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Masters Discussion Forum

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This Category:   PostgraduateForum.com > Masters Advice / Support


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Signs of a bad academic advisor?


User: trollymunster - 23 August 2016 17:38

I am a one year in my MSc program, research based. At the beginning of my program my advisor promised to pay for my fee for AT LEAST one year. Now he stopped paying me even though he has the fund for the project related to something he assigned me to do in the first place.

With not much of guidance, I wasted one year of my time doing things that weren't working. Until recently he asked me to write a proposal that could help me to have enough data to write my thesis. One part of the project was his idea, which I thought wasn't a good practical or promising way for industry potential. My project is about developing a raw material for a polymer. True enough I later found a good and promising method that was not from his idea and I was so excited thinking that I finally can do something that is useful for the industry and write a good journal paper.

After talking to him about it, he insisted that I should proceed to work on his idea and not to be distracted by my findings, saying that the chemical that I am using to synthesise the material is too costly (less than USD120 per liter for a reagent grade, plus, the material is being used in some applications in the industry - how could he said that is an exotic chemical that we might not be able to find or buy later?).

Perhaps it is just me but now I am left feeling demotivated, pissed and not knowing what to do and how to defend my thesis (how to defend such thing when you know there is a better approach?). I want to do something that is useful and contribute to the industry, I want to write & publish in a good journal, I want something that can help me to find a good job when I graduate yet up to now, I haven't got anything of that.

Can someone tell me what a supervisor should do and what are the characteristic of a good supervisor? And what I should do in my situation?

User: chemon - 26 August 2016 11:11

Hello!
I took PhD in chemistry in Germany and I feel that my scientific adviser was a very good guy in all respects. Because of this fact I think that there are next criteria of a good adviser:
1. Scientific advisor should be very proficient in the area that he administrates;
2. He should to control every step of research work of his pupil. If the pupil is in difficulty a good research advisor immediately comes to the aid of.
3.Since a research advisor prepares new scientists he must be easy to get in touch with and be able to find common language with his pupils.
First stage of any scientific work is the making statement of the theme and aims of research, selection of appropriate research conditions and techniques. This all should be approved and endorsed by your adviser. It is inadmissible and very risky to do research without the plan that was agreed by the advisor. In order to successfully defend your thesis your research work has to meet certain requirements.
3. During the research work an advisor must control the data that his pupil obtains. He has to be sure that the data are adequate and fully corresponded to the research plan.
I would like to state a couple of questions to you:
Do you have a research plan coordinated with your scientific advisor?
Does your advisor concern about your achievements and difficulties?

User: IntoTheSpiral - 26 August 2016 14:07

Quote From chemon:
Hello!
I took PhD in chemistry in Germany and I feel that my scientific adviser was a very good guy in all respects. Because of this fact I think that there are next criteria of a good adviser:
1. Scientific advisor should be very proficient in the area that he administrates;
2. He should to control every step of research work of his pupil. If the pupil is in difficulty a good research advisor immediately comes to the aid of.
3. During the research work an advisor must control the data that his pupil obtains. He has to be sure that the data are adequate and fully corresponded to the research plan.
?

I'm sorry chemon but I very strongly disagree with your points here. The advisor must "control every step of the research work" - heck no. Absolutely not. In my view, that would be an EXTREMELY poor advisor. The advisor is there to advise, not control. It's up to the student to take control and ownership of their own work and go to the advisor for support and to discuss approaches and methods. If the advisor is coming up with the research plan that is pretty poor too. The PhD is a training degree. If the advisor controls everything then the student only learns to become their advisors monkey and not an independent researcher.

In terms of the original question, the fact that you've been promised fees and not received them is dodgy as hell. Do you have that promise in writing anywhere? I can't really speak to the cost of obtaining materials or the direction of research as it's not my area at all. But, there may be budgets that have to be followed. I think the best thing to do would be to try to understand your supervisors perspective better - ask them why they are going with this method over the alternative. Is it just cost? If so, why is the cost prohibitive?

User: Tudor_Queen - 01 September 2016 12:06

Hi Trollymunster

Different advisors/supervisors have different styles. But yes, some are "bad".

Is it possible to talk to him about this? I understand if not - it is usually the first best option IF it you feel you could. If not then my advice in this situation would be to consider talking to someone who is in a position to try and help/advise you. Do you have another advisor/tutor who is not directly involved in the supervision and who is there for that purpose? Or perhaps a postgraduate tutor? I would suggest talking to them, but framing the issue very carefully. I think their number one priority is often to protect the backs of their colleagues, so that is why I think it would be a good idea to approach it really carefully. But definitely talk to someone and see if they have some advice/can suggest some options.

User: Dunham - 01 September 2016 14:22

Quote From IntoTheSpiral:


I'm sorry chemon but I very strongly disagree with your points here. The advisor must "control every step of the research work" - heck no. Absolutely not. In my view, that would be an EXTREMELY poor advisor. The advisor is there to advise, not control. It's up to the student to take control and ownership of their own work and go to the advisor for support and to discuss approaches and methods. If the advisor is coming up with the research plan that is pretty poor too. The PhD is a training degree. If the advisor controls everything then the student only learns to become their advisors monkey and not an independent researcher.

Keep in mind that this is HIGHLY depending on the field you are working in. You can't compare natural sciences and social sciences/humanities at all. It is absolutely common to discuss almost every step with the supervisor or at least inform him/her, simply because you are not just working on literature or conduct interviews but spend shitloads of money on the experiments. You are not just doing an RNA-Seq for several thousand euros and then later discuss experimental design with your supervisor. That does not at all mean that you are not an independent researcher. "Control" was a poor choice of words but I agree that most supervisors I know in Biology have a good overview over the data their students produce and of course also if their work is in line with the research plan because that is what they got the grant for. You have to justify if you change the initial research plan and spent money on other stuff. This is not just a salary you receive but sometimes a lot of money for expensive equipment, chemicals, kits and other stuff.



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