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I am currently working towards a master’s degree in computer science, after which I’d like to pursue a PhD in mathematics. Talking to some professors, it sounds like: If I can get some things published, I’ll have a better shot at getting funding for my PhD.

I’m currently working on a research project that I plan to use for my thesis with one professor (Professor L), but I've recently received an e-mail from another professor (Professor K) with a research project in mind that sounds more publishable.

My question is: Would I be acting out of line asking Professor K to conduct this research with me with hopes of publishing a paper even though he won’t be my adviser and graduate me from my master’s program?

Are there any benefits for him from working with me, or am I just being selfish by wanting to do both projects? Note that he’s not yet tenured (will this help on his track?).

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    Totally disagree with the assumptions of @LeonMeier. That might be the case, but K might have perfectly good intentions and be planning to contribute actively. I know of many cases where students have published with professors who weren't their advisor. – Fred Douglis Jun 28 '17 at 17:15
  • @Wrzlprmft sorry about the multiple questions here. I'm wondering if it's still best to modify the question although both questions are answered below? Would still like to oblige but wouldn't want to confuse the question's newcomers. Thanks! – TheRealKernel Jun 28 '17 at 20:13
  • No, given the answer, I think it’s better to leave the question as it is. – Wrzlprmft Jun 28 '17 at 20:57
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    @LeonMeier, I agree the definition of "advisor" is someone who helps someone else do the real work, but that doesn't mean they put in so little effort they are taking advantage of a student. Sorry you've had such bad experiences. – Fred Douglis Jun 28 '17 at 21:57
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Would I be acting out of line asking Professor K to conduct this research with me with hopes of publishing a paper even though he won’t be my adviser and graduate me from my master’s program?

You wouldn't be out of line, but you should check that Professor L is OK with you working with K, too. L's biggest concern is most likely to be whether or not you have time to work on both projects as well as going to classes and doing whatever else is required of you as part of your studies.

If you're not already exceeding expectations on your first project, it's unlikely that you'll be able to make good contributions to two projects simultaneously. Also, bear in mind that, as a master's student, you almost certainly haven't yet developed an accurate judgement of what would or would not be publishable.

Are there any benefits for him from working with me, or am I just being selfish by wanting to do both projects? Note that he’s not yet tenured (will this help on his track?).

Yes, there are benefits to everybody. Academics are primarily judged in terms of things like their research output, their ability to attract funding (which, in turn, depends on their research output), and their work with graduate students. Working with you directly helps him on two of those and indirectly on the third, so you're not being selfish at all.

And working with smart, enthusiastic, hard-working people is fun.

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If you intend to do a PhD, you have to think long term, and forget about a short-term goal such as getting a single publication.

As a general rule, research groups work a bit like the mob: (1) everything is based on trust and you have to build a career within the group so the earlier you start the better, and (2) more often than not, there are shady stories between professors/research groups that you are not remotely aware of as a student (like that Professor X got a certain position over Professor Y in a really dirty way, Professor Z stole the idea of professor X, submitted a grant and got some funding, etc...).

Therefore, you can never be sure if choosing Professor X will prevent you from working with Professor Y later. As an extreme case, I have a friend whose PhD supervisor died and she could never finish the thesis in that University because no one else would continue supervising her just for having worked for him. Just saying.

So, to make the long story short, think long term. If you plan to do the PhD with Professor L, I suggest you accept the project of Professor L; same for Professor K. If you are not sure or you are gonna do your PhD in another institution, choose the one you prefer.

Working with the same supervisor from beginning to end will certainly work in you own benefit. Working with different ones is an ultra-high risk endeavour.

I wish things were different, but this personal opinion/advice is based on what I have seen after having worked in 5 research institutions in 4 different countries.

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    You seem to be describing a system full of hatred, jealousy and grievances. I don't recognize that system at all. The departments I've been associated with for the last 20 years have been full of people whose primary motivation is the love of their subject and the desire to advance knowledge. – David Richerby Jun 28 '17 at 9:12
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    I am describing my experience across 5 institutions in 4 different countries, including the US and Europe, in the last 10 years. That you don't like it does not make my answer invalid or less helpful than yours. Actually, sticking to the same supervisor you want to do your PhD with is great advice. – Pablo Jun 28 '17 at 9:30
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    I am describing my experience — My god, man, if your experience in academia was so toxic, why did you stay? – JeffE Jun 28 '17 at 17:39
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    While there are a lot of words in this post, the main message to get out of it is answered better by @DavidRicherby with the suggestions 1) make sure to clear it with the first Professor (Prof L) and its impicit assumption for OP and L to come to agreement on whether to try to make it work or not (typically the primary concern will be if student is going to have too many things going on) but there could be some background old-stories between professor L and K that might also makes it difficult). But the point is to clear it first with L (OP sounds as if that project is already in progress). – Carol Jun 28 '17 at 18:34
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    I'm not questioning your experience at all. I'm quite aware that toxic environments exist in academia, just as they do in every other profession. But my few decades of experience (undergrad, masters, PhD, postdoc, faculty, multiple sabbaticals, dozens of research visits, former students and dozens of coauthors in their own academic positions, in multiple countries) suggests that those environments are the exception rather than the rule. Hence my well-worn response to anyone finding themselves in such an environment: Don't walk. Run. Wherever you run to is likely to be better. – JeffE Jun 28 '17 at 22:17

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