Advice needed

Deb Britt Deborah_Britt at
Thu Mar 27 10:14:20 EST 1997

This professor has "seven or eight" grad students, and no one has
graduated in the past six years?  Warning bells should be going off right
here.  I think that looking at a prof's past record with grad students is
a good indication of what will happen in the future.  From what you have
said, my advice would be to leave now, before you invest any more time,
energy and frustration.  Changing advisors within the department can be a
delicate affair, but is easier than transferring to another institution. 
You should make some quiet inquiries to see if you can move to someone
else's lab, and take your money with you.

Good communication with your advisor is tremendously important during your
graduate work.  Try and find a new mentor who meets with grad students
regularly, but remember that communication is a two-way street, and you
may need to take the initiative at times.

Hang in there, yours is not the "typical" situation at any school I have
seen, but it does happen, and it is up to you to take control of your
future, and do what is best for yourself and your career.  Good luck.

Deb Britt

In article <199703252222.RAA25805 at>,
llp2 at ACPUB.DUKE.EDU (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

Deborah Britt, Ph.D.
Department of Medical Oncology
Rhode Island Hospital

More information about the Womenbio mailing list