I am a third-year Ph.D. student in the Industrial Engineering department and my supervisor owns a company based on the technology which I initially intended to work on under his supervision. I am mostly interested in the technical aspects of his work, for example, modifying software and hardware to enhance the capability of the existing method. But my supervisor wants me to work on validation of his product to be clinically approved.

I have already submitted a paper (under review) based on validation of his product and now he wants my whole Ph.D. to be based on validation by preparing more validation papers. I am good with programming and software (my initial interest) but he thinks I am not capable of doing that for the product development. More importantly, he wants me to publish papers on behalf of his product for FDR approval which later I found out his primary purpose.

With this topic neither can I publish original scientific research work since all my papers will be based on validation of an existing product nor can I gain expertise about any tools or software. Will it worth later if I stick to it and manage to get a Ph.D.?

  • 3
    Sounds like a bad situation in that the guy is using you to forward a commercial venture. Fishing off the company pier... – guest Jan 15 at 3:46
  • 2
    You might consider using an anonymous account for this question – Yuval Spiegler Jan 15 at 5:26
  • I did not realized that...thanks @YuvalSpiegler – Jake Jan 15 at 6:22

At some point, if you are to have an academic career, and maybe any career, you are going to have to separate yourself from this advisor. I question his ethics, actually, in keeping you so close to something from which he benefits outside academia.

If you state correctly that he is only letting you work on less consequential aspects, I doubt that he will offer you great support in the future. This seems like a double dead end.

But quitting seems like it would be too extreme a step, also cutting off your future career.

My suggestion would be to explore, quietly, with other faculty, whether you can work with them on a dissertation, perhaps cutting ties with your current advisor or perhaps working jointly on another project that is unrelated, or at least less related, to the current advisor's company.

It is important to keep your search a bit quiet, if possible, though you can explain your reasoning to other professors, I think. I would first look within your current institution, and if nothing is available, start an external search for an advisor. It may be possible to enter another program as an advanced student, skipping some/many of the requirements that you have already fulfilled.

There isn't much in doctoral study than having an incompatible or somehow unhelpful advisor. You can, I hope, solve that problem without quitting your studies altogether.


I don't have an answer, but I propose to think about the situation in this way. We can discuss how ethical is your supervisor's attempt to use you as an instrument in pushing his product to the market. Perhaps, not too ethical, but the real issue is that you and your supervisor (whoever he/she is) will almost always have distinct goals. Suppose your supervisor is doing a noncommercial drug research for saving lives. It still won't change much for you, since your interest is in the tech side, while his interest is in drug validation.

In a perfect world I would say that you have to seek an advisor whose goals are completely in line with your interests. However, in practice it rarely happens — we are all different people with different goals. So while in this case you have also this ethical issue to think about, in general you really have to negotiate. Yes, you are doing some work for your supervisor. However, you have your own interests to pursue, so you should find some commond grounds. Like "I am doing this work for you, but since I am interested to explore the technology/method X, I want to use it and write a paper about it". If you are a really good tech specialist, I think your supervisor should value your contribution and be unhappy to lose you.

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