Why Are There So Many Bad Supervisors?

Now, why are there so many bad supervisors?

It’s almost a proverb that your supervisor will have the largest impact on your PhD. So, you’d think that there’d be more good supervisors and less bad ones, right. But, these bad ones just keep popping up. Why??

There are several well-known reasons, such as, being a good researcher doesn’t automatically make you a good supervisor, and some people are just plain turds who enjoy power-tripping. But, there’s one reason that isn’t often covered, and this reason is the most pervasive. That’s gatekeeping.

Gatekeeping covers not letting people of certain physical characteristics progress, but in a broader sense, it also covers just making it difficult, or even impossible, for whatever reason.

One of the major reasons why some supervisors gatekeep PhDs is because how it makes them feel.

Everyone knows that the harder the achievement, the more pride you take in it, which is a double-edged sword. It’s great in that once you achieve it, you feel great. But, it also results in you wanting to safeguard that achievement and not letting it “fall” in prestige. And that’s what makes PhD gatekeeping so pervasive – people want to perpetuate the difficulty of the degree to boost their own prestige and egos.

There are so many supervisors out there who had it tough during their PhDs and so they want to make sure their students have it tough as well. Yes, sometimes it’s due to a general pent-up hatred of the world, but other times it’s because these supervisors value PhDs so highly that “giving” them away would sully them and lower their value.

What’s more, people tend to exaggerate just how hard things were, and they like to say stuff like, “You have it easy. Back in my day, we had to recite the first three chapters of Tolstoy’s War and Peace before we could even enter the university each morning!”, or something equally ridiculous. And by making PhDs harder for others they elevate their own PhD as well.

Some supervisors see the PhD as a rite of passage, and anything that makes it easier is “cheating”, as one supervisor told me.

Simply put, there are supervisors out there who want to make it tough for everyone else because by making PhDs harder to attain, the more prestigious their own PhDs become. And that makes them feel better about themselves, as small-minded as that may be.

If you find yourself with a supervisor who wants to make it tough for you “just coz”, then a good way of handling it is to surround yourself with as many people who want you to succeed, as you can. That means bringing on more supportive supervisors and colleagues, and if possible even changing supervisors to one who has your best interests at heart. You have nothing to gain from getting your PhD from “the school of hard knocks”. PhDs are hard enough already.

This is a sponsored article, written by Dr John Hockey. Dr John Hockey is a widely published author and has written numerous books to help PhD students during their degree. His books can be found here and here.

The views in this article are not necessarily the views of PhD Voice, we simply provide the platform for blogging.