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I want to know whether my PhD thesis supervisor (with whom I have co-authored many papers) is allowed to be a reviewer for one of my journal submissions?

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    When you asked your PhD thesis supervisor, what did they say?
    – D.W.
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 20:56

3 Answers 3

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In many cases this would be inappropriate. PhD advisors are considered to have a permanent conflict-of-interest when it comes to their advisees.

Some conferences/journals relax this condition and allow for reviews from former collaborators if there has been no collaboration in the past 5-6 years (or some similar time window). You should check the rules around CoI for the particular journal if these are publicly available.

However: it is best to not have your PhD advisor listed as a potential reviewer. If the Associate Editor or Editor-in-Chief makes that call -- to have an advisor review the advisee's work -- it is a different matter but one should not rely on obtaining reviews from former advisors.

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    "Some conferences/journals relax this condition and allow for reviews from former collaborators if there has been no collaboration in the past 5-6 years." This is indeed true, but it's not clear to me if these statements include thesis advisors. I'd expect the requirement to be a bit more stringent for them over other collaborators. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 21:37
  • I know a good handful of people who have so many collaborators that there would be nobody to review their paper, especially since the community is very small. In general, the criteria used here is: Not in permanent, contact, not sharing funding, not sharing university/lab, no strong past connections (which comprises advising).
    – yo'
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 0:27
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The question is ultimately one for your advisor and the journal editor to answer, but it certainly does not seem like a best practice. If for instance you are being asked to suggest possible reviewers, I think you should never suggest your thesis advisor.

I could perhaps imagine a situation in which your work is so difficult or technical that the thesis advisor needs to be consulted at some point in order to vouch for it or address its correctness. However, I think this should be avoided if at all possible: as the tag indicates, this is a clear conflict of interest.

From the perspective of the thesis advisor: if I were asked to referee a paper by a current student I would automatically turn it down, giving this conflict of interest as the reason. If I were asked to referee a paper of a former student I would write back to the editor informing them that they are my former student, ask them whether they really want me to referee the paper, and take it from there.

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    I've been asked to referee papers by my former Ph.D. students, and I did what you suggest. I wrote to the editors to make sure they're aware of the situation, and then I refereed the paper iff they still wanted me to. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 18:09
  • @AndreasBlass and the result?
    – Ooker
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 19:32
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    @Ooker Both results have occurred. "Go ahead and referee it" was the more common, but at least one editor decided to find another referee. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 19:49
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    It's sometimes said that the purpose of a reviewer is to stop the author publishing something which will make them look foolish. If you see reviewing as collaboration, rather than conflict, then I see no problem with a phd supervisor wishing to protect the reputation of their ex-student by improving their paper. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 20:36
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    @JeremyMiles this is an excellent point, but as more and more journals count on the reviewer to assess the importance of the work, this is where the thesis advisor may have the strongest bias. A responsible scientist will hopefully always be impartial with regards to correctness, but it's hard to be impartial when "importance" is so subjective already. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 21:34
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If the journal has asked you to suggest potential or preferred reviewers, you should not ideally include the name of your PhD supervisor. However, if yours is a niche field, and your choice of preferred reviewers is limited, then you could perhaps include his name, adding a note disclosing the potential conflict of interest and stating that you added his name due to a lack of other options.

However, if the journal editor invites your supervisor to review your paper, then it's up to them to decide. Usually in such cases, the referee discloses the conflict of interest, as mentioned in the last part of Pete L. Clark's answer.

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