I am a first-year PhD student in computer science and caught in a political dilemma.

My master thesis project was supervised by a researcher at my university, let us call him Dr. Anderson. There is currently a paper written by us under review on this topic. After I finished the master’s project, I started a PhD on a different topic at the same university under Assistant Prof. Bergman. Additionally, Prof. Candela (a more senior faculty member) serves as my secondary advisor. During my first six months, I have published one paper together with Prof. Bergman, and we are now working on a second paper.

Recently, Dr. Anderson told me that he is planning to write a new paper partially based on my master thesis work, and asked if I would like to be listed as a co-author again. I am glad that he recognizes my contributions, and from my perspective the more publications I have the better. Therefore I said yes.

However, when I later mentioned this to Prof. Candela, he promptly advised me to change my decision. According to him, publishing a paper during my PhD without Prof. Bergman would be bad for my relationship with her. She might think that I am spending my time working with Dr. Anderson instead of on the project she is paying me for. He also said that it would be bad for my career to become too associated to Dr. Anderson’s topic since it is less impactful than my PhD topic. His suggestion was to ask to be mentioned in an acknowledgment instead of being listed as a co-author.

I was surprised to hear Prof. Candela’s response. I think it sounds silly that Prof. Bergman would be so upset by this publication. Of course I would not spend much of my time on it, aside from reading through the manuscript and maybe providing some comments. Instead, it feels like this is part of some political game between faculty members.

If I decide to remain, I would be one of many authors on Dr. Anderson’s paper, which will be submitted to a lower tier conference. So in the end, it would not make a significant difference on my CV. To avoid any potential drama, it would be easiest to follow Prof. Candela’s advice. However, I still feel proud of the work I did with Dr. Anderson and would like to be properly recognized for it.

Would it be foolish to disregard Prof. Candela’s advice, and remain as a co-author? How can I talk to my main advisor Prof. Bergman about this without causing trouble?

  • 53
    Why not ask Dr. Bergman? What does she say? It seems silly to listen to a third party speculate about your adviser being offended without actually asking the adviser! Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 4:59
  • 4
    @WolfgangBangerth, make that an answer please!. It seems to me like the only sensible solution. Don't make assumptions or rely on hearsay.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 15:14
  • 1
    Edit out the names (assuming they are real).
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 15:21
  • 20
    @JonCuster: They seem to be deliberately chosen to start with A, B and C, so I assume they are already anonymized.
    – Heinzi
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 17:55
  • 11
    @JonCuster "let us call him" suggests they are not real. Also A/B/C.
    – Bergi
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 0:10

6 Answers 6


If a PhD student of mine were to publish the results of work that was done with a previous supervisor, I would:

  • like to be told about their success, but certainly wouldn't expect to be
  • congratulate them on their success and tell them how good it is to get early rungs on the publication ladder.

I can understand that the reaction of your current supervisor would be of concern to you but it suggests that they, rather than you or your behavior, are the problem.

  • 15
    Yes. This. Seems so clear cut. I have had 20 successful PhD students and I am frankly surprised this might even be an issue!
    – Deipatrous
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 13:01
  • 1
    (+1) especially for last sentence. Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 15:21

While BillOnne's answer expresses some good ideas, it seems a bit extreme unless your current supervisor Dr. B. is unreasonable or paranoid.

According to the question post you are not doing any more work, and are only asking about your name appearing in a long list of authors because your previous work is being used again.

That's certainly well within "standard operating procedure" and sounds like it could simply be a courtesy to you.

Only if Dr. C knows something they are not telling you should you worry about this. Perhaps there's a conflict, or a problem surrounding Dr. A or their research that they can't really tell you about right now?

If your relationship with Dr. B is good and everything smells on the up-and-up, just mention it to them including that the question is only about them adding your name to a list of authors, not doing anything new.

But I see no reason to follow the other answer's advice

Explain that you didn't know you should have told her. Promise to do better in the future.

unless there's much more to this story than has currently been mentioned.

  • 2
    "Only if Dr. C knows something they are not telling you should you worry about this." I was thinking the same, but then Prof. C should tell that there are problems he cannot name instead of indicating Dr. B's feeling might get hurt - which is strange for Dr. B.
    – usr1234567
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 7:03
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    @usr1234567 I think it's a judgement call that we can't make from here; that can already be seen as casting shade on A, and C may rightfully wonder what happens if the OP starts going around saying "Dr. C. says there's a problem, does anybody know what's going on?" and the thing snowballs...
    – uhoh
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 7:10

Yes, Candela's response is incomprehensible and the reasoning offered (which I only know via your recounting of it) is ridiculous on the face of it.

However, there are things I do not know. For instance, Bergman may have been known to be irrationally touchy and "difficult" about this sort of thing in the past and C wants to spare you and himself the hassle.

That said, B has no real reason to obstruct your work with A unless there are some really clear indications that it detracts from your work with B.

The only way to get this in the clear is to discuss the matter with B.

If this does blow up in your face, please know you have done nothing wrong.

"a lower tier conference" - could this be a clue? Is A somebody C does not want you to be associated with, the black sheep of the department? I am stabbing in the dark, but it is by no means beyond the realm of possibility.


Had Dr. C suggested that you discuss this with your supervisor, then I would say this might be useful mentoring. I agree with one of the other answers: I would want to be informed, but if it genuinely took you little or no time, then I would fully support this work, as long as there was no other deadline. It is really very normal to be continuing work and collaborations from a previous position. One day Dr. B will be glad you are finishing work you did with her while you are at your first postdoc!

I hope Dr. C is not being sexist in assuming they have to defend Dr. B, but not ask her own opinion about the time of her own supervisee.

Finally with respect to the paper, if it is really a weak conference as you say, and you are doing more important work now, then if you run out of time, then you can withdraw and ask for only an acknowledgement. But especially early in your career, just having a few more papers can help you boost your h index. And anyway, it's just right and just that you should get credit for your work. As long as Dr. A isn't trying to take advantage of the fact you are at a more prestigious lab now, then I think it should be OK. It's slightly possible that this is what Dr. C. is trying to defend you from, but then I still don't know why they wouldn't talk to you and Dr. B about it at the same time.


There is no reason to decline authorship on the paper, unless:

  1. You anticipate quality or academic honesty issues with the paper,

  2. You expect getting it published and through peer review will meaningfully detract from your current work, or

  3. Your senior advisor is irrationally jealous.

If 1, you should politely decline to be associated with the paper (obviously), but it sounds like you are proud of the work and this isn't the case. If 2, you should have a frank discussion with both Dr. A and Dr. B about your availability and come to an agreement about your level of involvement with and credit for the work. This might mean authorship while limiting your work to a few reviews of the draft paper, or possibly being acknowledged in the work without full authorship. If 3, this is serious problem unfortunately and it is difficult to offer outside advice.

Re: "He also said that it would be bad for my career to become too associated to Dr. Anderson’s topic since it is less impactful than my PhD topic." - unless Dr. A is an outright crank, this isn't something worth worrying about. It is correct to focus on your PhD work, but not to the exclusion of publishing your existing MSc. work.


No one can serve two masters.

You should have alerted your advisor at the start. The relationship with your PhD advisor is supposed to involve significant trust in both direction. Doing work with another prof without telling them is kind of whack, even if it is minimal work and time on your part.

If you had done so, a reasonable prof would have allowed you to work on the paper, provided it was not a huge amount of work. Your time is, to some extent, up to Dr. B. So you cannot spend arbitrary amounts of time on other tasks. Yet, it is also reasonable for you to keep relationships with other researchers. So closing them off would not be reasonable for Dr. B.

At this point I would suggest you go to Dr. B, and make a clean breast of it. Tell her everything, including Dr. C's suggestion. Be apologetic. Explain that you didn't know you should have told her. Promise to do better in the future.

  • 7
    I am not my students' master (nor my adviser's servant). Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 18:12

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