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Advisor almost never replies to my emails.


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He has almost never replied to me sending out a research report. Not even an acknowledgement of "OK, thanks" to show that he received it or read it at all. It's been going on for years. I mean, I am sort of used to it by now but it just feels terrible. It's almost as if my advisor has zero interest in my research project and is giving me the absolute minimum in feedback. I sometimes get pumped up on a new idea, design an experiment, run it, analyze the data, it takes a month... and then, I send it out, and absolute radio silence until the next group meeting, which is when the postdocs and 5th years talk.

It's incredibly demotivating sometimes.

Edited by SymmetryOfImperfection
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Sounds like incompatible work styles or expectations. Not much you can do about it, I don't think it's ever a good idea to expect that you could change your advisor's work habits. As a first step, it's always good to have an explicit conversation about whatever it is that is bothering you, to see if there is an easy way to fix it. It's important that he knows you are unhappy, and it's better to head off these problems when they are small and young, before they grow into monsters. Depending on the conversation, I would usually advise one of two (and a half) solutions: find other ways to get feedback from him that work for both you and him (regularly scheduled (bi-)weekly in-person/Skype meetings, speaking at lab meetings, dropping by his office when necessary, texting him quick questions or results, etc), switch to a new advisor who you get along with better, or decide to make this situation work as is even if it's not ideal, because this is the best that you can have. This last suggestion is only half of a solution, the other half is actually learning to accept and live with the imperfect situation. If it continuously upsets you, that is not a good way to live. 

For this particular situation, I guess what I am missing is whether you are not getting necessary feedback at all, or just not in a form that you would like. If it's the latter, it might be easier to learn to adjust your expectations and manage the situation than if it is the former. I am also not sure what your field/lab situation is, but sometimes a solution might be to get feedback from a postdoc, a secondary advisor, or other lab mates. It might even be expected that you do this.  

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Does your advisor behave in this way towards the other students & postdocs? If so, then I wouldn't take the non-emailing personally. Fuzzy has covered the main pieces of advice I'd have given. 

If the advisor is more responsive to some students in general but not others then there is more of a problem. But every advisor also has to manage their own time and might choose to monitor some projects more closely than others (perhaps if a project is nearing publication, or there is a collaborator involved). 

Also, it might not be clear to your advisor that you are wanting feedback, if you are not specifically asking for it. They might be assuming that everything is OK when they receive your project reports.

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21 hours ago, St Andrews Lynx said:

Does your advisor behave in this way towards the other students & postdocs? If so, then I wouldn't take the non-emailing personally. Fuzzy has covered the main pieces of advice I'd have given. 

If the advisor is more responsive to some students in general but not others then there is more of a problem. But every advisor also has to manage their own time and might choose to monitor some projects more closely than others (perhaps if a project is nearing publication, or there is a collaborator involved). 

Also, it might not be clear to your advisor that you are wanting feedback, if you are not specifically asking for it. They might be assuming that everything is OK when they receive your project reports.

Thank you for the advice. I did not actually think about the fact that my advisor might think everything is going OK. I sometimes have a hard time communicating my wants and needs clearly, I guess I should make it explicit, such as by saying "Can you give me some feedback on how this project is going?" I try not to take it personally since this is the way he does it, I just wanted feedback on my work - guess I should just say so.

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11 minutes ago, SymmetryOfImperfection said:

Thank you for the advice. I did not actually think about the fact that my advisor might think everything is going OK. I sometimes have a hard time communicating my wants and needs clearly, I guess I should make it explicit, such as by saying "Can you give me some feedback on how this project is going?" I try not to take it personally since this is the way he does it, I just wanted feedback on my work - guess I should just say so.

Yes, definitely state explicitly when something is wrong, this is not something that anyone can just guess, even if you think it's obvious (and even if it is, some people just aren't good at interpreting social cues). As I said above, it's good to just have the conversation, and better to do it early, before you get very frustrated and it becomes a bigger deal than it needs to be. If your advisor doesn't even realize that there is a problem, of course it's not going to get fixed. I'd advise you to also think about what kind of feedback you want and at what frequency, because that might come up (and if not, you might want to bring it up). Think of things that your advisor can do that are within what he is actually likely to be able to commit to, so that both of you can be comfortable with the new arrangement. 

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Just now, fuzzylogician said:

Yes, definitely state explicitly when something is wrong, this is not something that anyone can just guess, even if you think it's obvious (and even if it is, some people just aren't good at interpreting social cues). As I said above, it's good to just have the conversation, and better to do it early, before you get very frustrated and it becomes a bigger deal than it needs to be. If your advisor doesn't even realize that there is a problem, of course it's not going to get fixed. I'd advise you to also think about what kind of feedback you want and at what frequency, because that might come up (and if not, you might want to bring it up). Think of things that your advisor can do that are within what he is actually likely to be able to commit to, so that both of you can be comfortable with the new arrangement. 

I just found something that changed the dynamics of the problem. I don't know what I should think at this time:

I was chilling out in my office while my colleagues were reading an email. I asked "hey found any good papers?" and they said "no its just an email from the boss detailing a new direction for the project". I say "hmm I better go read it"... and it is not in my inbox. The topic of the email was very similar to the report that I had just turned in, and it was quite long. Obviously, I should not read email that was not directed to me, so I didn't see much besides the title. I don't think I can do anything since I am not even supposed to know of the existence of this email. Everyone in the group was sent a copy of this email except me.

I am just disappointed that I am being excluded from the project that I am working hard on and producing data for.

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25 minutes ago, SymmetryOfImperfection said:

I don't think I can do anything since I am not even supposed to know of the existence of this email. Everyone in the group was sent a copy of this email except me.

I am just disappointed that I am being excluded from the project that I am working hard on and producing data for.

Instead of being disappointed, take action. By which I mean, I don't know how/why you've concluded you aren't supposed to know about the existence of the email. Do people in your lab literally *never* talk about any of the emails they receive? If everyone got a copy but me, I would generally just assume it was an accidental oversight, ask someone to forward me the email, and mention it to my advisor at the next one-on-one meeting. (I say this because my advisor could be forgetful and often would accidentally leave people off emails with no malice intended.) If you don't take action, then yes, you will be not be involved in the project as much. So, take action!

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Just now, rising_star said:

Instead of being disappointed, take action. By which I mean, I don't know how/why you've concluded you aren't supposed to know about the existence of the email. Do people in your lab literally *never* talk about any of the emails they receive? If everyone got a copy but me, I would generally just assume it was an accidental oversight, ask someone to forward me the email, and mention it to my advisor at the next one-on-one meeting. (I say this because my advisor could be forgetful and often would accidentally leave people off emails with no malice intended.) If you don't take action, then yes, you will be not be involved in the project as much. So, take action!

I am definitely going to bring this up at the next meeting. I just find it very strange that this happened. I did the bulk of the data collection and analysis for this particular project. People who weren't even on this project were included in the email; I wasn't.

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12 minutes ago, SymmetryOfImperfection said:

I am definitely going to bring this up at the next meeting. I just find it very strange that this happened. I did the bulk of the data collection and analysis for this particular project. People who weren't even on this project were included in the email; I wasn't.

It's better to assume it was an accident than to assume malice without outside evidence. In the meantime, definitely have someone forward you the email. Or, if someone is going to reply-all, make sure they add you to the thread. 

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Could also be that if the document was adapted from your project report your advisor didn't think it was necessary to email it back to you. 

On the plus side, it sounds like your advisor does care you about your project & reports, else he wouldn't be sharing it with everybody.

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21 hours ago, St Andrews Lynx said:

Could also be that if the document was adapted from your project report your advisor didn't think it was necessary to email it back to you. 

On the plus side, it sounds like your advisor does care you about your project & reports, else he wouldn't be sharing it with everybody.

he doesn't mention me by name in the email and there were tips for future directions to take the project in. I know this sounds  like I'm making a big deal out of something small, but my gut feeling tells me that this isn't normal in the context of everything else. There's other things too.

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