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If I were a PhD student, should I be concerned if my supervisor always requires their permission before I can publish a paper?

Under what conditions should I find it acceptable or unacceptable?

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"Is it OK" is a very difficult question to ask. OK by what/whose standards? I don't think that the question is answerable as currently phrased. –  eykanal May 13 at 17:51
    
@eykanal: I have just asked a related question which is more well-defined in its scope. –  Pete L. Clark May 13 at 17:52
    
@PeteL.Clark, this question relates to seeking permission to publish. I think your question about co-authorhship, though related, does not subsume this one. eykanal, I struggle to think of a better phrasing, but I certainly think the question permits an objective answer (in that I have one in mind but will wait). –  badroit May 13 at 20:48
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@badroit: I didn't mean to suggest that this question was a duplicate of mine. In general I think this is a very important issue for academics, so I am happy to see multiple questions about it here. –  Pete L. Clark May 13 at 21:40

5 Answers 5

up vote 16 down vote accepted

If you are including your supervisors name, or anyone else's name, you should notify them first and allow them to review the paper before sending it to the publisher.

If you are just wanting to publish under your name alone, it depends. Are you publishing findings from data that belongs to your advisor (or anyone else's data)? Typically any data collected by you that was paid for by your funding agency belongs to the principal investigator, which is usually your advisor. You should ask for their permission before you publish findings from his or her data.

This applies to abstract submissions as well.

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It especially applies to abstract submissions if your supervisor will be expected to fund your conference attendance. –  Fomite May 13 at 22:41
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On funding, additionally, some funding bodies want to be acknowledged in papers resulting from the grant. Students often don't know which grants ought to be acknowledged on a given paper, but advisors definitely do. –  James T May 13 at 23:06
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Are you publishing findings from data that belongs to your advisor or anyone else? –  JeffE May 14 at 4:07
    
Accepting mainly as the most upvoted answer ... the other answers also make good points. –  badroit May 14 at 20:29

The current answers are good, but for my field they seem to miss the single most important factor that makes prior permission de facto necessary before submitting a paper: funding for conference trips or page charges.

Basically, most papers in my field are conference papers. Conferences require physical presence of the student, and are expensive. A single conference trip (to the US or Asia for us europeans) can cost 2000 EUR, in rare cases even more. Often, these costs can be covered from the project a PhD student is also paid from, but some funding agencies do not pay for travel. In such cases, the professor needs to find other funds to finance the trip.

It is obvious and in no way unethical that one needs to consult the manager of these funds before deciding whether to spend the money.

So, essentially, an advisor may not be ethically allowed to forbid a student to submit a paper, but he sure can reject paying for it from his funds (which ends up as the same thing for practical purposes).

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Of course it's unethical to submit a jointly authored paper without the consent of every coauthor, or to use unpublished data or ideas without permission from their source. However, these principles apply equally to everyone, regardless of rank or status, and they have nothing to do with the student/advisor relationship.

To avoid these issues, let's posit a paper that's entirely the student's work, with no ideas or data generated or owned by anyone else, and let's assume that no funding is required for conference travel or publication fees. Then could the advisor forbid the student to publish? I would consider this unethical: if the student is determined to submit this paper for publication, then it would be wrong for the advisor to try to block the submission or to threaten or impose punishment.

This doesn't mean the advisor can't put some pressure on the student. It's reasonable to try to slow down an inexperienced, headstrong student for their own good. For example, to discuss ethics (avoiding plagiarism, making sure all contributors are credited appropriately, etc.) or to check for major mistakes. I think it would be reasonable for an advisor to have a policy that students should discuss all submissions in advance. (This policy might well be waived for senior students.)

However, if a student refuses to discuss a submission or disagrees with the advisor's recommendation regarding publication, then I see no ethical grounds for intervening.

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It would be wrong for the advisor to try to block the submission - perhaps you could elaborate on why it would be wrong? –  ff524 May 14 at 3:45
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For precisely the same reason it would be wrong for the advisor to try to block a submission by his colleague in the next office, or in the next state. –  JeffE May 14 at 4:02
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I would argue that if one is unwilling to take the advisor's advice, then perhaps one should consider finding a different advisor. Generally when an advisor slows down the publication flow of a paper it is for the good of the student. If this point is disagreed upon, then there's probably a bigger problem underlying that relationship. –  Willie Wong May 14 at 8:34

The basic freedom of speech would dictate that anyone can publish whatever they want. So as a base line, I would go with that. The question then becomes what could be argued against that? Well, if the advisor has funding for a project and the information the student wants to publish draws on that funding it would be appropriate to discuss the publication before sending it off. The publication might damage the project and hurt everyone involved in the long run. This is not realy an infringement on the basic freedom but limitations under which we live and should abide. Hence, conflicts about publications are often originating in poor or absent communication or total lack of openness or trust or all the above and more.

It is important in any collaboration (which how I see a PhD project) to be clear of expectations in both directions. Under most circumstances problems can be sorted out quite easily but as with anything human, odd personality treats will throw spanners in the works. This is why it is usually difficult to resolve issues that lead to conflicts and the "Run don't walk" away can be suggested. More sensibly, anyone in a conflict should try to understand where the problems lie and act to resolve the problem but typically one party is usually oblivious to personal shortcomings in which case there is usually not much that can be done.

I do not see a simple answer to this but having an understanding of conflicts and conflict solutions or perhaps seeking such advice is necessary if the reasons for supervisory control is not based on reasonable scientific or administrative grounds.

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Freedom of speech has one of its limits in the confidenciality of data, that covers most scientific data, as pointed out in Soil's answer. –  Davidmh May 13 at 22:07
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Restrictions on the use of data associated with a funded project apply equally to collaborations with faculty colleagues. The advisor/student relationship is entirely orthogonal. –  JeffE May 14 at 4:05

Just to summarise some of the points (and add some more) as to why a supervisor might make it a requirement for students to seek permission before publishing:

  • Check assignment of funds for travel (e.g., for conferences) or for publishing (per xLeitix's answer)
  • Check use of data or resources belonging to the project (per SoilSciGuy's answer)
  • Check proper attribution of people involved in the work
  • Check that the proper affiliation and funding acknowledgements are in place
  • Check that there are no IP issues (particularly in the context of industry collaborations or industry-funded projects, but also with respect to university IP guidelines)
  • Check that the venue is not of low quality or, e.g., a predatory journal ... check that the results are not undersold
  • Check that the paper is not of low quality, besmirching the good name of the affiliation

These are the reasons I can see why a supervisor may require permission before publishing. Once you understand some of these motives, I guess it's up to you to decide if that's a problem or not.


Of course, in some fields, supervisors (almost) require co-authorship by default of anything you publish; in this case, requiring their permission is a corollary. Likewise, relative to that, requiring only permission (maybe) doesn't seem all so bad.

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