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I'll be finishing a PhD in physics in about five weeks. I've worked hard, have done a lot of research, and have written 3 papers for publication. But my professor refuses to take any action towards publishing anything I have written, and he has not published any of his grad students' papers in more than three years. He keeps telling me that he'll give me feedback on my work and that he will submit the papers, and we set a deadline to get everything submitted , but then the deadline comes and goes with no progress on his part, and when I ask him about it he says he was too busy to look at the papers and doesn't have time to talk about it right now.

It is seeming more clear to me that he has no intention of publishing my work, and that he's hoping to shoo me out the door with my degree and hope that I will forget about the papers and stop bothering him about publishing. The best that I can get from him is that he is obsessed with his reputation among his academic peers, and he seems to not want his name associated with any publications that do not fit a certain image or reputation. I think that my papers are good and certainly publishable, but he will not even give me feedback nor will he do anything to improve my papers to meet his standards, whatever those standards are.

My blood is really boiling and I'm going to be very upset if my professor continues to fight my efforts to get my work published. I really would like to see my work published.

What is my recourse here? Should I use some negotiation tactics to find out why he doesn't want to publish anything new from any students? Should I suggest that I go ahead and publish without his name on the papers so he doesn't have his "sterling reputation" tarnished? I have already spoken to the university ombudsman and the grad student counselor and there is not much else they can do.

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    I don't understand why you need to wait for him? Just submit by yourself – SSimon Feb 16 at 4:07
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    The comment by @SSimon is similar to what I thought, since you referred to it as "my work". For a more useful answer, I think it would help to give an indication of how much of the work is your adviser's, including things such as suggesting what to work on, help received in resolving/studying whatever it is the papers are designed to contribute towards, etc. If everything was pretty much originated by you (the problem addressed, the problem solved, the writing of the paper, etc.), then you should indicate why you have concerns (e.g. maybe there's a culture in which advisers are co-authors). – Dave L Renfro Feb 16 at 11:30
  • Minimum two experts in the field will read it before advisor. And who cares who is first I article is pilublished? – SSimon Feb 16 at 15:43
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First, this is not an unusual situation. What is unusual here is your interpretation of the situation.

When you have a problem with someone's behavior, it is wise to look for incompetence instead of malice. It's highly likely the professor intended to keep his promises but failed to do so. You have given us no evidence otherwise. Professors commonly break promises to submit papers. Some of them do so over and over without realizing there is a pattern.

Your best strategy here is to politely remind the professor of the missed deadline and press for a new deadline. Repeat this process as many times as is needed.

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You present a hard problem with many possible pitfalls. Only you can navigate the various traps and it depends on knowing more than you can say here. Personality matters as do both general academic rules and the specific traditions of your field of study. I can't give an answer, but can suggest some things to consider.

First, is you advisor a co-author by right? Has he actually contributed? Or is he a co-author by courtesy or convention? This depends on the field. In pure math, for example, we don't usually give authorship by courtesy. Or, finally, has he no authorship rights at all. In the first case, you can't publish without his explicit permission. In the last, you are free to publish on your own, even if it hurts feelings along the way. The middle case is trickier and someone in a similar field would be better for advice than I can give. But note that an angry advisor can have a very negative effect on your short term (at least) career.

Next, I leave open that the advisor might just judge that the work itself is lacking in some way. The judgement might, not knowing what you have done, could be valid or not. But you need a way to find out if this is what is going on or not. The best way is to ask him directly where the work is lacking if it is, and what you should do to make it ready.

Then, there is the fact that, since he took you on has a student, you have a right to his support in your career. Depending on personalities, it may be easy or difficult to remind him of this responsibility. It doesn't mean, of course, that he lets you publish any particular thing that he believes is lacking, but he, at a minimum, needs to help you get to the point where you can be independent and build your own career. Maybe it is yielding on publishing. Maybe it is helping you improve stuff to enable publishing by his own standards. Maybe it is something else. But he owes you that. In a situation like this, you have a right to say that you need to finish and that you need to find your next position and ask what he can do to help you get there. You may not like the answer, but you have a right to ask the question.

There is also the possibility that he is either insecure or just a jerk and is getting in the way of his students for completely objectionable "reasons". In such a case, you may need to fall back on some intervention by higher-ups. But this can, of course, be dangerous. It is best attempted by groups, not by individuals. If this has been happening to others, as you say, then perhaps you need to get together with them and form a plan to resolve it using general university procedures.

But even talking to others who have experienced this can help. In particular, you can learn what effect this has had on them both in the short and long term.

If you act wisely, then the worst case scenario is that you just have to abandon these papers and do work that is sufficiently independent that the "permission" or rights of your advisor are immaterial. That can take a while to manage, of course, but consider the long term effect on your career, not just what might "feel good" at the moment.


None of the discussions with your advisor that I suggest should be attempted by email. The only way to do this, I think, is face to face. Only then can you judge whether the words are honest. But keep a cool head in any such discussion.

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  • "Or is he a co-author by courtesy or convention? This depends on the field." No, it does not. Such courtesies and conventions are unethical by all applicable standards: academia.stackexchange.com/a/19396/11808 – Daniel Feb 18 at 13:16
  • @Daniel, but still common in some fields. The problem, perhaps, is the definition of contribution in those fields. – Buffy Feb 18 at 13:18
  • Contribution is debatable. But courtesy or convention are not. Sure, there are unethical traditions young researchers may have to obey to, but IMHO we should not reinforce them by stating them as given or just a matter of field. – Daniel Feb 18 at 13:26
  • I think that case may be joined with the last one. Missing courtesies and breaking conventions are two very good ways to hurt feelings, as @Buffy considered below. – carlo Mar 6 at 23:26
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Send it out yourself, tell your advisor on what transpires. I doubt they'd ask to retract the paper, in the worst case you can delete their name and aknowledge on a footnote.

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    No, actually. In the worst case your career ends. Please, OP, don't do this. – Buffy Feb 16 at 12:16
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    I would recommend this strategy only if you and your advisor have already agreed that your advisor is not a coauthor, they generally expect you to work independently, and the two of you are otherwise on good professional terms. (Submitting a paper without the explicit agreement of all coauthors is clear academic misconduct, which in the worst case can end your career.) On the other hand, if you and your advisor are on good professional terms, why not just talk to them first? – JeffE Feb 16 at 15:33

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