I have just finished my PhD thesis defense in applied mathematics. My supervisor suggested me the initial problem. He was not an expert in the small area that I was working, and thus the assistance from he was minimal. As we had so many disagreements in the research direction, our relationship was rather uncomfortable. The good thing was that I finally got the problem solved, with assistance from some external experts.

After I finishing my PhD, I extracted a paper from my thesis. My supervisor insisted that he should be authored as we had discussion on most of the result, and if I submitted without his name, he would appeal to the journal editor. But on the other hand, he deliberately holds on to my paper. He keeps on saying the paper is not clear and is thus not ready for submission, but there is no revision comments from him for several months.

Should I submit the paper alone with only name? It seems each side is highly risky for me.

  • 10
    Why is it risky for you to wait for your advisor to feel comfortable with the state of the manuscript? Why do you need to publish quickly?
    – ff524
    May 20, 2016 at 0:49

6 Answers 6


The first things that jump out at me from this question are these:

  1. Why do you think that your advisor is dragging his feet?
  2. Why do you think your advisor is incorrect about your paper not being clear?
  3. What is the time schedule on which you expect to publish?

Now, this may in fact be the case, but in my experience, in most cases even graduating Ph.D. students are not very good at writing effective scientific papers. Your writing here does not argue you are particularly different: I am not speaking of grammar (which is relatively minor), but the fact that you have made strong assertions without presenting supporting information or giving key pieces of contextual information.

I would thus guess, a priori, that your paper is indeed unclear and not yet ready for submission. Moreover, I would guess that your frustration is coming not from your advisor "dragging feet," but from you feeling unclear on what steps you need to take in order to edit your paper into a state that he finds satisfactory.

That is what I think you need to address in your plan to move forward. Focus on one piece of the paper at a time, e.g., start with the abstract and ask for specific and concrete feedback on how it is problematic and how to improve it. If you can meet regularly with your advisor and start learning the pattern of what is missing and what you need to do to improve it, then you can likely get the paper into a submittable state in a reasonable time.


He keeps on saying the paper is not clear and is thus not ready for submission, but there is no revision comments from him for several months.

The main problem is that we cannot decide whether the opinion of your advisor is reasonable. May be the paper is poorly written, and he expects you to clear up the structure of the paper before really reading it. Or he is just lazy and uses this accusation as a pretext. We cannot tell, and you are biased, since you have no problem understanding things you found out yourself.

I think you should try to explain your results e.g. in a seminar or in a more private surrounding to see whether your style of explanation is actually understandable.


Disclaimer: When I first read the unedited version of the question, I assumed that, since OP recently finished his/her PhD, they more or less figured out how to write papers during their studies, and that the question was more about an authorship conflict.

Should I submit without him?

You seem to present two options: wait for your advisor to review, possibly modify, and approve your manuscript, or submit the paper as the sole-author. It is not entirely clear that you should be rushing things on your manuscript at this point, whether or not you truly believe that your advisor deserves co-authorship, what the advisor co-authorship norms are where you are at, etc. Anyway, moving on ...

Unfortunately, I cannot say which course of action is the best one for your particular situation. As with anything, it helps to understand the consequences of any potential actions you take.

If you submit your paper without resolving this conflict with your advisor, then that could irreparably damage your professional relationship with him. This, in turn, could lead to no support from him for your future career endeavors, such as in the form of letters of recommendation, networking and collaboration opportunities, etc.

If you are OK with the above outcomes, then, if you do decide to submit, you may face some additional challenges. As highlighted in an answer by user Peter Jansson to this question, if your advisor decides to contact the journal, then this could result in a long, drawn-out dispute. You may emerge from the dispute with a paper, with either you as the sole author, or with you and your former advisor as co-authors. You may also emerge from the dispute without a paper published in that particular journal at all.

From your post, I get the sense that you are worried that your advisor is dragging the review process out needlessly. However, if you are willing to entertain the idea that your advisor deserves to be a co-author, my "advice" would be to attempt to rein in your advisor's manuscript review time, by sending them frequent reminders, that you are going to submit by such-and-such date, etc. And, who knows, you might end up with a stronger paper as a result of his feedback.


If you really believe he/she is deliberately delaying submission, here are two suggestions: 1) relay your frustration at a seemingly unending process and ask to make a list of objective goals that, once accomplished, ends with publication. That way, it will be clear what needs to be done

2) ask to add a 3rd party reader. You'll benefit from another set of eyes and it will be more difficult to delay 'just because'. Perhaps the 3rd party will agree it's not ready.


Patience is a very valuable virtue, especially in science, and especially in literature publication. A couple of months is not a long amount of time. I would suggest that you need to get more irons in the fire so you stop focusing on just this one. Perhaps 3 months is a long time in your field - it took me almost 3 years to push out my last paper from my PhD work.

As mentioned by Mad Jack, what you decide to do depends on whether you want to maintain your professional relationship with your PhD mentor.

Another solution is pre-print, like http://biorxiv.org/about-biorxiv . Perhaps there is an equivalent for your field. Present this option to your mentor - you could get additional feedback from peers before you submit to a journal.


Any supervisor has obligations towards the institution and society, must uphold certain standards and his performance is being evaluated.

If you truly deem that your supervisor is showing incompetent, inefficient, undercutting behaviour or any blend thereof, it can be useful to report these allegations to the supervisor's supervisors (head of department, head of human resources or the like). You could do this in a mild form by asking to have a confidential conversation to gauge where you are. Perhaps your supervisor is a re-offender, so to speak.

There, be prepared to bring arguments as to why, when, where, how, and to which extent you perceive your supervisor to be incompetent, inefficient, and so forth. A list of significant facts and circumstances that have steered the development of your studies so far, can help with this. Doing this will not be different from what other answers suggest. I am positive that making this properly will greatly help your professional standing, although it can take some emotional energy. The hope is that this process will help you revise your situation, by making it more objective, and find acceptable compromises.

Also, you need to hope that the person you speak to is of a better league than your supervisor in any regard that matter. Assuming this is the case, he/she will be motivated to encourage agreement and progress between a member of his/her staff and a young researcher.

In general, ghost and guest authorship should not be regarded as acceptable, although they occur. Your supervisor might be under the pressure of justifying a grant on a topic about which he is not competent, and it is not your responsibility to fix this magically. And your department may be ranked according to the research outcomes. So there are several factors at play. The thinking that your research is not just your own and that you are contributing to the overall progress of your institution may also help relativise the situation.

It might help to add as co-authors the other people who effectively helped you.

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