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Programs What to do about lazy PhD advisor.

  1. Apr 28, 2010 #1
    Hi Guys,

    This question doesn't pertain directly to me-- since I'm not a PhD student until next fall. However, I do have a friend that is really struggling with a terrible PhD advisor, and I would really appreciate you guys opinion (especially those of you in academia). I'll try to keep the story short.

    With that being said, my friend, a 5th year grad student, does 90% of the work in a Physics laboratory (50% of which has nothing to do with their dissertation) funded by a big Institute (mostly composed of other departments) within the University. My friend's advisor comes into work for approximately 1-2 hours each day and assigns more lab work to my friend while he works on writing his book (which has nothing to do with Physics). My friend performs most of his research experiments for him (in addition to dissertation work), which he then proceeds to present at conferences as his own work. There are also no major grant-writing responsibilities because the funding is technically done through other departments. Furthermore, my friend oftentimes has to run errands for him (pick up mail, deliver packages, and help students that show up for his office hours that he is never there for). My friend has passed the doctoral exams, but is much too far into their dissertation work to start over under a new advisor. So far, my friend has been working on their dissertation for 3 years and really does not want to quit, but the work load is getting increasingly unreasonable and my friend does not expect to graduate for 3-4 more years because of it. My friend is afraid of either going crazy or quitting (thus throwing away 3 years of research) and taking a masters degree.

    Has anyone had a similar experience? Is dealing with a lazy PhD advisor is just something students have to deal with? Or, does my friend just need to get over it? I really have no idea, but certainly hope that 5 years from now, I am not in the same position.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 28, 2010 #2
    The moral of the story is to look before you leap. The best way to solve these kinds of situations is just to avoid them in the first place by not choosing an adviser that treats you like their personal assistant.

    Since your friend is already in to deep, he should probably just have a conversation with his adviser and let him know he doesn't want to be his lackey anymore. As far as doing all the lab work, helping students, and the misrepresentation at conferences, that isn't really all that uncommon. But running errands like picking up mail and delivering packages is over the line. I had a friend in a similar position but his adviser just didn't want to do any research work at all, just have my friend take classes. He ended up changing advisers.
  4. Apr 28, 2010 #3


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    Unfortunately the scenario you're describing isn't all that uncommon.

    Most graduate students should have a supervisory committee in addition to an advisor. The committee is responsible for a regular (at least annual) review of the student's progress. A good supervisory committee should critically evaluate how the student is allocating time to his or her project. Thus one avenue this student could pursue is simply bringing up the topic at his or her next meeting and ask for the committee's guidance.

    Similarly, one way of approaching the subject with the advisor is to simply propose a plan. Start out with: "My goal is to complete my dissertation in the next year. In order to do that I have to focus on ...(my own work) and I have to cut ...(lackey work you've assigned) out of my schedule. Does this sound feasible to you?"

    Also, I wouldn't worry about how the professor spends his time. There's nothing much one can do about that.
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