I am taking a course with a major final project. I was looking for a topic when my co-advisor noticed this. He suggested that I do a project related to my master thesis, and I agreed since I didn't know what I was going to do. He suggested that we do a certain design in half between me and a colleague of mine during a brief meeting with the course instructor. The course instructor asked if we are going to team up and I said no (I am not a team player). I submitted a proposal saying what I will do and as stretch goal, I will complete the whole design on my own.

I ended doing a very smart design in one week and my co-advisor was very impressed. He said that one part of my design could be patented. The whole design can make it to top conferences. Now he is saying you both, me and my colleague, should work together to finish the whole design. I still have 3 weeks to go and I have almost finished his part too. I feel very mad now and I don't want to give him any credit that he didn't deserve(His is part is much simpler than mine).

He is asking me to show him my design and I am not comfortable with that since he, in two occasions, performed "unethical actions" during these projects. He could easily claim that this is his work as well.

On the other hand, I don't want to start a fight with my co-advisor who suggested a paper that helped me in my design. He also knows my design and likes my colleague much more than me. He could easily tell him do this and that.(I feel like I made a mistake showing him, my co-advisor, my design).

What would be a smart move in this situation ? What words should I use to explain this to my advisor ? I just want to protect myself and get the credit for the work I did.

  • 12
    I am not a team player — Learning how to be a team player is way more important than your awesome design at this stage, in my opinion. The problems started when you set out to do all the work yourself rather than splitting up the tasks between you and your colleague like adults.
    – Mad Jack
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 3:14
  • 3
    Thanks, but when the instructor asked if we are going to do group project I said no. So this wasn't a group project. I can work with others just fine but I have a serious problem handling this guy, but that is not the point here.
    – user18244
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 10:37
  • 1
    You have every right to refuse to collaborate with him, but don't be so blunt when you tell your advisor.
    – JNS
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 11:47

3 Answers 3


Communication is needed and you need to communicate to your co-advisor your feelings rather than second-guessing things and increase your frustration. You may lack some aspects of the picture that your advisor's see. So I would suggest the following:

  1. Prepare everything to as close as the final product (manuscript) you can at this point. Add your name as sole author (unless anyone else deserves co-authorship at this stage)

  2. Present the work to your co-advisor for discussion and point out what "little" is left to do and discuss what remains to be done. This can then lead to understanding of what other could contribute that is not accomplished in your work.

  3. Once you have the situation a little more clear and depending on the outcome, state how you would like to see the distribution of co-authorship and take any discussion that follows.

Hopefully this will put you in a clearer position when considering taking on additional collaborators.

Please also check the tag or search for contributorship here on academia to et input on what should be involved in adding names on a manuscript (here is a link to one example).


Please do not take this personally, because I do not know you or your abilities. I am only guessing by what you say but consider that a complete Internet stranger like me, gets a negative vibe from your words. And this is not a good thing. In detail:

I still have 3 weeks to go and I have almost finished his part too.

You never do that. Would you like the other-party to do exactly this on your part of the design? And perhaps even doing it better than you? No, you would not. You can offer suggestions / improvements on his design after he finishes and only in a way that does not offend / belittle him. You have a task - he had a task. Do your part and stick to it.

I feel very mad now and I don't want to give him any credit that he didn't deserve.

You should be mad at yourself because you are a lousy team-player. Programming skills and intelligence can only get you up to a point. If you do not play well with others, you will usually be the first to get the boot. And the sad part is, that in that case no one will miss you. Consider this, at your next cooperation.

He is asking me to show him my design

How does your colleague knows that you finished his part of the design too? It is obvious that not only you did something wrong (doing his part of the design) but probably bragged about it. That is totally immature, childish and unprofessional.

He likes my colleague much more than me

I wonder why. And why do you care who he likes most?

I feel like I made a mistake showing him, my co-advisor, my design.

Of course you made a mistake. You wanted to brag. You could actually used the time you spent on your colleague's design to improve your design. Or you simply believe that your design does not need any improvement. If you believe that, you are seriously mistaken, because everything can be improved. So, focus on improving your design and checking for errors that have escaped your and your advisor's eyes.

I believe you must be an undergraduate from your previous posts (I may be mistaken). If you are and you want to go to grad school, please humble down. Some of the things you are suggesting sound pretty paranoid. You thought of hiding part of the work from your co-advisor, so that he would not share this with his "beloved" student, who you seem to antagonize. Your design (which you finished in a week) will be patented and it could make it to the top-conferences.

You do understand that all these sound a bit strange.

Also, grow up. All of you (you, your 2 advisors and your coleague) have a common task / goal. You all are going to be co-authors if the project comes out. Understand, that you will not get more credit by overtaking other people's work but just burn some bridges. So, work towards the project's goals and not toward your personal goals.

On your next project, make clear to everyone that you do not want to cooperate, because you want to do everything on your own. Although this is not a good long-term policy and sooner or later cooperation is a key to a good research output.

  • 2
    Thanks but let me explain a few things. In my proposal, I indicated that as a stretch goal I will complete the whole design on my own and I did that and the instructor never complained. So completing the whole design was part of the deal. The instructor gave us the option and I decided to do an individual project. Since I made that choice I don't even have to talk to the guy. Lastly, I have never bragged about it. My co-advisor consistently asked me for updates. He went and told him all about my design. The issue started when my nosy co-advisor started interfering. I need him to back-off.
    – user18244
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 21:30
  • 2
    Moreover, this guy took more than one "unethical" action against me and fabricated his results in the midterm project. I can't work with someone with no ethical values.
    – user18244
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 21:36
  • 2
    @Alexandros You know too little about the case to judge the OP as harshly as you do. It is quite possible that s/he is not a team player where s/he should be. However, there do exist constellations where indeed people are taken advantage over and end up having to carry fellow travellers. Very capable people can be very intolerant of fellow travellers, and, while some team play may be desirable, we are in science here. The purpose is ultimately good science. At this stage, it's the OP's right to choose whether s/he wants to go it alone or in the team and pay the associated cost. Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 2:07

While most research projects involve collaboration, I will assume that this was a student project where there was a legitimate option to either work alone or with a partner. You chose to work alone. Honestly, if someone had a history of fabricating results, I would also not risk publishing or presenting with them.

I see 5 issues to resolve/consider:

  1. One issue seems to be where you're academic project (where you had the option of working alone) ends and where the publication, presentation or patent begins. The co-supervisor may think that you have already fulfilled the personal academic project with your design so far and that to bring it to the point of publication/presentation, additional steps need to be taken. To fulfill these additional steps, they may think it is best to bring in the other student.

You need to honestly ask yourself if the other student may have something to add (a different skill set, etc.). The co-supervisor may like the other student and just want to do him a favor, but he might just be thinking of what is best for the project.

  1. Another potential issue is what has the other student been told. Perhaps the other student worked on his portion of the design for his individual project and the idea is now to combine them. Even if this not the case, the fact that you chose to complete the other students contribution, even after being told that was his job, does not help your case. For future reference, you should have addressed this issue immediately- making your case for completing the whole project alone before moving forward. Right now, it could look like you knowingly completed the other students work to force him out of the project. Although based on what you say, I can see why you would do this, I am not sure it was the most mature approach.

  2. The patent issue. Depending on your location (or maybe it is an international law), you may have a legitimate claim to the design. I am not an expert in intellectual property law, so please consult an intellectual property lawyer before proceeding. But, legally, you already at least co-own the intellectual property rights to your design. See this legal blog post for an example of student intellectual property. The law overrules academic norms,seniority etc. Although it may be unusual for a student to come up with a successful patentable design, no one here knows whether this is what you have. You may be in the small percentage of students who do, in fact have something of value. Please realize that you need to think this through, read through the legal literature and consult a professional if possible. You might take a risk (reputation wise) asserting a legal claim, but if you are really sure it will pay off, maybe it is worth it. But please be sensible and humble here. In the mean time, document, photograph, time-stamp, send e-mails to yourself...these steps won't hurt and could help if a disagreement arises later.

  3. The role of the co-advisor. If ultimately presented/published, this person may be assuming they are the senior author/PI. The PI would be an author and thus, would have a legitimate say in your work. You say you want him to 'back off', but if they consider themselves the PI on a collaborative project, they are not overstepping their bounds.

  4. The unethical behavior of the other student is another issue and one you need to consider. If you know this is 100% true and you exhaust your other options, you might need to bring this up. I'll call the other student John. Say "I am in an uncomfortable situation that I think I need to bring to your attention. John fabricated the results of his mid-term project. I know this because [present your evidence]. I am concerned about the long-term implications of publishing work with an unethical collaborator. As you know, this could impact all of us. So, as uncomfortable as this is, I need to bring it to your attention and ask for your help." But, check your schools rules-you may have been required to report this as soon as you knew, so be careful. Depending on the rules and culture, this may be a last resort.

But, the most important thing you can do is try to get a clear idea of expectations and roles. Perhaps you could ask the course instructor to help you. He gave you the option of working along and might be able to sit down with all of you and sort things out. Calmly ask for help, stay away from accusations and speculation and see what he says.

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