My advisor has developed an idea earlier in his career. While this idea is not particularly bad, he always tries to force all his students to apply it to almost all research topics we encounter. Many of them are, in my opinion, obviously not suitable to apply this idea onto, and have resulted in no research output, but he still insists on making the application of this idea work. This takes away our time to try more sound ideas and makes us work much less efficiently. What should I (and other students) do to stop this?


One suggestion is to use a kind of "red herring" strategy: Work on two directions in parallel.

The one direction is the idea that your supervisor wants you to follow, and that you will mainly discuss in meetings, thus giving him the impression that you buy into his game.

The other direction is the idea that you think will actually lead to results. The time to first mention this direction is when you have made some substantial results - you may then calmly announce that you plan to submit them to a specific publication venue.

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    This sounds like a spectacularly bad idea. You would save yourself time by giving up on your PhD and starting a new one elsewhere, because your advisor will never trust you after that. – user9646 Mar 10 '18 at 9:26
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    @NajibIdrissi I guess it depends on the circumstances. The two advisors I have worked with both had a rather clear focus of the ideas they prefer, but didn't mind when I came up with completely different ideas that lead to publishable results. – lighthouse keeper Mar 10 '18 at 9:36
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    @aparente001 You say "short of" as if these were drastic actions. My opinion is that deception is never the answer. Perhaps you have differing standards. – user9646 Mar 10 '18 at 19:38
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    @NajibIdrissi - I don't see it as deception. // "Short of" -- I'll rephrase my comment to make sure my idea came across as intended: The only possible options I can see are (a) continue in the status quo (i.e. continue to beat a dead horse), (b) switch advisors, (c) work on two topics, the dead horse plus something else. – aparente001 Mar 11 '18 at 2:06
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    I was in a similar situation and adopted a version of this strategy. Every time I tried to rationally debate with my advisor, it turned into a fight which was really damaging our relationship. I started saying that I would "think about" his idea while also pursuing my own. – Dawn Mar 12 '18 at 4:03

Run. Seriously, run from this adviser if you can. Eventually, when your adviser's ideas fail to produce any meaningful output, he might try to portray this as purely your fault. Even if he doesn't blame this on you, wasting precious time is not a good idea either. "Red herring" strategy might work or it might backfire spectacularly. If your idea somehow fails, then you might run into serious trouble with your adviser. He will most likely claim that because you were sidetracked/distracted by your own idea, you didn't put all the effort into his idea and that's why it failed, too. Besides, your adviser is supposed to help you develop your ideas and if you have to hide your ideas from him, that's not a sign of a good adviser-student relationship.

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    I don't agree that the first reaction should be "run". We don't know his supervisor to know exactly what he means by "force to use". Maybe, if someone presents reasonable arguments about how this particular technique is not best suitable for the problems they are studying, the supervisor will agree in using something else. But people need to speak up. Sometimes I feel I am the only one that can say whatever I need to say to my supervisors (previous and actual supervisors). – The Doctor Mar 12 '18 at 11:00
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    This answer might be correct for some particular circumstances. As a general answer, it's a little extreme, since we don't know if the advisor is really inclined to the behavior suggested in this answer. Also, the mentioned drawback of the "red herring" doesn't apply when the strategy is executed as suggested: only mention the idea to the advisor when there are publishable results. – lighthouse keeper Mar 12 '18 at 11:11
  • I didn't know my adviser would behave like this either, he seemed like a really nice elderly person. You never know. – fastboatster Mar 15 '18 at 5:50

You and your supervisor are scientists. Academia is supposed to be a place to share ideas and to discuss science freely.

If you think that other methods are better suitable to tackle the issues you are facing in the research, it is your duty to discuss it with your supervisor and share the solutions with your group. You should not be afraid of having your own voice as researcher.

I know that in some groups the ambient is not propitious for discussing different views, but you should at least try to discuss things with your supervisor before thinking about tricks to avoid him. And if you reached the point of avoiding him, maybe the best option is changing supervisor.

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