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I am a PhD student. My advisor is great, but like all academics is very busy (administrative duties, other students, research...).

What happens almost every time I try to have a meeting, since the beginning of my PhD, is the following:

  • We set some date, say Thursday at 10AM.
  • He isn't in his office at 10.
  • At 10:30 he arrives.
  • It turns out Thursday isn’t great, actually, so let’s meet Monday instead.
  • Comes Monday morning, and the meeting is postponed to Monday evening, and then to Tuesday.
  • But Tuesday is a busy day too, so let's say Thursday at 10?
  • But at 10 there are emails to be sent, and more meetings, so let's say 5.
  • At 5 he isn't in his office, but at 6 we can meet, meaning I come to his office, sit, and wait sometimes half an hour until he's done writing emails, calling people...
  • Then we can finally start talking. Six days after the initial meeting was set, at 6:30PM.

I think over the past three months I’ve been able to have a total of five to six hours of meeting with my advisor.

Writing all this, I realize I’m a bit upset, and I’m afraid it’s going to show if I try to talk to him about it. Because let’s be honest, I don’t want to continue like this. I cannot plan my work day, sometimes I have questions that could be answered immediately but I have to wait weeks, and it’s just generally an unpleasant experience. (And while I know some people are able to work very late into the night, I basically become useless after 6PM on a normal day...)

Of course the long-term solution is to become an independent researcher and not rely on meeting with my advisor. After all, I won’t have an advisor all my life. But right now, I’m not quite there yet. How should I approach my advisor about this, without sounding selfish or upset?

To clarify: yes, whenever I have questions I try to exhaust all possibilities before asking my advisor: internet, my advisor's other students, other people in my lab (though this is a very specialized field, few people can help me if this is about my research). But for some questions, either I am not able to find an answer elsewhere, or there is no alternative to asking my advisor, e.g. "do you think I should go to this workshop", "where do you think I should submit this paper", "is my abstract ready to go", "I found this and it looks promising, should I continue in this direction or stick to the original plan"...

1 Answer 1

Where is your funding from? If you have somewhat independent funding (NSF or other external fellowship) I would recommend making yourself less available. Set a firm meeting time that reoccurs once a week at the same time and place. If your adviser isn't there in the first five minutes, leave and don't agree to meet again until the next scheduled meeting time. This might annoy your adviser but if you are independently funded there is nothing he or she can do about it. They will eventually adjust to retain you.

If you depend on your adviser for funding you may be more forced to adapt to their way-of-working. If it really bothers you, you could change advisers and work with somebody more consistent. I know this isn't a good option. My adviser was the same way and it made everything much harder to get publications out. Luckily it is just a PhD and not a marriage.