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I would like to receive some feedback from the community about the following situation.

I have a permanent position as associate professor in an institution for some years now (3). This institution is the one I did my PhD 10 years ago, and in particular I am in the same department as my PhD advisor (who is a Full Professor).

Despite having my own research line independent of the one of my PhD advisor (namely, I have my own research problems, projects, collaborators, etc), the truth is that I also continue working with her, and being sincere I trust that my contribution on works is as important as her contribution. I am advising PhD students on different topics, I have my own national research project, etc.

I know that this should not bother me too much, but the truth is that at the end the person who receives the recognition of our work is her. Here by recognition I mean invitations to conferences, seminars, being in committees and things like this. I also know that being on an early stage is not the same as being a well-stablished professor, but when this happens on a regular basis, it makes me start to feel bad. Just to give an example, in the last year I have not been invited to give any seminars abroad, while she has been invited to present our work at least 3 times.

It has come to a point where I believe that having worked as crazy to get this position in a university in the city I wanted to live (because this one of the main reasons I picked this position... I love the city and most important, it solved the 2 body problem), it comes with the problem that I will always be 'the student of *' in the eyes of everybody, even if I obtain significant breakthroughs on my own. I trust that this will affect, for instance, if I want to become a full professor some day soon.

The question is the following: how to act when you have tried hard (and in part having been successful) to be (researchally speaking) independent of your PhD advisor, but in the eyes of almost everybody you are still her student? If this situation is rephrased saying that we are in the same institution then it explains a little what I was explaining in the previous paragraphs.

So, I would really appreciate advice from the community. I find it a little radical to stop collaborating scientifically with her (in part because there is no one around working on this area!), but as time goes by it seems to me that the best option is to start working alone on this common area, or some similar solution...

  • The general question may be: how to act when you have tried hard (and in part having been successful) to be (researchally speaking) independent of your PhD advisor, but on the eyes of almost everybody you are still her student? If this situation is rephrased saying that we are in the same institution then it explains a little what I was explaining... – Gaussian-Matter Nov 1 '18 at 7:59
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    Important information is missing: who is the corresponding author on your shared papers? – Doru Constantin Nov 1 '18 at 10:17
  • Forgot to say that: we are pure mathematicians, which means that we sign the papers in alphabetical order. So no distinction between authors – Gaussian-Matter Nov 1 '18 at 10:18
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    The corresponding author does not have to be the same as the first name alphabetically. What @DoruConstantin is asking is who your papers state is the person to direct correspondance to. – Phil Nov 1 '18 at 10:34
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    I think there is a useful question in here, but the title needs to be changed and most of the specific details in the body should be removed. It may be easier to close this and ask a new question that is clear and short. @Gaussian-Matter if you are okay with me drastically revising your question then I could try to trim and clarify it. – David Ketcheson Nov 1 '18 at 11:19
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I find a little radical to stop collaborating scientifically with her (in part because there is no one around working on this area!), but as the time goes by it seems to me that the best option is to start working alone on this common area, or some similar solution...

There is some truth to the often-heard advise that one should stop regularly collaborating with one's PhD advisor after getting a PhD. I would argue this is doubly the case when you and your advisor work at the same place. To the outside world, you will always appear to be the "junior" in your collaboration, independently of who does how much work, who has had which ideas, or who is where in the paper author list.

My impression is that in the career stage that you are in, you should prioritize collaborations where you are the most senior person in the team, or where you are at least not overshadowed by somebody much more famous than you. Work on papers with your students, or with other people in a similar or earlier career stage than you. Avoid collaborations where you do all the work and some other eminent figure in the community (your advisor or some other senior professor) could be seen as the strategic brains behind the work.

  • I think that's a very useful advise :-) – Gaussian-Matter Nov 1 '18 at 11:42
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    I think the key point here, is not to work independently on the same topic, but to have a sufficiently different topic that no one would consider inviting her to talk about it. And then invest heavily in that line of investigation. You can still keep your collaboration going as a side project, but don't ever expect to be recognised for it and balance your priorities accordingly. – Ian Sudbery Nov 1 '18 at 11:53
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Here is a somewhat radical suggestion that my apply or not, depending on personalities. If your mentor/collaborator is anywhere near retirement this may be especially useful. It is a bit risky (or not) depending on her attitudes and place in the profession.

But you could, perhaps, just start a conversation with her letting her know that you think your career "needs a boost" and ask if she can help you get to the next level. Many people will respond positively to this, in fact. My personal attitude is that I am happiest when I fall into the shadow of one of my former students. After all, our job is to advance the state of the art, not only through our own work, but by teaching students to do the same.

If she thinks enough of you and of the work you both are doing, she will want it to continue after she leaves the scene and you are probably a good vehicle for carrying it forward.

But small steps are to make sure that you go to those conferences with her and become personally known in the community. Find a way to be the presenter of your joint work. Find a way to be the corresponding author on papers so you get contacted by committee chairs and editors.

Don't ignore the other answers here, of course. Work that you do alone or with other collaborators will help distinguish you from your former advisor. But it is a long process. Your early-career tag on the question says a lot. With ten years in the saddle you have a long way to ride and your former advisor won't be a riding companion for the whole way. But take advantage of your association while you can, rather than trying to sever it. Make her the champion of your career advancement if at all possible.

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    I'm afraid I have to downvote this. First, it's unlikely that OP could become an associate professor without an independent research reputation. More importantly, neither OP nor their advisor has much control over how people ascribe credit to their joint work. The advisor will always be more senior; OP will always be more junior, and first/corresponding-authorship won't change that. The only sure way to really get out from under your advisor's shadow is to develop a research record that does not involve your advisor at all. – JeffE Nov 1 '18 at 21:17
  • @JeffE, you are welcome to downvote, of course, but I have counterexamples to your statements. Long term collaborations, though not at the same university. Giving up a mentor seems counterproductive to and advancing career. BTW, thanks for giving the reason for the vote, too few people here are courteous enough to do that. Cheers. – Buffy Nov 1 '18 at 21:21
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    Your counterexamples miss one key feature: OP is in the same department as ther advisor. It’s easier to get credit for joint work with remote collaborators from your local peers. But I’ve seen tenure cases threatened over this issue, even when the candidate’s advisor was far away. Finally, working independently does not require “giving up a mentor”. Mentorship and collaboration are different. – JeffE Nov 3 '18 at 14:23
  • @JeffE, I agree with your first point. The same department is a complication to be sure. I disagree with your last point, however, There was an implication of "turning your back" on the professor implied in some of what is on this page. I think that should be avoided. – Buffy Nov 3 '18 at 14:26
  • @JeffE It depends strongly on the personality of the people involved. I saw many senior scientits who made room for others and e.g. when beeing asked to hold an invited talk declined and pointed to "the really interesting person". But yes, this is not always the case, but if it's the case, it is the basis for a getrat cooperation and team work. I had those people for one field of my reasearch (but in other fields I had the opposite as well), and I pushed several PhD students of mine this way. – OBu Nov 4 '18 at 13:23
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I believe the infallible way towards academic recognition is being clearly responsible for major breakthroughs in your field. Probably you have put yourself where you are, by consistently directing the spotlights to your senior author(s). Making someone else honorary first/corresponding author, as well as letting them present your work sure "gives face" to peers and shows reverence. If you got where you are because of such acts of "loyalty" then stopping it will quickly generate conflicts. But unfortunately there's no other way around this: publish independent research (meaning the best you can produce), stand where you belong, present your work directly. No more special thanks at the end to honorary seniors. Discuss that openly with your ex-advisor, who may feel betrayed.

And by all means, do not expect nor induce some student to give you the face you've given your advisor as in the shape of some karmic payback. This is not a cycle.

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    Hmmm. Major breakthroughs are pretty rare in nearly every field. You can be a success with much less. – Buffy Nov 1 '18 at 13:21
  • @Buffy Only time will testify whether anything was major or not, but we can always aim for significant questions in the short term. In my field I feel like major steps are actually quite trivial, but perhaps I am biased. – Scientist Nov 1 '18 at 16:33

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