I am entering my 5th year as a PhD student. The "understanding" with my advisor is that I need three journal papers accepted to graduate. I think I have enough material (designs/ measurements/ analysis) to write the three papers now, but so far have only written one. In a normal situation, my next step would be to write the other two papers.

The issue is that my advisor received more short-term funding for my project, and he plans to ask me to do one more "design" before the grant expires. This "design" will extend my PhD by 1.5 years at the very least and I will have to delay my paper-writing to meet the incredibly ridiculous deadline associated with the short grant and design deadline.

Naturally, my advisor being who he is, he will use the fact that I do not have the three papers to impose more work on me instead of allowing me to actually write the papers I need. He does not have a problem hitting the maximum duration allowed by the Institute to keep a PhD student (6-7 years), even when the student has done enough.

This is further complicated by the fact that my advisor lacks experience in my specific field and only understand that "more designs = more papers".

I need advice on how to address this. How can I make a compelling case that I have done enough and I just need to focus on publishing so that I can graduate? I would really appreciate realistic advice.

Note: My advisor is very powerful in the department. This makes approaching the department unrealistic. I will be on the losing side if I approach the department. I am in a North American Institute.

  • 1
    a) Assuming you are on a (student) F-visa, and thus tied to these guys, correct? b) what happens when you hit the maximum duration allowed by the Institute to keep a PhD student (6-7 years), do you flunk out having been his cash cow? c) What is this advisor's and dept's track record on PhD students: how do students actually manage to graduate? d) Best solution I've seen is you calculate how many full days a week you'll work on papers (2? 3? 4? 5 even?) then tell them that's what you need to do to graduate, stand firm, mention the working hours of other current and previous PhD students.
    – smci
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 15:50
  • a) I am tied to these guys due to funding, not a visa. I receive funding from my professor for being an RA b) The institute will not allow me to register and I will have to wrap up and graduate. c) He keeps students for 6 and 6.5 years. Longer than other professors in the department. Usually, students get in a fight to force graduation and end in bad terms with my advisor. D) Yes, I agree. I decided to draft a timeline with milestones, publication plan, and then talk to him about it. I want things to end on good terms with him so I will try to reach a good middle ground.
    – user18244
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 22:05
  • c) An advisor like that is guaranteed to end up on bad terms, take that as given, esp. if he's been acting like this for years. d) So what happens if you simply say "I am only available 1 day a week, I will be writing my thesis the other 6", stand firm, document it, do not back down? Yes you must draft a timeline for protecting your own productivity; sandbag it a little too. a) Good, so you're not totally at his mercy. Whatever happens, start your thesis today, and do whatever you need to do to prevent all interruptions 6 day a week (e.g. work from library, with phone/messaging/email cut off).
    – smci
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 22:14

3 Answers 3


I think your most realistic option is to have an honest discussion with your advisor about your goals and expectations.

Tell them that you’d like to graduate by 20xx, and you think your work on A B C was fulfilling and interesting. You feel like you can really build a narrative around these projects that would culminate in a good thesis within the timeframe set above. Given your goal, you feel like starting a new project at this time will be detrimental to your progress.

Ideally your advisor would totally see it your way and you’ll graduate into the sunset. Realistically: advisors tend to be overzealous at times and can exert a lot of pressure over their students. A reasonable advisor would leave the choice to you; a clever one will make you believe that it’s a really good idea to start this new project (you don’t have enough material now, your CV will be amazing with the new project accomplished...). So a lot of this depends on the dynamics you have with your advisor.

I would not go over their head unless you’re willing and able to switch advisors. Its hard to get back to a good working relationship after something like that.

I will try to establish my own independence and capacity to successfully graduate with a plan (by 20yy I plan to submit these results, draft by Jan 20zz and so on).

Good luck!

  • 8
    (+1) This is the right answer, but the sad truth is that the probability that it works (i.e., PI complies) is very field dependent due to grant structures. My PhD is statistics I don't think I've met a stats professor for which this conversation wouldn't work. My wife's is biology and in that field, since professorships live and die by grants approved, I'd guess 50-50 odds of working.
    – Cliff AB
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 15:20
  • 2
    Thanks for the detailed answer. I will try to have "the graduation talk" with my advisor. I hope it works.
    – user18244
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 17:05
  • 2
    @user18244, good luck!
    – Spark
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 7:42

Lots of good advice in @Spark's answer. I would add that you might suggest mentoring an new student to take over the project when you are gone. You can advise them on the design while you focus on writing your last two papers. This is a reasonably common practice, at least in the fields I have worked in. This should have a number of advantages from all perspectives:

  1. Your adviser will get your help training the new student to take over which means they will have 5 more years of work on the project rather than just the 1.5 they can get from you.
  2. It takes the burden of the new project off your shoulders while still providing a mechanism for the work to get done.
  3. If it isn't worth your adviser's efforts to recruit a new student for the project, then it shouldn't be worth your time either. Making your adviser have to make the first effort toward moving the project forward will demonstrate how much they really care about making it happen.
  4. By helping the new student, you might be able to get your name on some of their papers even after you graduate.
  • Thanks a lot for the input! I would be more than willing to mentor some students to take over if my advisor agrees to let me off the hook.
    – user18244
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 23:59

Adding on to Sparks answer, it would be helpful to provide context to your planned graduation date. A reason to graduate by a certain date presented with reasoning from a different angle makes it more difficult for the professor to counter argue.

Drawing reasons for example from:

  1. Family - presence needed, marriage or impending split/divorce, pregnancy or desire to get pregnant by a certain age due to fertility
  2. Work - money needed, job offer, etc
  3. Visa - although this is specific to your case
  4. Relocation - plan to move elsewhere for some reason or another

Whether you actually are going to carry through with the reasoning and how truthful the reasoning is up to you. Just try not to be blatantly false that you'll get caught

  • 11
    "Because reasons" can be a dangerous approach here. From the student's side, this is a bait and switch. "I thought I was done, and I would like to finish up", without explanation, is the approach to take. Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 12:05
  • 3
    I agree with Scott. As an advisor, It’s really none of my business why one would want to graduate at a certain time. I may gently ask (to establish a sense of the urgency), but would not expect it.
    – Spark
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 12:45
  • Might be worth seeing if you can infer the advisor's potential reaction from prior grad students' experiences.
    – Nat
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 1:36
  • While it isn’t the advisor’s business why a student would want to graduate on a certain date, it is the advisor’s business to push for completion of his design and improvement of his project. Student should come prepared to counter the advisor’s arguments particularly if the advisor is adamant that student is not done yet Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 13:23

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .