Quite a few questions at Academia are about conflicts with Supervisors, both for students and for post-docs. A question there about how to avoid such conflicts from arising, starting on the first day, would likely be closed for a variety of reasons - broad, opinions, shopping, etc.

Is this a suitable place to discuss that and preserve any advice given? The chatroom is too ephemeral for it, I think. But quite a few new students could benefit from advice from other academics.

How can you build a strong and positive relationship with your supervisor from the first days, even if he/she is aloof or judgmental?

NOTE: The question has now been asked on the main site.

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    I suggest the question title and contents should be rephrased to "Dealing with Conflicts with Supervisors". Conflicts are sure to take place in any long-lasting relationship, and the phrasing "avoiding conflicts" suggests students and/or postdocs are responsible for initiating them and therefore ought to stop from doing it. – Scientist Oct 5 '18 at 15:38
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    @Scientist Preventing and avoiding conflicts are useful, though. But maybe the frame needs to be changed to "between Supervisors and Supervisees" to make it clear everyone is responsible for conflict handling and avoidance. – aeismail Oct 5 '18 at 15:45
  • @aeismail Sound also like a good alternative. – Scientist Oct 5 '18 at 15:46
  • The problem is asymmetric, of course. I'm more interested in what a student could do so as not to later wind up feeling trapped. There is one user on the main site who seems to feel she is deeply hated by her supervisor. I'm not assessing fault, but it would be good to get advice about how the student can make such situations not develop in the first part. – Buffy Oct 5 '18 at 15:48
  • I don't disagree that some supervisors should behave better, but the student can't control that. They can only control their own actions. – Buffy Oct 5 '18 at 15:48
  • So a companion question would be about how supervisors can "do the right thing." But I don't think it is the same question. – Buffy Oct 5 '18 at 15:49
  • "problem is asymmetric" & "They can only control their own actions" -- I believe there are also supervisors seeking peers' advice in this community, and that some students and postdocs would wish to add answers & comments. If you want supervisors only to contribute unilaterally, I'd suggest specifying that and emphasising on this focus. – Scientist Oct 5 '18 at 15:54
  • Actually, I think anyone can comment. Students can suggest things that supervisors might/should have done. Supervisors can suggest things students should do (like scheduling an early meeting, as a simple example). – Buffy Oct 5 '18 at 15:55
  • Likewise students who had a good or bad result from some actions might share that with fellow students (and their advisors). Etc. – Buffy Oct 5 '18 at 15:56
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    I think sometimes students make foolish decisions about how they choose their supervisors. They join labs only because they are accepted or because of the reputation of an institution. They join labs without seriously considering other options, without interviewing in person, without meeting their PI, without having outside support systems. Admissions systems in some fields and in some countries make it worse, and abusive people can be skilled at hiding it, but the advice I always give prospective students is that advisor choice is the most important grad school decision. – Bryan Krause Oct 5 '18 at 17:56
  • @BryanKrause, yes, that is exactly the kind of advice I'd like to make available generally. I think a lot of new grad students are unaware of the potential traps. – Buffy Oct 5 '18 at 17:58
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    Agreed. The approach I favor for these sorts of situations (common theme in questions that often have to be closed) is that we create a community wiki question and answer, like here: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/38237/… The question as posted would be closed if it was made by a user, but a Q&A curated from the community in meta is appropriate. Future questions that are answered by that post can either be closed as duplicate rather than for other reasons, or at least mentioned in comments. – Bryan Krause Oct 5 '18 at 18:03
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    I've posted a proposed question as an answer here. Please help improve it and advise on the suitability for the site itself. – Buffy Oct 5 '18 at 18:33
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    Just a note on wording: "avoiding conflicts" is a little too close to conflict avoidance, which has some negative aspects to it. "Preventing conflicts", or "avoiding problems" (as you use in the suggested question text) gets the point across without this baggage. – Anyon Oct 6 '18 at 2:08

The following is a proposal for a community wiki question at Academia. Feel free to edit it. It focuses on student actions. A companion question might be formulated for advisors to get advice.

I don't actually know how to make it CW on the site.

Title suggestion: Building a healthy relationship with your supervisor

Some graduate students and post-docs have reported serious problems with their advisors and supervisors. Some of the problems are severe enough to be career ending. Not all problems can be avoided but it is possible that some can be if the student or post-doc takes some actions in their first days of the new position. The goal is to build a solid and positive relationship with the advisor from the beginning so that small problems later don't escalate.

What can a student or post-doc do, starting in their first days and weeks, to help assure a strong and positive relationship with a supervisor?

There is no assumption here that it is all up to the student, but what can a person do in a new environment to maximize their chances of having a good and lasting relationship?

likely tags: advisors, graduate-study

  • I appreciate this initiative and will contribute when I get more time ! I am just afraid beginners in SE Academia don't look into the Beta discussions, but perhaps I am wrong. – Scientist Oct 5 '18 at 19:04
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    @Scientist, the intent is to post it as a question on the main site. – Buffy Oct 5 '18 at 19:16
  • Perhaps it's worthwhile not just to focus only on the first days and weeks, but also on what to do continuously? I say that because I'm pretty sure that "clear and ongoing communication" is a big piece of the puzzle here, but I'm somewhat agnostic as to whether it's enough if it's addressed in the answers. – Anyon Oct 6 '18 at 2:18
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    Perhaps the question is too broad, attracting rather obvious answers, e.g. ensuring open communication, meeting expectations, dressing and behaving properly according to local standards, etc. This all depends on specific context and strongly culturally biased. I think early conflicts take place exactly when one part is clearly not meeting the obvious. Perhaps a more productive phrasing would be around "What are the most common sources of conflict with academic supervisors, and how to avoid escalating them"? – Scientist Oct 6 '18 at 15:46

Based on my experience, and was thinking of it while returning from the conference! Why I arrived to this point, I was always respecting people, but probably there are advisor who dont like to see their students grow and shine, we are human being, even myself, sometimes I feel jealous but what retracts me from hurting people is conscience!

Honestly, me and many students will tell you that at the first couple months, you will see an angel PI and you will not recognize their behavior unless you go with the time! This PI was trying to looks like a cool and funny person, but I didn't know about their dreadful actions towards the senior student who was not allowed to defend his PhD although publishing in top-tier conferences which is a big question mark! My fault is not asking the students before joining, however, some students afraid to tell the truth because they could endanger them, another thing, there aren't alumni listed in the website which I see after my experience is a red flag. The good PI will be proud to put links about their PI and where they have arrived.

I do think even if you made a good relationship with your PI as probably I had the beginning, but when he realized that I want to publish and attend conferences, he felt jealous. With a reference to that I began to realize that he don't want any one to be successful, the toxic PI feels happy when people are desperate and they get their power from the weakness of others.

He was trying to suppress me from presenting my work although he doubted and forced me to leave and now he wants to put his name on my proposed methodology which is insane!

There are two roads to continue under psycho PI or leave it , and from my position after spending one year, I can say I am totally damaged mentally and physically as well, and it is not easy at all!

All the students want to learn and do research that they are passionate about . In the other side, the abusive PI is going to fabricate problems and make obstacles for the students to stumble their progress.

I dont know what could be the solution as I read stories from more than one decade and still the problem exists. That is made me wondering, whether academia is fake and fabricating non-existing problems to finds solutions, I dont know that makes me contemplating about academia.

  • I think the best we can take from this testimonial here is: (i) there are manipulative PIs preying on students out there; (ii) the importance of probing ex-members in making a decision of where to join; (iii) akin to toxic lovers, a passionate start may prove just a lure later. – Scientist Oct 8 '18 at 12:28

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