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Grad student

I am very sorry to hear that you suffer from this. As Marcus points out, this is very common and it is not always clear what to do in situations like this, especially when you also think that the feedback you get is intellectually honest and good. I can offer couple things:

1. Just ignore the harsh tone and focus on the content of the feedback. You'd be amazed how often I saw the same feedback delivered in both a cheerleader-y and disparaging way from different people. More often than not, the bad demeanor does not reflect anything about the quality of your work (Just adopt this as a mantra).

2. Have multiple people you can consult and get feedback from and interact with. Having only a single person is bad, even if that individual is good. Diversify your interaction, prepare short and digestible version of your work to send it around. That way you can abstract away the personal aspect of your interactions and focus on the content.


One approach is to explicitly ask the advisor to say what is working well. I've never tried myself but heard of other people who did with good results. One way to do this is to say to the advisor that in order to improve work, it's important to know not only what isn't working well (and needs to be changed), but also what is working well (and can be repeated/extended). So an explicit request for positive feedback can be made by noting the role of that kind of feedback in training and skill-building. This avoids the awkwardness of feeling like you're asking for praise -- which you're not, it's totally standard for learning any skill to involve a combination of being told 'good' and 'not quite'.

Ideally, advisors would understand this already, and it wouldn't be the grad student's job to say this. But I've heard of people making this request successfully in cases where the advisor was acting in good faith, but was just a bit out of touch with how their feedback was coming across.

two cents

Have you expressed any of these feelings to your advisor? To whatever extent possible, I think regular, honest exchanges on this (and most other topics) is really important to developing a strong, productive relationship with one's advisor. Such conversations could be direct, with comments such as "after our meetings I often feel demoralized and unmotivated to continue my work." It could also be somewhat indirect, like, "what in this paper do you think is most worth pursuing? Are there other topics that you think would be worth looking into?"

I'm not saying that everyone responds well to this sort of engagement. If you want to keep working with your advisor, though, I think expressing yourself to them, in whatever way you feel most comfortable, is a crucial first (and regular) step.


I'm sorry to hear this. I dealt with a similar situation for 6 years, and it was so nice to graduate. I was lucky enough to find a job and rediscovered the joy of doing philosophy after graduation!

Two things helped me a little: (1) I and a couple of my advisor's other students created a WhatsApp thread where we'd tell each other about the latest harsh comments, etc. It was a little helpful to remind myself that I'm not the only one who is receiving this kind of treatment from the supervisor; so it wasn't really about me! (2) Less helpful: I had a couple of "power" songs that I would listen to after every supervision meeting!

good luck

Assuming your advisor means well (that they're genuinely trying to help you improve rather than enjoying taking you down), here are some ideas:
- seek out one or more alternative mentors who are good about valuing your work and telling you about it. Talk to them occasionally for sanity check.
- have "debriefing sessions" with a trusted friend every time you meet with your advisor. Ideally this friend can help you rephrase the advisor's harsh comments in constructive words.
- develop a post-feedback ritual. Something like: write down all the bullet points, then go for a walk, then come back and cross out all the non-action-items. Or something else. The idea is to have a set of things you are always able to do so you're not overwhelmed by emotions into inaction.
- remember that you might not need frequent feedback from your advisor. Sure, they'll need to stamp approve the finished product and so will have some say at crucial points of the process, but a lot of early edits (things like did you write clearly, did you have a good grasp on the literature) can come from pretty much any competent philosopher.

But, yeah, it's hard. A lot of the above relies on having a specific kind of academic support network, which a lot of people don't. My advisor wasn't demoralizing in this way, but I was also almost never told that my ideas were good throughout grad school. At least not by other people from my program. Oh, here's another idea:
- got to lots of conferences. Especially smaller ones that allow for more conversation. People will tell you your ideas are good at conferences.

Recent grad

I went through the same thing and felt demoralized constantly. I feel this with you. While in many cases I don't think there is a fix to something like this because of a certain personality type, I can encourage you that once you finish you will be really glad you had what it takes to endure that kind of criticism constantly over a long period of time, without any encouragement. Once you're past it there is something weirdly gratifying about that endurance. I would never wish it on anyone, but in cases where there is nothing that can be done about it, the cliche is correct: it does make you stronger.

Former Grad

Sorry you're going through this. Some supervisors are just not up to task.

I had a similar thing with my supervisors. They would not read anything submitted for months and then when pressured would give back harsh comments.

I found that the best way to survive was to find mentors elsewhere in the field who would read my stuff. One senior professor in another department read the entire thing for me.

It helped that I got an adjunct teaching job and then a tenure-track job. The adjunct position meant that I could ask my colleagues (at another school) to read it. The full time job mean that there was pressure I could bring to bear on them (as in: I need this job, my thesis just needs to pass). That got them to do their job and got me through it.

Obviously everyone's situation is different, but I bet you have more contacts then you think and people willing to read it.

Bill Vanderburgh

I don't subscribe to the fatalistic perspective that it is tough but you will just need to find ways to cope with and work around the situation you are facing. There is close to no chance it will get significantly better, no matter how much more you do in addition to the already huge and difficult task of just trying to write the best dissertation you can.

Instead of trying to push through, make a big change: You deserve better treatment than you are getting and you need to advocate for yourself.

I suggest speaking to your department chair and/or director of graduate studies. They need to know that your supervisor isn't doing their job well, and as official representatives of the department they have an interest in making sure you succeed.

You or they could suggest shuffling your committee to give someone else the lead role, ideally dropping the current advisor altogether for someone more productive. (This depends in part on the size of the department and whether there are any people with the right disciplinary areas to take you on as an advisee, and if so whether those people are politically well-placed to be able to step on the toes of the abusive advisor.)

If the department isn't willing or you are worried about blowback (maybe your advisor is close with, or identical with, the people in the roles mentioned), then speak to someone fairly high up in the Graduate Studies office (like an associate dean or dean). The campus Ombuds Office is another place you could go.

A reason to seriously pursue the path I am suggesting is that someone who regularly says negative things about your work and nothing positive, doesn't seem very likely to write you strong letters of recommendation, assuming you have the fortitude to get to the point where they grudgingly pass you.

Good luck. You can change your circumstances.


I know someone who found an external advisor for their dissertation. The first advisor was toxic, but there was no one else in the department (or university) who had suitable expertise to direct the project. I do not know how complicated it was from an administrative perspective. But if you decide that you can't work with your current advisor, this is something to consider.


As you said, "they provide excellent feedback but it can be really difficult to receive it", I think they pointed out some problems in your work, and you find that if you solve the problems, your work will be improved. But they have pointed out the problems in a very harsh way, you hate it and don't want to work anymore.

If you believe that they are acting in good faith, maybe you can ask them: "Your comments are very useful, but could you make them less harsh?"

As Marcus says, "the vast majority of feedback one tends to get in academic philosophy is negative" (and I totally agree on the basis of reviewer reports on my papers from journals), so perhaps your advisors just formed this bad habit of only giving harsh negative feedback. They do not know it is harmful to give feeback in this way or they know that but just think it is common and acceptable in academic philosophy.

Btw, PhD-er's advice is very helpful.


I am in a similar but more severe situation of coordinated abuse, gaslighting, manipulation, retaliation - the list goes on. I've come on here to say that every professional philosopher should halt the entirety of academic philosophy until this horrific crisis is addressed. Not one more philosphy class. Help us! DO SOMETHING! None of us have any power! We are drowning! I have worked so hard to be where I am and now my entire career and life plan is completely demolished. I have no recourse! It makes me sick that none of you have enough integrity to DO something. Just weak, distant and apathetic comments. There is serious violence being wrought upon us.

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