I am a PhD student working for a professor as a research assistant and being paid with stipends. One of my friends in the same department asks me if I can collaborate on a project branched off his PhD research. That project is a completely different field than my current research, despite of that some of the background ideas can be used in my part.

He has done all of the theory work, and just needs someone to implement using computer programs. To me the task is not really hard at all, since he has streamlined the theories. I expect to finish the programming part without spending too much of my effort, and there is no (hard) time limit.

Now he has generously offered me a chance to be in the authors list (I believe only us two, and he's the first), as the credit of my work. I understand that working for somebody else while getting paid for my own job is not good, but the publication is really luring to me. I talked to him about the chance of my name being included only in the acknowledgement, but what a bad idea of that.

My question is what should I do? Should I ever talk to my professor? My friend is like hard to refuse since the work isn't really a burden to me.

While I wish to keep anonymous, I truly thank you all for any idea, suggestion, or criticism.

EDIT: As I mentioned before, our work isn't really very related. But it happens that at present I need to improve my own research methodology, and the techniques to be used in his project exactly fit my need. (I think this is a good lesson to me; never be "too" focused in my own research, and learn from other fields) Is it okay to talk to my advisor in this way, that while I'm helping him, I also make my own stuff better?

  • 3
    Talk to your advisor. If they are okay with you being a co-author, you are good to go. If not, they would eventually figure out you co-authored a paper behind their back. Aug 22, 2017 at 21:13
  • @RichardErickson Yep, cheating on work sounds not good. Somehow I need a permission, or otherwise I might have to stop. Aug 22, 2017 at 23:16

3 Answers 3


Ask your professor if it is okay with him.

During my PhD it was never a problem to work with other PhD's, it was actually well received and encouraged. Even collaborations that go beyond the professor's own group. Of course your own work should have priority, but spending some of your time on other projects has not been problematic.

  • Thank you for your excellent answer. I might be worrying too much but what do you think could be a reason he refuses giving permission? Suppose I can manage time, and the other two parties go along well. I'm trying not to start the talk with a bad reason. Aug 22, 2017 at 23:22
  • 2
    Unless you are way behind schedule in your own work I cannot see any reason why he would say no.
    – Mark
    Aug 22, 2017 at 23:58

You are a PhD student, and your main goals is to further your knowledge and advance science, in general. It's of secondary importance that the project you talk about is far from the topic of your PhD research; as long as it won't harm your PhD research, doing other projects is great. I don't think you need a permission of your adviser (unless you have something very urgent to finish for him, or something like this); you might want to inform him/her about this side project, but I really don't see how a (sane) adviser would have anything against it, if it's not a huge project that would take all your time for months...

During my own PhD I worked with a number of people in other universities, and PhD students I advised (3 so far) worked with whoever they saw fit.

  • 3
    Keeping your advisor in the loop is professional courtesy.
    – Carol
    Aug 22, 2017 at 22:35
  • While I don't think it a good way either not to ask for permission of my own advisor, I appreciate your idea that collaborating in other fields is beneficial and I should be confident with doing that. One thing I want to add is that the programming part of his research is somewhat related to what I'm doing now, and some techniques in the former will be used to improve my own work. Is there a good way to mention this to my advisor? Is it good to say though not really a relevant field but the methodology is exactly what I need? Aug 22, 2017 at 23:09
  • 1
    for the downvoters: please appreciate the fact that in my field (mathematics) is it normally considered a bad sign where the advisor co-authors work forming a part of PhD thesis. Aug 23, 2017 at 12:22
  • 1
    It is definitely good to say that the side project coding would improve your coding skills (and your CV). Hell, you could be doing coding exercises instead! Aug 23, 2017 at 12:25
  • Exactly! I want to learn a somewhat new-to-me but highly related language for that project. I have to learn it before I graduate anyway! Aug 23, 2017 at 22:43

You should definitely talk about it with your professor. There is also a good chance that your current contract has a clause stating something along the lines of "any published work will be cleared by prof. X". When your name will appear on the paper, you will have an institutional affiliation so you need your professor's OK.

If your professor is worried about the time you take away from your own project, you always have the option of working on your own time and only asking him to use the affiliation.

  • 2
    "any published work will be cleared by prof. X" -- Oh no. You should not need approval, by your advisor or anyone else, to publish with an institutional affiliation. (Obviously you need approval to use institutional resources, but that's an orthogonal issue. And coauthors need to approve the paper, but in this case the advisor would not be a coauhor.)
    – JeffE
    Aug 23, 2017 at 13:47
  • I have that clause in my current research contract, and had it in my previous ones, in France and the UK. That does not mean I could not publish without my supervisor listed as a co-author, nor that I could not build my own network of collaborations.
    – Zep
    Aug 23, 2017 at 13:51
  • 1
    I always suspected some areas of sciences being guilty of academic slavery... Aug 23, 2017 at 16:47
  • I should check with my contract. Good point. Aug 23, 2017 at 22:39
  • But I think for my case the affiliation is a less concerned issue than my energy. Aug 23, 2017 at 22:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .