How to cope with an absent PhD supervisor

August 16, 2017

Unfortunately, there is very little consistency in the amount of guidance and feedback PhD students receive; with some left for months or years with no contact at all. So what can you do if your PhD supervisor doesn't supervise your PhD?

Perhaps the most important tip is to make sure you keep pushing for support. If they don't reply, email again. If they still don't reply, call them, go to one of their lectures, do whatever it takes. The chances are they simply forgot to reply, so you need to be politely persistent. This might not work, but at least you've done something and not just given up after the initial non-response.

You should also look elsewhere for support. There are other academics and PhD students you can talk to about your work, and the most valuable resource you have is the expertise around you.

This isn't just about getting feedback, but about learning from other researchers. As much as you can learn from reading the literature, you can learn a lot more from talking to people and seeing how they approach the chaotic process of research before it gets tidied up for publication.

It's deeply frustrating to have an absent or uninterested supervisor, but if that's the situation you're in then you have to be resourceful and find other people to talk to.

Obviously there are times when it's a bit more complicated than this, so if there's a specific reason why you can't talk to other people then leave a comment below and I'll help if I can.

See also:
"I can't contact my supervisor until I have something to show"
Tips for surviving a remote PhD
Is your PhD supervisor a facilitator or a barrier?
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