I'm a first-year PhD student working alongside my supervisor on my second paper. So far, the process has been that I write a draft, he adds some comments/text where necessary, and we re-iterate. This is mostly fine, but I have noticed a pattern with his revisions: he self-cites a lot. These references are all somewhat relevant in context, but usually plain redundant. As an example, he might change "(Author et al. 2021)" to "(Author et al. 2021; Supervisor et al. 2022a,b, 2023)". In my first paper, my supervisor was listed as an author in over a third of the cited references. Out of those, I only added two.

I have some concerns about how this affects readability, but my biggest gripe is that it just looks bad. Maybe I'm overly dramatic, but I don't like how the paper I wrote to 95% is so plainly used as a way to increase his citation metrics. To the reader, it may come across as me parroting his research, which isn't the case. I have a good relationship with my supervisor, but I don't know how to bring this up in a non-accusatory way. Is this a problem I should be concerned with and, if so, what can I do?

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    I don't have good advice, but kudos to you for picking this up and asking this question. The world would be a better place if all PhD students would be conscientious like this, and if their supervisors then listened to them. I for sure think you are right that this is a problem. Unfortunately I can't be sure how your supervisor would react if you bring this up. As experienced reviewer and editor I can however tell you that excessive self-citations don't look good and may lower the reader's appreciation for the work. It may be in your and your supervisors best interest to change this. Commented May 25, 2023 at 23:35

2 Answers 2


You mention having a good relationship with your advisor. It's also safe to assume that he's doing this very much on purpose. It's annoying and it's wrong, but in an ethics scale of 0 to 10, 0 being totally ethical behavior and 10 faking data, this behavior is a 1 or a 2. I would let it go and not say anything. Your relationship with your advisor is most important here, and he's already shown to have a weak ego. In terms of your own reputation, most reasonable readers will understand that you are the subordinate in that relationship and with little power. When I read papers written by grad students, and with excessive citations to the lab/advisor, I just roll my eyes and not assume bad intent from the grad student author.

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    I would possibly tilt *overly*excessive self-citation at close to '4' Commented May 25, 2023 at 13:34
  • Exactly, the point is that it's a judgement call and on the low end of the scale.
    – Cheery
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 13:49

These references are all somewhat relevant in context, but usually plain redundant

If this is the case then I wouldn't worry about it too much --- citations that are relevant in context generally add value for the reader, even if they refer to many works by the same author and even if they build on top of other citations that cover the same area. In any case, if you decide to bring it up, I recommend you first assess which particular citations you think are too marginal to be warranted. It is reasonable to have a concern about the level of overall citation, but ultimately you will need to be able to point to a particular citation and say that you think it does not add value to the paper.

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