I'm in the middle of my Ph.D., and I came to the realization that my supervisor might be doing something unethical (not illegal thought).

I have a large fund to cover expenses related to training and going to conferences. So, my suggestion was to enroll in courses at other organizations and summer schools so I can network and learn a lot about specific topics. However, my supervisor rejected the idea and "suggested" that I enroll in two courses.

It "happened" to be that those courses were his/hers, each with a cost of more than 1,000 US dollars (for 5 lectures...).

The first time it happened, I was a bit surprised, but in the end, I did it (since it was supervisor-recommended). The second time, it was a total turn-off, and now my supervisor is putting a lot of pressure on me to enroll.

To my surprise, some of my PhD colleagues are teaching assistants in these courses. Apparently, they are receiving a good salary because of that. Even though I like that my colleagues can receive fair money for their job, I never intended to use the fellowship for charity.

Do you have any comments on behaviors like this? Honestly, I am thinking about quitting this PhD because of this and other "shady" behaviors.

Thank you everybody.

  • What do you mean by there were ‘their courses’? Are they ‘private’ for profit? Are they just the organiser?
    – user438383
    Aug 4 at 23:11
  • Those courses are for "continuing education" and are supposed to be for PhD students only since they last a short time. Therefore, you don't need to be enrolled in a certain program since you just enroll in the course. The course is offered by the department, but organized by the supervisor.
    – gbdude
    Aug 4 at 23:25

1 Answer 1


So, if I'm reading this correctly, you have some fund of money to spend on conferences, external classes, training seminars, or whatever else like that you may need. You want to take classes X, Y, and Z. But your supervisor heavily encouraged you to take A and B. The classes are offered by the department, and your supervisor happens to runs them.

If that all sounds right, I don't see what the ethical issue is - assuming your supervisor isn't pocketing the money from the classes. It certainly sounds annoying, though. But encouraging your students to take a class you teach isn't unheard of (or really even unreasonable).

Just based on what's written here, quitting your PhD seems like a drastic step, mostly because I'm having trouble seeing how this is shady or unethical. Whether or not this is even an issues probably depends on:

  1. What, if any, benefit your supervisor gains from you taking the classes i.e., is he/she trying to take advantage of you/your resources
  2. How much of a burden this is to you financially
  3. Whether there is a legitimate reason for your advisor to suggest those particular classes
  4. Whether taking these classes stops you from doing something objectively more productive or beneficial

Off the top of my head, I can imagine a scenario where your advisor just wants to up the headcount (or meet some minimum), and feels that you have this money available and so you can take the class. Or perhaps the department sees this as an easy way to bring/keep money in-house. Or maybe your advisor thinks you might legitimately benefit from the lectures.

That's all just speculation though. I would probably suggest just voicing your concern to your advisor. Clarify why he/she wants you to take classes A and B and why he/she doesn't want you to take X, Y, or Z. At the end of the day, what's stopping you from just saying no?

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