If you are doing a PhD thesis in science, can you ask for help? For example, paying someone to solve some hard equations or use numerical method to solve a problem.

Or if you ask for someone for an idea, do you need to cite them in your references ?

  • 1
    the journey is the reward ;-) Jul 9 at 12:30
  • You don't need to pay someone. There are many StackExchange math forums you can ask. You can give credit for an idea in the Acknowledgment section of a paper.
    – VitaminE
    Jul 12 at 21:58

4 Answers 4


Paying someone is not asking for help, it’s hiring help. The circumstance you describe is indeed better described as seeking a collaborator, from which you might learn how to solve the problem.


Your advisor is the first source of help. A good one will provide it, but sometimes by sending you off to read something. For many students (myself included) the idea for a research topic comes from the advisor. Regular meetings with them are also advised and you should mention where you are stuck when it happens. You might get an answer. You might get a hint. You might get sent to another source. All are helpful.

Whether advisors are co-authors or not (my preference is not) is field dependent. In math it seems pretty rare, for example, and in the past was mostly non-existent.

As for paying people to do some technical things, that may be allowed or not, but the advisor is the one to ask in your particular case. But other kinds of consultations are normally allowed and mostly don't rise to the level of co-authorship. It is possible, of course, but that might also put the degree itself in jeopardy when the rules are strict. Some fields are funny that way. A brief conversation in math can provide the crux of the answer to the key problem of a "thesis".

I once heard the joke (I hope) that an advisor, speaking to a student, said "I don't mind writing your dissertation, but I'll be damned if I'll explain it to you when I'm done."

  • the problem is what if your advisor is an asshole :D and he does not want to solve anything or help you or if the topic is too hard and you need some math help Jul 9 at 19:50

I'd advise against it, strongly. In the UK, universities usually align their degrees with the quality assurance agency (qaa), similar institutions exist elsewhere (I would hope anyways...). They set out what a student must demonstrate upon completion in order to receive the degree. For a phd thesis, it boils down to 2 things: does the student's work merit publication and can the student discuss the wider research context of their field of expertise with experts in the field. (you can read the one page summary here: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.qaa.ac.uk/docs/qaa/quality-code/qualifications-frameworks.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwiFkvyDivT4AhWDiFwKHUjED3kQFnoECBUQAQ&usg=AOvVaw0bJwZ8CalHxQMHlnkIKoMT ). Both these qualities are aimed at making you an independent researcher and independence comes with experience. If you have a particularly challenging problem, you should solve it yourself, there is a reason why phd studies take that much longer than msc studies, for example. You are given plenty of time to fail and learn, this is how you gain expertise and ultimately transform into a independent researcher. I remember having to derive Equations I didn't understand at first in my PhD, in my thesis they were 30 pages long and it took me 6 month to understand and drive them. The implementation took another 6 month, but during that time I could really feel how I transformed from a student to a researcher.

You should also check your university's handbooks should you decide to pay for help. In our case this is a big issue and will automatically start an academic misconduct investigation. I had a student trying to do just that, in the end that student didn't finish their study and this was part of the reason we had to force a termination on the student. Its not something you want to go through, I really recommend to make tough problems your own, deal with them until you get sick of them, then you'll progress. This has been every phd journey that I have witnessed around me.


You usually sign a statement saying that you did everything by yourself.

However, a possibility can be to do a paper-based doctorate, where you might collaborate with someone that is able to the stuff you can't (and don't want to learn)

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