I am an undergraduate who is determined to attend grad-school, and as such, I am hungry for opportunities to demonstrate my academic worth. In a recent course, my dialogue with the instructor naturally extended, and soon he gave me materials and open problems on which I made progress/results that impressed him. After some more work, he offered to co-write and publish a paper with me on the topic.

Now, this particular instructor holds a very unpopular opinion (not ethically) that is his own novel work, which of course he is proud of, because if were to be true, it would have grand implications. Personally, while recognizing that I am not nearly as knowledgeable as he is, I strictly disagree with his opinion. Most second opinions I read online disagreed on similar grounds to mine.

Unfortunately, he will almost certainly mention it in our paper, likely quite a few times. I have tried to *very lightly* bring up my disagreement as a matter of "please teach me why I am wrong about this", and he did not seem to take to it well. Additionally, sometimes in his papers, he uses language I think is too grand flowery while making claims I think are too broad and slightly unestablished.

On the other hand, he has been extremely kind and supportive of me, putting in the effort, and really doing his best as an advisor, which, I really do appreciate. As a bonus, he is relatively well published. Undoubtedly, a publication would be a good application item for me, perhaps helping me achieve more/better research opportunities as an undergraduate, and as such, further advancing my grad-school and academia aims. If it is relevant, the field is theoretical CS.

What should I do? Can this have negative effects on my future career?

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    It is tough to tell from hearing only your perspective on this (although i understand that he seems to be reluctant to share his point of view). Not answering the question, just a remark: If you can show co-authorship for a paper on theoretical computer science before being accepted as a PhD student somewhere, that is pretty nice gem in an application for such a position that most (needs citation, but I am quite confident on this) students do not have.
    – ttnick
    Aug 24, 2021 at 21:51
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    Do I understand correctly that the difference of opinion is that he thinks his work is more important overall than you do? Or did I miss something?
    – Buffy
    Aug 24, 2021 at 22:03
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    @Mr.Jones Does it matter? If it is sufficiently novel, it might be worth publishing, if not, not. In a PhD interview, people will ask you which component of the paper you wrote, and you'll say "the proofs". Nuff said. Aug 24, 2021 at 23:24
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    @Mr.Jones As long as it it's not outright wrong, falsified data or misanalysed results, "proofs" with clearly unresolved gaps, claiming novelty for old results, i.e. factually wrong (or worse: fake) information - you might let it slide. As for hype, there is not a hard criterion for what hype is and what just emphasized importance. I am not a fan of overblown stories myself, but many authors overblow the importance of their results; however, people see through that, they are not that stupid. Experienced researchers know that breakthroughs can easily be in the "strong, silent" papers. Aug 24, 2021 at 23:38
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    Of course you need to do what you feel is right, so don't take anything I wrote at face value (same goes for any internet stranger!). But, I've certainly been on papers where I did not agree with every sentence. The most important thing is that the scientific content is correct.
    – Andrew
    Aug 25, 2021 at 1:21

4 Answers 4


I originally posted this as a comment, but I think it's closer to an answer and seemed to satisfy the OP.

I think the value you will get from publishing this paper, will far outweigh the "costs" of

  1. Having an ongoing, difficult argument with your advisor about an opinion that doesn't have a black-and-white factual answer (you are very unlikely to convince him of anything).

  2. The risk that someone will think less of you if they read this paper with the (over-)interpretation you disagree with (really, no one will care about this, and if they do they'll assume correctly your advisor wrote those parts).

  3. The minor hit to your intellectual purity (every successful collaboration involves compromise). I've certainly been on papers where I did not agree with every sentence.

The most important thing is that the scientific content is correct. Having a published paper as an undergraduate is a big deal.

I wanted to add, though, that in general, disagreeing with your co-authors, even faculty co-authors, is highly encouraged if you have solid arguments to back up your side. My advice is coming from this particular situation, where you've already tried the "gentle nudge" approach and gotten a lot of pushback, and this opinion is not going to introduce any scientific errors into the paper (just, essentially, a difference in philosophy). I've been in this situation, and sometimes the path of least resistance is the best one.


I think Andrew's answer is already really helpful, and I simply want to share that when I disagree with my co-authors, I found it helpful to frame the problem as anticipating reviewers' critique. In other words, you can frame it in a way that you are on the same team as your advisor, and you are really just trying to do your due diligence to address reviewers' concerns. So now, instead of you disagreeing with him, it becomes a situation where you both are trying to defend the paper from some hypothetical reviewers.

Perhaps in that case, he would be less defensive and more willing to share his thoughts.

  • Thank you for your response! Unfortunately, he is more than certain he is correct and those who disagree are wrong, so this approach won't exactly work in this situation. It seems like a great tip though! I'll certainly keep in mind when a slightly more minor disagreement comes around.
    – Mr. Jones
    Aug 25, 2021 at 4:09
  • I also use this trick when I am making critical comments :) It has the benefit of being true!
    – Andrew
    Aug 25, 2021 at 5:14

You describe the adviser's opinion as "very unpopular", from which I infer that he has overstated the importance of his work previously, and that other people in his field know about his tendency to brag. If that's true, then I think you have nothing to worry about. When they see your name along with his on the paper, and then they see his familiar bragging, and then they see that you're an undergraduate, they'll understand who wrote the hype and they'll understand that you don't have the clout to prevent it. I expect that nobody will blame you.


Absolutely do proceed with publishing.

Moreover, if you plan on extending your little collaboration, think of the following - you both have some ideas and something you deem important or true. Arguing these points furthers research, but you both ought to approach that with some constructive ideas. Argument of "I think this is true" - "Nah, seems unlikely to me" is not much of an argument, and it's common to tread the same grounds over and over again for decades until finally some decisive experiment is designed and conducted.

Now, I'm not saying you should invest a lot of resources into it - rather that avoiding old arguments and seeking actually novel perspectives on the story in front of you would probably help you with the research overall.

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