Friday, February 25, 2011

Dual Advisor Conflicts

Currently, I’m in that grey area as far as my job/research is concerned. Mainly, I’m trying to finish a few more papers before I officially move on. One of my other tasks is mentor the next PhD student to continue this current research trend. So with NewGrad, I’m trying to get a few more experiments completely, enough for maybe 1-2 papers and we collectively have a few conference proceedings submitted/accepted.

Research with NewGrad is going well. I expect a lot from my mentees and I give them a lot of tasks, but I also support my mentees much more than other PhD/Postdoc students do for their mentees in my group.

But as I’m slowly faded out of the picture, it’s time for the real Advisor (also technically my advisor) to take over. Since I’ve been pretty autonomous as a researcher for the past ~2 years, I’ve had to set my own path for the research, so I know where it should go. Not to toot my own horn, but I have been pretty successful at doing so. Advisor does not have nearly as in depth knowledge about the research topic as I do and thus, Advisor doesn’t exactly know where it should go. And Advisor wants NewGrad to go in a different direction than the direction I’ve set forth. These are also the same wonky decisions Advisor steered me toward.

Concerning my future, I am not so worried. Once I have moved to SnowU, I will be guiding my own research, unless I get myself as a grad student. In general, I will be able to proceed down the path I want on this topic.

I am more concerned about NewGrad and how this will change NewGrad’s situation. There is clearly a disconnect between myself and Advisor and NewGrad is aware of that. Also, NewGrad knows that I’m leaving shortly and Advisor will be the main person to turn to for the rest of the PhD project. And NewGrad does not want to run the risk of alienating Advisor so early in the project.

I think it is a weird situation to be in for the both of us. What would you do if you were in NewGrad’s shoes? Have you been part of a supervising tandem where you had conflicts with the other supervisor? How did this affect your underlings? Thoughts? Comments?


  1. My main mentor when I first arrived was a postdoc who has since left the group. Even though he's no longer in the office every day, the wonders of electronic communication mean he still gives me advice when Advisor doesn't have any.

    As NewGradEquivalent, I try and follow the major directions my Advisor wants, but when I need more specific advice, I maintain an informal mentorship relationship with the postdoc. However, if we weren't still working to finish up papers, it would probably be much less frequent contact. I've also branched out into a more autonomous position than I think I would have be this point because my original primary support is no longer around.

  2. I think there's a difference between a mentor leaving half way through and one leaving well before the end of your first year. So I guess it depends how far along you are. When my mentor PD left, it was after 2.5 years of working together, so I was pretty well off.

  3. Stu might be in for a world of pain (or inefficiency...) However, there are also two options that may work well if the NewGrad is a newbie. He could actually come work for you (transfer to SnowU) -- I have seen that happen, a grad student following former postdoc into the new faculty position. Worked out well. I know it constitutes poaching, but if it's a newbie Stu, it shouldn't be a big deal.

    Another option is to have Stu insist on switching topics to something Advisor is more hands-on about...

  4. GMP: that's what I'm afraid of. In the 6 weeks since I've left, I can see the drop off already. That's not to say NewPhD isn't going to be successful but it's definitely a lot harder try to get advice from someone that's a continent away and multiple time zones.

    I (discretely) asked NewPhD to come to SnowU with me but that was a no-go. Also, I'd kinda feel bad about sniping a good grad student from my former advisor.

    The latter isn't really an option based on how the funding situation works. At OldEuropeU, the project you're funded on has very specific goals and that's what you're hired to do. It's not like here where you can move off course, do good work, and get a PhD on an entirely different topic.