How to settle with research adviser who lacks the upgraded skill/knowledge? — R Voice

How to settle with research adviser who lacks the upgraded skill/knowledge?

vicky dariano
vicky dariano Member Posts: 9
edited October 2021 in Publication Support

How do you come into terms with your thesis adviser who seems to have forgotten to recalibrate her skill and knowledge in research?


  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 943 admin

    Hi @vicky dariano. Welcome to the R Voice Community - it's great to have you here 🙂

    Thank you for kick-starting our day with such an interesting question. If you don't mind sharing a few more details, I'd like to understand the situation better. For instance, is this situation affecting the advisor's ability to guide your own PhD journey? Is upgrading their skills/research knowledge necessary for something the advisor is personally working on? Would be really helpful if you could explain this.

    @Yufita Chinta @Shruti Turner @Mohamed Samunn @Asli Telli I felt like you all might like to jump in here and share some insights with Vicky. So tagging you on this thread :)

  • vicky dariano
    vicky dariano Member Posts: 9

    I have a project that will use a mixed method approach. Unfortunately, the Chair of the Research Panel is unfamiliar with the method. I need to get her approval so I can get funded and move on with the actual data gathering. I feel trap at the moment. A silver lining I can see is getting an external evaluator who is well-versed in the method I will be using.

  • Kakoli Majumder
    Kakoli Majumder Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 329 admin
    edited October 2021

    Hi @vicky dariano Glad to have you with us. Great question, but as @Andrea Hayward has pointed out, some more context might help the community understand your situation better and share their suggestions.

    To offer my two cents, I have come across researchers with a similar problem, and there are basically a few ways to deal with it:

    1. One option, which is also the harder and riskier route, is to change your adviser - not recommended unless you have concrete evidence of their incompetence. Again, since your advisor's incompetence indirectly points at the incompetence of the hiring committee as well, it'll be difficult convincing them to make the change. In the worst-case scenario, you might end up losing a year (if your new advisor wants you to start on a fresh project) or even not completing your PhD.
    2. The other option - also what most researchers in similar situations that I know have done - is to live with it, but look for a mentor elsewhere, basically a substitute adviser. It can be a colleague, an author you can write to. As a researcher, you will be doing most of your work independently anyways - you just need someone who will be available for guidance when you need.
    3. A third suggestion (and you may have done this already) is to schedule more frequent with your adviser. Send in the questions you'd like to discuss at the meeting in advance so they have some time to update themselves and be prepared to answer your questions. Worth trying before you give up on them :)

    @Ruchika Yogesh, @Karen Hall, @Hong Ching Goh @Nour Benlakhdar, @Adaora Anyichie - Odis, @Isurika Sevwandi @FAROOQ RATHORE @Soumi Paul . Would be lovely to know your experience and suggestions.

  • vicky dariano
    vicky dariano Member Posts: 9

    A silver lining I just heard is she is due for retirement. So, I will be assigned to a new adviser. I am just hopeful I see a light at the end of the tunnel with my new adviser. Thank you for the help. =)

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 943 admin

    @vicky dariano thanks for the additional details! Unfortunately this is a pretty sticky situation as @Kakoli Majumder pointed out and none of the routes out of this seem easy or straightforward. Maybe the advisor being due for retirement is actually great timing for you and this situation might just work itself out without forcing you to have an awkward conversation. Rooting for you! 🙂

    I really liked Kakoli's suggestion of seeking advice from another mentor (if possible). This might help you learn more about the mixed method approach you'd like to use and might also make you better equipped to evaluate whether the new advisor will be a right fit for you. You could also maybe have this conversation with the new advisor before you start working together so that you're both on the same page and you know what their areas of expertise are.

  • Isurika Sevwandi
    Isurika Sevwandi Member Posts: 120 ✭✭✭✭

    @vicky dariano Felt so sad about your current situation and at the same time happy that your advisor is ready for his retirement. More than that I am happy that you had the courage to seek help and advice when you felt the need before falling down to the pit. That is really appreciated and that is why R Voice is here.

    Since you can start like a new person now, with your new advisor you better clarify all the doubts you had with previous person and get alone well with the new one. As you already have experience on how much it is important to have a healthy relationship with the advisor both on academic basis and for mentoring as well, I hope now you can approach the new advisor more productively to ensure that you will no longer have to suffer or have awkward moments anymore. Be prepared well in advance and communicate with the new advisor humbly with a fresh note. Be more direct in everything with adequate politeness (this worked for me in most of the time). Have s sequence when asking questions and getting things elaborated, clarified, questioned and justified. If you open up your academic self and curiosity, they will not only share their knowledge and experience, but also will share many other learning resources with you can netowrking opportunities with other senior collogues that you can broaden your understanding on mixed-methods and literally count on.

  • Asli Telli
    Asli Telli Member Posts: 42 ✭✭✭

    Dear @vicky dariano thanky you for sharing your challenge with us. A road most of us have passed or are passing with caution and stress. First of all, please know that this is a really familiar situation and do not go too hard on yourself. I think the first thing to do would be to do justice to yourself as well as your intended project so that you believe in your own work. I think @Kakoli Majumder has provided excellent advice with 3 options of which I would try to work out the second initially without shifting too many stones. I think we can call this second advisor as a subsitute or even a supporting advisor who can help you specifically with mixed methods approach. I think your current advisor would not be offended by that, and what`s more would be even happy that you are getting the support and orientation you need. If this supporting advisor can also reserve enough time, s/he can even join in your interim hearing/progress sessions, mid-term jury and viva voce so that things work out better for you. All the best for the rest of your PhD experience and pls. do share with us how it goes:)

  • Adaora Anyichie - Odis
    Adaora Anyichie - Odis Member Posts: 128 ✭✭✭✭

    Dear @vicky dariano please do not feel bad about your current situation. Thankfully she will be retiring soon. You can get a mentor that understands the mixed-method approach. Don't be afraid, my Guide said he did his Thesis without a guide since they were not on the same page. Remain positive always, it is very good for your mental health. Don't allow anyone to make you feel less or incompetent...your ideas...innovation is valid. Good luck!

  • vicky dariano
    vicky dariano Member Posts: 9

    I thank you for all your ten cents. It really was a good know, having people like to broaden my perspectives and made me realized options to maneuver smoothly with my project. I am glad this group is so active and sympathetic with researchers having trouble with their scholarly journey. Thank you again.

  • Yufita Chinta
    Yufita Chinta Member Posts: 163 ✭✭✭✭

    Hi @vicky dariano I think you've found the best way to do so far, based on the excellent points suggested by @Kakoli Majumder, @Isurika Sevwandi, @Asli Telli and @Adaora Anyichie - Odis

    Here, I'd like to share my experience about changing the advisor because of retirement. @Asli Telli is right that I did not know whether the new advisor is substituting the previous one or supporting me. One thing that I know was that both of them are known well and strongly connected each other. It means that I may not get any new perspective or agreement of my research/thesis if they are talking about it behind me. Here I do agree with @Isurika Sevwandi about communicate well with the new advisor. In my case, because the two advisors are connected, they want regular meetings between three of us (I, previous advisor, and new advisor). At the first time, I was fulfilled by nervous, because I thought that I will be intimidated more. Opposite! The new advisor helps me a lot during the communications: helping me and the previous advisor to be open about the reasons of a misunderstanding or a disagreement of something related to research/thesis and to be open on searching the solution together. I amazingly could communicate better with the previous advisor then, which gave me a better and smooth way during my study. I know that communicate is a difficult thing to do. But, maybe if possible, having the third party during your communication could help a lot, especially in the beginning.

    Take care and keep updating us here, @vicky dariano 🤗

    **** thanks for tagging my name, @Andrea Hayward ****

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 465 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Thanks for the mention, @Andrea Hayward - I'm happy to contribute some thoughts...

    It's a tough one, because I feel (and I think many do and perhaps should) that my supervisor is there for guidance of my work, It's sort if in the name, right?

    Over my PhD and into my PostDoc, I've come to realise that they are here for guidance but not in the way I originally thought. My supervisor has a wealth of knowledge, she is able to help me contextualise my results, is great for support and bouncing ideas around BUT she isn't an engineer, and I am. Which means that when it comes to making electronics work, or doing the code to analyse my results and produce the visualisations or even the apps I created...she is not my person. She's comfortable with that and I got comfortable with that. Whilst that meant that I felt like I struggled, perhaps unnecessarily, it did help me realise my own abilities but also create my own identity as a researcher.

    My supervisor has a network of people she knows, which means that when I'm stuck and she can't help me personally with my specific issue, she more often than not can introduce me to someone who can. In my darkest times over PhD I was angry about this, almost resenting my supervisor for it or my university for not making sure my supervisor was appropriate. However, whether we like it or not, we are each there to contribute our skills. The different skills each person have make up a whole research team and that is your strength. I have learned so much from my supervisor that I never thought I would, but I think it has made me a better researcher..even though going through the process was painful and demotivating at times.

    This may be a slightly different position to the one you have mentioned in your original post, @vicky dariano , but hopefully it will help to shift the mindset which may help you still. My supervisor couldn't and still can't help me with a lot of what I do day-to-day, but her knowledge of the field and experience as a researcher are invaluable to me. She is great at looking over articles and applications because she is removed from the exact things I'm talking about but knows enough context...which is great as a reviewer of my work. I need to make sure that I can explain things to an interdisciplinary audience and she is a friendly audience who can help me.

    I am hopefully that you find more success and happiness with your new advisor, but in the meantime it may be good to learn from them what you can, even if this is getting a more outside perspective on your work for a different view.

  • Mohamed Samunn
    Mohamed Samunn Member Posts: 17 ✭✭✭

    My take on this is very simple. We need to understand that every research is unique in its own perspective. And we cannot expect that the supervisor(s) will know every bit of thing what we are trying in our research. A healthy dialogue will always pays. The researcher needs to be as comprehensive as possible to his/her supervisor(s). You can try sorting it out at the first level where supervisor(s) and you are involved. If this doesn’t work, then try to solve this issue administratively. Get in touch with the post-grad office. Because you are a PhD student of that university and the supervisor is assigned to you by the uni - unless you choose the research project through the supervisor(s). So, this issue could be solved by the PG office. But, you have to be cautious because the damage is always to you.

    I had a similar situation. My research methodology involves IPA - Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. I could find an IPA expert in my uni. Spoke to my supervisor and we explored the options. I was willing to walk the extra mile. I searched globally where I can get help. I was accepted by 2 university-IPA groups which meet regularly and to an email group where Prof. Smith who introduced IPA as a research methodology is part of.

    Now, my work is very simple. My supervisor tracks my progress and gives me all the support I need from the university. On the other hand, when I am in doubt on IPA there is a cohort of PhD holders and professors to help me out. Recently, I had query: Can I do non-text data (video and audio) analysis without transcription? I posted this question at around 1:00 am and I got the answer within 15 mins.

    A research lies a lot on the researcher. S/He can make the journey smooth or rough! I am not advising anyone. But just sharing what worked for me.

  • Karen Hall
    Karen Hall Member Posts: 21 ✭✭
    edited October 2021

    That´s a major negative of havig a supervisor is that you are limited to what thet person is comfortable doing. It is academiañs most shameful reality. Don´t know if this will work but try to ask her to recommend someone she knows to assist you so that you can submit your best work for her to mark.

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 943 admin

    @vicky dariano some more comments and advice for you from the R Voice Community ^ 😊