In a perfect world, your dissertation adviser or Chair would always read and return emails promptly, provide unwavering support and expert guidance that always hits the mark. Their edits will be illuminating, clearly done, and propel you to the next part of your paper. Of course, our advisers and Chairs are only human, and sometimes we find ourselves working with a…difficult adviser or Chair. We might encounter this in the workplace, as well – a challenging coworker, a difficult boss, a prickly supervisor. It’s always a good thing to know how to deal with a person like this without losing your cool or becoming derailed. Here at Dissertation Editor, we’ve had our share of tough situations, which is why we came up with a blog post to help you with this.

Common Issues With Difficult Advisers

Advisers can be difficult for a variety of reasons, and sometimes it’s an issue of personalities and work styles not meshing well. If you’re wondering whether your adviser’s behavior is problematic, here are some common issues that cause friction in the adviser-student relationship:

  • You get no response or very little response when you turn in work
  • The adviser expresses frustration or seems disappointed in the work, without providing any guidance or constructive feedback
  • The adviser doesn’t gel well with other committee members and contributes to gridlock and delays
  • Inappropriate relationships – ie, being overly involved in a student’s life or asking personal questions or favors
  • Questionable professional or academic behavior (plagiarizing, lack of regard for ethics, etc)
  • Demeaning attitude toward student, harassment, abusive in words or tone

There are two things you can do to create a space where you can still forge ahead with your work and maintain sanity: develop boundaries with you and your work and make them clear to your adviser; and find resources and avenues for support and that help you get what you need to achieve your goals. Both of these can help you manage a difficult person while still taking care of yourself and allowing you to get your work done.

It might also be worth identifying areas where you and your adviser agree, where you’re both on the same page – and then where you diverge. Make a list, and then identify the problems you’re having and what you’d like to see changed. If you can, perhaps meet with your adviser to discuss how these things can be managed to create a successful relationship – ask your adviser if they have ideas about how to move forward, or any alternative solutions.

If you find yourself dealing with these issues and are unable to address them with your adviser,  find a faculty member whom you can trust and in a professional manner, ask how you might handle this. Keep any written communications you have with your adviser, document any inappropriate or abusive behavior, and seek support from fellow graduate students to help keep you on track with your work. Update your committee members on your progress and reach out to them with what you need – ie, if you would like to start the next section of your dissertation by a certain date, let them know. This way, if any problems arise, it’s clear where the problem lies.

What is the standard protocol? Some schools will guide you to the departmental chair, while others might suggest going to the ombudsman’s office. The ombudsman will conduct an independent inquiry into an issue and then provide strategies to help resolve conflicts or problems.

If your adviser isn’t the best support or guide for you, contact us today! Did you know we offer coaching and consultations, as well as research assistance, editing, and formatting? It’s not unusual for graduate students, especially those in distance learning programs, to occasionally have issues with their advisers – and that’s where our support comes in. Let us help you get to where you need to be.