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So I completed my PhD in Jan this year and have graduated. Since then I have left academia/research and ended up in a regular job I love despite it being something that is unrelated to my PhD. My supervisor and I have had a not great relationship, mostly down to my decision to leave research, which she views as a "waste of a PhD" according to people I know still working in her lab.

I was happy to let it all be in the past but three months ago she messaged (with a throwaway "hope you are well" but no attempt to ask how I was doing) and said I should publish some of my work to ensure I make the most of the time I spent getting my doctorate.

I initially said okay and have been working on it and pulling it together, but lately I have things going on in my personal life which needs more time and to be honest it's all taking its toll. Ive been looking at the publication as something that is sapping a lot of my time and energy and, despite my supervisors insistence, it's not critical to my future career success.

I tried to explain I have a lot on and this paper was taking a lower priority and they responded that I wrote my thesis when I started a new job so getting this done shouldn't be too taxing... The idea of commiting anymore time on my doctoral work is filling me with dread. I just want it to be over and my husband has noticed whenever I think about it because it's just like I receed.

So Im wondering can my supervisor force me to publish? Ive checked and apparently the IP belongs to the university, but my only other concern is if my supervisor decided to publish the work in my name (or without me as an author), could she actually do that? That concerns me as I know the work has flaws in it (e.g. Low n numbers and unblinded assessments) so if it were to get published it would no doubt be in a low impact journal and I honestly wouldn't put it past her to assign the low quality of the paper (or the fact she couldn't answer questions on the research, because she hasn't been in a lab in 6 years) to me not assisting. The whole situation just has me a nervous wreck.

TLDR: after finishing a PhD can a former boss force you to publish? Or can they publish your work without your input or consent?

  • How do you propose she could force you? Via a court of law? Or men with guns? Or stalking? (She cannot.) – user111388 Sep 6 at 21:56
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Formally, no.

Your former supervisor seems to be trying to coerce you into working on something you do not want to work on. "Getting this done shouldn't be too taxing" sounds like the kind of argument of a person who does not want to engage with your argument, but merely wants to get their way. You can choose to give her what she wants, but you can also choose to not do this. If the work is getting you down, why not just stop? You can tell your supervisor "no" in a polite way.

Your supervisor cannot publish your work without your input or consent. If your supervisor submits your work under her own name (without you as a co-author), this is a violation of academic integrity, and if you can show that she took things from your thesis, you can force a retraction of the paper. If she submits the work with you as a co-author (as she should), then you retain control: all authors must consent to the paper being submitted. A good venue will send all co-authors an email notifying them of the paper submission, and if you object to the submission, it should be removed from the reviewing process. It would be very unwise of your supervisor to try to sneak your work into a publication without your consent: if this ends up with a retraction, this will be bad for her reputation.

You worked for this person during your PhD, but that is now water under the bridge. You no longer work for this person, so you don't owe her anything. If she is wise, she will leave it at that. If she is unwise enough to try to pull a fast one on you, you have ways to fix the fallout. So, you should be fine.

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