Most PhD students I know have the problem that their supervisor is not involved enough. I have a different problem, my supervisor is too involved.

He wants to be a co author on all three of my PhD papers, and to get them published.

I know that this sounds great, but I do not want to free ride on my supervisors work, I want it to be my own, and I want to be proud of it. Regardless of whether it is published or not. A publication is a bonus, not the end game for me.

I spent half my phd working on what I intended to be my job market paper (the paper I show to employers that best showcases my skills). My supervisor made some suggestions here and there, but nothing substantial. I am now getting ready to submit my paper to a journal and my supervisor has rewritten my entire paper without permission and wants me to sign off on this. He has justified it by saying it has a better shot of being published in its new form. I feel very uncomfortable about this, it is in effect no longer my paper. I thought he would make suggestions and I would fix the paper myself.

He is too involved in other ways too. When I settle on a research question, he throws methodology and research design at me, before I have a chance to think about the topic myself and come to my own conclusions, and then encourages me to do it his way and not explore my way.

Is this normal behaviour from a supervisor? I have to talk to him about this, but I am unsure how to bring it up and what to say. Do you have any advice?

I need at least one paper where I am the sole author, is it appropriate to mention this to my supervisor, without offending him or his position? He will try to put his name on all my papers.

I do not want to come across ungrateful, I am very happy for his help, and I will be the first to admit that I need help. But all I want is a chance to learn from my mistakes and be given opportunities to grow, I will never be a successful researcher if I cannot exercise this. Unfortunately, I feel like my supervisors research assistant instead of a PhD student.

I am really struggling to continue on the course, and I appreciate any comments you may have.

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    A published work is not a proper place to "showcase your skills". Your advisor probably knows how to get a paper accepted, more than you do. Each advisor has a different style, but usually the involvement decreases over time, if the student learns the way :) Commented Sep 17, 2016 at 19:07
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    @FábioDias: In economics the term “job market paper” means something quite specific. There seems to be a good deal of sentiment in the economics field that a JMP coauthored with one's advisor would defeat much of the purpose. Commented Sep 17, 2016 at 22:32
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    "I need at least one paper where I am the sole author" - what has led you to think that? In most fields, this is not true. Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 6:59
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    Doesn't the answer to this question depend on the field of study? I think the asker should include that in the post. Conventions on authorship vary quite a lot between fields.
    – Darren Ong
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 7:55
  • 4
    @user2390246 but in some it is. Let's give OP the benefit of doubt here.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 19:37

8 Answers 8


The first part (rewriting your text) is quite frequent. Believe it or not, most PhD students are terrible writers and though a good adviser would patiently go over the paper with a student pointing out the presentation flaws and asking the student to fix them himself (take my word for it, you do not want to get that list from the reviewer after the paper has been submitted), I know many people who lost their patience in that respect eons ago and other people who give up after 6 months of modifications and still do the job themselves.

So, the first question to ask is "How well was your paper written in the first place?". If not too well, there is a chance that you should be merely grateful for the revision and stop at there.

The second point is "throwing his ideas at you". Here the question is "How fast are you coming with workable ideas of your own?" Giving a PhD student the solution together with the problem is a terrible idea, insisting that the student do things your way and your way only is even more terrible, but giving him no suggestions after 6 months of no progress is also not good.

The third question is whether the supervisor should be a co-author. Unfortunately, your post is somewhat self-contradictory on this point: compare

My supervisor made some suggestions here and there, but nothing substantial.


he throws methodology and research design at me, before I have a chance to think about the topic myself and come to my own conclusions, and then encourages me to do it his way and not explore my way.

So was that particular paper done his way or your way? In the first case, IMHO, it is his choice whether he should become a co-author or not though you may still drop a hint that "the job market is tough and having a single author paper is a nearly must to land at the place you want to go to", in the second case it should be yours even if he rewrote the whole thing and you have all moral rights to insist on a single authorship if it is important to you. How exactly to do it without offending him I don't know (different people need different approaches), but judging from the tone of your post, you have had arguments with your adviser before, so you should know better than I what upsets him and what makes him cooperative.

So, alas, the only things I can tell you are the usual "Look into the mirror and try to figure out what exactly you see there before making final judgements" and "Hold your ground but use your common sense and pay attention to the reaction to your words when insisting on something". I should confess that I often fail on both accounts myself, but I'm in a different position than you. Let's see if other people can come up with some better advice :-).


You seem to have a lot of problems with this:

He wants to be a co author on all three of my PhD papers, and to get them published.

I do not know what your field is and what are the conventions there, but in all of the fields I am familiar with, this is not a bad thing. Having your supervisor as a co-author does not make the paper any less "yours". If my field(s), whenever there is a PhD student as the first author, everyone knows that the paper is theirs, and they did most (if not all) of the work.

...and my supervisor has rewritten my entire paper...

Nothing wrong with that. As noted elsewhere in the answers, your supervisor knows more about writing papers than you do. It was not uncommon for sections of my own papers to be rewritten by my supervisor.

He has justified it by saying it has a better shot of being published in its new form.

He is probably right. Instead of thinking along those lines...

...but I do not want to free ride on my supervisors work, I want it to be my own, and I want to be proud of it.

You should be thanking your supervisor for this. He is teaching you how to write proper papers. You have to remember that you are still a student. This is why you are there - to learn how to be a scientist or researcher. Part of the process is accepting feedback from your supervisor. If you don't, it will come in the form of a much more harsh peer-review when you submit the paper.

If your job market absolutely requires a single author paper written by you (which I doubt), ask your supervisor about it. I am pretty sure he does not want to ruin your job prospects. Explain the situation and see what he thinks.

  • 2
    As far as I know, an advisor coauthoring a paper with a student is not really good for reputation in math (at least in France).
    – user9646
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 7:19
  • 1
    This answer is field specific. In my field (Econ/policy) /my department no student is allowed to have more than one of three dissertation papers be coauthored.
    – Dawn
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 3:58

Regarding the argument of an article as a single article (to get a job), I doubt that, at least in my field (chemical engineering). Every supervisor is different, so I'll just focus on my own process as a Ph.D. student and I will hope it helps you in any way.

I published 6 articles on my direct Ph.D.; 4 as a first author and other 2 helping others in their projects. My first article had 24 versions (drafts) before sending it to a journal! I was very frustrated–until we sent it: it got accepted without a single correction in Chemical Engineering Science (a really nice journal for what I was doing).

After that article, the level of involvement from my advisor decreased, slowly but surely: the fourth article he merely sent it as is to Chemical Engineering Journal.

He was a co-author for all of my articles, although most of the lab work, programming (algorithms and implementation), and even the ideas were mine. Sure, we debated some ideas (mine worked at the end), but still, the lab was his, the money for research was his, the technicians helping me were his, and even the frustrating debates helped me.

He helped me a lot when getting a job and still does; we collaborate as equals now. My first article as a corresponding author came up when I was in my first year as a postdoc... so my advice is: be patient, learning to be a researcher takes more than a Ph.D. nowadays; some decades ago you could be doing cutting-edge research a year after finishing your undergrad, but that is not the case nowadays.

Be patient, this can only get better with time; you don't want/need an offended advisor.


I feel you! Being a phd researcher in social sciences isn't what I expected. It is more about doing things the right way than it is being innovative or creative. This right way is where our kind supervisors try to guide us for the articles to be published. If and when you come up with a special idea you want to do your own way, I would present this idea to your supervisor as a "crazy idea you want to try even if it means you would have to do it on your own". Just to tell your supervisor that you want to be a single author to some article doesn't sound like fair or even wise.


Your's is not an isolated case. In my experience, what works best is to be assertive and convey him your intellectual capacities. Such degree of involvement indicates that he feels more prepared than you to do the work, show him that you have very relevant things to offer. This is a challenging task, the key is on logic and the scientific method, be very smart about it. He probably has a lot more practice than you at arguing, but thankfully in science people tend to be slightly more logical in debate/confrontation.

Also, try to be humble, it is always easier to see other people's flaws. Your intuition may tell you many things, but try to build your arguments on evidence and specific points. Ultimately, he is a more experienced person.

In regards to the writing, that is tricky and very important. You can always ask a third person to blindly evaluate both versions, that can be quite helpful. ( read him/her, I don't know the gender of your supervisor)


First off, please be aware that I have not personally put to practice the advice I am offering; this is more of an after-the-fact "I should have done that" situation.

I assume that the papers you publish will be part of your thesis. I don't know enough about job-market papers or the significance of sole authorship in your field, so I'm not going to touch on that. I'm going to address two other specific problems that you mentioned.

a) Your supervisor rewriting your paper: You can say "I appreciate that you made the paper more publishable, but whenever one person rewrites the work of another there's always a danger that some details in a proof/argument is accidentally misrepresented" (be careful to phrase this diplomatically so as not to imply that he's not capable enough of understanding your work - he's just not as involved with the specific details as you). "Next time, can you give me your suggestions separately and let me implement them, to eliminate this possibility?" Then you have a choice to reject some changes if you wish. They should understand where you're coming from, as even the most involved and capable supervisor can get a detail wrong.

b) Your supervisor pushing their choice of methodology on you: The following solution only works in countries where the PhD presentation is more an actual examination than a formality (I'm thinking of the UK). You can say: "I don't feel that I can defend this direction of research in my upcoming examination." They'll probably say something along the lines of "Sure you can, we're doing this because of XYZ", to which you can reply "I know the justification but since this is not the direction that makes the most sense to me personally, I don't think I can offer a coherent explanation if I'm pushed by the examiners, and you wouldn't want me to say 'this is just what my supervisor told me to do'." This also requires some diplomacy, but basically your argument here is that you're expected to defend your thesis as your own creation and show independence, and if you just trust someone else's authority you're going to fail on that front.

Lastly, in the event that you are in complete disagreement with your supervisor's suggestions, an extreme solution here may be to drop the subject altogether, as long as it is not integral to your thesis. Just say "We're clearly not seeing eye to eye on this, let's just focus on some of the other things we have been looking at". Maybe you won't even need to address this in the end.


I think this is a great question, thanks for coming up with it.

What you report is common -- though not widespread --, advisor behaviour in my field. I have, myself done this. And I believe it is not productive behaviour for the advisee for the exact reason you state, feeling "(...) very uncomfortable about this, it is in effect no longer my paper". I see you there.

First of all, I recommend you abide to this, for the time being. Put yourself in his shoes to understand the conflict: this guy sees your work as his own. I think trying too hard to react against that will generate unnecessary stress.

Academia nowadays is unfortunately pressed for productivity and published papers are worth more than human resources and development, or bonafide science. Your advisor may feel frustrated for not having the time/ability/space for doing your project(s) directly, and sees in you an extension of himself. He is eager to impress his peers. I don't think you should stand in the way by being, well, a real person in his career game.

Take the opportunity to learn some of his ways, if you really believe (and it looks like you do) he is fairly competent in the field. You can try to observe his strategy, style, ask him questions, while building your own independent line inside.

Finally, I do understand your urge to become an independent investigator (i.e. a true PhD) and I think you should strive for that. Consider writing some essays of your own without telling your advisor and without delaying your projects. Consider, e.g., an opinion piece, a methods paper, a mini-review. As long as you don't include locally-obtained data or ideas from others, these are 100% private and you can do whatever you wish with those.

P.S. Why did I put the word "advisor" in bold? Because that's how you should see your PhD mentor. Better leave the word "supervisor" to postdocs, and avoid the terms "boss", "leader", "owner", etc completely.


This post really resonates with me as I have been in the same situation for now 6+ years as PhD and now Postdoc under a similar supervisor. I disagree with some of the comments above that imply the goal of a PhD program is simply to get papers accepted. Papers are important but the purpose of a PhD program is to develop the student as an INDEPENDENT RESEACHER. Human's learn and improve by attempting, failing and reviewing. Not by having do someone do the job for them. Has it been shown in any field this is a better approach?

Unfortunately there is little supervisor training that targets this type of thing (even though student revisions are a predominant part of the supervisor's job), and each supervivor will differ greatly in their approach.

I agree you need to be delicate when bringing this up. Try and voice your concerns without pointing the finger. Maybe at your next meeting ask what is their opinion on needing a student single name publication for success. And when is the best was to show case lots of skills in paper. They may come to the same conclusion.

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