told me he didn't know what to do.  What could he do?  Start a new project?  Try and get his project back???  Still work for this advisor when they could do something like this AGAIN??  The school knew how the advisor was, and wasn't prepared to take any action against them.  Lucky for him, out of the blue another university called him (I believe for a collaboration) and he was able to swing that into a PhD dissertation.  But I believe he had to move several states over to finish it. 

 

Long story short: don't do it! Don't put your future in the hands of somebody who can make it impossible for you to complete your degree.  It isn't about toughing it out if you literally can't get done. 

 

Thanks thescientist for posting your update!!  I'm so glad you shared what happened! 

Link to post
Share on other sites

But you're missing out on prime pants-shitting research, OP! ;)

 

Glad it all worked out. I'm currently trying to figure out who I should approach as an adviser when the time comes, so this thread has been very helpful!

 

Edit: downvote? Look at OP's title!

Edited by 1Q84
Link to post
Share on other sites
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.