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Supervisor uncommunitive during holidays

  1. Sep 9, 2010 #1


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    I am moving on to my second year in PhD in applied maths specialising in the area of electrohydrodynamics of channel flows. I have been fine with all the analytical stuff and haven't needed much supervision on that but when I get onto the numerical aspects I begin to struggle as it's not something that I have done much of before and need more assistance than with the analytical work.

    During the summer I hardly had any e-mail contact and had to very slowly figure out what was wrong with my program and correct it (it works very well now). Should I look for another supervisor that will provide the assistance when I require it or stick out with the one I have? My supervisor was described to me as being world class but that doesn't necessarily means that he will be good at supervising.

    I am currently looking at a numerical method of his to look for travelling waves and I think it is based upon the hodograph method but I can't be sure and none of his other papers have a detailed description of the method and I can't find much on the internet about it. On top of that he won't answer his e-mails

    Last edited: Sep 9, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 9, 2010 #2
    What do you mean by 'hardly any contact'? Was your supervisor on a holiday of his own or do you mean the 3 months or so over summer where undergraduates are gone? It isn't uncommon for contact to decrease during this time. What you need to do is develop your relationship with your supervisor. Now that you understand they're less likely to reply quickly to emails over the holidays, you can work with that next time. There's nothing wrong with meeting your supervisor and just telling them about this.

    You would let them know that you had difficulty when they were unavailable over summer, and think that you would have benefited from extra help. There are different things you can do to make this easier next time: make sure you have a regular meeting schedule (e.g. agreed once per week face-to-face meetings) when they are around. Suggest having a more intensive meeting before your supervisor goes away - work through the work you're about to undertake in as much of a step-by-step fashion as you can. Agree some appropriate time to arrange contact when they're gone - ask how often they expect to reply to emails, and when would be a good time to ask questions etc.

    Further to that, it's likely the numerical issues you're having could have been helped by someone other than your supervisor as well. You can always ask if there's a post-doc or perhaps even one of their other PhD students that would be good to speak to about certain issues when they're gone.

    You will have frustrations at certain things during your PhD - and getting questions answered quickly will always be one of them. When you're working on something, you just want to know the answer - so even acceptable response times of a day or few will seem irritatingly long. Just accept this and find other things to do if you're at a total dead end. I don't think the situation you're describing is irretrievable, or even uncommon.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 10, 2010
  4. Sep 9, 2010 #3


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    I perhaps had a dozen of unhelpful e-mails from him and saw him once or twice during that period but during term time we met twice a week which was sometimes unnecessary or it meant that I had to work through the weekend as well when I wanted a break. Having said that, my work rate during the term time was relatively high as the work wasn't all that challenging once i had got to grips with what I was doing.

    He is very well known in his field and he was away at lots of conferences all over the world as well as on holiday. It was all very loose during the summer.

    With regard to numerical issues, I think that he is almost unique in his approach to numerical problems and I don't think anyone in the department has an idea of how they work. I am not in "the office" very often and as a result I don't have much contact with the other students or even postdocs. With this previous bit of work I received assistance from people in my own company, so that may be a possible route.

    I am aware that this isn't industry but it does irritate me being treated like someone frsh from an undergraduate degree.
  5. Sep 10, 2010 #4
    I think you also might want to remove that quotation too, for the same reason. :smile:
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