I'm a PhD student in the process of writing a manuscript. I have more than one supervisor and other collaborators for the project I'm writing up presently. I've also received very useful feedback from all supervisors. However, there's one problem. I often find that the feedback from one supervisor sometimes contradicts feedback from another. I try not to take sides but I'm not entirely sure how other researchers have dealt with this in the past.

So in summary, what do you do when you get conflicting feedback from your supervisors?

Note: my supervisors are my advisors and the manuscript is a part of my PhD-not the entire thesis.

  • After answering your question, I glanced at your SE profile and I saw a discrepancy between your titles there and in question (unless in UK "postgraduate student" has a different meaning from one in US). Obviously, if you're a postgraduate student in US terminology (that is, a Ph.D. graduate), then my answer is not applicable. – Aleksandr Blekh Sep 22 '15 at 13:19
  • In Re: your Note. There still should be a person, who is managing (formally or informally) the group of your advisors. If my assumption is correct, then IMHO that person should resolve such situations. – Aleksandr Blekh Sep 22 '15 at 13:23
  • @AleksandrBlekh, I think postgraduate education in the uk is the equivalent of graduate education in the US. – John_dydx Sep 22 '15 at 13:26
  • Thank you for the clarification - I wasn't aware of that terminology difference. By the way, good luck with your dissertation (thesis)! – Aleksandr Blekh Sep 22 '15 at 13:29

Do you have one main supervisor? If so, you probably want to follow there advice over your other supervisors. However, be sure their opinions are really contradictory. Sometimes you can address seemingly contradictory suggestions simultaneously.

In any case, you should understand why they made the suggestions they did, which may involve asking them. At this point you can mention that Supervisor B made a different suggestion X and ask "What do you think about that?" It may be that one of them agrees with the other, either because there was no real contradiction of opinion, or one changes their mind. (I often waffle back and forth about how to write a paper.) In any case, based on their reactions to other supervisors' suggestions, you should (hopefully) be able to discern which ones are safest to ignore, and which are most important.

  • Thanks for your answer. I have a primary supervisor but my research is very interdisciplinary requiring inputs from all supervisors. I'll certainly try your suggestion. – John_dydx Sep 22 '15 at 13:43
  • In that case, it may be worth prioritizing the comments from the supervisor in the field in which you wish to publish the manuscript. – user38309 Sep 22 '15 at 15:19

If by "supervisors" you mean your dissertation committee, then, as far as I know, the standard approach is to allow the committee chair (advisor) to resolve various conflicts of that kind between her/him and committee members.

At many universities (well, at least, at some, mine included), a Ph.D. student is actually prohibited from direct communication with committee members — in particular, on dissertation (manuscript) revisions' feedback — so, this burden is a part of the advisor's responsibilities. Perhaps, such arrangement is not common across universities within a country and across different countries.

  • 3
    "Supervisor" in the UK is what Americans call "Advisor": the professor under who you do your research. It is also common to have two co-supervisors with who you have close interaction with. – Davidmh Sep 22 '15 at 14:40
  • @Davidmh: Got it - thank you for clarification. – Aleksandr Blekh Sep 22 '15 at 14:55

Your research is, ultimately, your responsibility. You don't have to follow anyone's advise; it just so happens to usually be a good idea.

When you get feedback, you have to ask yourself if you understand why you are being told so, if you think your supervisor understands the issue (not nearly a given!), and if you understand what he is up to. Then, make a call and decide if your way was the best, you should follow your supervisor's comments, or come up with a third path. Don't hesitate to come back to him, presenting your arguments and listening to his, until you are sure you understand.

The same applies to conflicting information. Consider who knows more of the specific situation, and if the issue is relevant, you should talk or send a common email to both of them to clarify any possible doubt.

If the issue is mostly a cosmetic detail, like they like different definitions of the Fourier Transform, I am sorry, you are in a situation that can only be solved in duel.


I find that when multiple supervisors provide apparently contradictory feedback, there is some deeper issue with the paragraph or work in question. The best approach is often not to adapt the manuscript according to the feedback but to transcend the contradiction by rewriting the paragraph such that the problem evaporates.

Additionally, you could use a system where all the supervisors' comments can be seen by each other, instead of working on separate PDF or Word documents. Ons such system is Scholareview (https://www.scholareview.com).


I am a co-founder of Scholareview.

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