I'm seeking guidance here for a situation which is becoming unsustainable. As you can get from the title, I don't get along with my PhD (STEM) supervisor.

He never cared of my thesis, he doesn't even read my papers at all. All he does is charging me with his ideas that every time turn out to be unsuccessful. Even worse, when an idea of his turns out to be unfeasible, he asks me to fabricate the results (and by fabrication I mean totally invented works). This has become systematic.

For a good part of my PhD I cut him of from my activity, I almost finished my thesis and I published 6 first-author papers, 5 non-first-author papers and about 10 conference papers (I'm not including bogus works in the count).

The problem is that I'm starting an abroad period at another university and I need his recommendation. It goes without saying that he started again with his unethical and time-wasting requests.

After my abroad period, I'll come back some months (six) and finish my PhD. After that I'd like to apply for a postoc in that university.

My question is, if I prove myself during the abroad period, would I still need his recommendation for a postdoc application? Mind that I also have a second advisor for that, in case.

In the six months between my abroad period and the thesis defense I'll be again at his will, so this mean again losing times at crazy ideas and faking papers. I need to dump him as soon as I can. Will I need him for a postdoc, if they already know me at the place where I want to apply?

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    Do you have documentation (like an email) that shows your advisor recommending you fabricate results? If it is as you say, this is very serious misconduct. By "not including bogus works" in your count do you mean that you actually have published bogus, fabricated works? – Bryan Krause Feb 5 '19 at 18:47
  • No, I just mean that all my publications are fine. All the fabricated material is still to be submitted. I'm trying as hard as I can not to put my name inside these works. I doubt that he's gonna accept, because if I refuse the authorship, the other professors (who are unaware that the work is false) could suspect. I don't have documentation, but this week I'll have a conversation with him about two fabricated papers. I'm planning to videorecord with my cellphone. – NearIR Feb 5 '19 at 19:08
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    Why have you produced anything fabricated, even in part such that it could be submitted in the future? Especially to the point that you've shared the work with coauthors who don't know it's fabricated? You've put yourself at quite a lot of risk by doing this. – Bryan Krause Feb 6 '19 at 0:23
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    You probably need to go as high as you can inside your university to find someone to report research misconduct to. Also, put all the fabricated research on a usb and lose it, or drown it, or whatever. – David Roberts Feb 6 '19 at 6:22
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    @DavidRoberts Losing the fabricated research in a freak accident is probably the best of plausible deniability that OP has. It is really a bad situation, if OP has to resort to such measures. – Captain Emacs Feb 6 '19 at 11:22

Never ever fabricate. I repeat: never ever fabricate.

If you do not manage to get a suitable reference from your superviser, your career may or may not take a nosedive, depending how lucky you are to find someone else to write you recommendations.

But if you fabricate, you will be found out if your research is of any relevance whatsoever (and if it is not, why do this research in the first place?) and then your career, sooner or later, will be destroyed with no hope of recovery.

Addendum: in my personal opinion, the two capital crimes in science are plagiarism and fabrication. But, in my very personal opinion, fabrication is the worse of the two, because it wastes many people's time and effort in trying to reproduce the results.

  • Well, I have a second supervisor here (even a third, but he's a postdoc) and my mentor at the hosting university, for recommendation. Could it be OK, considering that I'm applying in that university? Probably they won't have any impact. Why do this research in the first place? Because that's typical of him. He does not want to have an impact, he just cannot accept that his ideas are BS and he'd rather falsify result to get his idea publicated. Just like a crybaby with inflated ego. – NearIR Feb 6 '19 at 5:18
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    This notwithstanding, I'm never going to put my name on something fabricated. No doubt about it. I'm just looking advice on how to do the right thing without ending up with bad recommentation from that incompetent fraud. – NearIR Feb 6 '19 at 5:24
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    I think you can safely assume that "that incompetent fraud" isn't going to write you a good (ie, both positive and credible) recommendation. Look elsewhere. – JeffE Feb 6 '19 at 6:59
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    Agree completely - fabrication is orders of magnitude worse than plagiarism. – Ben Feb 6 '19 at 8:32

All the fabricated material is still to be submitted. I'm trying as hard as I can not to put my name inside these works. I doubt that he's gonna accept, because if I refuse the authorship, the other professors (who are unaware that the work is false) could suspect.

This is very important - do not participate in, or put your name to, any paper with fabricated results. Not only are you not obliged to avoid confrontation in order to avoid arousing suspicion, but you should report this to your university immediately. If your description is correct then this is academic fraud, and your role should be as a whistle-blower, not a reluctant participant. Report this matter to your Head of Department, and send an email to your supervisor saying that you do not wish to be involved in those papers in any way, that you do not wish to have any authorship or acknowledgement in them, and that you believe they are fraudulent and should not be submitted for publication.

This is not a matter of "trying as hard as [you] can". In a matter this serious, you don't try - you do. If you end up participating in ---or putting your name to--- published papers with fabricated results, and that comes to light, then that is the end of your academic career. It's really that simple. If you participate in publishing results you know to be bogus fabricated results then you will have zero credibility, in any field, forever. However uncomfortable you feel confronting this matter, just think how uncomfortable you are going to feel when you are publicly known as someone who participated in academic fraud.

  • I'd love to report him. I just need some evidence, otherwise it'll be my word agains his. That's why I need to record a conversation in which I try to confront and dissuade him from committing a fraud, telling him that I don't want having to do with it. If I just send a mail, he won't answer me back and just deny everything. To state the obvious, I have to act before anything is published, otherwise I'll be a partner of the fraud. I just hope that it won't all turn against me, put an end on my career anyway (it's a small dept. and they are all friends) and that I'll get away with it. – NearIR Feb 6 '19 at 10:23
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    I am not sure that one should expect from OP to be a whistleblower and sacrifice themselves on the vague hope that they will bring down the fraud (which may not even happen). To take the role of martyrdom is something people may decide for themselves, but it is not something that is to be decided for them by acclamation. I agree with the second part of the response, though. – Captain Emacs Feb 6 '19 at 11:20
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    @Gus Recording somebody without their permission may have legal implications in your country. Be careful. – Captain Emacs Feb 6 '19 at 11:21
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    If you know where he submits and he proceeds to submit with your name, you can always ask the editors to take your name out. Yes, that will create trouble, but I think you will have trouble in any case. – Captain Emacs Feb 6 '19 at 18:08
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    Looks like my threat to quit scared the sh*t out of him. He contacted all the coauthors telling them that we're not doing the job because we found major flaws in the works. Since I have a 7-day window until my request is shared to the commission, I can take it back. My papers make almost the 40% of his annual production, he cannot afford to lose me. Even more, he cannot afford to explain the commission why I left the phd, complaining about academic misconduct. My phd is safe for now.. now it's time to pack up, finish my thesis and run away. Forever – NearIR Feb 7 '19 at 20:00

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