Short: My master thesis supervisor want to present my findings at a conference. He did not ask me for permission, just informed me he will do so, how should I react?

Long: My supervisor early on said there might be an opening for continued work and maybe a phd if everything went smoothly. Half way through he revealed that this opportunity was no longer a option with the reason given being money, not my work. Around the same time I found a sidetrack and with his blessing followed that instead of the topic he originally proposed, which ended up with some interesting findings indeed. He has given general advice once every two weeks on this side-track but the findings of interest were made by me alone.

Now my master thesis is officially done and he e-mailed me that he want a meeting to talk about my report (that decides my grade), and (among other things) writes that he will present the findings from my work at a conference a few months away. This was written as a fact, and part of a longer paragraph.

I don't know how to react. If this is normal behavior in academia I don't want to seem unprofessional (or ruin my grade and chances to use him as a reference) by questioning this, but on other hand I want to get credited for my work.

2-year edit: Got a notification that this question got a thousand views so decided to write a few words as a follow up.

My initial worried reaction to getting information about the grading and the conference in the same email was just stress and lack of experience getting the best of me. Nothing bad, such as not getting credit for my work, followed from this and I am actually a bit embarrassed that I was worried it might at the time.

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    (1) Will you be a co-author on the conference presentation? (2) If relevant, who will be first author on the conference presentation? (3) Are you in a field where conference presentations have a high status (e.g., as in many IT fields) or a field where journal articles are the main prized outcome? Mar 20, 2015 at 0:46
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    (1-2) He did not write anything about this. (3) Journal articles are over all valued higher, but to my understanding some conferences has higher status than journals. I am not sure if this conference is one of those. Mar 20, 2015 at 0:56
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    @Drakryttare the main question is whether this will be considered a publication and whether you will be a co-author as Jeromy mentions.
    – Bitwise
    Mar 20, 2015 at 0:57
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    @Bitwise and Jeremy Anglim: Thank you. Just you asking this is enough for me to draw the conclusion that I should not just go with it. I will try to ask him about co-authorship (which he did not mention at all). Mar 20, 2015 at 1:09
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    @MrMeritology in my field at least review talks are pretty common at conferences and are not unethical in the slightest.
    – StrongBad
    Mar 22, 2015 at 18:08

3 Answers 3


You should initially react positively. It is part of a supervisor's job to promote the student's work. Possibly this is what the supervisor is trying to do, but the supervisor failed to explain what is going on.

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    I fully agree. "Hey, I am going to talk about your work in my session at this conference" is not typically a bad thing for you. Getting protective of your intellectual contribution every step of the way is long-term no good strategy.
    – xLeitix
    Mar 22, 2015 at 17:54

He has given general advice once every two weeks

To me that sounds like the level of input that changes "my work" to "our work". While you should get credit for it, referring to it as your work and denying your supervisor the credit he deserves would be just as wrong as him denying you credit. Rushing to "publish" the work as yours is not a good idea since you and your supervisor are have both contributed to the work.

Conferences work differently across fields, and even within fields. There are some conference presentations that are clearly presenting new work and proper co-authorship rules need to be followed. There are also conference presentations that focus on the past, and possibly current and future, work of a particular PI. You can think of these as review presentations. A review has an author (or set of authors) who has conducted the review. People who have done the work being reviewed are not authors (unless of course they are also doing the review).

If your advisor is simply reviewing the work (both published and unpublished) in his lab, you should not be an author. You should, however, be credited/referenced when he talks about the work you have been involved with, just as he should credit/reference other people when he talks about their work. Having your work talked about in a review is ultimately a good thing.

If you have concerns about how he is going to credit/reference you or him leaking critical material you do not want made public yet, you need to talk to your advisor. I would not approach him, however, as if he has done something wrong. While there are advisors who steal the work of their students, if that is the situation, you have a lot more to worry about than a single conference talk.

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    I would add that depending on the culture, consulting a research and paper with your supervisor can be considered just "supervision" rather than "collaboration". But it's certainly in the competence of the supervisor to decide on this.
    – yo'
    Mar 24, 2015 at 15:21

It doesn't seem appropriate at all what your supervisor is doing. I would definitely talk to him/her about this and ensure that due credit and acknowledgement is given if and when your work is presented. You should find an agreement, before this happens, to make sure whether you agree or not to your work being presented by him/her.

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    Could the downvoters please explain to Alice13 what's wrong with the answer?
    – yo'
    Mar 22, 2015 at 22:56
  • Yes, I would like to be explained why my answer is wrong.
    – Alice13
    Mar 24, 2015 at 10:10
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    @yo' I down voted because, as I think I alluded to in my answer, I do not think the supervisor is doing anything wrong and I think approaching the supervisor in a confrontational manner, which is how I read the answer, is a bad approach.
    – StrongBad
    Mar 24, 2015 at 14:42

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