PhD student and Supervisor - Alone

7 minute read


This blog series is of my personal opinions and experiences in grad school. My personal bad experience may not necessarily reflect the situations in most academia settings but I hope this will shed some light to people about the good and bad of academia. This is my way to vent some of my frustration in this top-down hierachical environment of the lab I am in.

I have been living abroad by myself ever since of the age of 18 when I started my undergraduate in the UK. Since then, I have learnt how to live independently and take the responsibility of how being an adult. Although many time especially during festive seasons, being abroad alone does hits me home where I will be longing to be back home with my family. However I am blessed to have such wonderful secondary family where most people would call it church. The four year I spend in UK, I was lucky to have met Ian and Irene where they have been a constant source of support and would definitely make sure I do not celebrate Christmas alone. The same can be say also my time here in Osaka, Japan where I am also a part of this wonderful family of Be One Osaka.

Professionally speaking, my advisor during my udnergraduate has been splendid in my opinion. The weekly meeting with the university professors to ensure that I would not struggle in this brand new academic environment in my first and second year of university. For my master porject, the weekly meetings with my supervisor has taught me how to do research. Learning how to do literature reviews, leraning about neutrino oscillation to dark matter in cosmology. I have recieved the feedback I needed of how to progress my MPhys. Needless to say, My degree in the UK did play its role as an educator in educate me the first steps of being a physcist.

Though, my time in Japan so far was underwhelming. I tried to proactive with my interactions with the professors in my lab during the first few months here but down the road, I did not get the feedback I needed on becoming a full fledge physcist. The past 2 years is a constant struggle for myself as I tried to seek feedback on my own personal research. As I am given the “full freedom” to research whatever I like. The professor here did not understand the very reason I applied to do research with him was because the very experiment they were doing, neutrinoless double beta decay. I would have be gladly to do any project that is related to achieving the goal of determine the half life of this rare decay which will have profound impact on the neutrino nature in the standard model which will open new pathway to new physics. However, the over-crowding of student and the lack of research direction in this laboratory led by the very professor who accepted me and retired in the 2nd year of my PhD. Speaking from a 3rd party prespective, the professors in my lab does not specify the research project as in what are the goals they aim to be done for their thesis work during they limited time as a student under their supvervision.

By giving this “unlimited freedom” to do whatever the student likes, the student is essentially lost as they have no goals to work on to graduate. The student themself are not expert in the field they would like in the future, how could one expect a student to choose to do whatever they like in the first place. Many at time it is because of the influence around them that shaped the interest of the student as they have experience it first hand under the guidance/supervision of someone else. A student is called a student for a reason because they are lacking in knowledge that they seek out teachers so that they can learn under the expert guidance of someone. By giving student freedom to choose whatever they liked without specifying anything is an utter bullshit by these professor. I view these professor that are just lazy and selfish that they only will care about themself, ie:- worry whether they can get more grant money and making the name for themself only.

“Do not remain nameless to yourself”, a letter from Richard Feynman to Koichi Mano. Mano was under the supervision of Feynman for his PhD. Mano was given a PhD topic by Feynman for his PhD. Although it is possible a student is able to think of a PhD thesis by themself, often it is not the case as student often lacks the foresight and knowledge that requires one to think of a PhD topic. My understanding that most professors in science hires a PhD student is to help them progress thier own research where they often lack the time to dedicate fully to research. A student can fullfill and complement the research of the professor as this would sped up the research progress. This often comes in project from the professors and carried out by the student. Professors would need to view their student as not student but rather colleage which still lacks the knowledge. My personal view is that professor must never treat thier own students as mere lacky but rather a colleague. In the case of Mano, Feynman gave him a topic to work on for his PhD. Is Mano then not a capable person? obviously no, but from then on he was able to forge his own path in research.

The 2018 physic Nobel laurate, Donna Strickland was awarded the Nobel prize for her PhD work. Her PhD was on the topic of chirped pulse amplication which was an idea by Gérard Mourou, her supervisor at that time. Her supervisor thought of the research idea and she had to make it work. Was the research idea started by Strickland? I do not think so, as from her interview, the idea of Chirped pulse amplification was form her supversior but she had to make it work.

The professors in my lab are just lazy and they have no intention to change their way of thinking. All I want to say, do not treat your student as just mere labour to carry out shift work. I wish there is a more serious repurcussion to this. Do not act like a supervisor when one is nearing graduate which I witness during the near ending moments of the senior student in my lab. That rigor should have been from the start to the end and not just in the last few months.

I know my writing are all around but I really to vent this off.