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I am currently trying to submit a research paper to a Journal, I am a PhD student in his final year. My supervisor, who provided the data for the research paper and has overseen the whole process, is a very difficult person. When I submitted a Conference paper, things were relatively easy, because of the deadline for submission.

But now with the Journal paper, my supervisor seems to be stalling the process just enough time for me to go to my final examination without having the paper accepted. She is that bad of a person unfortunately. The stalling is by the constant need to change the text and edit the paper, and the never ending stream of comments.

What are my options in this case, could I submit it without her as a co-author if she continues stalling.

Update. Yes having accepted research papers is essential for the successful completion of the PhD examination. Update. Yes it is stalling, I cannot tell exactly the specifics, but in case someone might have a similar experience and might get some answers here, please assume that this person is doing this to hurt the student's progress and examination.

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    Why do you think it is "bad" behaviour and not just perfectionism? – Captain Emacs May 27 at 15:35
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    This does not sound like stalling. A typical stalling tactic would be to tell the student to wait several months for comments, and then after the time has passed, tell them the same thing again. This sounds like indecisiveness. – Anonymous Physicist May 28 at 7:44
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    @AnonymousPhysicist "Benefits of perfection"? As reviewer, I often find myself polishing errors of the authors who think it was not worth their time doing a proper cleanup or doing the job of a PhD adviser. The benefits of perfection are that the reviewer and generations of scientists who will read the paper do not have to do this. If the paper is not directed to generations of scientists or at least a single scientist who should be able to meaningfully read the paper, why write it in the first place? I know some colleagues believe we live in times of write-only papers, but I think it's rude. – Captain Emacs May 28 at 9:01
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I do not know the level of your work, so perhaps you are expecting a good enough level - neither, with respect, do you know mine, so you can not know whether I am exaggerating with my expectations. However, I have too often in latter years seen the argument that "perfectionism is too costly" as an excuse for sloppy work. We do not know whether OP's superviser is really dragging their feet on a perfectly rounded submission or simply reacting to shoddy work by the OP. And note, my original comment was about submission optimisation vs. submission sabotage. – Captain Emacs May 28 at 11:42
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    @JohnA Besides being a "bad person" what would your supervisor gain by sabotaging your PhD defense (a poor showing by their student makes a supervisor look bad) or delaying publication (publishing papers as a senior author is a key, if not the key measure of a professor's research output)? I think this is why your assertion of "stalling" is being met with some skepticism here. You say "this person has already decided that I'm going to my examination without that paper accepted, and told me so" which could be because they want you to focus on prep for your defense which could be good advice. – Bryan Krause May 28 at 16:04
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No one here can judge whether your supervisor is right or wrong. Perhaps your paper really isn't yet ready. I don't know your field, of course, and don't know why it is important to you to submit the paper now rather than later.

Your first consideration should be your examinations, I think, and completing your degree. Perhaps publishing the paper is essential to that process, but you don't indicate that.

But, few students really prosper by directly going against their supervisors. It just isn't a productive career path. And, depending on your field, cutting your supervisor out of authorship might be considered unethical, but even if not, might be a career killer.

Having a supervisor who is happy with you and your work is much more productive. And giving a lot of feedback on your paper is, in most cases, a positive thing.

Once you finish the degree you get to make your own decisions, of course.

  • Hi Buffy, thank you for your answer. Yes, having accepted publications is important for my PhD examination. But I do agree with you on this matter, going against a supervisor isn't a good solution. – JohnA May 27 at 16:07
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As Buffy has pointed out, it is impossible for anyone here to properly asses this situation. It is not unusual for supervisors to give very extensive feedback on papers, what to you looks like stalling to her could simply be making sure that your work is of sufficient quality.

could I submit it without her as a co-author if she continues stalling.

Unless she agrees to this, definitely not! Given that she has contributed to the work through your supervision, feedback on the paper and providing you with the data, she has a clear claim to authorship. Publishing the research without crediting her will likely end up with the article being retracted by the journal, which would be a career killer for you.

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You do not have any good options. My recommendation would be to negotiate a timeline with your supervisor. Ask your supervisor to send you a complete set of comments by a certain date. In return, agree to make the corresponding revisions by a certain date. Make sure you perform the revisions correctly. Finally, agree to complete the submission by a third date.

  • That seems to be the most logical thing to do. – JohnA May 28 at 13:32
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I'm going to add a reason that your supervisor might be stalling: it may be better to have a paper "under review" than "rejected".

Disclaimer: I have never been an examiner. I hope examiners are unbiased, but I know I would probably (unconsciously) regard work "under review" (especially at a good journal) more favourably than work that wasn't under review or work that was already rejected. I don't know if you'd mention a rejection at your examination.

I don't know the quality of your work or the level of journal you're submitting to, but if the two are not a good match, you might have a higher chance of rejection than acceptance. If your supervisor thinks this is the case, then she may well be stalling so that the paper is "under review" when you sit your examinations. It's not personal, just tactical.

As to what you can do, have you tried outright asking her if she is stalling and if so, why? If you haven't already, just be up front about why you'd like to submit sooner rather than later. She might not think she's stalling, just that she's minimising the possibility of rejection. If she fears an ill-timed rejection, is it worth considering a different journal from the outset? Is your supervisor known for stalling?

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I am facing a similar situation. I have been working on a problem for almost 4 years now and have a bunch of results but my advisor keeps adding new and very difficult things to the list of required items. So I won't be publishing anything before I graduate in a few months. After I graduate, I plan to keep working on the problem but only if/when I get time and won't pressurize myself on it. Progress will be very slow and I don't expect a paper to be honest. Academia is hard and is full of very difficult people and we are not that lucky to get an advisor of our liking. Just accept that and focus on the quickest way to graduate and then start planning for what you want to do after that. Don't start any argument with your advisor now. That's what I am doing.

  • Hi Rob finally a person who tells the truth academia is full with bad people and managing to work with them is something challenging. I will do the same thing, I will continue working and not start any argument. Indeed I agree the quickest way to finish efficiently and the best way out. I'm also going to follow Anonymous Physicist advice and negotiate specific dates for submission and revision of comments, and final submission dates. – JohnA May 28 at 13:37

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