A couple days ago I was asked by my former bachelor degree advisor (let's call him X for short) if I were interested in doing a MD thesis with him. I have replied him that I wasn't sure yet about what I would like to do for my MD thesis and I told him I would have asked some other professor before deciding. He said he was perfectly okay with that.

I have therefore talked to several professor and, among them, to an ex collaborator of X, let's call him Y, who works in a different country. In the mail I wrote to Y, I did not put X in cc nor I have mentioned him.

Y replied to me, putting X in cc, and suggesting that I should ask him if he were available to be my internal advisor first.

Finally, X sent a mail to Y, with me and a friend of mine (who wrote the mail to Y with me, as he were interested too) where he said I was trying to "outmaneuver" him by writing directly to Y. He also reported a mail written before I wrote to Y where, among other personal opinions on me, he suggested I was a mental instable person and that I push around my girlfriend (X was the bachelor thesis advisor to my girlfriend as well).

Now, of course the reaction of my professor is beyond any acceptable boundary, but what I really want to know is whether I am wrong at all. Should I have asked him before writing to Y?

Also, how should I reply to X?

Beg your pardon for the Xs and Ys...

  • a piece information: everyone who knows me and my girlfriend always said SHE was the one pushing around me ;) Feb 23, 2015 at 22:33
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    I am sorry but this is confusing: "I told him [X] I would have asked some other professor before deciding. He said he was perfectly okay with that. [...] Should I have asked him [X] before writing to Y?". Maybe you didn't ask in all detail but you did notify him about the possibility. Do I understand it correctly? Also personally I would focus on straightening out the situation with Y in most possible professional manner.
    – luk32
    Feb 23, 2015 at 23:40
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    I have said i would have asked "other professors", and he said [X] he was fine. I did not said I was going to write to Y. It is worth noting that X wrote to Y BEFORE me, insulting me my girlfriend and so on. Feb 23, 2015 at 23:52
  • @giuliobullsaver I'm confused, are you saying that before you wrote to Y about seeking external supervision, X got there first? How would X know that you were thinking of Y? Did you tell X that you were thinking of Y?
    – awsoci
    Feb 24, 2015 at 20:48
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    @awsoci Yes, before I wrote to Y, X wrote to him. I once (a couple of years ago) mentioned Y to X and my desire to work with him in the future. He must have recalled that when I told him I was going to write to some people before deciding. Feb 25, 2015 at 13:22

1 Answer 1


It sounds like you've found out the reason that Y is no longer a collaborator of X. Furthermore, you should thank your lucky stars that you found out now, before you committed to working with X.

Assuming there are no important missing pieces in what you report, the situation is pretty straight-forward: you were entirely reasonable in telling X that you wanted to talk to some other professors before deciding, and it is entirely reasonable for you to contact Y without reference to X (X has no claim over you and your interactions).

The email that you report X having sent is absolutely inappropriate, and also clearly disingenuous: if X thinks so badly of you, why would X have invited you to work for them? It seems clear that X is wanting to control you, and so you should definitely NOT work for X.

At this point, I would recommend writing an email to X, stating that you found the email both highly inappropriate and also confusing, particularly given that X was also asking you to work for him. State that because you find this inappropriate, you are no longer considering working for X. It is very important that this interaction be in email, and that after this point you restrict interaction to email, since X has proven to be manipulative and untrustworthy and you need a written record with which to defend yourself if necessary. I would also recommend continuing communication with Y, if this is possible despite the attempt of X to sabotage you.

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    One thing I would add to this: is there some other faculty member in your own department that you trust, and can talk to? If so, it could be a good idea to do so. If you end up without support from your own department, that is a bad situation; and that could happen if the faculty only hear X’s side of the story.
    – PLL
    Feb 24, 2015 at 11:22
  • This is a good response but the question is not clear as to whether he had sought consent for an external supervisor, as opposed to an internal, supervisor.
    – awsoci
    Feb 24, 2015 at 20:47
  • "It sounds like you've found out the reason that Y is no longer a collaborator of X." It still confuses me that Y cc'd the mail to X even if he might have known what to expect.
    – JiK
    Feb 25, 2015 at 13:36
  • Good answer but to be a contrarian consider the saying, "make love by email, make war by phone' :)
    – JimLohse
    Jun 25, 2017 at 17:18

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