I am a doctorate student in mathematics, having returned to finish my Ph.D after a long absence. Four years after my initial departure, I returned after gaining maturity in the working world and rekindling a personal interest in higher-level math, and to become competitive for work nearer to home.

Since I was restarting with a long-tarnished reputation, but since my advisor was very forgiving and gracious, I was allowed to conditionally resume my degree under extremely stringent conditions, which I met – I passed tough qualifiers and I completed my coursework in a short frame of time on my own dime while maintaining full-time work.

Following completing my qual and degree program requirements, I began to focus strongly on my research in order to complete the dissertation. I recently passed my preliminary oral exam for my dissertation in May, spent the first half of the summer reviewing additional papers for my writing, and commenced writing my dissertation formally in July with hopes on a December graduation.

The trouble began anew when my advisor retired suddenly in August. Although I had been updating him on my progress and asking him for advice while writing, finding time to meet with him became problematic, as he started to become absent and increasingly difficult to reach and schedule with. However, his “hands off” approach had me still writing, and I had a substantial amount of work to review and share with him, and he agreed to meet with me yesterday.

That meeting yesterday was when disaster happened. I noticed that he had become very temperamental; he was highly critical of what little he let me present to him, and overtly stated that he was not going to waste his time and read what I had written. The solutions that I was able to present to him were dismissed out of hand without any further explanation, and his first statement was to tell me to trash everything I had written and start from scratch (even though he didn’t read it or hear anything but a small portion of it).

As the (heated) four hour conversation progressed, he jumped from clear and reasonable critique to complete incoherency, which I found unusual and hard to incorporate moving forward.

When the conversation concluded, I realized that he had in mind a different dissertation problem for me to solve, one that wasn’t even covered in my preliminary exam in May.

He stated that I had until the end of the weekend to clean up my writing, make it presentable, and incorporate the new problem he presented, adding three extra tasks to boot (one of which he had never required me to research before). I am to send the writing to my committee at the end of the weekend and have them evaluate its status.

I mentioned that while my work has substance and progress, it was not complete and organized (that’s why I visited him in person), and that my final oral exam was supposed to be the point of my committee’s evaluation, not when the writing is still in media res. Without his confidence, my committee will not grant scheduling my final oral, and will likely not take the time to read what I send until they hear the word from my advisor anyway. He didn’t care.

In short, this unexpected, sudden, and strange conflict with my advisor has suddenly put my graduation in heavy jeopardy with respect to the stringent deadlines imposed by the Grad College for December graduation (due to my long absence), has put new my job at risk (since obtaining a Ph.D was part of the hiring requirements for contract renewal next year), invalidates three years of hard work to rebuild my formerly tarnished status after my long absence, wastes the tens of thousands of dollars I paid out of pocket to do this, and permanently ends my twenty-year dream of obtaining a Ph.D.

Thank you for listening and for offering whatever advice you offer. I am at the end of my rope and feel powerless, worthless, and hopeless.

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