I am on my 2nd year of PhD. Some months ago, a woman from another department had similar PhD ideas to me and my advisor's other student. Our supervisor was furious when he realised this and he accused of us sharing our work without authorization. It turns out that my colleague had informed her about our ideas because they were close friends and she copied them. When our supervisor learned this, he was still angry but was not able to do anything because he "didn't have any proof."

At the end of last semester, my supervisor talked with the woman who copied our ideas and invited her to co-teach our lectures next semester. I don't know exactly what her role will be or why her involvement is necessary. I thought this was unfair and I told him so. He was angry at me, but I don't regret it. Since that time our relationship is very cold and way more distanced. In fact, I am worried he wants to replace me with this student who stole my ideas.

So, I am wondering: is my anger justified? Should I have concerns about the woman who copied (or at least, inspired herself too much from) our ideas? And at my supervisor for offering her a place at our lectures? I know my supervisor is a head of a department and it is him who makes decisions but I felt that this situation was unfair. Additionally he would accuse me of being unfriendly and not cooperative.

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    I guess I'm not following what your advisor did. You were TA'ing for a class that your advisor teaches, and now this other student will also be a TA for the same class? Or?
    – cag51
    Apr 4, 2023 at 21:42
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    It sounds like your supervisor wants to make this person a collaborator, not a competitor. This is pretty common if the supervisor has capacity to take on more students. The other student is interested in a similar topic. I don’t know what “PhD ideas” you feel possessive of but usually I have more ideas than people to carry them out and would always like more smart students.
    – Dawn
    Apr 4, 2023 at 21:52
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    The environment you describe where advisors are responsible for teaching assignments is a bit foreign to me, I'm used to this being mostly up to departments and students themselves. Overall, it's quite unclear to me what all the relationships and associations are between the characters involved, and I'm a bit doubtful that someone from "outside" is going to be able to answer your question. Is there any reason you cannot simply have a conversation with your supervisor about this? You also talk about worry, and then anger... What is it you actually want to achieve?
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 4, 2023 at 22:42
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    This is very confusing. Why do you care about having more help teaching? Less teaching= more time for research= better career prospects
    – Dawn
    Apr 5, 2023 at 4:23
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    "I don't know exactly what her role will be or why her involvement is necessary." It would probably have been better to ask your supervisor first about this in a neutral way, before complaining about it. Very often, particularly in a work environment, we can work better with others if we try to not let negative feelings guide our actions and communication. Apr 5, 2023 at 10:26

2 Answers 2


One lesson to learn for life (and it takes time): get angry slowly. Find the facts first. Understand the situation. And then, if you still believe you should get angry, but always in a controlled way. Yes, easier said than done.

The situation seems to have multiple components. A leaked piece of idea. A unreliable colleague (who is that? someone from your group?), a second group, and PhD student. And you.

Now, the problem for you is to find out what is the situation with this idea and to which degree it is actually a problem for you. Does this allocation of the idea to the other person endanger your PhD? Would you want to give that teaching instead?

You should find out exactly what is going on, and perhaps ask your supervisor what he thinks the status with this idea is, and how he sees the collaboration with the other group, and what, if at all, your role is within this collaboration, as well as what effect it has on your PhD.

All this should happen in a sober, unexcited, calm and factual tone. Once you understand what your supervisor's thinking is, you can decide how you wish to proceed further.

In my own opinion, the only case where it is worth contemplating making a more forceful point is if that leak may endanger your own PhD; not being involved in the teaching is an ego hit, but from my experience not a hill worth to die upon. In this case (where your PhD is affected), again, you need also bring that up with your supervisor, possibly in the same meeting and discuss what the consequences of this leak might be.

You might consider reminding him in a side remark that it was not you that decided to share the idea, to refresh his memory that you are just affected by the situation that emerged as much as him.

This is a relatively diplomatic approach, but from what I read between the lines about the situation, the supervisor themselves may have lost control over developments and does not really know how to reclaim control over the idea against the other group. I think it is worth trying to show him you are on the same team and see where that goes.


I am surprised that most answers are acknowledging neither the power dynamics at play within the supervisor-student relationship, nor the toxic and immature behavior of the supervisor. In a PhD, the supervisor (who is additionally the head of the department) has a disproportionate amount of power over theirs students. It is thus the supervisor's responsibility to provide good working conditions for the phd students, together with making sure that communication is maintained and healthy, in order to overcome any problem arising during the PhD. From the testimony, however, we understand that the supervisor does not show responsible behaviour and does not treat his students with care and consideration, that are needed to go through PhD. The student here is in their own right to feel disturbed and angry by the situation, while the supervisor is just putting oil on the fire. This behaviour for a PhD supervisor is not responsible and is immature.

  • Thank you for this answer. What would you suggest on doing? Actually it is not the 1st time I feel 'weird' or uncomfortable when dealing with my advisor. I can not change him right now because im on my 2nd semester of 2nd year now. During the whole 1st year I internally felt that some actions and situations were not right. But I have never had the comparison between other supervisors. I always say to myself that 'it is how it needs to be'. but on the other hand my intuition never fails me. I have just also written the 2nd post on some situation which also triggered me in last semester.
    – capri_corn
    Apr 9, 2023 at 21:24
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    I don't find this answer clear or useful; there are no other answers (except for a spam answer posted after yours), so "most answers" doesn't make any sense. You describe the purpose of a PhD supervisor and their power, but do not make clear what "good working conditions" are not provided here. There is no "testimony" here, we aren't in court; it's not clear in what way the supervisor has not treated their students with care and consideration. What is irresponsible or immature? Why should the student feel disturbed and angry?
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 10, 2023 at 16:45
  • (to be clear, the "spam answer" I refer to is a deleted answer that most readers will not see; I'm not referring to any not-deleted answers which will have been posted after that comment)
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 10, 2023 at 17:13

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