I am enrolled in a doctoral school in which we have to submit a research proposal by the first year and it has to be accepted by a board. My advisor gave me the complete proposal and told me to submit it. However, on the website of the university it says that I should develop it with the collaboration of my advisor. I was wondering if it is normal that I am not involved in writing it? (The research topic was already clear in the position advertisement, i.e. the proposal was almost a copy of the ad description and it got accepted.)

(I study in Europe.)

  • Could you precise what field you are in? To me this is not normal and ethical, but it might be different in other fields. The goal of a phd is to create an independent researcher
    – Emilie
    Aug 14, 2017 at 14:40
  • Computer Science
    – Didami
    Aug 14, 2017 at 14:44
  • 5
    It seems that you were brought in as a student for the express purpose of working on a specific research project. If that is the case, then the proposal itself seems to be a mere formality (perhaps required by the university to filter out poor proposals) and your advisor just wants to get over the formality with minimum fuss. I wouldn't worry about it, though it probably couldn't hurt to discuss it with them. Aug 14, 2017 at 15:56

2 Answers 2


This is a regional practice more than a field-specific practice in my experience. It seemed to me that countries like France that are very strict on the 3-year limit for PhD students tend to have the advisor work out the research topic in advance so as not to waste valuable research time, whereas in countries like the US or Germany, where there are only practical/financial limits on the time you are allowed to be a PhD student, the advisor will more often let the candidate look around a bit at the beginning and formulate the topic themselves.

Another aspect is grant money: if your position is part of a specific project (especially if funded on one of the big EU grants), you are bound to work on a specific question anyway, so there is not really a point in letting you paraphrase a topic that was already fixed well in advance of looking for a candidate.


Yes this is quite normal (meaning: it happens all the time). Although it is probably not needed, you are free to propose changes to your supervisor before submitting. So in a way you are involved because you should read (and possibly correct) the proposal before submitting.

  • 6
    I disagree; at least in my field, completion of an acceptable research proposal is a key step toward obtaining the degree. Collaboration between student and advisor is completely normal, and there is no reason the advisor cannot recommend substantial changes, but outright handing a student a completed proposal? Not normal.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 14, 2017 at 14:55
  • 1
    Disagree as well. While an advisor may suggest a project, it is up to the student to read prior research, understand the background, and develop their proposal. The advisor can lay down guide rails, but the student should be the driver.
    – Greenstick
    Aug 14, 2017 at 15:46
  • 5
    This is not a question of agree / disagree. Maybe it depends on the field but in all labs I have seen (5 different, top rated ones in Europe) this is common practice. Whether it is ethical may be another issue (I think it is not), but in Biophysics in Europe this appears to be "normal".
    – Louic
    Aug 14, 2017 at 18:32
  • 2
    Well, it is a question of agree/disagree - it may be "quite normal" in your area, but your answer makes it seem like this is generally a common practice, and this is what people here don't agree with.
    – xLeitix
    Aug 15, 2017 at 9:34
  • @xLeitix makes exactly the point I would make. If your answer made clear your location and field, I would no longer disagree with it; the more recent answer by nengel, for example does this well. My intent in commenting was just to make sure OP didn't go away thinking this is normal for everyone.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 15, 2017 at 16:10

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