My supervisor told me I’d need 5 papers (preferably all published) in order to get my PhD degree. However , attending a PhD workshop, I was advised to discuss a feasible plan with my supervisor within my allotted time (3 years) . The formal guidelines of my faculty say that there are no number of papers or chapters to get your degree as this depends on the quality of the work done, however my supervisor says there are “informal” guidelines in the department that I should follow, this is having 5 papers for submission. Do you think there is a way I could fight this battle?

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    Instead of fighting a battle against having to get published, why not just forget about this and actually work on getting published?
    – knzhou
    Oct 15, 2018 at 20:29
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    Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't the question asking: " How can I do less work than what my supervisor expects?"
    – Nick S
    Oct 15, 2018 at 20:32
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    It depends on the field, in mine two papers a year are quite doable for a seasoned PhD student, make it one paper in the first year. The question you should ask (yourself, and then maybe also the advisor) is whether this is a somewhat well-founded expectation or a hard limit. Oct 15, 2018 at 20:37
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    Just out of curiosity — what subject area would consider 5 submitted papers a reasonable guideline for their PhD students?
    – Earthliŋ
    Oct 15, 2018 at 21:16
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    @NickS I believe you are wrong. The question is about setting expectations and goals that will trigger a power broker granting a relatively powerless student a necessary promotion. It is possible the power broker is a terrible manager, has no sense of realistic expectations, and might even be predatory in the sense of extracting as much from students as possible until they break and she moves on to another student. If the student does not pay attention to these expectations, they risk losing years of their life, their health, and their career.
    – birch
    Oct 15, 2018 at 21:26

2 Answers 2


She has the right to make a numerical suggestion, since the guideline does not specify any number. The first thing is to determine if this is feasible. Check the thesis and publications of other PhDs coming out from her lab and if this has been the norm, then at least you know that i) it's been done (whether you can or not is another matter) and ii) she is not making an unreasonable request.

The second thing is to determine if you have the drive, time, energy, and determination to churn out five papers with publishable quality in three years in your field. And thus far is it likely to happen if you're 4 months in and she has only been treating you as a RA.

The third is to check if you really like to do this PhD with her. Your questions have a lot of resentments and mistrusts, on top of negative wordings such as "surrender," "fight the battle," etc. Do you really want to work with her? Or are you victimizing yourself a bit too fast too furiously? You'll need to ask yourself that. If you're only 4 months in and already hating her at this extend, I'd frankly suggest think, hard, if you want to stay.

Lastly, whatever the agreement will be, have it clearly stated in writing: How many, in what time duration. And what is considered "a paper." Don't guess her meaning by saying "preferably published". Define the meaning: is it a chapter with publishable quality? Is it a real submission with at least one round of review? Or is it actually published?. Notice that if your work does not pan out and you never have the papers put together you may just end up miserable and PhD-less. Use that as the benchmark and negotiate (not fight a battle.)


The answer to your question depends on the person who is your supervisor.

Ask your question to other students who have had her as their supervisor. Believe what they tell you. Ask other students who did not have her as their supervisor why they chose someone else.

Also, is it true that all other students in your department have had 5 published papers? If there are students who have succeeded with fewer, that is one sign your supervisor is unreasonable because she is making a broad claim contradicted by evidence.

If you still have 3 years in your program you should be able to switch supervisors.

Do not wait to switch. The longer you go in your program, the fewer people will be willing to take you on as a student.

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