Even though my advisor is reasonably friendly with me, it feels like he doesn't 'trust me' as much as he trusts the other grad student (let's call him X) in the lab. A few examples:

  • I joined a lab a few weeks before X and we both worked on the same project until recently, and both made significant contributions to the project - but I was first author on the paper. Without telling me, my advisor asked X, the second listed author, to present our work at a local conference, instead of simply asking us both who would be available. I did not even know about it until X asked me to review his presentation.

  • He asked X to review an article in his name, about something that I know more about: the manuscript is focusing on something very similar to what I was working on during my Master's, whereas X is unfamiliar with some fairly important notions in this sub-field. One again, I learned about it by chance.

  • Both X and I have moved on to different projects now, and are both working full time on these. A collaborator suggested a new side project that would quickly and easily lead to a paper. Guess who was offered the opportunity to join that project (despite not having more relevant experience)? That's right: X again.

I don't think I mentioned anything along the lines of "I have so much work I can't do anything more" but I also don't think I came out as idle or unproductive. I show initiative (or at least I believe I do) so I really have no I idea why I'm not given these opportunities to learn and/or build an academic record.

I'm afraid that asking if something is wrong would make my advisor defensive, and make me appear like a negative person - which obviously does not help. But if I'm doing something wrong (or not sending the right signals, or anything like that) I have no idea what, and I would like to fix it as soon as possible.

Any idea about how to approach this issue diplomatically?

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    Are there any differences in your expressed goals post-PhD? I have observed a lot of favoritism of this type toward students targeting academic careers over industry careers.
    – Dawn
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 17:23
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    i've nothing to say about your particular problem but your advisor asing anyono to review a paper over his signature is problematical. academia.stackexchange.com/questions/108525/… Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 22:03
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    Are you sure that your advisor isn't giving half of the candy to you and half of the candy to X and every time you get candy, you don't notice that anything happened because it's normal, whereas when X gets candy, you think "Damnit, X is getting candy again!" Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 22:42
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    @DavidRicherby that's a good point. Obviously I wouldn't know, and I can't rule it for sure. As far as I know I was never offered any opportunity (presenting work, leading a project) that wasn't also explicitely offered to him. Basically, anything that I would do beyond my day-to-day research would have to come from my own initiative, and things that flow through my advisor are channeled to student X
    – Mowgli
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 22:57
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    @Dawn How is being sent to a conference, where you can network with other people in your field and get known by them, "thankless busy work?" Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 8:48

4 Answers 4


You may be misinterpreting and actually getting it backwards. Of course, I don't know the prof or the other interactions, but much of what you write here could well be explained by your advisor trusting you completely to get it right and the other student needing more help and practice to get up to where you are.

Student X may need all the help they can get, whereas you are trusted to make it without the need for extra intervention. It could also be that some people know you already have enough to do.

I could be wrong, of course.

But it would be worth having a face to face conversation asking your advisor for advice on your progress and, especially, any advice on what to do to position yourself for a great career. I'll guess that if there are any reservations about you that they would become obvious in such a conversation without having to directly ask whether you are trusted or not. And if you are trusted, the advice would probably be pretty valuable in the future.

  • 1
    I think this is a very reasonable interpretation of the situation and one more likely.
    – JWH2006
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 17:09
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    I actually think that the interpretation of the action is a bit overly optimistic. But I think the solution is correct, and I at least think that it will make the situation clearer. As part of the conversation, make sure to be clear about your ambitions and goals ( as long as they are goals your advisor would like).
    – Dawn
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 17:22
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    +1 for the solution, but I don't think X is perceived as a student needing extra guidance - he is very capable, and I think he is perceived as such. Even if your interpretation was indeed correct, should I not be concerned about being de facto deprived of opportnuities to speak at conferences, publish etc (which, beyond the education aspect, are also nice additions to a resume when applying to postdoc positions)?
    – Mowgli
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 17:45
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    I'm not sure you are being deprived, just because the other is being invited. But you are in a better position to judge that than anyone here. Volunteer. Get in the game.
    – Buffy
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 18:29
  • This answer applies to the workplace in general btw. I've seen this before for exactly this reason. That doesn't mean for sure that's what's going on here, but it very well could be.
    – bob
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 20:50

both made significant contributions to the project - but I was first author on the paper ... Without telling me, my advisor asked X, the second listed author, to present our work at a local conference

Based on your own judgement, is your contribution is much more significant than that of X? If no, then maybe your advisor is trying to balance the credits. You are the first author, but then X is allowed to present. Would you choose the other way round, i.e. to present the paper with X as the first author?

He asked X to review an article in his name

Not sure what do you mean by "in his name". But reviewing an article is often considered as an exercise to get familiar with the field. As you already worked on this topic in your Masters, X was the one who needed to do this exercise.

A collaborator suggested a new side project that would quickly and easily lead to a paper.

At the end of the day, your advisor needed to make a choice. If he chose you, perhaps perhaps it were X to ask this question. Maybe the next opportunity is your turn. Maybe you are closer to your own paper, and your advisor wants you to focus on your own project. I would not too fast to jump on the conclusion that your advisor favors X. From what you have described, I do not see any problem with the advisor-advisee relationship. It seems to me that you just overthink it.

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    It is a field (and a journal) in which it is OK to add a note "authors Y and X contributed equally to this work" when it comes to first authors, it is something we often do in the lab. Based on that I can say that the difference in contributions was large enough to justify the fact of not adding such a mention (it's not an omission). Regarding the review I meant that, being extremely busy, he asked X to have a first look and do the bulk of the work for him - ie he trusts him enough to critically analyze a high-level research report at a professional level
    – Mowgli
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 22:24
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    Regarding the last part, advisor could be also looking at this from perspective "student A has a paper already (the one from point 1), while X still needs it".
    – Zizy
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 8:33

I would at least bring it up since it is on your mind. But I would not escalate it to an ultimatum. The story rings true and I have seen similar. Some people you need to at let them know the objection or they continue to walk on you. But again, I would not expect satisfaction. But at least get it off your chest and get the guy on notice.

Oh...and take care of yourself on papers going forward (take first author, write stuff up before discussion, etc.) Continue to include X and the advisor, but stay in front on the papers. Most important thing. Oh...and finish up and get out of there ASAP. Sounds like you are a self sufficient as a researcher and the relationship is turning competitive.


There are 2 questions here:

  • Should you (i.e. is this really evidence you are not trusted) broach the subject.

  • Can you do it tactfully.

The first one, has already been weighed in on. The answers sound very reasonable to me and while they may not be right there is no substitute for knowing those involved directly, there isn't anything I feel qualified to add .

Secondly (if you want to proceed anyway) is tricky. Effectively it boils down to you telling your supervisor: Either you have underestimated my ability or have systematically treated me as such.

It's hard to put a non-confrontational light on that. You might avoid out-right hostile but...

On a case by case basis you might get further. If you know there is something coming up you would like to be considered for and you show enthusiasm for it, you might get better odds irrespective of trust issues.

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