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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Career Counselor: Conflict With a Supervisor
September 7, 2008 - 8:33pm

I'm having a bit of a conflict with my supervisor, and I don't know who to ask about it because he's the department chair, and I figure that it's probably not really all that professional to discuss this with anyone I know on the faculty here.

So anyway, the thing is this. He's a nice guy, but he can't keep or acknowledge a deadline to save his life. I recognize this is fairly normal academic behaviour, but I have a grant proposal due in less than two weeks, he's had the draft for a month, I've reminded him several times about it, and he still hasn't gotten back to me about it. (Last year he left a different grant proposal until the last minute, then sent me to the library the day before it was due to read more books and get the draft back to him by the end of the next day...I'm trying to avoid being in this position again) He schedules meetings and then doesn't show, or cancels them at the last minute and doesn't reschedule, or tells me we're meeting and that he'll get back to me with a time and I never hear from him, etc.

I'm a little ticked, but that's not really the problem. I'm really worried about what will happen when I start writing, and I can't get in touch with him, and he doesn't get in touch with me, and it takes him a month to get back to me about drafts/various things like that. Is this just what academics are "like" and I just need to get used to it and try to work with it, or do you think I can say/do something about it? I don't know what the rules are about these things (though I'm fairly sure there ARE rules) and I don't want to do anything dumb, but I also don't want to get myself in a position that's going to make the next three years of my life a lot more stressful than they need to be.

Do you have any thoughts?


You can and should absolutely say something to him. Nicely, of course.

When I was starting my diss, I had a talk with my advisor where I basically said, let's lay down the ground rules. Which it turned out he *really* appreciated. I'd go into it like this: hey, you've never written a dissertation before, how does your supervisor prefer to work, what stage does he want chapters at, does he consider deadlines soft or firm, and so on. And part of that conversation is about how *you* work: you're conscientious and deadline-conscious, and it really bothers you (you can soften it up by saying something like, "probably more than it should") to wait for feedback more than, say, two weeks, or when meetings get cancelled, etc.

Of course, you have to be flexible (which you're already being). Like, maybe instead of "don't cancel meetings" you can ask that if he has to cancel a meeting he please call you. Or you can agree to try to set up meetings immediately after his office hours, when you can show up a few minutes early and prevent him from "forgetting." Or if he gives good advice but just really hates reading drafts, maybe you can agree that it's okay if he doesn't read the diss until the whole thing's done (as long as you can get someone else on the committee to vet drafts for you). But ultimately you need to come to *some* kind of understanding that you can live with.

Basically, having that conversation is professional. And what you're asking him is to act more professional. Which you're totally entitled to do.

Now, of course, he might be having some kind of problem in his personal (or professional, who knows) life that's making him screw up (and skipping out on meetings or giving students 24-hour turnaround times on stuff b/c you put it off is pretty bad, really). But that's not your problem, to be blunt--or it shouldn't be. If you and he can't agree on, and keep, ground rules, then you want to consider replacing him.


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