I have a thesis to hand in at my university.

Am I allowed to ask a grad student who is an expert in my field to have a look at my thesis and give me feedback (more than merely grammatical / stylistic feedback that is) before handing it in at my university?

Some personal background to this:

I was asking my lecturer once if he knows anyone who is good at subject X. He referred me to Daniel. Daniel wanted me to pay him for his service, and I was ready to do that. However, he then asked me whether I intended to hand in the paper, because if so, he could not give me proper advice / would have to withhold certain criticisms from me. I told him the truth and did not end up doing it.

But is this so? Was I unknowingly trying to 'cheat'? Would it not have been good conduct, because I would have paid him? Does this make it somehow different from "just asking a friend"?

  • 30
    A fellow academic asked for money to read over your thesis? Stay away from that person at all costs. Either they should do it for free, or they should say they are too busy (and I expect the latter to apply in the case of anyone you don't know who's not in your own department).
    – user4512
    Mar 17, 2016 at 15:46
  • 2
    I agree, but I was wondering why all of a sudden this person then also had these very strong morals telling me that he cannot criticise the paper if i plan on handing the paper in as coursework. Mar 17, 2016 at 15:51
  • "As coursework?" A thesis isn't exactly what one would normally call "coursework". Could there be a misunderstanding between you and him, as if he thought, you were asking for help on a homework assignment, that you would usually be supposed to do by yourself?
    – LLlAMnYP
    Mar 17, 2016 at 21:23
  • 1
    Why on earth would someone pay money to have a manuscript reviewed if they weren't going to hand it in? It's such an odd situation that I have trouble believing it's a scam as it appears on the surface. I suspect there is some miscommunication here.
    – stannius
    Mar 17, 2016 at 22:24
  • @LLlAMnYP well, no, i didn't mean coursework, sorry. So if I understand you correctly then, I would be allowed to get feeback on my thesis, but not on a paper that I would hand in as coursework? Mar 18, 2016 at 5:29

4 Answers 4


One of the objectives of gathering professors, postgraduates, graduate students and undergraduates at an university is precisely to encourage working together and cross-checking. Nothing wrong here.

If another graduate student in interested in your work, good for you! Perhaps the basis for future collaborations. If she helps you out by helping proofread your thesis, she is certainly entitled to an acknowledgement of the help in your final writeup. And you should also lend a hand, either to her or some following students, in gratitude.

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    I'd even go beyond this and say not only is it OK, it's something you really should do. Not having your thesis well-proofed before handing it in is practically an insult to the people who'll be responsible for evaluating it. Mar 17, 2016 at 13:36
  • @vonbrand thanks for your reply. Here is the thing: I was just wondering, because I was asking one of my lecturer once if he knows anyone who is good at subject X. He referred me to someone. This person wanted me to pay him for his proofreading service, and I was ready to do that. However, then he asked me whether I intend to hand in the paper, because if so, then he cannot give me proper advice / would have to withhold certain things. I told him the truth and did not end up doing it. But is this so? Was I unknowingly trying to 'cheat'? Mar 17, 2016 at 13:58
  • 2
    I can't imagine any kind of advice that would be ethical for an ordinary research paper, but not for a thesis, except maybe the kind that most of us would call "collaboration".
    – tomasz
    Mar 17, 2016 at 14:07
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    @ChrisDoyle Unless he is examining you, why would he not give you proper advice? This sounds like a weird transaction. Is there any reason why you would not ask a friend to help you? Mar 17, 2016 at 15:11
  • At the time, I wanted to have good advice / criticisms for my arguments from an expert and did not know anyone who was familiar enough with my topic. I don't understand why he did not want to give me his 'full criticism', he was not even at the same university. Mar 17, 2016 at 15:22

The upvoted answers are correct. You can and you should ask other people to proofread your work, and this will continue well beyond the times, when you have to submit theses and such. Senior scientists have their work reviewed by colleagues all the time too. For example, the internal review procedure at our institute - the internal guidelines basically say, we shouldn't submit a paper anywhere, before a couple of members of the institute have proofread it.

However, I wanted to make a different point here. I can see, that you're being cautious, and questioning your actions and that's a good thing. But, apparently, some (malicious at worst, unethical at best) people will take advantage of that.

Don't let the strange reaction of this Daniel character lead you into thinking, that you're doing something wrong here. You are not cheating in any way and are doing precisely the right thing by getting someone to review your work. You simply got a bad reference from this professor. Look for a different reviewer.


Some people are just looking for a way to get their money out of what could be "ground breaking findings". By having you pay him for his "services" he ensures that his "expert knowledge" is paid for if you then turn around and use this to make money in the future. It also seems like he feels that his advice is too good for the paper which is why he would need to "hold back and question your choice to submit it".

To me at least by the way you present this, he seems arrogant and just looking to make a quick buck. I have found that generally, people are willing to help someone out and offer advice. Some times, they might even strike a deal with you if they think that your subject is worthy of pursuing outside of academics. Like say, you have a thesis paper that will help lay the foundation to later provide technology that will drastically change the way hearing aids work. Someone might say hey, I will offer you help and provide you X, Y, Z if we do this and pursue this farther than academics if you will provide me X% of any profit made due to this. I had someone do that to me actually when I was looking for help with my senior college project. My group turned them down because we felt we shouldn't need to give away anything for scholastic help.

Also as a side note, he may have also miss-understood your intentions of going to him. He may have thought you wanted him to basically rewrite the paper for you, instead of providing criticism (though I am sure you probably clarified that at some point). Either way, he doesn't sound like a good resource to go to. I have found that when teachers refer you to students like that, most of the time they are looking for payment. You may be better off doing some googling for anyone local that might be an expert and contacting them, seeing if they will be willing to sit down over lunch and look it over (maybe even offer to buy the lunch as courtesy of their time). Though it probably would be easier if you emailed them the paper and they can do it at their leisure.

I have found that established people in the fields are more generally willing to help out college students for free and provide quality feed back. They don't need to make a name for themselves because they are already in the field, and generally they want to encourage people to have interest in their field. It is how their field grows and in turn better technologies are created/provided.

Sorry for the TLDR but hope my 2 cents help!

  • well if you are going to downvote at least say why! I believe this is relevant to his concerns about the person who wants to charge him for their advice and withhold proper criticism. Everyone else pretty much already stated that it is not an issue to seek help but no one has bothered to mention his 2nd part about his concern about the resource he was referenced to yet.
    – ggiaquin16
    Mar 17, 2016 at 18:53
  • Dont be too miffed about the downvotes (I like the answer, by the way). The OP only later edited his post to include info about this Daniel character, I imagine those, who downvoted never read the update. And some only read the question title, e.g. answer directly above yours, posted several hours after the edit.
    – LLlAMnYP
    Mar 17, 2016 at 21:10
  • I am also finding your answer very helpful! Thanks! Mar 18, 2016 at 5:27

Yes it is fine, as it will help you and other PhD students like you to communicate and discuss about PhD thesis and its contribution(s).

However, I would also add another aspect to this: seeking perfection from others makes projects/publications go forever. So as long as you do this in timely manner you be fine, so don't be picky too much.

  • 1
    Does the background info provided by the OP not bother you in any way here?
    – LLlAMnYP
    Mar 17, 2016 at 21:12

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