roasting marshmellows in phd hell

What are Fair Expectations for a PhD Adviser?

with 12 comments

So what exactly is “fair” in the realm of phd advisement?

Ugh,university of lies...Hogwarts is not big enough for both of us.

Ugh,university of lies…Hogwarts is not big enough for both of us.

Besides the obvious things, like answering your advisees emails, meeting with them every once in awhile, and not jumping into a dumpster, neverending story style if you should happen to pass your advisee on the street. (They probably can’t beat you up anyway.)

There’s such a wide range across the spectrum of phd advisers–you have individuals like my former adviser, who never read any of my material, period.  And then you have the other extreme– really industrious, kind souls who return your work a week or two after you write it and invite you over for dinner with their family on a routine basis.  I recognize that both of these examples are outliers, but it still leaves me feeling ill-equipped to determine if I am being ‘fucked with’ right now, or if I  have allowed myself to become so broken by the system that whatever sense of judgement I had is warped beyond belief.

Interweb friends, please help a muggle out here: what is a reasonable amount of time for a supervisor to respond to one of your emails? days?  weeks?

how many times do you need to contact your adviser before you get a response?  my magical number is more than one and less than 6.  and how long of a turnaround on a chapter is ‘ok’ in a ‘you are not being taken for a chump’ kind of way?

The next question is, is there anything in the fucking world I can do to speed this process up?

Written by universityoflies

March 4, 2013 at 15:39

12 Responses

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  1. Heck if I know. 😦 My boss has read about 500 words of my dissertation so far and refuses to read any more. It’s due to my committee this coming Monday. I started sending her chapters over a month ago, and she’s had the whole thing since the 25th.

    So far my strategy has been “do your job or not, but I’m graduating anyway.” I keep a paper trail of everything I send her and send important interactions to my chair and/or my entire committee. I want them to know what she’s received, when she’s received it, and how much editing she has(n’t) done on it. When she stalls the process, I go over her head to the chair and/or the entire committee. She tried to do this with several consecutive steps related to scheduling my defense, and I just flat-out ignored her.

    Time will tell if this proves successful in my defense, but at least no one will be able to say I didn’t try to get feedback. FWIW, the only feedback I’ve gotten is from another comm member who said she “looked at what I wrote” and that I’m “doing a great job,” so I’m taking a no news is good news approach. My entire committee’s caring meter seems really low, but if they pass me, I’ll take it. My only goal is to get the degree and get the heck out at this point.

    (BTW, love your blog as we seem to be in a similar situation with advisors from hell.)


    March 5, 2013 at 19:32

    • I’m so sorry to hear we are in the same boat! How fucking horrible!!! Does your adviser tell you flat out to your face that they are too busy or are they just ignoring you? I think the “I’m graduating anyway” attitude is great and what the hell else can you do?


      March 8, 2013 at 21:05

      • Update: Dissertation is due at 5PM. It is currently 3PM and she just now decided that maybe she’ll read it. =P I told her I am submitting it whether she reads it or not, and that’s that. Luckily I had someone else on my committee look it over for me. But yes, she actually did say “don’t even bother sending me your second paper because I won’t read it,” although she did promise to “look at your thing,” where “thing” = “dissertation.” You know, that little old thing. Sigh. Get me out of here!


        March 11, 2013 at 19:02

      • your “thing”????? 2 hrs to decide if she will look at it???

        What a fucking joke this all is!!!

        Congratulations on finishing despite this completely fucking hideous disrespect you have faced. I hope you have some awesome wild party to go to tonight.

        Do you have any plans to lodge a complaint/start an angry mob about they way you have been hung out to dry???


        March 11, 2013 at 19:59

  2. Hi Universityoflies !

    Just to give you an idea, I meet my advisor every 1-2 weeks for a “one-to-one” meeting, and i think you could expect something like that form any advisor. Unless he is a busy guy and then maybe meet with a senior post-doc instead …
    If you are writing, I think 1 week or so is standard … I hear 2 weeks quite often too ! I am lucky and my PI takes 1-2 days generally.
    To speed up, I would advise stalking. It was recommended to me too y an other PI, just insist, email, drop by the office, call, until he does what you want …


    March 5, 2013 at 20:34

    • Hi! Thanks so much for your comment. Your adviser sounds pretty on top of things- That’s a lot of face time. Awesome though and it’s always heartening to hear that some people are having good experiences. It also makes me feel like I’m not crazy in expecting more. so thanks!


      March 8, 2013 at 21:07

  3. I was an outlier as a supervisor–I usually set up a meeting with a PhD student, then told them to send me their piece of writing a few days (no less than 48 hours) before we met. I wanted my reading of their work to be fresh in my mind when we met. I can completely understand the sense of feeling so warped by the system that you just don’t know what’s reasonable to expect anymore, but if your adviser is a) taking more than two prompts or b) more than a week to respond to you, he/she is messing you around. I usually responded to my PhD students in 24-48 hours and my teaching load was dreadful. There is no excuse, but they can get away with it. Dealing with people who thought they were too good/important/busy to keep up with their responsibilities was one of the things I hated most about academia. And don’t give them the benefit of the doubt: most will be using this as an intimidation strategy.


    March 8, 2013 at 18:34

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Laurie. Sounds like you are (were?) one of the few good ones! According to your criteria, which does sound pretty freaking reasonable, I am def-0 being jerked around. I just don’t know what to do. I don’t want to badger, because then I will be annoying and what if I make it worse? Agh. Thanks so much for your insight.


      March 8, 2013 at 21:04

  4. Some people aren’t good with email. Find out your advisor’s office hours and call. I wouldn’t take any of this personally. I had a similar issue with one of my committee members but found out that everyone did as well. You are probably not alone.


    March 11, 2013 at 04:32

  5. Hi,

    I absolutely sympathize (empathize!) with your plight. My advisor has had chapters from me since the fall. Ze repeatedly said that ze was getting around to it, and never bothered to read them. I finally came to my senses and turned up the heat this semester, so I could graduate. Ze STILL took ages to read them, and when ze finally did, only did about half, revised them to hell and back, and complained about how they were time-consuming and frustrating to read. AND that I should make better drafts so they go faster. I feel like I’ve got the worst of both world–being ignored for months AND being raked across the revision coals. Unsurprisingly, I’ve had to extend my deadline to the summer, which ze doesn’t seem to give a shit about.

    Sadly–I don’t have any real advice for you, and I really wish I did. I can only offer up that you’re not the only one to have your life negatively affected just because you’re at the bottom of someone else’s to do list. My plan is be upfront with the advisor and have the summer ultimatum–I graduate this summer or I quit. I don’t know if ze will care, but at this point I have to be done, regardless of whether I have three meaningless letters after my name or not.

    The whole situation actually provoked me to start a blog, partially out of my own rage, partially out of solidarity with all the other post-academic bloggers like yourself (btw–love your blog, and it has been really important to me in those dark moments of academic-induced rage and depression).

    You can find me here:


    March 20, 2013 at 15:54

  6. […] my relationship with my adviser to that of a 18th/19th century woman with no legal rights and her MIA overlord/absentee fiance.  But since I still feel the need to complain as a way to cope with my panic and fear, I have come […]

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