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I graduated from a reputed North American university with a master's degree in 2013. Due to severe personal problems (deaths/illness in the family, war-torn homeland, divorce, financial issues, and so on), it would be fair to say that I did not perform well. My thesis had a critical error which was duly pointed out during my defense by my examiner. My advisor had not noticed it before. I managed to pass but with major corrections to the thesis.

While I was waiting for the situation in my home country to settle down, we improved the results significantly. We wrote much of a paper with the agreement that we would correspond over email when I go back home to finish it and send it for publication.

This was a year and a half ago. I am back home and I have been trying to get her to finish writing her part but to no avail. Once every couple of months she responds with "I need more time" but that's about it. It would be a huge help in my career to have a paper published. But I am paranoid about being rude to her and keep nagging her because I need her reference if and when I decide to apply for a PhD later. Also I believe she's a genuinely a nice person! So my questions are,

  1. Is a year and a half a normal amount of time to write on a paper in which the research is finished?
  2. How do I politely convince her to hurry up?
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She is taking too long. Attempt to write her portion of the manuscript for her, then send it to her for review. –  Mad Jack Jun 10 at 19:29
@user11192: I did. She says, "it needs improvement and I need more time to fix it" –  crypton480 Jun 10 at 19:30
Ugh, how frustrating! –  Mad Jack Jun 10 at 19:31
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2 Answers 2

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Is a year and a half a normal amount of time to write on a paper in which the research is finished?

No, this paper should've been finished a year ago.

The research is done, so you are not waiting for something else to fall into place for your paper. You already tried writing your former advisor's portion of the manuscript to no avail. Your former advisor did not even catch a critical flaw in your thesis. I hate to say it, but it sounds like your former advisor is quite a bozo.

How do I politely convince her to hurry up?

If you've not already done so, send your former advisor your "final" draft of the manuscript (including the parts you wrote for her). Give her a timeline for returning suggestions/modifications to you. If that doesn't work, you might have to get on the phone and talk to her about how important it is for you to submit this paper. If this fails, you may need to move on, and hope that at some point in the next year or two that she finally matures enough to help you out.

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In reference to the second point, it would help if you could give her an external reason for speeding things up. You need to publish the paper for a job application, or at least submit it, and so on... Sometimes that can act as a forcing function: academics work best on deadline. –  Suresh Jun 10 at 20:06
Thank you for your response. @Suresh: I do need the paper submitted to help a job application and I told her that. I did not write the whole story in the question as it started to seem like a rant. I will try calling her (again). –  crypton480 Jun 10 at 20:11
One bit of further advice then is to give her specific tasks ("edit section 1") and a deadline "by friday or else I'll edit it myself", and so on. –  Suresh Jun 10 at 21:10
Thanks again for your responses. Keeping my fingers crossed –  crypton480 Jun 11 at 15:45
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I guess your advisor is not really "procrastinating", just not working on your paper for one reason or another. She may very well be working on other things.

Now, of course the interesting question is why she is ignoring the work on your paper. Some potential reasons that come to mind:

  • She simply is swamped with teaching or administrative matters
  • The paper is outside of her research interest
  • The paper is still too much work
  • She thinks that the results of the paper are not very strong, and she honestly does not give the paper good chances of acceptance / impact

You say she is a "genuinely nice" person. In my experience, all too often this also implies some avoidance of confrontation (I am certainly guilty of that), which makes the third and the fourth reason more likely. Yes, in theory she should simply tell you when she thinks that material is too weak or the current draft too bad, but for her the "easier" out might be to ignore the paper, especially since you are far away.

Edit: the fact that your advisor apparently did not even read / check your thesis carefully (and missed a critical flaw) rather indicates the second reason.

As for what you should do I agree with user11192 - after such a long time, it is time to essentially give up on getting her to do "her part". Write it for her, and send it to her only for review. Since it has become abundantly clear that the paper is not a priority for her right now (for whatever reason), you can either do it alone or not do it at all. You have no leverage over your old advisor to get her to do her part, especially if you are afraid of burning any bridges.

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Thank you for your response. I totally agree with the part about having no leverage over my old advisor. The helplessness is killing me! –  crypton480 Jun 11 at 15:45
But there is help. Do it yourself! –  xLeitix Jun 12 at 6:29
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