Advice needed

Parachute Woman scholl at
Tue Mar 25 20:04:19 EST 1997

I'll put my answer first, so you don't have to re-read this whole thing
if you've already read it once.

This professor seems to be a little out-of-touch with reality.  If you
have manged to write a grant and get it accepted then that money is
yours to cover your own expenses while you do that research.  None of
that money should go to your advisor.  It sounds to me like he is doing
some pretty shady things when it comes to money, and if you and other
students think he is unethical you should report him to either the head
of your department or the Dean of your school.

Do not feel bad about changing your advisor.  Your choice of advisor is
one of the most important choices you make in Grad school.  If you
cannot work with this man, then you should not feel you are "forced" to.
I'm down the road from you (literally - down 40) and I know of quite a
few people in my department who work in the Research Triangle Park and
have on-campus advisors just as a technicality - the person they are
under at the institution in the triangle are their "real" advisor.  It
sounds like you have a similar situation.  Therefore you should be able
to easily find another professor in your department who can be your
on-campus advisor (help with decisions about classes and such) and get
you away from this other guy.  The fact that his students don't seem to
graduate is a big warning sign right there.

However, let me also point out that from what I've seen (MS at one
instituion, now going for a PhD in another) Grad school is not a place
where someone is going to hold your hand and guide you along.  These
students that have gone 6 months without talking to their advisor - have
they made an effort to meet with him?  It is their responsability to do

Anyway - I'd advise doing whatever will make your experience as a PhD
student more fruitful.  Your purpose is to learn and if you cannot learn
from this man then go elsewhere, either to another person or to another
institution.  Bring your money with you.  Most money is transportable if
it is not given thru the university.

If you think you need to change institutions but want to still work with
this woman doing research you are interested in perhaps you should look
at the other schools in your area, such as NC State and Chapel Hill.
I don't know what exactly you study - but being a first year you still
have a LOT of options open to you.

I didn't like where I was at first so I got my MS and got out - went
somewhere else.  I'm very happy where I am now.  Its not the end of the

Good luck!

Laura Pyle wrote:
> Hello,
> I'm fairly new to this newsgroup, but I've been impressed with the quality
> of responses that requests for advice have received in the past, so I
> thought this might be a good place to turn now that I need advice. My
> problem/question is rather lengthy and involved, so I apologize in advance,
> but I really need some OBJECTIVE advice.
> I'm a first year PhD student, and am having problems with my advisor.  When
> I originally applied to this department, I came to talk to a research
> professor whose work I was interested in.  She told me that she could not be
> my major advisor, because of lack of funding and because research professors
> are not allowed to serve as advisors, but that her employer, a tenured
> professor here, might be able to be my advisor, and I would still be able to
> work on the project that had caught my interest.  I spoke to the tenured
> professor, who agreed to take me on and fund me as a research assistant.
> However, we had several weeks of negotiations during which he tried to get
> me to accept a stipend which was lower than what other students typically
> receive.  In fact, because I was convinced that this was my first choice
> school, I agreed to accept a lower stipend.  The professor said that he
> couldn't afford more, since he already had five or six grad students and was
> taking on three more that year.  Luckily, the department intervened and
> insisted he pay me the regular amount, which he agreed to.  During this
> time, I talked to several of his current grad students, who were disgruntled
> for various reasons.
> Once I arrived, my advisor made it clear that I needed to find my own
> funding (through outside fellowships or some other source) as soon as
> possible.  Late in my first semester I did manage to receive a fellowship
> from a government agency, which would pay my stipend and fees for three
> years (tuition was waived by the school).  This was not part of a regular
> fellowship competition, such as those held by NSF, but was really a sort of
> grant for a specific project, which would serve as my dissertation.  I
> managed to get the contract by discussing the project with agency contacts
> made through the research professor.  The problem is that the amount of
> money that will go to my stipend (about $18,000 a year) is larger than what
> I had been receiving in the past ($14,000).  My advisor said that the
> difference should go to him, because it was inappropriate for a grad student
> to receive so much.  I asked several people in administration who had
> handled student fellowships before, and none said that this amount was out
> of the ordinary.  After I presented my advisor with this information, he
> said that if I received the money he would need to be reimbursed for the
> fees he had paid for me during the past year.
> Besides these money problems, there are other problems that I and the other
> grad students are having with him.  He provides very little advice- some
> students have gone six months without speaking to him.  Not one of the eight
> students (some of whom have been here as long as 7 years and are nowhere
> close to finishing) has graduated in the last six years.  Several of his
> past students have left the lab, either dropping out with an MS or changing
> advisors.  The other two students who entered grad school at the same time I
> did are also considering transferring or leaving...  In addition, I have
> heard stories from other grad students about things he's done that are
> ethically questionable, although I have no proof that they are true.
> To get to my question, I would like to know how unusual or bad these
> experiences are compared to the typical grad student's; are things like this
> typical of the system and likely to happen at any school?  I'd also like to
> hear people's opinions as to what I should do; the two options I'm
> considering at this point are to stick it out or to try to transfer to
> another school.  Transferring would most likely involve moving, there's no
> guarantee things would be any better, and unfortunately, at this time of
> year, most schools are at the end of an admissions cycle and it might be
> that I'd have to wait a year to apply.  However, I'm afraid to invest much
> more time in this program, just to get through another year and find it's
> absolutely impossible to deal with my advisor.  In addition, it's likely
> that the research professor, who is absolutely crucial to the success of my
> project and has provided moral support, may have to leave within a year or two.
> Would it be ethical to try to transfer now that I have informally agreed to
> work on this project funded by the government agency (although I have not
> signed any sort of contract nor have I received any money)?  If it is a good
> idea to transfer, what would be the best way to approach prospective new
> advisors?
> Thanks for your advice,
> Laura Pyle

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