This is a true story I heard second hand awhile back. I asked the person (a family member) who described it to me to have that doctoral student contact me. I never did hear from the doctoral student who was probably in shock and anger. So I scrubbed away any identifiers (and the bizarre explanations made by the new chairperson) waited a good while and then decided to bring this up in a post. In fact, I have heard a variance on this same situation twice before. So use the number game and protect yourself. Without that data, you are at the mercy of others. Most professors and chairpersons are not difficult but you only have to have one as your chairperson and life gets bad fast.
So what do you do if this happens to you? Well first of all realize that you are the outsider. I have heard a number of stories where doctoral students had crazy, rude or power mad doctoral committee chairs. Many more had very nice and supportive chairpersons. But the unlucky ones realized at some point that they would never graduate unless they asked for another chairperson. So what happens when you go to the department head and ask for a new advisor?
First, they try to talk you out of it and if that does not work then you may find yourself cast as the village idiot. The new chairperson is not happy to see you and still has to work with the professor that you dumped. The dumped professor wants everyone to know that you are the reason it did not work. You did not listen, were not smart enough and you are hard to work with. Again play the numbers game and have your data available. Share this with the new professor and use it to get the Department Head to place you somewhere else. Having data also means the Department Head will more than likely put you with someone who is good since you seem to record important data. Your data might look good to a jury if you sue for your money back (this is not legal advice). Things like your 455 emails asking for help or clarification sent to your Chairperson and her 11 responses over 3 years might carry some weight. That is only part of the numbers game and you start playing it the day you start writing your dissertation.
So why do people change chairpersons? A chair person may have a stroke, die, start chemo or just stop answering your calls and emails. Some become power mad (really) and some are crazy and you do not know it until you have to work closely with them. Some start hot and then fade out for no good reason. Others like booze or drugs too much. I saw one once who was going senile and it was a slow process. He was such a nice man but he was lost for any sort of step by step work. He still was a warm charmer of a person but vacant. Remember most professors are really good people who will help you and guide you well. This article is about the ones who are bad for you and they are in the minority.
Power mad professors are interesting. Drinking late one night with an amazing professor, he explained how he stopped over to married housing to help one of his doctoral students finish a chapter of his dissertation. As they sat there the night before Easter, he ate all of the chocolate out of the Easter baskets for the doctoral student’s two young kids. He said he was aware of the angry stares the student’s wife was giving him but he craved the chocolate and there was nothing the student could do or say since his whole career depended on this professor. This particular professor was a brilliant writer selling many text books and had quite a following.
He was brilliant and we had used him for a number of research grants and he was a leader in the field. He was a nice man but when he was in the student chairperson relationship he had an assumed power relationship. It changed him but to be fair, he went out of his way to make sure his students graduated and that they had a solid understanding in the field. I use this example to point to how this relationship can get out of hand. Extrapolate it out to professors who are not as kind and supportive as this man was.
So use the numbers game I described in earlier posts. Prepare in case you get the wrong type of professor.
Look to your goals,
Note to the editors-OK I changed my descriptions of the harmful professors and eliminated the term fools and other non professional terms and descriptors. These folks can cause a lot of pain. We will have to discuss that at some point. Still thanks for all the feedback.