Inspired by this question, I have a similar but somehow different problem.

I recently assumed a tenure-track position. One of my strategies for a visible start is to have a strong presence in social media. We have a youtube channel in which students regularly explain their achievements. Or sometimes we post short educational materials. We also prepare brief videos for each publication as some publishers promote the videos.

However, one of my PhD students refuse to cooperate. I specifically asked him in the interview (both video chat and email questionnaire) if he is willing and ready to prepare such video materials for the group, and he firmly answered YES. Now, he claims it is not part of the job description for a PhD.

I first preferred to ignore this conflict, but now other students are reluctant to do so. Now it is more a matter of my authority.

Since I am new, I do not want to take the case to the department head or other officials.

  • 69
    As the ultimate in snark (and definitely not recommended) would be to suggest that writing letters of recommendation for students is not listed on your job description. (Note this is not a real suggestion.)
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 17:18
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    everything about this situation strikes me as odd and totally foreign to my experience . . . both your fixation on making youtube videos (and on your "authority") and your student's bald refusal and reference to his "job description" . . . can you at least state what country (or region of the world) you work in, so i can get a vague sense of your cultural background?
    – abcd
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 19:13
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    Several answers have touched on this... what benefit does this activity hold for the students?
    – Jeutnarg
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 19:20
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    If you are in the US, what you are asking the student to do may in fact be a violation of FERPA. The same goes for other countries with similar privacy laws.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 19:25
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    I have so many questions. The title says "appear in", but then you say "prepare". Which is it? You say "We have a youtube channel". Who is "we"? Who is "the group"? What do you mean by one of "my" PhD students? When you say "A visible start", a start for what? When you say "the" interview, what interview do you mean? Interview to be admitted into the PhD program? Interview to be in your "group" (whatever that is)? Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 21:55

13 Answers 13


Now it is more a matter of my authority.

Well, yes... I’m sorry if this will come as a surprise to you, but coming across as an unreasonable, coercive boss who wants to force their students to participate in distasteful, privacy-violating activities that have zero relevance or value to their professional training, is in fact something that will greatly undermine your authority as an advisor. Effect, meet cause.

My suggestion is that, for your own good and the good of your students, you cease those authority-destroying activities immediately. Your “authority” is something that is given to you for the sole use of doing research and training and educating your students. Asking them to appear in social media videos so that you can have a “visible start” is no different than asking them to make you coffee or give you a back massage so that you can feel energetic - both of those things are indeed not in any job description of any PhD student anywhere. They are not things you should ask students to do, and they are not things you have any right to be upset at a student for not wanting or agreeing to do.

Finally, the fact that you asked the student in the interview if he would be willing to appear in YouTube videos only means that you declared your abusive intentions in advance. It does not make those intentions any less abusive.

Good luck in your tenure track career.

Edit: I said I will address some of the comments left below. Rather than try to discuss fine points of logic, which I think will be tedious, I've decided to add a more personal type of note, which I think will do a better job of getting the point across.

I have been asked many times over the years by various people to have lectures I was giving recorded and made publicly available online (on YouTube, etc). I always refused. Frankly, I find the thought of making publicly available videos of myself lecturing pretty repugnant. Why? Well, just because; I don't feel like it, and I don't owe anyone any explanations. If some silly people want to think that it's because (to quote a comment someone wrote) "some people are super self-conscious about their voice and/or their looks", fine, go ahead and think that. (Oh, and by the way, on another occasion I did agree, happily, to participate in a YouTube video that now has more than 700,000 views. Go figure... I guess I'm inconsistent! Again, I leave to others to engage in their pointless Freudian analyses of what that means about my personality or whatever.)

One of the lessons I learned from these experiences is that people who don't care about privacy have a really hard time understanding people who do. The people who asked me to make my videos available online were sometimes quite offended at my refusal, as if they could not understand why anyone might refuse such an amazing opportunity, and even (this was really bizarre) subtly pressured/guilt-tripped me, implying that I would be depriving the world of an important resource (trust me, I wasn't).

OP, I am sure you are a good person and a good researcher who means well, but know this: your student who doesn't want to make YouTube videos really, really, really means it when he says he doesn't want to make YouTube videos. You might have a hard time understanding why; well, it's not important (or any of your business really) why -- just trust that it's true. And it's quite possible that your other students who haven't been as firm in standing up to you feel exactly the same.

To summarize, you probably don't view yourself as an abusive adviser. You think the student is being unreasonable, but he isn't. Attempting to force the issue will have bad consequences for both of you, and more importantly, is simply wrong. So please let the matter go, and figure out more acceptable ways to market yourself and your group.


tl;dr: You need to inspire, you mustn't coerce.

If you believe it's significant for the group to invest time in social media presence, you need to convince incoming junior researchers of this fact. You need to provide compelling examples of how doing so helps the group and helps them. It's not sufficient that it helps only other people in the future - remember your Ph.D. candidates will likely not continue as part of your group in their future, nor do they know they'll ever interact with it; and it is also up to the existing group members to inspire in them.

So when your PhD candidate says "it's not part of the job description", what he's really telling you is: "You've not demonstrated that this is worthwhile and important, and since I believe it would be at least somewhat detrimental, I'm avoiding it."

I specifically asked him in the interview (both video chat and email questionnaire) if he is willing and ready to prepare such video materials for the group, and he firmly answered YES.

If someone asked me in a job interview whether I'm willing to go buy them lunch, and I really wanted/needed the job, I'd likely say YES but then try to get out of actually doing that.

Luckily for your PhD candidate(s), your inappropriate questionnaire is not reflected in the contract in any way. You could theoretically get that changed if you really expected the questionnaire to be binding; but, well, don't do that.

Now it is more a matter of my authority.

So, what you're saying here is that you want them to...

Respect Mah Authoritah!

right? Well, it's ridiculous for Cartman from South Park and it's inappropriate for you as well.

  • 7
    Hah, I really dislike South Park, but that's still the first image that came to mind reading the question.
    – Nat
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 4:04
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    @Allure: You're ignoring the imbalance of power and conflict of interests. Anyway, and just so you know - I once almost failed to be accepted into a Master's program because I used the "wrong" name for my country of birth (the one that management doesn't like politically).
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 6:18
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    @Allure that is unfair. Would you say that a woman who is coerced to agree to meet her boss at his hotel room late at night and then tries to get out of it, say by making up a dishonest excuse, has a “black mark against her character”? The nature of coercion is precisely that it puts people in situations where they have to resort to behavior that is normally perceived as dishonorable, like reneging on an earlier promise (in the case of the student in the question) or lying (in my example). The fact that coercion is involved completely changes the moral calculation of what’s acceptable.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 8:17
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    @Allure She should not be making promises she does not intend to keep. Again, I find this a simplistic view that is objectively (not subjectively as you suggest) wrong. Say the woman is a single mother. Does she not also have a “promise” to feed her child, which is in fact considered one of the most sacred promises in most societies? So, if she follows your strict honor code and refuses her boss’s demands, then gets fired and as a result becomes unable to keep her commitments to her child, is she then not behaving in a way that is even more “unacceptable”, even according to your own logic?
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 8:54
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    @Allure obviously if the student can avoid making promises they do not intend to keep, that would be a preferred course of action. But since there is an element of coercion (or an imbalance of power as einpoklum put it) in the request, especially in the setting of a job interview, if the student feels they have to agree to it (possibly in a moment of inattention or before thinking deeply enough about the matter), I don’t think they can be faulted for later going back on that agreement.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 9:12

Every time I read "not part of my job description" I translate either

a) "You are here to exploit me and I am protecting myself by exhausting the interpretation of any formal contractual agreements we may have"


b) "I am here to exploit you, namely to take as much as I can while offering as little as I can, and I do that by exhausting the interpretation of any formal contractual agreements we may have".

Collaborative efforts in either case are bound to be lukewarm to difficult to non-existent.

I would suggest to first assess objectively which one of the two describes better the situation you're in. Understanding why the student changed course so completely, is critical in deciding how best to deal with the problem the PhD student has created.

Why do I say that he has created the problem? Because, to indulge his approach, reversing course and reneging on an explicit previous agreement without a shred of explanation apart from the "job description" angle, is not part of the "PhD job description" either. In fact it is part of the "Unreliable and Untrustworthy" job description. This is a PhD student we are talking about, not a teenager, so failure twice to raise and argue his (possibly valid) objections to the matter, is not a good sign.

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    OP is also “not a teenager”, so it’s a strange bit of logic for you to assign all the blame on the student for behaving in a way that someone who is “not a teenager” presumably shouldn’t behave, when you acknowledge (viz. “possibly valid”) that the exact same may be true of OP.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 19:48
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    @DanRomik The OP may be faulted as regards the essence of his behavior (his demand for marketing activities), but the essence is what we fight about all the time. His approach was appropriate in that he brought up the issue unambiguously. In contrast, the PhD Student is to be faulted not for the essence of his stance, but for the way he went about it. Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 19:51
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    The conclusion does not follow from the premise. Collaborative efforts will be lukewarm and difficult mostly if the employer persists in its demands/pressures on the employee. In case b it would probably more like non-existent.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 20:09
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    Downvoted because, as I said above, there easily could be a misunderstanding between the OP and the student as to exactly what was agreed to. Until that point is cleared up, there are no grounds to castigate the student.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 4:02
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    Nope, it's the advisor who should have brought up the fact that he was asking about the tasks not included in the job description. By not doing so the advisor deceived the candidate and abused his power, since he's not a "master", but an employee, who is paid, in particular, for selecting the candidate best fitting the job description (as opposed to pleasing himself). This, of course, nullifies all the promises made by the candidate. And I still fail to understand how bringing up an explicit, written agreement could possible make you "erratic" or "unreliable".
    – Kostya_I
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 16:45

Forcing him will not yield desirable results, appeal to his egoistic interests

I think even if you could force him to comply by insisting on his contractual obligations or threating to sue/fire him the produced result would be of low quality because the type of work (creating Youtube videos) requires a positive attitude, i.e. appearing happy and interested. If he just does the bare minimum (reading a script with a monotone voice) it might yield little to no positive results for the perception of your group.

I suggest:

  1. Find out why he does not want to cooperate. Maybe he finds the other videos too childish, unprofessional or "below" his qualification ("let some art students do it", "Why does he put me on the same level as some stupid youtube creator that comments on funny videos of cats?"). This will help you identify the exact nature of the problem. For example explaining that vanityis not the reason for you doing this.

    Also, personally I find that "social media" carries a negative connotation: fake news, self-portrayal, orchestrated life on Instagram, people of questionable levels of contribution to society with millions of followers, etc. Maybe he has the same attitude.

  2. Present to him reasons on how he will profit from this as well, e.g. "It is important to be visible in academia even for PhD students." or "Other researchers in your field might stumble up your video and contact you for a chance to give a talk or cooperate with you on further research." and "You will profit from this just as much as I." The latter communicates that you are not exploiting him for you own end.

If he is convinced of the personal benefit for himself, he will probably put much more genuine effort into the production of the videos, increasing their persuasiveness and positive self-portrayal of your group.

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    One other reason he might not want to do one is because he thinks he wouldn't do a very good job, even if he understands the benefits. Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 18:32
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    Yes, some people are super self-conscious about their voice and/or their looks. Maybe, the OP could allow them to prepare videos where they are not in it. For instance, they could ask a friend, or they could hire someone on fiverr.com to do the voice over. Another approach would be for the OP to video their project himself. And finally, the OP needs to tighten his initial interview questionnaire and perhaps ask for a prepared video as part of the screening process. That should weed out the ones that are truly incapable of doing it. Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 18:48

The requirement to present work is a very reasonable ask, and in fact part of what a PhD student is supposed to learn.

That said, take a step back and think about what you're asking for. Perhaps "produce a video" or "submit to an interview" might not be a fair ask, both for different reasons. Producing a video requires expertise which, arguably, has little to do with what your student is trying to learn. Doing it well takes skill, and it frankly requires some aptitude. Done wrong, it looks bad, and can negatively reflect on a student who does it badly. It can take quite some time to learn, and can be a substantial detractor from what your student should be spending time doing. As for the interview, appearing on-camera can be very stressful for a shy student. For all you know, the student may have skipped bail and doesn't want to attract undue attention!! Of course, that last is ludicrous, but the point stands -- you don't know because you didn't ask.

If you would like to put up a social media presence around this student's work, you should find out what the student's real objections are, and address them. If its "I don't know how to do this", you can teach the student, or make sure the student gets help from the right support staff. If it's "I don't think this is my responsibility" (and the student might have a real point there), you can suggest that presenting data is the responsibility of a student, and you would like the student to work with staff member "X" to generate material sufficient for that staff member to produce a social media article or video. That is the student's responsibility.

"You said you would do this and now you won't!" won't get you very far, with students or with colleagues. If you dig in your heels on this, you won't accomplish what you need to, and your authority may take a beating. Worse, the grapevine can carry the message, and your source of valuable students could dry up.

"I'd like to generate an exciting social media presence for our lab, and I think your work would be a great thing to include. I understand that you don't want to make a video, but communicating your work is an extremely important part of being a researcher, and even if you don't feel you can produce a video, you are still responsible for helping your lab keep our social media presence up to date. Can you provide material to go into this template? Can you video your next experiment for us, maybe with your phone, and write a brief description to accompany it? Are there tools or expertise I can match you up with to make this social media post possible? What sort of help do you need?" might be a more productive approach. It might start a conversation that points you to what the real obstacles are. It might help your relationship with this student, instead of killing it.

Your student might not end up doing the entire job on his own (which may really not be what the student needs to do with his time anyway), but you clearly lay out that the student still has substantial responsibility toward helping the lab complete the mission, and he is not off the hook for contributing. You have reasonable expectations, and fulfilling them will advance the student's abilities.

  • 6
    Re "skipped bail", that might be stretching things somewhat, but the student could easily have an abusive (ex-)spouse or significant other who possibly could track them down through videos.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 4:07
  • I see a strong contradiction between "The requirement to present work is a very reasonable ask, and in fact part of what a PhD student is supposed to learn." and "Producing a video requires expertise which, arguably, has little to do with what your student is trying to learn." just one paragraph later. Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 14:47
  • @O.R.Mapper There are many ways to present work. In academia, the "normal" ways tend to be papers, posters, and live presentations. Those are the "reasonable asks", at least for the moment. Preparing materials similar to what one would prepare for those media, and handing them to a producer, would thus not be a distraction from the academic workflow. One could argue that video is the way of the future, and have a valid point, but then again, I've seen a ton of really bad videos, too! Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 15:01
  • @ScottSeidman: I see then. I consider the papers, posters, and live presentations the bare minimum of "having" (published) work in the first place, and the true "presentation" (the one that actually entices possible collaborators, students, authors who might build on top, users whose products will serve as case studies in the future, etc.) starting only beyond that (by providing links with additional materials, live demos, tutorials, etc.), but that might indeed be field-specific. Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 15:25
  • @O.R.Mapper I can certainly agree with that, but I would put most of that in the PI's pile of stuff to deal with, and not necessarily the students' high priority. Of course, how, then, do the students learn to do this without doing it?? Even that considered, the nicest examples of that form of communication I've seen here come from a joint effort of the PI, the lab staff, the students, and people who know what they're doing with respect to web design, graphic arts, user interfaces.... Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 15:40

he claims it is not part of the job description for a PhD.

But the matter has nothing to do with what he "claims"; either it is a part of his job description or not. If it is not, then you should cease and desist, there is nothing to discuss here.

I'm quite astonished that some answers blame the student for referring to his job description and get upvotes. First, this is a typical way to set boundaries against power abuse. Second, there is a third party - that funds the student - and it is the job description that specifies its intentions. Third, this may be the only way to for him to stand his ground without telling his (perfectly valid) reasons that will put you at cross.

I also don't understand blaming the student for changing his opinion. At the time of the interview, the student (with no experience in academia and possibly from another culture) thinks that what you are asking for is a usual part of the job. Later, he finds out that it is not, students in other groups spend their time more productively, and, moreover, many colleagues find this activity distasteful. What's he to do?

The last remark: if this activity is not a part of the job (as stated in the job description and thus as intended by the funding party), including a question about it in the interview is in itself an abuse of power. This alone makes the answers of the student non-binding.

  • 1
    I really like your legal perspective.
    – Googlebot
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 15:39
  • 3
    "I'm quite astonished that some answers blame the student for referring to his job description and get upvotes" -- My overall impression from seeing a number of student x abuser debates in SE Academia is that most users here are biased against the student.
    – Scientist
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 16:29
  • An excellent answer, joined to upvote this. "... not a part of the job (as stated in the job description ...), including a question about it in the interview is in itself an abuse of power." is a strong point, I would suggest emboldening it. To the OP: if you want all of your students to participate in X, why not advertise X as a requirement before the interview, rather than interview-pressure students into saying yes?
    – user94322
    Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 3:15
  • "either it is a part of his job description or not" - I think this claim is nonsensical. A job description can never be so detailed that it explicitly covers each possible situation and detail that might make sense in context. Referring to the job description is, as you say, a way to set boundaries against power abuse. But unless the entirety of the task is unreasonable (which promoting one's research is clearly not, for a researcher), referring to one's job description signals a complete unwillingness to even think about possible alternative solutions to achieve the intended effect. Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 15:08
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    @O.R.Mapper, nothing indicates that the student is "unwilling to think about possible alternative solutions". Quite the contrary, it is the advisor that insists on a particular way of promoting research, and it is this particular way that is opposed. Otherwise, you have a point that the job description may be vague. But an ambiguous job description doesn't mean the employee has to do whatever can be stretched to fit there. "Acting in publicised videos" is a specific activity that is not universally understood as a necessary part of "promoting research".
    – Kostya_I
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 7:56

Since I am new, I do not want to take the case to the department head or other officials.

Many of us here understand the nerves of being a new faculty member, and having uncertainty about how to deal with a difficult situation. But for God's sake, talk to your department head! I'm sure your department head would be happy to give you guidance and assistance on a difficult matter, and would probably appreciate being consulted in preference to a group of random people on academia.SE.

New staff at a university can sometimes be nervous about bringing problems to senior faculty, but this is a deficiency in their own work habits. It is far preferable to seek guidance from experienced staff in your faculty than to try to muddle through on your own with the sporadic advice of outsiders. You will be doing your job better if you swallow your nerves and go and talk to your department head, or other senior faculty who run your department. Presumably these are the same people who chose to hire you, so I'm sure they are happy to hear from you!

Personally, I agree with some of the criticism of your practice, and I think it is a stretch to require a PhD student to participate in this activity. (Though I am critical of this practice, I appreciate that you have a bona fide belief in its value.) As you can see, some of the academics on here are pretty scathing of this, and you might find that your department head is also critical of this practice. But even if this is the case, it is much better for him/her to hear about it early, and be able to do something about it, than to hear about it later when it becomes a staff complaint and a disciplinary matter for a student.

  • 1
    I totally agree. The OP's position is as counterproductive as a newly married person not wanting to ask their spouse what they would like from the relationship. It is very hard to succeed in a department if you violate local norms and show no interest in finding out what they are. The OP has a lot to learn from their senior colleagues. All of us do. FWIW, I'm a department head (and former junior faculty member). Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 14:46
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    @Ellen: Thanks for your comment - it's nice to hear this echoed by a HoD.
    – Ben
    Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 21:40

I find this question quite important. As there are so many laboratories in my field taking up this 'marketing model' of establishing a strong online presence. I understand the potential gains and how it relates with the Impact Factor craze but I shall not linger on this aspect here.

As you said, students agreed in participating during interviews, which is your main argument to be used in pushing them to do it. However you also said that after a while this particular student (i.e. probably the most courageous) started refusing and others soon followed. As mentioned by others in this thread, you ought to find out why student(s) are refusing to participate in videos. Which brings up the point that no potentially relevant details about such videos are disclosed of in your question. I think this point is quintessencial to your problem: perhaps the investment in your videos turns out to be more than students anticipated in the interviews? And it took one stronger personality (i.e. potentially your best student) to spark a revolt? My point here is: reconsider what you're asking of your students regarding these videos. If it takes a few minutes and is a lot of fun, I am sure almost everyone will engage every now and then. On the hand if it takes extra work hours, scalding, unwanted exposure, and surplus tasks (i.e. editing) then soon enough you'll end up only surrounded by minions and likely producing unquestioned (i.e. bad) output.

Finally, I do not encourage you to push some authority onto someone refusing to participate in videos, unless your local priorities are not the usual of a scientific research facility. Apart from destroying your reputation in the mid-term, you will (also) end up with very bad videos & results & lab ambiance in the short-term.

Do write about the experience on your blog and shoot a vlog about it: I think this problem is more widespread than you expect.


The student must understand that outreach is part of academia. A lot of scientific research, in particular blue-sky science, is tax funded. It is entirely reasonable to expect scientists to reach out to the general public and present what they're doing. As a scientist-in-training, it is very much in the interest of the PhD student to be trained in outreach. Nowadays, social media are a popular way to do outreach (but not the only way).

However, some scientists are unwilling to participate in outreach in general or to outreach via social media in particular. Perhaps they don't want to spend the necessary time, they feel shy, or they for some reason have negative connotations to outreach in general or to a specific medium such as youtube. Talk to the student, and find out where his objections are coming from, then try to address them:

  • Does the student believe outreach in general is a waste of time? Try to explain why outreach is important. Later in an academic career, it may very well be part of promotion criteria.
  • Does the student fear the produced video may not look professional? Ensure support from the university's outreach/media production department. Surely they're on it already? They should be, for amateurish videos reflect poorly upon both yourself and the university brand.
  • Does the student have personal reasons to not have his/her face on a video? That should be respected. Perhaps he/she is willing to instead provide a voice-over, or write a script that someone else will read out, or support the production of video outreach material in another way?
  • Does the student have specific reasons to oppose social media in general or youtube in particular? An alternative compromise could be to post the video only on the website of the university. It may be less visible, although I think Google Video search may still find it.

If none of that works, so be it, other answers have pointed out the student cannot be forced. But in any case, explain to the student that saying one thing at the interview but another thing after getting the position is, to say the least, not helpful.

The bottom line: explain to the student that if s/he wishes to stay in academia, s/he may very well experience (strong) pressure to do outreach later in life. Training in outreach is good for his/her CV, and outreach is a moral duty in publicly funded science. Dig into his/her objections, and try to address them where possible.

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    There is a clear line that may be blurry to you, but its not to a lot of people. Outreach does not mean social media presence. There can be outreach in social media, yes, but no academic job requires a Facebook page. Outreach is important, but not any type of outreach, especially if by doing it you can violate personal privacy (which social media does). It boils down to a personal choice, and if a human being doesn't want to be in social media, you should respect that. This answer is only valid if the student refuses to give department seminars or go to conferences. Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 9:23
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    @AnderBiguri I have already addressed your objections in the answer, specifically in the 3rd bullet point. Unless you think that providing a script (or even voice) for a video that is posted under the department or supervisor Youtube account violates privacy?
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 9:26
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    @AnderBiguri Outreach irrelevant? What is Youtube (or Vimeo, or a personal website) if not a medium to reach out to others, including the general public?
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 9:31
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    Yes! But youtube is also part of social media where personal information is posted and not everyone is OK with being recorded and that information is publicly shared with everyone in the world. The student is refusing to do accept that. I suspect that they would react equally to someone taking a photo of them and posting it to Instagram publicly. Therefore, the fact that OPs objective is outreach is irrelevant for the question itself, as I believe the real problem that is exposed is that OP does not respect personal privacy of the student. That was my point Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 9:47
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    @AnderBiguri I assume that university-related work would be posted under a university account, so request from OP should not require that student has personal social media account. So the personal information that youtube will have from student may be minimal. But as stated, conversation needs to happen between OP and student not between you and me :)
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 9:51

Since I am new, I do not want to take the case to the department head or other officials.

You don't know the laws or rules and regulations of your country and/or college. The purpose of these people is to make sure your doing the right thing legally and ethically.

If between the video and the emails are considered legally binding and enforceable your option of last resort is to kick them out of the program and/or group.

However, you definitely need to make this clear at the beginning of the process. If you are serious about this and have the legal authority to demand this you need to have a signed contract.

The contract needs to say exactly what is expect, when it is expected, and the consequences of failure.

If you say I expect youtube videos within a week of request and we plan to expect them at point (or actual date if available. Failure to comply will result in being kicked out of the program (or etc).

In many cases a student can and will go and complain, and the final decision maybe up to a committee. The decision may go in the students favor if you don't properly document everything in minute detail.

Then you need to have your department head and probably others review it to make sure it is legally enforceable, and that you have your department there to back you up.

Many instructors have gotten in trouble by trying to fix the problem themselves and in doing so did the wrong thing and got in trouble because they didn't consult the department head or other source of authority.

All that being said, you should probably ask detailed questions about why they are refusing before acting. I would definitely prefer to find out if it is a solvable problem like stage fright, the projects not ready, or some other legitimate excuse before acting.

Making sure resources are available to help them. Here's 20 other videos from other students, so they have something to go by. A written template for a script, allowing the student to ad lib so they don't sound fake and scripted (unless there supposed to). We have camera you can use on site to make the videos and etc. Here are other resources for the students .......


Probably the best course of action is to sit down an ask your student: If you don't feel comfortable taking part in YouTube videos, why did you say otherwise when we spoke previously? This will give you a starting point. Maybe something happened in your student's life that changed their mind. Maybe the other requirements of the PhD program are putting too many time-constraints on your student, and spending this extra time engaging in social media would take focus away from their research. Maybe it wasn't clear to them what "social media" involvement meant.

It's also possible that they were just telling you what you wanted to hear because they wanted into the program (If they were being purposefully deceitful, then that may be a case for your department to step in).

These will give you a better understanding of your student, but one thing should be very clear - you should not and cannot force your students to perform duties outside of their contractual obligations to the PhD program. I would even question the ethics of admitting students to your lab on the condition that they agree to social media appearances. It could be your other students are now reluctant to create videos because they are now less afraid of saying "no."

As an advisor (particularly a tenured advisor), you have a great deal of power over the future of the students in your lab, and while it's not technically in your job description, it is in your lab's best interest to not abuse that power.


It isn't clear which jurisdiction or discipline you are working in? Is this your first time managing people?

There are several northern European countries where PhD "students" are actually fixed-term employees and the supervisor may not even be included in the line management, with obvious implications. It is not uncommon for people to work in the public or private sector for some time before undertaking a doctorate; in particular, they may have held positions in their previous life which are comparatively more senior than yourself.

The point of saying that is that you appear to be focusing on your authority rather than your responsibility. Your primary concern in relation to your students is to guide them well and look after their professional, and on occasion personal, welfare. If you do that in a competent manner, the rest will fall into place.

The old axiom that the best advertisement for a teacher is a good student applies here: is the student in question performing well otherwise?

Is the YouTube video idea really for your students' benefit or is it because you've got a new position and are perhaps feeling insecure? Is that time really best spent on what I would personally perceive as a somewhat frivolous activity rather than undertaking research and building a robust publication history (which will cement your position)?


A research group is much like a workplace. The group takes on the personality of it's leader. Some groups require weekly presentations, some go out to beers together, some are broad, some are very narrow, some have web 1.0 web presences, some present their work on YouTube. If you made it clear that you expect your group to be out there on social media and presenting their ideas to a broader audience than they can reach just through conferences and papers than that is a reasonable expectation. If that student doesn't want to share their knowledge in that way then maybe they should find another group.

This can cut both ways though. If you as a new professor have this policy in place and cannot attract good students because of this expectation then realize it is going to adversely affect your career.

All this bullshit about "privacy" is just that, bullshit. People can want privacy, but need to recognize their are side effects to that (one of which might be not working with you). So many academics feel like they can do everything themselves and come off as extremely arrogant because of it. The nature of the world is that you MUST work with others and you can't expect privacy while working with others. Anyone can choose to limit their exposure but they have to recognize that they are giving something up by doing so.

  • 8
    I upvoted this answer, not because I agree with what you wrote (I don’t), but because you seem to have a coherent view and you expressed it well. So I feel that this answer furthers the debate even though I disagree with your view that privacy is bullshit.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 23:10
  • 2
    You seem to imply that those who want privacy often does not recognize the side effects. Trust me, we do. It would sure be handier to let Facebook manage all my online accounts and connect my credit card to Google so I can easily buy Candy Coinz™. In this particular case, there has been no side effect (only benefits - less work), so I don't see how it applies.
    – pipe
    Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 12:02

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