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I am a final year Ph.D. student and will graduate soon. My advisor is still asking me to run problems instead of publishing any paper on the work that I have already done over the last few years. I will be joining a postdoc after I graduate and he says I should keep working on these problems on the side after I graduate. Can someone please suggest me how to stay motivated.

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    What do you mean by "run problems"? – Federico Poloni May 17 at 6:17
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    I work on simulation of models for different kind of problems. So these are generally run on our clusters or supercomputers. – Rob91 May 17 at 16:36
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I don't know what sort of hold the advisor has over you. Perhaps you are in a field that "requires" that he be a co-author on your work.

After you graduate, assuming that your postdoc is elsewhere he would seem to have little control over your actions.

But, if it is really just motivation that you want to maintain, you can always write the papers and see what you have. Even if custom prevents you from publishing now, it won't always and it might also serve to bring your thoughts together.

After you graduate and move on, your relationship to the advisor will also change and you should have more authority over your own actions.

I realize that this advice is somewhat optimistic and my field may be different enough from yours that it is inadvisable. But, my view, is that you should be treated with more respect.

  • In my field, my advisor has to be a co-author. He has always been very controlling and gives no freedom. He asked a former student of him who just graduated to do the same i.e. keep working on new problems without publishing. Also he writes very offensive emails sometimes if the former student does not get time to work on them, as he has a new job now. I am also scared that he might not give me a good recommendation later on, if I don't finish all the new problems that he tells me to do. This situation is really creating a lot of pressure for me. – Rob91 May 16 at 21:51
  • @Rob91 What field are you in where publishing is not part of the academic process for your supervisor? – Bryan Krause May 16 at 23:27
  • My best advice, then, is to escape at your earliest opportunity. If this is your last year, do what you need to do to get a good position elsewhere. – Buffy May 17 at 0:11
  • @BryanKrause I am in Mechanical Engineering. – Rob91 May 17 at 0:57
  • @Buffy Yes I am hoping to escape in 3 months after I give my defense. I have got a postdoc position elsewhere, so I hope my situation improves when I join there. – Rob91 May 17 at 0:58
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Have you written the papers and the advisor stops them from going out? Or are you arguing about this before writing them? In general, in any situation like this, you are better off to write the thing up and then have the argument. (Not just academia, but requests for money, etc. I learned in the military that it's easy for your superior to say nobody gets leave...but it's harder on him to have to disapprove the leave chit.)

For one thing, maybe his opinion changes when the paper is all wrapped up in a neat little bow, and all he has to do is sigh off. For another thing, maybe you decide to send it in without his OK. (Not saying to do this immediately...just it is an OBVIOUS option down the road. And heck, having it written, puts that option in the back of his head even without you mentioning it.) \

In any case, don't have theoretical arguments about publishing, when you haven't even written what would be published!

Note that the work of writing things up is not lost even if the holdup remains. You need to clarify your thoughts. Also it is good practice for you. Based on your question, I think you need to work on your written communications in English. (Just a guess...and my grammar sucks...but you were missing a preposition in last sentence.) No offense if you are a non-native speaker...your English is likely much better than my whatever. Just that's the game you are in now...good writing of English language papers is a key attribute of a scientist. This is a perfect chance to work on fixing that. Helps remove a potential blocking factor (dependence on others for clear writing) and positions you to be an independent researcher.

In addition to writing technical English, it is good for you to get some practice being the moving force and positioning things for the literature. You should decide what journals to go to and how to carve your work up into different publishable parts. I recommend decent journals (1-2 ranks below Science/Nature, but NOT 3, nothing that requires page charges or is flybynight crap. Professional societies ACS, APS, are usually good.) For division, I recommend LPUs. (Look it up.) Make sure you get a copy of the notice to authors and follow it religiously. Write the thing so that it is perfect and needs no editing by an advisor or editor...just typesetting into the journal. Word is fine in most fields and even preferable to LaTEX. But if it is a journal that requires LaTEX, do that.)

Don't work on this guy's stuff after you leave. But don't have a useless argument about that, NOW. Just leave and THEN don't do it. Once you are gone and funded elsewhere, your negotiating position becomes a lot stronger. He will likely realize that 3/4 of a loaf is better than none. IOW write up the results to date and get a decent paper (but lacking some things he'd like) because otherwise he gets nothing, no paper.

  • Thanks for the answer. So I have started writing the draft many times. But he nevers lets me just write. I have to keep running new problems on the side while writing and once something does not work with the new problems, I have to stop writing and focus on that problem. Last month, he suggested a completely new and very difficult problem and said the paper cannot be published without it. I am sure he will add many more things once that is done. Even our collaborator has become frustrated with him now. In the remaining few months, I have to basically write a thesis which he will review. – Rob91 May 17 at 4:49
  • I hope your last paragraph indeed becomes true. I personally don't want to work with him ever, after I graduate. But for now, I definitely have to keep quiet till I get the degree. I am sure when I join the new position, he will send me offensive emails or even call me, like he did to his other former students after they graduated. I will try not to get into any argument but definitely not get scared of his bullshit or do the things he wants me to do. – Rob91 May 17 at 4:54

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