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Okay I'm pretty desperate here.

I'm a PhD student. I had a cosupervisor (Prof Y) that my supervisor (and head of center, Prof X) removed (without consulting me) from my project and assigned (again without consulting me) another cosupervisor (Prof Z). The assigning of cosupervisors to a PhD project at my university happens with a form that both the new cosupervisor and the student need to sign, which I did not, and thus my supervisor (Prof X) thinks he's (Prof Z) my cosupervisor, but formally he isn't.

I have a publication ready that he (Prof X) needs to approve before I submit. His major issue with the paper is the fact that as a coauthor I have added my ex-cosupervisor (Prof Y), who indeed has scientific contribution. I received an email telling me that he has not been informed that I was working with my ex-cosupervisor (Prof Y), that this is not normal practice and that he (Prof X) won't approve the submission because of this.

Does he have the right to do this? Where is the academic freedom in policing who I collaborate with to such an extreme extent?

Please let me know your thoughts. I feel like I'm losing it.

UPDATE: I've contacted the vice-dean. He's going to look into the situation as I forwarded everything to him and tell me his opinions. He was shocked that my supervisor/HoC needs to also approve submissions.

UPDATE 2: Vice-dean has encouraged change of supervisors. He will support me throughout the process and will handle all economic issues himself. I'm arming myself with all the legal matters now. I'm making a meeting with prof X to politely explain that this is happening.

UPDATE 3: I changed supervisors. I lived. I'm so much happier. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • 1
    Should 'supervisor' be replaced with 'cosupervisor' in "and thus my supervisor thinks he's my cosupervisor, but formally he isn't." If so, then please edit to clarify. – user2768 Nov 8 '17 at 9:59
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    If your supervisor is not a co-author, then you might not need their permission to submit for publication. It depends on your university's internal guidelines. That said, submitting without permission seems likely to create further problems between you and your supervisor. – user2768 Nov 8 '17 at 10:01
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    It shouldn't, because my supervisor is also head of center. He has removed my ex cosupervisor and assigned (verbally) a new cosupervisor for me, but this has not been formalised. – User293727 Nov 8 '17 at 10:02
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    Since your supervisor is a co-author, you cannot submit without their permission. Perhaps you can ask your ex-cosupervisor to speak to your supervisor directly? Alternatively, perhaps you can speak to a senior member of your center and ask for their help in finding a resolution? – user2768 Nov 8 '17 at 10:05
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    Don’t walk. Run. – JeffE Nov 8 '17 at 13:00
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To learn at submission stage who else is coauthor on a paper is unusual, indeed. So to some extent, your supervisor being annoyed is understandable. To block the submission of the paper is a rather extreme reaction though. Could there be some history between supervisor and ex-cosupervisor that you are unaware of? (e.g. your supervisor suspecting the ex-cosupervisor of data manipulation, etc.)

My suggestion would be to apologize to your supervisor for the lapse in communication, and to ask about his reason for blocking the publication. Provided that this is indeed the case, it could help pointing out that the contribution of your ex-cosupervisor happened prior to him being removed as your cosupervisor.

If this approach fails, then the right moment to speak to the vice-dean has arrived.

  • 1
    The contribution didn't happen before my ex cosupervisor was made an ex. It happened after. But I was under the impression that I am allowed to seek help from whomever in the center. I'll try to do what you have said. – User293727 Nov 8 '17 at 10:47
  • Is removing the contribution by your supervisor an option? – user2768 Nov 8 '17 at 11:30
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    @little.toblerone, I recommend considering other options first. Removing an author will (?almost?) always cause tension. – user2768 Nov 8 '17 at 15:00
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    I've considered removng my ex-cuspervisor (Prof Y), but in truth, she has a tremendous scientific contribution and I cannot in my right mind do it. Even though she has agreed. I think I should bite the bullet, remove him, and ask him for the travel money if it's accepted. – User293727 Nov 8 '17 at 15:11
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    @Fanciful I doubt that there is a solution which will make everyone happy. If your ex-supervisor understands the situation and accepts be removed from the list of authors, that seems like the least-unhappiness solution, both in the short run and in the long run. To ease your conscience, maybe your supervisor would accept that you acknowledged your ex-supervisor (profusely) in the body of the paper? Politics happen... – T. Verron Nov 9 '17 at 12:34
14

Since your supervisor is a co-author, you cannot submit without their permission.

Seeking a strong ally to help find a resolution. In the first instance, I recommend seeking the support of your ex-cosupervisor. They might well be unable or unwilling to help, given that your supervisor is head of center. In that case, I recommend seeking a powerful member of the center. E.g., anyone with a high academic rank or any long-standing, well-respected member of the center. Such a powerful person is interested in the success of the center (rather than what sounds like a quarrel between your supervisor and ex-cosupervisor). That success is determined in part by your success and the success of your fellow PhD students. Hence, powerful people should be willing to help. (Even when they aren't a co-author.)

  • 1
    I'm inclined to disagree that the vice-dean is the only person who will care about this. But, I do not know your circumstances, so I might well be wrong. – user2768 Nov 8 '17 at 10:41
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    @Fanciful, on that basis, your supervisor doesn't seem to be a co-author. – user2768 Nov 8 '17 at 15:51
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    he isn't. But I dare not open quarrel with him on that basis. He practically removed Prof Y from cosupervisor because she had published a paper that I contributed to without his name on it. I fear that if I tell him he doesn't deserve to be there, that it will make it even worse. He's already strongly insinuated my insubordination due to the fact I've collaborated with this person. – User293727 Nov 8 '17 at 15:55
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    As @JeffE hinted, you might want to find a new supervisor. – user2768 Nov 8 '17 at 17:03
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    The penalty for using the word “insubordination” in front of a student should be immediate loss of tenure; alas, you’ll have to settle for firing them as your advisor. Get out now. Find a new supervisor ASAP. Do not ask for your old advisor’s blessing, and do not apologize for leaving them. Walk away from the paper if you have to. Pursue other remedies only after you are in a stable situation yourself. Your mental health is more important that a single paper or even your degree. – JeffE Nov 9 '17 at 15:30
6

Unfortunately, narcissistic, power seeking people are also present in academia.

My wife had a similar supervisor during her PhD, who could mostly offer scathing criticism, but not much help. He didn't let her publish articles or her thesis in a timely manner, because he was unsatisfied with her academic writing, but wouldn't help her much in learning that.

The solution was, as @user2768 suggested, to seek powerful allies. They kind of forced her supervisor (who was the head of department) to sign her PhD thesis.

I posted an answer instead of a reply, because reputation counts here apparently, just as in academia :)

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    Who were these powerful allies in the situation with your wife? – User293727 Nov 9 '17 at 8:30
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    Well, mostly senior researchers from the same department, and if I remember well, a person of higher position she was in good terms with. Eventually, all of the department knew about the case. – GregT Nov 10 '17 at 8:41
2

I had a cosupervisor (Prof Y) that my supervisor (and head of center, Prof X) removed (without consulting me) from my project and assigned (again without consulting me) another cosupervisor (Prof Z)

I would tell X that he is the reason for the confusion because he removed Y without consulting you. Such behavior can always cause such unpredictable consequences and indicates personal problems.

Otherwise, what is the contribution of your supervisor? Maybe you can delete his part and swap the supervisor. I don't know him, but for me it looks like, I would not continue to work with such a person. The reason I would try to remove the part of the supervisor is that he is the blocking element.

Edit (after it is clear that X has no contribution):

Just tell Y that X removed him without your approval, and (if possible) that you want to change supervisor because X abused his position. If Y agrees to be supervisor, tell Y to set X in CC or to inform him, so it is not behind his back (which is the most important step). Then delete X from publication. Additionally, if X makes trouble tell him to make a list of his contribution which allow him authorship. I was working for some time as PostDoc and in my opinion it is a complete waste of time to spend more then the absolute minimum in discussions with such people.

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    He does not have a contribution so I could remove X. My fear is he'll accuse me of "working behind his back" as he has done on another occasion before. – User293727 Nov 9 '17 at 14:15
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    What are the consequences of his accusation that you are “working behind his back” (whatever that means)? – JeffE Nov 9 '17 at 15:32
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    Time to change supervisor then. Otherwise you will have just a lot more trouble in future. – user75308 Nov 10 '17 at 12:00
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    The worst what he can do is writing a bad recommendation letter and I already saw such students from time to time showing up with letters indicating such issues. Some institute leaders take that with humor. However, far more important than this is to get papers. Just try to find a way to get your stuff published, in best case without him. – user75308 Nov 10 '17 at 12:12
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    Yes. Just sometimes people ask all kind of former supervisors for letters because usually you need more than one :/ But this should not be an issue for you. – user75308 Nov 10 '17 at 12:36

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