I am doing a course project, and my co-advisor contributed to my design with tips and comments - nothing major. When the system started working he told me no to reveal all the details while presenting my work in the class.

That didn't feel right. I believe that the course instructor has the right to know all details about my design, and naturally, his name should go on any publication that comes out of this.

I heard my co-advisor telling another professor that my work is "his vision". I hate being in a such weird situation. I feel like my co-advisor is willing to unethical things for his own benefit (As an example, he refused to write me a recommendation letter to prevent me from leaving the university).

Also, because designs have to go through a fabrication step which takes along time, I feel that if he put his hands on my design I will lose credit for my work. He already told me that he will have one of his other students complete the other step. I am afraid that he will say that the other student did more work so he should be the first author of any publication coming out this or even remove me from the whole picture. Given his history, I cannot trust him now.

Moreover, I intend to leave the university for PhD somewhere else in about six months (he doesn't know that), so I won't be there when the work finishes.

How to handle this issue ? Should I reveal everything to the course instructor and start a fight with my co-advisor ? or accept this which is byound my tolerance?

  • 2
    Why should the course instructor's name go on a paper about it? What did they contribute?
    – Bill Barth
    Nov 29, 2014 at 19:31
  • It's his course. The whole project is part of his course and he pushed us to do something that can be published.
    – user18244
    Nov 29, 2014 at 19:32
  • 1
    OK, there's really no "of course" when it comes to authorship.
    – Bill Barth
    Nov 29, 2014 at 19:45
  • 10
    Pushing someone to do something is not in itself sufficient grounds to be a coauthor. There has to be an intellectual contribution. Nov 29, 2014 at 19:57
  • 3
    A good rule of thumb is that a (co)author is someone who writes. So if your instructor writes a section of the article, he can become co-author. This is a rule of thumb, so exceptions exist. However, you have to give good reasons to add someone as a co-author who does not write or exclude someone who has written. Being in his course is not enough. Nov 29, 2014 at 21:21

1 Answer 1


You shouldn't start a fight with your coadvisor, but you shouldn't let them push you into an ethical compromise, either. (Or perhaps into a deeper ethical compromise — most instructors expect course projects to be the work of the students, not the students and their advisors.)

If you're not comfortable hiding details from your class/instructor, say so. Directly and professionally, without accusing him of shady behavior. Exactly as if your coadvisor were a responsible, ethical, adult human being.

he refused to write me a recommendation letter to prevent me from leaving the university

This is where I would normally write "Walk away". Your coadvisor is using you. Fortunately, it looks like you've already figured that out.

Moreover, I intend to leave the university for PhD somewhere else


(he doesn't know that yet)

Not so good. Why are you keeping this a secret?

  • Thanks for the answer. I didn't tell him because I think he will make my life harder. He even told me "No other university will look at you and you should stay and not waster your time applying".
    – user18244
    Nov 30, 2014 at 12:29
  • 5
    If he actually believed that no other university will look at you, why wouuld he waste his time working with you? Walk away.
    – JeffE
    Nov 30, 2014 at 16:41
  • He seems to have a very good reason for keeping it secret. Openness is nice if you can afford it or the place has a culture of it, but it's by no means a foregone conclusion. Feb 26, 2016 at 22:33

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