I'm a second year Ph.D. student in STEM and I have a lot of "clashes" with my advisor. Some are serious issues: (1) he wouldn't talk to me, the 1st author, about a project and instead met 1-1 with a different student, (2) he made me put students as authors on a paper they didn't work on to boost their paper count, etc. Other issues are due to personality, which I think is ok and just something that happens in life.

My advisor is always telling me what projects to work on. If I bring up ideas that I have, he squashes them because "they are not best paper award worthy". I've expressed many times that I want to do try different projects and first he said he would help me find another Professor to collaborate with (he did not do this) and now he is telling me that I can't do work with other Profs because "it doesn't align with the interests of other students in the lab" or other illogical excuses.

I am on NSF GRFP now, but he did fund me for my first year. My question is this: since he doesn't fund me now, how much can he control what I work on and who I work with? I'm trying to find a middle ground, but he seems to want to shut down my other interests entirely. I want to figure out how much I can push back/ ignore, given my funding situation.


3 Answers 3


For an advisor - advise relationship to work there has to be a minimum of trust. If you ask on the internet how much you can ignore your advisor, then I would say that there is a problem. Maybe you can fix it with a number of open discussions. Maybe these discussions work better with a mediator. Maybe you can add a co-advisor. Maybe you need to change advisors. Maybe you need to move on and go to a different university/country/career. We do not know your exact situation, but ignoring your advisor is at a minimum not productive and in all likelihood is going to have more negative consequences for you. That does not have to be retaliations. Consider the stress of many uncomfortable and useless conversations with an advisor you don't trust. That can add up real quick, without anyone consciously trying to harm you. Consider all the misunderstandings that are going to happen due to lack of trust and lack of communication.

  • 3
    "how much you can ignore your advisor" - golden formulation, +1 Apr 28, 2023 at 18:16
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    Agree, ignoring is not a good thing. My issue is that I’ve tried to have very frank conversations to talk through our issues but he doesn’t want to listen. I’m in the process of getting a mediator. I think your assessment is tough but apt and I def need to hear that
    – hazel_lion
    Apr 28, 2023 at 18:55
  • If you are still at the start of your PhD, find another advisor and change. You seem to have enough problems on different levels: ethical issues (e.g. you not agreeing with extra people on your papers), type mentoring of mentoring needs/preference, personality disagreements. These sound enough to make your life miserable in the following years if nothing changes. As someone who went through a PhD with both mentoring mismatch and personality clashes I can assure you that it was ugly towards the end with the risk of not finishing. Change now that is early enough! May 15, 2023 at 0:27

It depends on if the advisor is the indifferent or controlling type, and it seems that your advisor is the controlling type, so the short answer to your question title is a lot.

One of the great benefits of a GRFP is that you become very attractive to other advisors and programs. You are someone with a proven ability to get grants, and you come for free since the grant pays your stipend. I had a GRFP and saw it first hand.

You have to understand that there are many styles of advising. I once worked with an advisor who told everybody what to do. He would not read any proposals or consider any experiments brought up by grad students. And just like your advisor, he practiced the idea that everybody in the lab got to be an author on every paper produced in the lab, regardless of contribution. To me it felt like I was being used as a technician and not given any training in the research process, which starts with how to choose projects. To my surprise, other grad students thought he was too hands-off! They just wanted to come in the morning, be told what to do, leave early in the afternoon, and graduate with papers. That didn't work for me. So I switched to another advisor at another university.

The new advisor was of the type that gave you a desk, lab space, and "see you in 4 years when you have a thesis draft for me to read." He never failed to give me advice when I requested it, but what I really appreciated was his confidence in me, that I would figure it out, and the intellectual freedom to pursue whatever idea I wanted. I controlled the authors' list on my papers (I'm on the generous side when it comes to adding authors, but would never add someone who has not contributed.) I produced 5 papers in 3 years with him, all with him as coauthor. I was happy, he was happy, and we are still friends.

So my advice is that you find an advisor who has the right amount of involvement/control/hands-off style that fits your temperament. The GRFP gives you that freedom. Your proposal to ignore your advisor seems, looking at the details you provide about your relationship, like a really bad idea.


The leverage your advisor has is always the same - they can stop being your advisor.

Your leverage is also always the same - you can stop being their student.

Now, your funding source can change what effects the ending of this relationship has. In particular, having your own funding might make it easier for you to find a new advisor or be accepted at a different university. Local department politics might determine whether you can switch advisors, and your situation might determine how attractive going to a different university would be.

If you are unable or unwilling to change advisors, you have the same leverage no matter where your funding comes from.

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