I have had poor supervision from both my supervisors, but one in particular. Overall, neither provided me much intellectual support while I was doing my thesis in psychology. Early on, they were a little helpful when I was recruiting for participants - they attended my ethics panel meeting and made edits to my ethics application. I hardly ever saw them or met with them to discuss ideas (like once a year). The analysis of my thesis was a sole endeavour. I received minor feedback with respect to paragraph structuring, spelling errors and grammar in the write up of my thesis. No substantial feedback that helped me with my analysis, theoretical arguments or conclusions.

Additionally, I have felt unsupported from a morale point of point. My main supervisor's communication towards me has been disrespectful and belittling. For example, she has embarrassed me in front of colleagues by implying that I overestimate my capacities on more than one occasion. Now that I have finished my thesis and have passed examination, both my supervisors are keen for me to publish and have asked to catch up to discuss manuscripts.

I'm at two minds now. I don't want to give them intellectual credit for the work I did on my own. Yet, I also don't want to break down the decent relationship I have with my secondary supervisor. I have relied on this secondary supervisor to provide me with a good reference that ultimately won me prestigious position at a university. So I feel a sense of obligation towards her. The two supervisors work closely together so I couldn't possibly imagine having one included as a co-author and not the other - it would be extremely awkward and not really accepted.

The other thing that's playing on my mind is my inexperience with publishing. I haven't published a paper in years and feel trepidation about venturing out on my own. The reports I received from examiners were very positive and both said that my thesis was well written and publishable. But I still feel unsure about how to proceed and would benefit from practical guidance.

Any advice on how I should proceed would be greatly appreciated.

Edit: To clarify, the supervisors have requested we work together on translating thesis chapters into publications. Not new research.

  • 2
    Are you asking about what to do with publications resulting from your dissertation (it's very likely that your supervisors contributed sufficiently to this work to merit coauthorship) or about other research projects that are independent of your thesis? May 3, 2019 at 3:57
  • Talking about publications resulting from my thesis.
    – Sam
    May 3, 2019 at 4:01
  • 1
    There might also be legal obligations to keep in mind here, e.g. if you got funded during your PhD somehow, you might need to mention that in the paper. That's another reason to not do it alone.
    – Dirk
    May 3, 2019 at 5:33
  • Possible duplicate or at least relevant : academia.stackexchange.com/q/129988/72855
    – Solar Mike
    May 3, 2019 at 6:07
  • May I ask in which country you are?
    – user103209
    May 3, 2019 at 16:29

2 Answers 2


Based on your account, I am surmising that you have already completed your PhD thesis, and obtained an academic position independent of your former supervisors (well done!). That being the case, you are under no obligation (whether legal, pragmatic, or ethical) whatsoever to involve your former supervisors in publication plans for work to which they did not make an author-level contribution. If you feel that (and, now that you are a Doctor of Philosophy, you should have some confidence in your academic judgement) you will advance scholarship more effectively by publishing alone or with different collaborators, you should have no qualms about doing so.

By the way, in my humanities field (in which sole-authored publications are the norm), it is perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, to publish without your PhD supervisor while still a student. I have two excellent supervisors, but it has never occurred to any of us to pursue a joint publication. In fact, funnily enough, I have recently completed a sole-authored book-chapter for a collected volume in which my principal supervisor just happens to also be writing his own sole-authored book-chapter (on a different topic, although relevant enough that I actually cite a few ideas from his chapter in mine).

  • 2
    The second paragraph also describes common practice in mathematics and some branches (like mine) of computer science. (I actually require my PhD students to publish without me at least once before they graduate.)
    – JeffE
    May 4, 2019 at 11:32

To give better advice, you should provide more information regarding your Ph.D. journey. For example, who defined your dissertation topic and whether you're supported financially during your studies? I try my best to cover all cases as best as I could.

  1. First, if you've previously (i.e., before your final defense) talked to your advisors about publishing parts of your dissertation, one might consider it bad faith if you do otherwise. One of the professors in my department still complains about a student who didn't deliver on the promise of writing the final paper of her dissertation after about 5 years.
  2. If you want/need to maintain a good relationship with your advisors (i.e, work on joint projects, co-supervise students, etc.), what you intend to do is usually a deal-breaker.
  3. I suggest that you check with your alma mater for their intellectual property regulations. Some institutions prohibit you from publishing work done with their money and equipment under another institution affiliation (as you're a professor someplace other than your alma mater, you might intend to put your new affiliation on the paper).
  4. Some institutions do not include papers directly based on your Ph.D. dissertation in your tenure request evaluation. If that's the case in your current institution, what you intend to do would benefit you only in terms of reputation in your field.
  5. If you're not experienced enough to publish your paper in a good-enough journal, your advisors might be able to help you with that. Their help might come in handy as one usually doesn't have any other person to read the paper critically and help with the revisions. Also, if prominent scholars, their name might be able to help you as well.
  6. A simple compromise would be to write not all the papers with your advisors. If your experience with the first paper was positive, you might re-evaluate the whole situation differently.

If you're leaning towards writing alone, I think honesty is the policy. Talking to people about their mistakes, in general, would help them refrain from making them again. If you're unsure about how to talk to them, you might consult some senior faculty. Personally, I would talk to the second advisor first. Talk openly and discuss the situation and express that you're unsure whether their contributions are enough to secure them a place on the author list. Hear their voice and reasoning and then make your final decision. Good luck.

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