PhD advisor problems and the dissertation

A cinematic example of a brilliant professor whose scientific prowess dwarfs his stunted emotional intelligence

Sometimes a  nutty professor isn’t so funny, especially if he/she is making it hard to finish your dissertation. It’s hard enough to do all that is required in planning, proposing, researching, and writing up a thesis, and when your advisor is a problem, the difficulties are magnified exponentially.

As a graduate student you are extremely dependent on your relationship with your mentor. To a large extent, the quality of your current life and success of your future plans hinge on this one relationship. The key to success in both traditional and online PhD programs, often depends on having a good advisor. Here are some of the ways it can go wrong:

1) Neglect – your advisor is absent or unwilling to provide guidance or resources you need to continue making progress.

2) Stalling – your advisor is consciously acting to slow you down because of reasons like; you will be hard to replace, issues connected to his/her tenure process, desire to get more work or ideas out of you, or feels threatened that you will leave and become competition.

3) Vindictiveness – your advisor has felt slighted by something you’ve done, and wishes to extract revenge by using his/her control over you to prolong your suffering and create barriers to your success.

4) Greed – your advisor uses your work to advance his/her career, and does not credit you, and continues to change your projects so you do not get nearer to the finish line. This might include gaining compliance via direct or indirect threats about the recommendation letter upon which the grad student’s future depends.

5) Hostility – your advisor is a rage-aholic who berates you and undermines your confidence with his/her mood swings and harsh criticism.

There are more, but these are some examples of how your writing productivity can be impacted by either external barriers or the damage done to self-esteem, energy and confidence.  Fortunately most professors do not exhibit these qualities, but the issues are more common than one might suppose because it’s dangerous for graduate students to talk about the problems without jeopardizing their future.

Graduate students in a bad advisor relationship can seek advice from confidential resources like Ombudsman offices at their institution to figure out how to best address the issue without shooting themselves in the foot. Sometimes an advisor change is the only answer, but that is not necessarily a simple action.

In The Nutty Professor, Jerry Lewis creates a potion that allows him to be the cool, suave, babe-magnet that is the antithesis of his normal persona. Perhaps a similar concoction could be developed for grad advisors who need a booster in their  compassion quotient and emotional intelligence.

About David Rasch

Author, psychologist, speaker, teacher, consultant, workshop leader
This entry was posted in Common Writing Block Problems, PhD and dissertation/thesis writing issues, The Blocked Writer's Book of the Dead, Tips for overcoming writer's block and procrastination and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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