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I am an international student at a US university and I have a fantastic, caring and supportive adviser who I find fosters a happy work environment for all his students to grow in.

Here's the drawback to this happily unfolding story:

  1. He advises 9 students, 5 of who are PhD students (I am one of them).
  2. 4 out of the 5 PhD students are in the final stages of their PhD program (me included).
  3. 3 out of these 4 PhD students have families and should have graduated at least about 5-6 months ago but because of "family pressure" they haven't. I don't relate to that because I don't have a family and I want to defend and graduate

My adviser has always had goals that are generally considered unattainable in my group. I had been given 3 weeks to finish my dissertation in 2012 with the dangling carrot that I could defend and then focus on writing papers perhaps.

I met this goal one whole week short of the 3 week goal. However, my advisor has been postponing my defense for a variety of reasons (all of which are true) and is being pulled in several directions at the same time because of an important position in the research area of fuel cells.

So these constant vacillations have led to my defense being pushed to the end of Feb 2013. Now I'm told they don't know when I'll defend.

I find that this is rather unfair and considering that I generally have a good rapport with my advisor I am unsure of how to broach this topic. Why am I so worried? I come from a country where demanding things from your adviser is sinful and gets you kicked out of graduate school.

I'd really like to say that I want to defend and figure out the next step in my life! I am not talking getting a job necessarily but just life in general — get married, have kids, find a job, move to a different place (in no particular order) what have you.

Any advice or similar experience that I can draw from?

1 Answer 1

Talk to him (I'm gonna make a template out of that one)

Be professional, stay fact-based, don't say it as a criticism (veiled or not) of him, and you should be in the clear. Say something like:

I wanted to ask you, given your experience on this matter: I had expected that the final period of my PhD, between finishing the thesis and defending, would be quite short. Given that it's not the case, I was wondering: what is, in your expectations, a typical schedule? Am I doing something that hurts my ability to defend sooner? Could I do something to speed the process?

That should open up a dialogue about your expectations, his expectations, your constraints and his, and possibly help unknot the tie you're in.


However, you're not giving us much information about the exact nature of the core issue:

he has been postponing my defense for a variety of reasons (all of which are true)

If all the reasons given for postponing the defense are valid (I assume “true” here means “valid”), I don't see why you expect to defend. Do you think he's setting the bar too high? Is it merely a scheduling/timing issue? You say that your thesis is ready, has he gone over it, commented, critiqued, discussed it with you? Is the problem with putting together the committee?