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Unread 03-15-2017, 10:52 PM   #1
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Default Issues with thesis advisor?

I know this is not the hugest issue because I'm still an undergrad so my problem wouldn't prevent me from graduating or anything, but I am doing a senior thesis, which is basically one semester of independent research and one semester of writing.

The thing is, I had to fight really hard to do this because my academic advisor said I was on edge and it was best for me not to do it. She said, "WE are just doing what's best for you," which made me so paranoid… who is talking about me and why are they preventing me from even submitting a proposal (not just rejecting it)? I went over her head and apparently my proposal was good enough to be accepted, but ever since, I've had issues because due to the confusion, I had no professor to be my thesis advisor. I worked things out with a professor and I'm doing the thesis with him…

So the problem is, he seems like a really decent guy. He also tells me he respects my work process and doesn't expect anything from me (I had proposed to write 200-300 words a week on my findings). But I can't help but see this as a rejection. Especially with the resistance I got from the department, I'm feeling rather rejected…. And I can't communicate with him because he's so nice. I don't want to hurt him. All my daddy issues are coming out. Whenever I try to share what I've learned with him, I stumble and I want to cry. Even the act of saying hello becomes unnecessarily emotional. I even asked him if I'm allowed to ask him questions, which is stupid and he probably thinks I'm really screwed up. I keep acting out everything unhealthy that went on with me and my father and applying it to my professor. I just wish my professor would be a little bit mean to me. I can't tell when he's angry and it makes me scared. He seems so nice and he has a picture of his kids on his desk and he seems like he's a really good father and I just don't know what to do.

Everything has become about him. I meet with him once a week and I just want to cry every time I talk to him. When I research on my own, I keep thinking about whether he would like the book I've chosen to read, or just running through scenarios with him in my mind - stupid stuff like how I'll tell him about this or that reading. Then I freeze and can't move forward in my research. Everything is for him. It's unhealthy. This is supposed to be MY project, and I feel like he doesn't really know what my project even is because I can't stand up to him and correct him or communicate with him. I tell myself I should get over it because no one is going to take care of me. I have to take care of myself. He's not going to save me or nurture me like my father never did. He's nice, but he's not going to be that nice. It's professionalism disguised as kindness. But I really can't. For some reason I can't be tough this time.

Not only have they hindered my progress with the project, but the abandonment issues are starting to impact my relationships with other people. I've cut ties with two classmates so now I basically have no friends. I don't have an excuse. I was feeling needy and just got angry and I just walked away. And I've started to be very submissive around my other professors, as if I'm waiting for them to swoop in and take care of me. As if I'm just waiting for someone to be my father or mother figure.

I never had parental figures that were strong enough to take care of me. I mostly had to figure things out for myself while putting up with their abuse. I'm just so… pissed off about this. I've gotten this far and now I'm being pathetic. It's not even that I'm not smart enough. I guess the problem is I have always done things for myself. I detached from my parents at a very young age. And this time I'm doing things for him. I can't walk away from him. Every interaction with him makes me feel unmoored - sad, guilty, self conscious. My self harm has been avragated because of my guilt around him. I cry almost every day. I'm a mess.

I hope that wasn't too long and confusing. I myself am very confused. Any advice at all would be appreciated, but please don't be mean. Also, I will not quit this project. It's just getting harder to believe in the potency of my research idea and it's hard to justify wasting everyone's time given that I am barely making progress.
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Unread 03-18-2017, 01:40 AM   #2
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Default Re: Issues with thesis advisor?

Hello, emptynightmare, and welcome to Psych Central! Do these folks know about your diagnosis? Is that why they're trying to be so careful with how they deal with you and what they expect from you?

I suggest you find a counselor (ideally one associated with your school) and talk to him/her about it.

Be proud of what you're doing. Congratulations!
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Unread 03-18-2017, 12:50 PM   #3
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Do these folks know about your diagnosis? Is that why they're trying to be so careful with how they deal with you and what they expect from you?

I suggest you find a counselor (ideally one associated with your school) and talk to him/her about it.

Thank you, Travelinglady. No, actually, I never progressed far enough in therapy to get a diagnosis. But they may be able to tell from my behavior that something is off. My research topic also has to do with trauma as well, so....

Counseling services is a joke at my school... it usually consists of a darkened room and a hushed voice and a concerned gaze and nothing else. My counselor never remembers what I say and then acts as though she's still waiting for me to ask for help, even though I have, every time, brought up issues I want to discuss... I suppose I have trust issues, but I also don't think she listens to me or cares about what I say. Then again, I am not good at communicating due to certain forms of childhood neglect, so I probably am not able to communicate effectively with normal people.
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Unread 03-18-2017, 11:58 PM   #4
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Thank you, Travelinglady. No, actually, I never progressed far enough in therapy to get a diagnosis. But they may be able to tell from my behavior that something is off. My research topic also has to do with trauma as well, so....

Counseling services is a joke at my school... it usually consists of a darkened room and a hushed voice and a concerned gaze and nothing else. My counselor never remembers what I say and then acts as though she's still waiting for me to ask for help, even though I have, every time, brought up issues I want to discuss... I suppose I have trust issues, but I also don't think she listens to me or cares about what I say. Then again, I am not good at communicating due to certain forms of childhood neglect, so I probably am not able to communicate effectively with normal people.
Can you find a therapist outside of your college? You're in a complicated, confusing situation and it would really help if you could find a professional to help you untangle it. We aren't trained mental health professionals and don't have your extensive history, so we're limited in how helpful we can be. As a fairly recent college graduate, you have my full empathy.

At my university, the counselors saw a lot of students. They were often recent graduates trying to gain more experience before joining a more specialized, rigorous practice. They were temporary stop-gaps who made sure you had someone to talk to until you decided to get more professional support. They were not really in a position to provide personal, extensive care since they saw lots of students on an as-needed basis. Often they were not in a position to offer a thorough diagnosis either. Some are social workers, some are psychologists. It's best to get a diagnosis that combines the assessment of a psychologist and psychiatrist who look through all the available information. At least that was my case.

So I was quickly referred to an off-campus therapist and psychiatrist. I had to get a diagnosis from a neuropsychologist off campus first. The psychiatrist and psychologist I saw later were able to schedule longer, regular appointments and provide more personalized, professional care. They limit how many patients they see and have scheduled appointments, so they are in a position to provide better care.

How are your grades? What is your course load like? Is it balanced? From my experience, professors and advisors want to make sure that students graduate and with reasonably good grades. As such, they might be risk-averse when it comes to recommending the courses and assignments you take on. It's nothing personal.

I took time off from university and wanted to take challenging courses during my first semester back. My advisor told me that I was free to do what I wanted. However, she advised me to think carefully about what I was getting into given my previous grades, health issues, and the challenging nature of the upcoming courses. If I wanted to take them, perhaps I should lighten the rest of my course load? I was headstrong and didn't listen at all. I took on four hard courses. I got the worst grades of my entire college experience.

Hopefully this was somewhat helpful. I'd be happy to talk more if you'd like to go over specifics.
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Unread 03-19-2017, 11:56 AM   #5
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Can you find a therapist outside of your college? You're in a complicated, confusing situation and it would really help if you could find a professional to help you untangle it. We aren't trained mental health professionals and don't have your extensive history, so we're limited in how helpful we can be. As a fairly recent college graduate, you have my full empathy.

At my university, the counselors saw a lot of students. They were often recent graduates trying to gain more experience before joining a more specialized, rigorous practice. They were temporary stop-gaps who made sure you had someone to talk to until you decided to get more professional support. They were not really in a position to provide personal, extensive care since they saw lots of students on an as-needed basis. Often they were not in a position to offer a thorough diagnosis either. Some are social workers, some are psychologists. It's best to get a diagnosis that combines the assessment of a psychologist and psychiatrist who look through all the available information. At least that was my case.

So I was quickly referred to an off-campus therapist and psychiatrist. I had to get a diagnosis from a neuropsychologist off campus first. The psychiatrist and psychologist I saw later were able to schedule longer, regular appointments and provide more personalized, professional care. They limit how many patients they see and have scheduled appointments, so they are in a position to provide better care.

How are your grades? What is your course load like? Is it balanced? From my experience, professors and advisors want to make sure that students graduate and with reasonably good grades. As such, they might be risk-averse when it comes to recommending the courses and assignments you take on. It's nothing personal.

I took time off from university and wanted to take challenging courses during my first semester back. My advisor told me that I was free to do what I wanted. However, she advised me to think carefully about what I was getting into given my previous grades, health issues, and the challenging nature of the upcoming courses. If I wanted to take them, perhaps I should lighten the rest of my course load? I was headstrong and didn't listen at all. I took on four hard courses. I got the worst grades of my entire college experience.

Hopefully this was somewhat helpful. I'd be happy to talk more if you'd like to go over specifics.



This was very helpful, thank you, psychehedone! It is good to know what my advisor's intentions might have been. I also took a break from college but when I returned I didn't seek help from anyone. This semester and the past semester are the first semesters that I have even really gotten advice from an advisor. I'm starting to thing I may be unnecessarily fearful or avoidant in all my interactions, not just in those directly related to my father issues. (And that I have more ingrained issues than I thought… )

My plan upon my return to college was a steady upward trajectory, not only in grades, but in personal development. I have and am continuing to accomplish that, and the senior thesis is part of that upward trajectory.

(Though I confess that I have no ability to create meaning because I'm depressed as hell, so I am using good grades etc as a measure for success…)

And it is equally helpful to know about my counselor's potential motivations.

I think I might just be blunt and ask my thesis advisor if he is being careful with me and why he decided to do the thesis with me. It seems that while my childhood is causing issues, as an adult I am merely afraid / unable to communicate, and understanding others' motivations would be helpful...

This is all very illuminating...
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Unread 03-19-2017, 12:27 PM   #6
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Default Re: Issues with thesis advisor?

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Originally Posted by emptynightmare View Post
This was very helpful, thank you, psychehedone! It is good to know what my advisor's intentions might have been. I also took a break from college but when I returned I didn't seek help from anyone. This semester and the past semester are the first semesters that I have even really gotten advice from an advisor. I'm starting to thing I may be unnecessarily fearful or avoidant in all my interactions, not just in those directly related to my father issues. (And that I have more ingrained issues than I thought… )

My plan upon my return to college was a steady upward trajectory, not only in grades, but in personal development. I have and am continuing to accomplish that, and the senior thesis is part of that upward trajectory.

(Though I confess that I have no ability to create meaning because I'm depressed as hell, so I am using good grades etc as a measure for success…)

And it is equally helpful to know about my counselor's potential motivations.

I think I might just be blunt and ask my thesis advisor if he is being careful with me and why he decided to do the thesis with me. It seems that while my childhood is causing issues, as an adult I am merely afraid / unable to communicate, and understanding others' motivations would be helpful...

This is all very illuminating...
One of the biggest mistakes I made in college was to not seek help from the various resources on campus, partly because I procrastinated and partly because I was afraid that I'd look like a weak student.

Regular, structured, goal-oriented communication with your advisor, professors, and resources like free tutoring and writing sessions can be very helpful. The more you communicate, the better you'll get at it. Jump in! Jot out what you'd like to get out of each session and what you'd like to figure out. That way, your meetings will be more structured and you'll feel more confident about going into them. A good therapist can also help you figure out how to approach these sessions. I always talk my therapist every time I have a difficult discussion ahead (e.g. a personal confrontation, a discussion with my boss, etc).

I think it's important for you to see a therapist and psychiatrist in a more "professional" setting if possible. While you might be getting better grades (good for you!) and using that as a measure of success, by not addressing underlying mental health issues, you are at risk of your depression and confusion deepening. This might not be the case with you, but I suppose I'm just risk-averse nowadays given my experiences.

It definitely might be helpful to talk to your advisor about what he's looking from a good thesis, how he'd like you to approach it, how he feels about your topic, and if he has any concerns or advice about how you are currently approaching your work.

Good luck!
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Unread 05-19-2017, 07:03 PM   #7
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Default Re: Issues with thesis advisor?

How did your thesis turn out?
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Unread 05-23-2017, 12:12 AM   #8
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How did your thesis turn out?
It's a two semester ordeal (hehe) so I will be done in December. I am taking every measure needed to ensure success.

Thanks for waking me up. I'd better start attacking it now....
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Unread 05-23-2017, 05:41 AM   #9
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Oh! Thanks for letting us know.

Hang in there and keep on attacking it!

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