I am the PhD student of an advisor who is known within my institution as extremely strict, controlling and prone to temper tantrums, making undergrads cry in lecture halls, etc. I am in my final year of writing, 12 months to go with all of my experiments completed and 60% of my writing done.
I have found my own ways of managing our relationship (i.e. to grin and bear it), but now, in my final year of thesis writing, I am finding it increasingly difficult to cope. He is extremely controlling of my personal time: making it clear that he expects me to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week ‘just to keep my head above water’. Though he always cheerfully reminds me that ‘deadlines are flexible’, on the rare occasion that I do try to take him on his word (this has happened twice in 4 years), he completely flips out and makes me work to the deadline (even when this has meant me working 20 hour days). This happens even though the events are out of my control (a problem with an experiment, the death of a friend) and though I have never asked for more than 7 days extension. The death of a friend thing happened recently and is the straw that broke the camel’s back, I just can’t understand how I couldn’t take a week to deal with that (it was over Christmas, when I was still ‘supposed to be working’…).
I would almost understand his behavior if I were a terrible PhD student in need of a kick up the backside, but by all objective accounts I am on track to finish well before schedule. My advisor tends to go through periods of bombarding me with compliments and praise for my work, teaching, etc. until I feel totally great about our relationship, only to completely flip and treat me like a child in need of chastisement. What disturbs me about this is that he will often make me agree that he is in the right, and that he is ‘not a horrible advisor, just has my best intrests in mind’. Two friends of mine have left our research group because of difficulties working with him, telling me personally ‘I don’t know how you are able to work with him, I feel sorry for you.’ A friend’s advisor has said: ‘I hope Anon is OK and has someone to talk to, their advisor is really tough’. I’m including this context because I consistently doubt my own perception of this situation, and need to justify my feelings to myself (and anyone reading this) by remembering that others corroborate my perception of my advisor. I am also extremely paranoid about him finding out about this (hence not using my usual SE account).
Usually, I would make my feelings clear and ask for a mature discussion about our needs, but I think my advisor will take that as confrontation and I don’t want to jeopardize my thesis or my job prospects in these final stages. I am too apprehensive to talk to other staff in the institute about this in case somehow word gets back to him.
At most, I’d like to get a good reference and bounce out. At least, I want to survive with my sanity and happiness in tact (I have self-esteem problems and am feeling increasingly awful about myself – I see a therapist so I’m accountable to someone and don’t plan on hurting myself etc.).
TL;DR: Overbearing advisor, I feel increasingly bad. My strategy at this point of is to continue my mantra of ‘grin and bear it’, keep a low profile and ride out the end of my PhD. Please could you share some strategies for doing so in a non-confrontational way?