4 Signs Your PhD Advisor Is Mistreating You and What to Do About It

PhD students rely on their supervisors for support, help and mentorship. But what happens when your supervisor treats you unfairly? In this article, we will tell about the top 4 signs your PhD advisor is mistreating you.

Why Do PhD Supervisors Turn on Students?

A PhD supervisor can make or break your post-graduate experience. An academic staff has a huge impact on how students feel about their experience. So, it’s hard when your supervisor starts treating you unfairly. Some students end up being micromanaged, bullied, and even abandoned by their advisors.

A conflict in working styles is one of the most common reasons why supervisor relationships turn sour. Many PhD advisors expect their students to be perfectly in sync with their work style. They don’t take it kindly when students can’t keep up.

Other times, it happens because of poor communication. Simply clarifying your expectations early can help you set things straight with your supervisor. Sometimes, even relationships that begin well, go on to become intolerable later. It’s all part of the ups and downs of the post-graduate experience.

With that said, there are times when students have advisors who are mistreating them without a clear reason. Let’s see how you can identify a PhD supervisor who mistreats you.

They Manipulate You through Praise

Mistreatment takes many forms. But you least expect it from someone who excessively praises you. Funnily enough, that is how some PhD advisors mistreat students. This type of behavior is called love bombing.

First, they will shower potential candidates with praises, telling them they are unlike other students they’ve worked with. They will lure you with promises of publications and prestigious institutions. However, it all ends after you join their research group.

As soon as you face problems like failed experiments, the same person could behave very differently. Instead of helping you modify your approach and reevaluate methods, they may belittle you.

The best way to pick up on such habits is to ask senior students in the program about their experience. Likewise, you can also ask the advisors how they relate to other students and how students relate to them.

In other words, if you sense your advisor is overpraising you or making fantastic claims about your acumen and credentials, pay attention to how they talk about other graduate students. Therefore, if an advisor tells you (a new graduate student) not to listen to senior graduate students because you are better than them, it’s likely they will discuss you similarly down the road.

They Want to Control Your Actions

Going to conferences and networking with people is crucial for the graduate journey. While it isn’t necessary to attend every meeting, you should definitely visit the ones relevant to your field and research topic.

A good supervisor will help you learn new skills and accelerate your professional and academic goals. Even if they disagree, they will let you decide what’s best for you. However, abusive advisors will stop you from attending conferences unless you have their permission. They will belittle you for going against their will and their position of power against you.

They Try to Isolate You

Abusers thrive in an environment where victims are isolated and can’t share their experiences. Unfortunately, graduate school is pretty isolating. Students must leave their established support circle, become financially dependent on an institution, and do their best to keep the advisor’s favor.

In such circumstances, it’s easier for abusive supervisors to force students into isolation. They may refuse to include other faculty as a part of your committee, so they have complete control over you.

There have been cases where abusive advisors refuse anyone on the committee who isn’t a part of their cult of personality. In such instances, a student’s success depends heavily on keeping their advisor happy. And since the rest of the committee is filled with people close to the supervisor, voicing your concerns can result in a group backlash or gaslighting.

This is why students need to maintain a strong support network. People around you can help you figure out different ways to avoid these situations.

They Want to Become Gatekeepers for Everything

Abusive supervisors have no qualms about telling you to do things and then get mad if you don’t follow through, even if it’s not directly related to the project. They will force you to ask them for permission for the simplest of things.

Impolite advisors may make it mandatory for students to ask for permission before approaching or talking to anyone at a conference. Other times, they might stop you from publishing your article in a journal until they have approved it.

Regardless, it’s likely that they won’t permit you and eventually force you to act on your own, only to then lash out at you for not listening.

In summary, the main purpose of mistreating supervisors is to misuse their power over you and exert their control over you. If you think your PhD advisor is mistreating you or stopping you from publishing an article, don’t worry; we have you covered.

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