Memoirs of a Saudi Ph.D student: That odd supervisor (part 1)


Memoirs of a Saudi Ph.D student: That odd supervisor (part 1)

In my last article, I described how I was amazed with the British academic system and was astonished at the ability to discuss and criticize all presented ideas however, it was naive wishful thinking on my part; I should have known that nothing is perfect and I should be prepared for exceptions to the rule. And as usual, I attracted that exception to the rule and I learned the hard way.
I had gone through a challenging experience with my previous Ph.D supervisor. My adventure with him started since the first day I met him (after that awkward registration day). I did not have a particular impression after that first meeting, I was so excited and did not want to be anything but completely positive, but I noticed that he was not indulging in niceties such as “please” and “thank you” — and here is another fact about British people, they are extremely polite and they say “thank you” and “please” on every occasion and expect the same from you in return.
Anyway, we started having regular supervisory meetings and started drawing the broad outlines for my research, I just noticed that he sometimes laughed mockingly at what I would say, but I told myself that its normal and part of his personality and I have to put up with it.
Once however, I was on my way to a meeting with him at 4:00 p.m., I was passing by his office at 3:30 p.m. and thought about asking him if we can defer the meeting if he is available, I knocked on his door and he answered, “Come in…” I peered through the door and said hi with a big smile on my face, but he didn’t greet me back.
Well honestly I should have known that I needed to show self-respect, apologize to him and go hide in my office, because the look on his face was so scary. But of course, I didn’t; I was brave enough to suggest rescheduling the meeting with even a wider smile. However, he told me rather harshly to close the door and come back on my allocated time slot.
I was shocked and embarrassed, but I placed all the blame on myself and thought, “the guy is obviously busy, what were you thinking? He must be writing something important to be presented in the next biggest conference in the world and you interrupted him!”
So, I returned on my allocated time slot and he was in a very bad mood and the sarcasm in his tone was very annoying despite his approval of my work, but again I told myself, “Hatoon… He is Ph.D supervisor and will always test your patience to see how you are going to defend your thesis!” Oh how naïve of me, very naïve indeed.
After that meeting, he gave me six weeks to complete a short chapter, and during those weeks, I completely ignored the research. It was summertime and I got very busy with my children and family and I only started writing one week before the deadline. I finished the chapter and e-mailed it to him, and I received that e-mail full of harsh criticism which I believe would have melted an iceberg, he used some abusive terms but they were directed to the research not to myself, and you can just imagine the meeting after that, but this time I deserved it, I should not have presented work that I was not proud of.
After spending time in Saudi Arabia during the last days of Ramadan and Eid, we went back to the UK, and I presented a new chapter to him, which he was pleased with and even told me verbally that my work was good. You can imagine how pleased I was, my spirit was lifted sky high, I started imagining myself being published in acknowledged journals and I went to the extreme of imagining myself receiving a Nobel prize, for what exactly I didn’t know.
Two quiet months had passed, where I used to write, present and later we discussed. However, his mocking laughter and angry bursts continued to irritate me, but I kept on telling myself that it wasn’t personal and after all, he is a good supervisor, or that’s what I thought at least, until that disastrous meeting, a week and a half before Christmas vacation……

To be continued…..

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