I would like to submit an abstract for a poster presentation, I'm just worried that if I tell my supervisor before submitting, she might say I shouldn't do it, because she rarely wants me to be away from the office. So I was thinking on submitting the abstract and once I'm accepted telling her I've been selected for presenting at that conference. What do you think about it? Would this be a good strategy for attending a conference when having a strict and closed minded supervisor?

P.S. Our research is not about any kind of product or patent we're developing for a company, so no privacy issues apply in there.

  • I mean, I suppose you could ask her after you’ve submitted, then bail out of the conference if you get accepted and she says no. – Jason C Oct 23 at 3:46
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    In my experience (mathematics) a supervisor would be annoyed by the opposite behavior. Applying for a conference alone and without external confirmation is the kind of thing an "adult" researcher would do. Asking for permission is kind of childish. – Giuseppe Negro Oct 23 at 8:33
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    @GiuseppeNegro That sounds bizarre to me. I as an "adult" researcher would always, without fail, check that my collaborators were happy for me to talk in public about our unpublished work. And it would be unusual for a student's supervisor to not be one of those collaborators. – David Richerby Oct 23 at 10:25
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    @GiuseppeNegro That's a distinction without a difference. In both cases, if they say "no", then the submission doesn't happen. – David Richerby Oct 23 at 10:50
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    @GiuseppeNegro You are arguing semantics here. The salient question is "I think my supervisor does not want me to go to this conference, should I submit without telling them?" - and the answer to that is a pretty definite "no" in any discipline I am aware of, and for a number of reasons. – xLeitix Oct 23 at 12:20

Yes you could.

I'd strongly suggest you not do it.

Your supervisor has a lot of power over you - they aren't someone you want to upset.

It is unfortunate that your supervisor is not supportive of you trying to seek out conferences to present at, but you should address that issue with them rather than try to go behind their back. I would suggest trying to find another supervisor before I would suggest trying to undermine the authority of your current supervisor: there just aren't enough positives for you on that path.

Note that if your supervisor deserves authorship on your work, either omitting their name as an author or submitting without the approval of someone listed as an author could be considered academic misconduct. In some fields, authorship by only a student without their supervisor is common, but if you aren't in one of those fields you should be especially careful.

The real issue is to find out, why she does not want you to be away from work. It could be that she feels you or your research are not yet ready or that she knows you are on a though schedule with your project anyway. The reasons might be good or not, they might be valid or not.

Talk to your supervisor to find out more about her reasons. Maybe you can address them or convince your supervisor, that you should attend at least one conference per year.

If money for travel expanses is rare, you can apply for travel grants, apply to conferences nearby, or pay them from your private money. The experience might be worth the money.

The real problem is your relationship with your supervisor, not the submission.

... my supervisor ... rarely wants me to be away from the office.

This is your real problem. Or rather, the situation where you believe your supervisor is holding you back and doesn't have your best interest at heart.

Now, you've not told us much about what kind of research you do; what kind of interaction and collaboration you have with your supervisor; whether you believe she is mis-supervising you, or stunting your activity, or whether it's just a question of focus of efforts; etc. But this is a bad situation to be in. Either you are being mistreated, or there is a severe failure in communication between you two.

I suggest you discuss this relationship (perhaps confidentially at first) with co-supervisee's of hers, that you trust; with other grads in your department; or even describe it for us in a different question here on the site. How did it get to be that way? Did you voluntarily choose each other, or did some circumstances forced one or both of you into this situation? Do you feel you're benefiting at all from her supervision? That she's helping you develop as a researcher and as a person? Have you tried bring some of this up with her before, and failed, or were you worried she'd react angrily/vindictively? etc.

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    I have been in a similar situation and my ex-PI always prevented me from attending conferences. I think this is core point you have to figure out the real intentions behind not letting your participate, so you can rigorous analysis of her decision of not letting you go away from the office. – Monika Oct 23 at 0:06

I would recommend the opposite of the answer of Brian Krause unless you have explicitly been told in the past not to submit things. You aren't going behind her back, you are just being professional. It seems to me to be a mistake only to try to counter explicit instructions.

I'm assuming, of course, that the work is yours alone and that shared authorship is not an issue for this work. If it is not yours alone then you need permission from your collaborators to publish and they may have a right to shared authorship. In some fields almost all work is collaborative. In others it is almost all the work of a single person.

However, there are two other issues. One is the payment of conference fees and travel expenses. You can't really expect her to cover these unless she has approved of them in advance. The other is how to deal with the time you will spend away. If others depend on your presence, say in a lab, it could be disruptive.

I would suggest that you submit, but expect that you might not be able to actually attend. Sometimes that can be worked out with the conference committee and sometimes the author has to withdraw, which can be a bit embarrassing.

But it seems a mistake to me to make a decision based on what she might do. Just be prepared for what she does and to accept final decisions if necessary.

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    In my field it would be very atypical and unprofessional for a student to submit an abstract without supervisor approval, since the supervisor would almost certainly be a coauthor and authorship without supervisors is incredibly rare. I realize in other fields the norms are different and I probably should have mentioned that in my answer. From the OP's history, though, they are in neuropsychology which is quite close to my field. – Bryan Krause Oct 22 at 20:31
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    Yes, your last sentence is why it's an issue: in fields like neuropsychology there is almost zero work that is not partially the work of others, and the research is at a minimum usually designed by or with the feedback of the PI, sometimes even years before a student has started the project. Depending on the conference, though, no, it would probably not be rejected for this, conferences in the field aren't as important as papers and the peer review for conferences, especially for posters, is fairly minimal. Reviewers aren't going to google the authors to see if any is a PI. – Bryan Krause Oct 22 at 20:40
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    @BryanKrause, I edited to clarify as did you. Some supervisors are just over-controlling even in situations in which this isn't an issue as you can see from other questions on this site. But anyone should be free to publish their own work. – Buffy Oct 22 at 20:56
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    Yeah, I definitely agree that a supervisor doing anything to prevent the professional development of their students is a terrible betrayal of their responsibilities. – Bryan Krause Oct 22 at 21:00
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    @Buffy "anyone should be free to publish their own work" Conversely, anyone who ought to be an author (which the supervisor very commonly should), should be free to not have their work published without their consent. – David Richerby Oct 23 at 10:38

I fail to see how logistically this can be done. If her name is on it, the submission will usually assume all authors agreed on the final version. She will get an e-mail and find out that you faked her approval.

If the work does not have her name on it, then she can be right not to give you paid leaves to present it. In that case, pay for yourself and spend your day offs to attend it. Think of it as a workation, learning tour, etc.

Another possibility is to apply for travel scholarship. These are usually a sign of approval from the organization on the work's quality and that may push her closer to saying yes.

More importantly, submitting an abstract behind her does not address the root cause that she does not want you to be absent. Perhaps start from there, during annual review or periodic meetings, list "going to a conference" as a goal and start the negotiation there. List possible "win-win" for you and her (the research team.) Express firm interests and ask for guidance. Be upfront about if you need her grant to support you or you'll pay, etc. Perhaps she was worried about funding. You may also suggest attending local conferences to cut costs, or remote meetings to make sure you're not missing important affairs at the base.

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