I am a 3rd year PhD Student (Computer Science, India). I have two advisors, one internal and one external.

The internal advisor has no knowledge of my area and he doesn’t care what I am doing. He has no contribution to my research so far, but he keeps forcing me to make him co-author (2nd author) of my papers. I am a part-time PhD student (full time faculty in my college) in my college and he is my colleague. He has contributed nothing, did not even know title of my paper.

The external advisor is the one who actually helps me with my research. He wants all authorship to be based on contribution. He is external to my college and lives in a different city.

Recently I refused to make my internal advisor second author of a paper. Due to this, he got upset and he wrote in my progress report that I have attitude problem and I don’t obey my advisor. Now I have to stand in front of the dean, head of department and the entire committee (my advisor will also be there in the meeting with me).

Should I tell the monitoring committee about how my internal advisor unethically tried to manipulate me? Can it worsen the situation in future?

  • 3
    For something like this - at least in the UK - there is a postgraduate research tutor who is meant to be an impartial external. And to be honest, sending you to the Dean because you don't name him as an author seems a bit extreme - have there been other issues in the past?
    – DetlevCM
    Aug 9, 2015 at 15:44
  • 7
    Would moving to your external advisor's university be an option? Aug 9, 2015 at 16:56
  • 4
    Is your internal advisor funding your research and providing the equipment? My understanding is that in some fields the head of the lab is expected to be listed as an author (often in a specific way, like being last author, that makes the role clear). Aug 9, 2015 at 18:02
  • I think the problem here is a cultural one. Even if you pull up the co-authorship policy, it won't make any difference. It's possible the committee will simply follow the norm cultural wise as opposed to what the policy says. If you are in Australia, the co-authorship policy rules. Aug 19, 2020 at 4:26

5 Answers 5

  1. How are 'attitude problem' and not obeying your adviser a 'crime'? In my university, there is a 'co-authorship policy', which clearly states that any co-authors must have made significant intellectual contributions. If such a policy exists at your university, I would bring it to support your case.

  2. If you're fronting the committee because of supposedly poor progress, then I would gather as much evidence as possible to support your case. For example, your communication with your external adviser, papers published, etc.

  3. I suggest you change the supervisor. The situation will definitely get worst because it looks like the internal adviser is unethical. He/she will 'burn you alive'.

  • 3
    In a lot of places/subjects it is also common for supervisors to be listed on the paper - in fact, that is the only style I have seen/encountered. (Though supervisors tend to come last)
    – DetlevCM
    Aug 9, 2015 at 15:46
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    @DetlevCM: That does not necessarily make this ethical or acceptable. Also, in many fields, it is the norm that advisors actually do contribute to papers in a way that entitles them to authorship, but that does not mean that they are made coauthors because they were advisors.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Aug 9, 2015 at 16:21
  • As a sidenote: If your university/department honours authorship standards, you could amass proof that your interal advisor forced you to make you a coauthor despite having no contribution. The latter is usually difficult to prove but not so, if your internal advisor has no knowledge of your area and is not interested in your work (as you describe).
    – Wrzlprmft
    Aug 9, 2015 at 16:29
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    To survive on longer time spans, point 3 is a must..
    – Acorbe
    Aug 11, 2015 at 13:12

First off, you need an ally. Perhaps your external advisor?

Second, you can provide information without getting defensive, and without going on the offensive. Your tack should be to be baffled as to why you are there. But baffled in a calm way.

When you let them know about the strange behavior of the internal advisor in this calm way I'm suggesting, it will be almost like speaking to them in code.

It will help if you go in there assuming that at least one member of the monitoring committee is a smart, ethical person who will interpret your code language correctly, and help you in a well-thought-out way.

If things don't go as you hope -- you can always back down and include the internal advisor's name on the paper.


Many answers here focus on the issue of authorship, rather than what I expect your real dilemma is, what should you say when you meet the Dean.

You have two options really - stand up and fight for what you believe in, or back down and try to keep the peace.

The fact that you even have to contemplate the latter shows what an utter mess young PhDs find themselves in these days. You are three years in, and he holds all the cards whilst you hold none. ...right?

Wrong! If you think it looks bad not to get your name on student's paper, imagine how bad it looks when word gets out that you refused a PUBLISHING student a PhD after three years because they claim their supervisor didn't put enough effort in to be a named author. You are calling the shots here. Go with your gut, because sometimes crappy old wooden bridges need to get burned.

  • 2
    This advice might be just, but dangerous. An individual who plans to challenge someone with more power should have a plan beyond "Go with your gut" (unless they literally have nothing to lose, which is not the case here.)
    – ff524
    Aug 9, 2015 at 21:38
  • Being cautious is a luxury of the powerful, not powerless. It feels very cliche to quote The Art Of War in academia.so, but if confronted with a more powerful adversary, try to avoid a fight. If you cannot avoid the fight, do not attack half-heartedly so that he may pity you at the end of battle. Aug 9, 2015 at 21:50
  • 6
    This advice is very dangerous, especially considering the fact that the OP is studying in India.
    – Jihadi
    Aug 19, 2020 at 3:52

Your refusal to make him co-author could be perceived as an escalation itself from his perspective. We don't know the way you expressed yourself when you told him you wouldn't do it (in social situations, often the way things are said matters much more than what was actually said).

His decision to escalate even more up might go in many different directions due to multiple circumstances (rules, people in position of power, clout, etc.), so it's a bit difficult to be completely sure of what is the best course of action for you.

He might be doing this to intimidate you into complying with his demands. Which, in turn has at least two possible ramifications:

  1. He knows the organization well and believes he will get to frame the situation in a way that you are to be considered wrong (either his colleagues will support him regardless of him being right or what you did breaks an unwritten rule, so the dean will support him no matter what).
  2. He doesn't realize or refuses to admit he is being unethical and the support of his peers is not guaranteed, so, in a way, he could be assuming he will be considered right by default or seniority or even that now that he involved big wigs you will get scared, ask forgiveness and comply.

Now for the proper advice:

  1. Read them university policies and rules, if they don't say you have this obligation, then you don't. If they say you have to do it, then apologise and tell them you didn't know about the rules. But do read the other advices below.
  2. If there is no policy forcing you to to do as the internal advisor says, make your case to the monitoring committee, that is: talk your external advisor into interceding in your favour either by telling them himself or exposing your discussions with him about the work and organize any other evidence you have that the internal advisor is not contributing to this particular work otherwise it's just your word versus his word, be as polite as you can possibly be.
  3. Your external advisor is not a neutral party, after all he told you: 'authorship should be based on contribution'. He will be a co-author, so what does the external advisor means by authorship based on contribution? I have the impression he doesn't want the internal advisor to have his name in this work, maybe the two of them had a falling out? Take care to not be in the crossfire if this is a feud.
  4. Whatever the outcome, to change internal advisor like @Prof. Santa Claus says is one of the safest things you can do to protect yourself after you talk to the committee. You have no guarantee that whatever the outcome, this advisor won't be out for blood and try to make your life miserable.

Imho, If someone is leading you (i.e. "supervising" you), then he should be a co-author of any your work by definition. In my university, I can not image a situation when student's supervisor would not be his co-author. In a worst case scenario, he is at least supporting your work financially and organizationally, isn't he? In general, I am agree that it is a common bad practice, when a supervisor, especially in a big group, is not involve in the particular project too much. But, I am more then sure, that he is at least checking the initial ideas or the selling packages to the journals. Could it be that you know your part very well, but you are misunderstand the complexity of the supervisor's "businesses"?

  • 6
    Which field do you work in? For many fields it would be the exact opposite? Aug 10, 2015 at 3:09
  • curiousdannii, I am working in area of cognitive science, in one of West European universities. I am not sure about other fields, but no-one really knows what is happening somewhere beyond his area. Aug 12, 2015 at 18:58
  • 1
    This is very field specific and location specific, and it is unfortunate that the answer is given as a generalized claim. For example, in math, it is very rare for an adviser to be automatically on papers, and in fact often the opposite: frequently a point is made that papers in grad school connected to one's PhD in math will not have the adviser's name.
    – JoshuaZ
    Dec 3, 2019 at 14:20

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