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I've been in distress for the last several months because of this. My PhD advisor somehow decided to start her own field research in the same region where I have been working on for a few years now. Then when I was doing my fieldwork last time, she was there too and she used the same resources I have - contacts, measurement equipment and lab, etc. It became awkward for not only us but also for other researchers involved. Even worse, once I told her that I wouldn't be able to help 'her' project (I'm busy with mine!), she started cutting me off from my resources, withholding information, etc. She's still my advisor and I am wondering where I should go from here - too late to change advisor but this is getting too toxic. When I consulted other professor, he said it was pretty normal that multiple researchers do similar researches at the same time in the same region. But is it common between advisor and her student as well? Any advice will be appreciated.

PS: I have my research fund. Although my advisor wrote recommendation letters for me to get the funding, I've never been her research assistant.

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    How did your PhD advisor "start her own field research" where you "have been working on for a few years now"? Do you not collaborate with your advisor, making it both of yours? With both of you running projects on similar topics, it seems like a great way for you to get authorship on multiple papers. – Austin Henley Oct 27 '18 at 17:34
  • @AustinHenley Thank you for your comment. My only guess is that while observing my project, she thought there was something she also could do. A problem is that she never consulted me beforehand and I found out when I got to the study site. It was just a surprise for me. Then she tried to change my study methods to satisfy her interests. It could also change the course of my dissertation. So I don't know ... I've been wondering whether this a way it is? If my advisor starts a similar research, am I supposed to throw away mine and help her? – The Bird Oct 27 '18 at 17:57
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    "if my advisor starts a similar research"... again, distangling your research from your advisor's seems very different from anything I'm used to. In my experience, the research is both the student's and the advisor's work. If I don't contribute to my student's research, they should fire me and find a new advisor. – Austin Henley Oct 27 '18 at 18:14
  • @AustinHenley Thank you. I hope it worked/it will work that way. I'm trying to figure out ... I think you are a professor :) Would you not talk to your student before starting 'similar' research if you would like to collaborate with the student? – The Bird Oct 27 '18 at 18:34
  • @AustinHenley your comment makes OP's advisor's behavior even more controversial IMO: if the student's research is an advisor's one too, then how can an advisor justify conducting an overlapping and simultaneous research on her own? Rather it seems to state the opposite, i.e., that a student's research is not shared by an advisor's (at least this advisor) in authorship. I fully understand OP's concern. OP feels potentially "bypassed" and, if it weren't enough, by someone who happens to be a superior. Please correct me, OP, if I went too far here. – ASR Nov 7 '18 at 14:35
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My PhD advisor somehow decided to start her own field research in the same region where I have been working on for a few years now.

Which could have been a win-win situation for both of you, but it seems that you and her have a communication problem.

Even worse, once I told her that I wouldn't be able to help 'her' project (I'm busy with mine!), she started cutting me off from my resources, withholding information, etc.

So you did not have the idea to ask her how the two project can be aligned in a constructive way?

When I consulted other professor, he said it was pretty normal that multiple researchers do similar researches at the same time in the same region. But is it common between advisor and her student as well?

Yes it is common. And in the best case groups the supervisor and the PhD student will align the research and will co-author papers on the subject in question.

  • Thank you, @Sascha. I understand that we’ve had a communication problem. One particular problem is that field research usually has an already set timeframe and resources including budget. So it’s really hard to modify a research plan on the spot. I think, maybe because of that, when I consulted other professor, he said, ‘Go with your plan for your dissertation. It’s your research.’ Anyhow, I’ll try to find common grounds with her. – The Bird Oct 28 '18 at 12:54
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Communication may be an issue here, as @Sascha noted, for sure, but it's advisor's duty to conduct it in first place. And the lack of it is not a good sign, rather the opposite.

I'd go with the other professor's advice and work like a train going forward with your plan, your funds, your research. Remain polite and do not close yourself, but be ware. I have (unfortunately, but I have) seen more than once advisors compete with students.

  • Thank you, @ASR. The word, 'bypassed', you used in your reply probably represents my feeling properly. Or, maybe 'disregarded'. At this point, I'm trying to going like a train on my own. Maybe the silver lining in this situation is that I'm learning to be an independent researcher. – The Bird Nov 10 '18 at 2:55

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