My advisor said that when I write my thesis I should staple together my three papers. One of my committee members says my thesis should have a unifying theme and a narrative that ties together all the papers. My advisor thinks this is stupid and explicitly told me not to listen to my committee member.

Both of them have to sign off on my thesis. What should I do?

  • 1
    Did you check whether your institute has some rules on how your thesis should look like?
    – Mark
    Feb 4, 2018 at 10:47
  • 2
    I'm going to suggest a different perspective from those presented below: 1) Presumably your adviser is the one paying for you, so obviously their suggestions outweigh those of your committee members. 2) Once your adviser approves your manuscript it's hard for another member of your committee to reject it for several reasons of political nature. For example, simply because this would be a problem for both you AND your adviser. P.S. In the end this is YOUR thesis, so make whatever makes you happier.
    – user347489
    Feb 4, 2018 at 12:53
  • 1
    Is it possible that your advisor and the committee member are from different areas of science? I heard that in some (sub)domains, "stapler thesis" are frown upon, while in other, it is quite standard.
    – Taladris
    Feb 4, 2018 at 14:12
  • Maybe it simply is a test. How mature and independent have you become and how do you judge the situation? Feb 4, 2018 at 21:22
  • Is it really a contradiction? Feb 5, 2018 at 12:18

2 Answers 2


The way you present it, it sounds like the two are mutually exclusive, but they are not really: a "stapler thesis" generally contains an introduction and a conclusion that are there to tie the papers together into a whole. This implies a unifying theme and a narrative. It's only a few pages, but it makes a big difference.

You should probably at least make some effort to introduce a narrative, despite your advisor's opinion. Of course you know them best, but in general it's less likely that someone would refuse to sign off on something because you put in more effort than they thought warranted, and more likely they would refuse because you didn't put in enough. Better to err on the side of doing more.


If you trust your advisor's ability to manage dissertations (does he have supervising experience at your institution?), follow his lead and forget about the rest.

The way I see it, it is your job to do 110% of the work that goes into the dissertation in accordance with your advisor's instructions. Your advisor's job is to manage the political aspects of the dissertation. Normally, he should not suggest anyone to be on your committee if he is not certain that he can work with them.

If your advisor can manage the committee, you should not worry about a thing. For the most part you should not even need to talk to your committee members beyond a simple formality. I only saw my committee members when I sought their advice explicitly. None of them told me to do things a certain way.

IF you have to justify your actions, go with a vague statement like "I appreciate your input, I tried to put it to work as much as I could. There were other factors I had to balance (vague hint to your advisor's role). All in all, I am pretty happy with how it turned out, thanks to your suggestions."

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