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Advice for my PhD advisor relationship


User: PricklyPear - 27 April 2022 10:59

Hey I'm new to this forum and to PhD studies. Before being accepted into the program, I started to learn about my project's topic (around 7 months) and bioinformatics. I'm a biologist for that matter, so I'm not exactly well informed about the area. Time passes and I start to see a pattern in my advisor: whenever I ask for an advice related to code or an error message (even tiny, technical questions), I would get a "ask [some labmate] for advice on this, [he/she] knows about this, I don't know about [some] code/algorithm". When I confront my advisor about this matter, I get that I should not expect "technical" mentoring/training in bioinformatics back, and that I should ask my senior labmates because my advisor does not have the time for that. Full disclosure: I indeed have been asking my senior labmates for advice in code and I do certainly have been making some advance (my advisor actually says I am doing good and I am advancing rapidly), but the problem is that, emotionally, it has taking my motivation really down to the point that I don't feel like I enjoy what I am doing. Am I asking for something that I shouldn't be asking for? Is this standard in a PhD programme?

Huge thanks in advance, I really need some advice on this.

User: abababa - 28 April 2022 23:16

Probably you're asking your supervisor something they genuinely don't know. If you're 'confronting' them with this, you're effectively pressuring them. If you pressure them, they will likely get defensive.

It is completely reasonable for your supervisor to not know everything you will need to know to complete the PhD, because if they did, they wouldn't have needed you. The general concept is you should know more than your supervisor about what you're doing, because if you don't, it's an undergrad dissertation. This is not just the theory, but the practice of how to code in X language / operate Y device, etc.

I'm not sure why this is hitting you emotionally. If it's because you think they don't care or want to help - that's very unlikely, it's probably that they genuinely don't know and are trying to point you to someone who might. If you're thinking they're inept because they don't know how to solve every problem you hit - that's not something you should expect from supervision. A supervisor is there to look at the big picture in terms of whether your research is on track towards a PhD, not debug your code - or even know how to code.

User: PharmaWomen - 11 May 2022 13:54

Most supervisors are this way .. they're more of a "bigger picture" kind of person and they wouldn't genuinely know how to answer your niche questions.
My advice is to still include the issue+your solution in your meeting agenda with your supervisor and act as you see fit especially now that you feel more confident in your field. If your supervisor has any comments at later stages, you can always refer to your meeting agenda where you had explained your rationale in detail!

Hope this helps!

User: giveittomestraight - 12 May 2022 20:11

I agree with the other commenters. I will note that it varies a lot by supervisor. I have several supervisors, only one of whom spends time reviewing my code or working through specific technical problems. I don't think it's a coincidence that he's junior compared to the others. If you have labmates who are willing to help you with the details of your project, then I would fully take advantage of that. You can pay it forward to junior colleagues when you are more established, it's a sign of a good, collaborative culture.