TLDR: Researchers wanting to join supervisory team instead of collaborating, why?

I have started my PhD for awhile now and I am gearing up for my confirmation presentation (research proposal defence). I am quite happy with my supervisory team, who I know well and work very well together. I met some researchers by accident with the potential of collaboration on some interesting off-shoots of my thesis, I was hoping to publish.

One researcher worked on the same topic as mine but from a different discipline, so I thought I would ask her some theory questions I had and potentially get her help for a methodology paper at the end of my thesis. Another researcher I approached before my PhD but she did not answer my emails. I have since met her and she was keen to be involved. I thought I could include some questions relevant to her area in my survey and hopefully publish a separate paper. I felt the topic did not meld well with my overall thesis.

Both researchers insisted in joining my supervisory team with some force. Both refused to volunteer or discuss specific questions that I posed, that would have been helpful in my thesis. Both insisted that I speak to my supervisory team and let my team decide whether they can join. They did not call nor spend time with me and getting to know me and my thesis better. One of them did not even read the draft thesis proposal that I emailed her before she offered to join my supervisory team, which I thought was rather rude (was I being unreasonable?). In both instances I felt quite disrespected and demeaned as both thought that my supervisory team should make the decision to join with seemingly no consideration of my opinion. Is this common? Why is that so?

1) What are the possible motivations for both of them to insist they join my supervisory panel? Both of them seem reasonably thin on PhD supervision even though they were both quite hard to get a hold of. Both seem keen to develop links with my department.

2) Why the forceful insistence for my supervisory team to decide whether they can join? Why am I not a relevant decision-maker in their eyes? I can veto them joining the team, so why don't they seem to appreciate that I need to be onboard?

3) Why are they not generous in spending time answering what I thought were simple conceptual and theory development questions that I had? Just one or two lines pointing in a general direction would have been helpful. Why did they focus on joining my supervisory team before discussing their topic areas? I am now concerned that they are not competent in their topic areas, but at the very least they do not seem interested in scholarly discussion.

4) If I am offering publication, why is that not sufficient? I thought publications are a great outcome and sufficient reward for collaboration. I don't understand why joining the supervisory panel participation is more important in their minds than publications and potential collaboration with me and my department in the longer term?

In the end, I was unfortunately forceful with both of them. To one, I outlined how I got to know one of my current supervisors that I who I did not know previously, about how I was able to find out what they were capable of, what they were comfortable with, also their availability and current work pipelines.

To the other one, I offered that we look for a potential student(s) in order to pay justice to the topic. I told her that I am happy for her to meet my supervisors and collaborate with my department either way. I have not heard back from her. I suspect she is upset. I feel horrible being forceful and direct with both of them and I wonder what other ways I could have handled the situation? Is there another approach that could have achieved a successful collaboration instead, if I somehow knew their agenda better? Instead, I am left with the feeling that I was some child answering to some doorknockers insisting on speaking to my parents...

  • 1
    It was the right decision to not let them join the team, but it would probably have been better to have said something to them as "I'll discuss it with my supervisors" and do precisely that (if you trust the latter). That way, this does not become your decision only, but of the whole team. They seem to be young, ambitious and with some disregard to the legitimate interests of others. The joint papers/discussions may have been a good starting point for them later to join the team, but "crashing the party", so to say, is not on. You may have been more diplomatic, but ultimately, you did right. Nov 23 '19 at 14:36
  • I can't speak to my supervisors. My primary has already indicated that she is not keen for more to join the supervisory team. She prefers a leaner team so decisions are easier to canvass and the level of commitment is not diluted. I agree with her. Organising meetings is already tough, so adding unreliable ones would make things worse. I never indicated nor hinted that joining the supervisory team was an option.
    – Poidah
    Nov 23 '19 at 14:44
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    Well, then you are even in a better position. You just could have let them know that this is currently not possible, but you are open to collaboration. Rinse and repeat. No need to be forceful, just firm. In fact, in this case you have an advantage that the decision is not even yours, so no reason to feel slighted - it's an advantage to not be able to decide. For what it's worth, I completely agree with your supervisor, small teams are better. Anyway, no need for you to regret, you would have probably regretted much more if they joined your team. Good luck with your PhD. Nov 23 '19 at 17:54
  • Thanks @CaptainEmacs. That's true. I forgot that the decision was pre-determined. I guess, I had the option that of telling both of them that from the onset. I never fully appreciated that. My primary was already hesitant and annoyed that I looked for a third supervisor, so a fourth would be a definite no no. Maybe a part of me was worried that if I told them that from the onset, they would have reacted poorly.
    – Poidah
    Nov 23 '19 at 21:02
  • 1
    As the wise man says: you can control your reaction, not theirs. If they invite themselves to your party, they have only themselves to blame if they are "outvited". One caveat: if they have contributed important ideas from their stock in the discussion with you, they may be entitled to co-authorship on the relevant papers. But I guess that's what you offered them, in any case. Nov 24 '19 at 0:00

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