I'm currently a visiting research student at a university in another country for a year as I finish my PhD project. My host supervisor/contact here has been very attentive in terms of writing administrative letters so that I can be affiliated with the university and have permission to access the library, use a shared office space, etc., and has even included me in her monthly catch-up meetings with her official advisees. However, besides briefly meeting with her individually every 2 or 3 months or so to provide a recap of what I'm doing, she's largely uninvolved in my research which is at best tangentially related to her field. My research funding also comes from an outside source.

The problem starts here: I recently told her that I published an article alone. This solo article was based on work that I had discussed once in a meeting and which is a major part of my dissertation. She's now become distant and has stated that she will provisionally renew my university affiliation only after I write a report which shows that I can provide more products/deliverables this semester.

(In addition to doing my independent field work for my diss, which requires a lot of traveling, during the time that I've been here I have presented two papers at two separate conferences, with the latter paper undergoing preparation for a peer-reviewed journal. I have listed her as a second author on all of these - she read them and provided some brief comments.)

I have operated on the understanding that it is often expected of the student to publish at least one paper without her advisor. (And this person is not really my advisor.) This is supposed to help differentiate between the advisor's work and what the PhD student has done on her own. Furthermore, this is the general philosophy of my home university.

I ultimately believe there might be a misunderstanding taking place - PhD students here tend to publish with their advisors, and she might be holding me to the same standards, even when I fall into a different category. But I'm admittedly a bit annoyed for her insinuating that I'm unproductive, when I'm not. We also continue to do these side projects where I do 99% of the work, which seem to make our relationship worthwhile and at little cost from her end.

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    Maybe you want to change the title to "Managing relationships with uninvolved supervisors"? The current one his hard to understand.
    – Lot
    Commented Feb 23, 2017 at 14:42
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    I would be careful not to make too many assumptions: "she will provisionally renew my university affiliation only after I write a report which shows that I can provide more products/deliverables this semester" - this could be interpreted either as 1) A petty rebuke of you for not informing her about the solo paper, or 2) Her recognition that it's in both of your best interests to clarify expectations for your working relationship before you extend your stay. In summary, you express a couple different types of feelings: I would focus on the misunderstanding rather than the annoyance.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Feb 23, 2017 at 23:47
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    Where's your actual advisor in all this? Do your real advisor and your host have some kind of working relationship? The typical solution to a wrinkle of this type would be for your real advisor to talk to her to straighten out any misunderstandings, miffed feelings, etc. Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 4:57
  • Again, great comments and advice. I think the key is to focus on the misunderstanding. I independently sought out this supervisor that I mention to sponsor me in terms of an official institutional affiliation because my case study is located in this country; my real advisor has no ties whatsoever to this person.
    – PapayaCat
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 14:18

1 Answer 1


The main problem from your side that I see here, is that you published the article without even telling her in advance. (Which might be based on you seeing her so rarely.)

Had you asked in advance, and maybe told her that this is how things work at your home university, she would probably have given her consent. That way she might feel backstabbed.

So the immediate action for you should be an appology from your side, telling her, like you told us, that this is what you thought you were supposed to do. (But don't make it a pure explanation, but make it an honest appology, the phrase "I am sorry" should appear at least once.)

I never had a publication without my advisor during my PhD, and (since we did alphabetical order) he was first author of all the papers. But than again, I met him on a weekly basis, so he was far more involved. I assume that by now, things have gone wrong for too long to change without you havily interfering (by requesting more frequent meetings and more involvment from her side). However, if you want this, I would tell her in a seperate discussion.

Thus, from this short description, I see the main flaws in your relationship on her side, but the main need for a concrete appology on yours.

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    This is a good answer. It's perfectly natural to have to explain cultural difference in expectations when you're in a different country. You could also propose to have more frequent meetings.
    – Emilie
    Commented Feb 23, 2017 at 13:53
  • Also, just to provide a better picture - this person is generally known to be "closed off" from the rest of the department and prefers not to meet with students unless it's about a tangible product. (I only learned this upon arriving here.) Not to excuse any poor management of the relationship on my part, but it seems that this person is only interested in what you can deliver -anything else is seen as irrelevant or a nuisance. Having conversations with her are always strained or awkward, above the average of what we're accustomed to in our ivory towers.
    – PapayaCat
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 14:28
  • I see, that probably does not make things easier for you. Anyway, I am not sure whether that was made clear in my answer: I see most of the faults on her side, for not being the advisor she should be! Only for that one concrete paper, I see reason for you to appologize.
    – Lot
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 14:44
  • No worries, completely appreciated your responses.
    – PapayaCat
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 14:46
  • It is unethical to put your name on something that you did not create and were not an integral part of. This person sounds like a fraud. Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 13:53

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