I had been working on a project for my masters thesis under a doctoral student, which is eligible for a paper publication. But after finishing more than half of the project, my supervisor suddenly ordered me to start over a new project and told me to stop working on the former work, stating that a masters thesis work cannot be used in a doctoral student's dissertation even if I am given authorship in that paper.

I would sincerely like to know if what my supervisor said is true or if I am being cheated out of my masters project and thus my masters degree. Either way, can the answer please be supported by proper evidence(s) to support it? It will help me talk to my supervisor, if necessary with solid proof and even escalate it up the hierarchy if required.

I come from a Central University in India.

  • 4
    "told me to stop working on the former work, stating that a masters thesis work cannot be used in a doctoral student's dissertation" - please clarify (if known): Does the PhD student who supervises you intend to use your Master thesis results in their dissertation (and now fear they cannot do that, because of a perceived restriction on using Master thesis work in dissertations), or does the PhD student want you to do something else so they can use that in their dissertation? Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 13:44
  • The PhD student intends to use the exact results in my masters thesis for his dissertation only his paper go further in. I will be included as an author when the work will be published. Also, the PhD student is not using me for his dissertation and it is only the other way around. The PhD student has no such fear. This very restriction has been imposed on me only by the supervising faculty in whose lab I'm doing my project. PhD student has no problem with including me as an author in the paper. Problem is only the prof as I am skeptic of this restriction. Hearing it the first time ever.
    – user82874
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 14:52
  • The above scenario of PhD student using my results applied only till the time my PI let me work on that publishable work for my masters..... and then he pulled the plug on it for the reasons given.
    – user82874
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 14:55
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    Regarding the question whether or not this would be against some rules depends on your local university. Check graduation guidelines for masters and PhD, and you will find out (alternatively, talk to someone who may know, but keep things anonymous as far as possible). Where I studied, this would not have been a problem, as long as the PhD student writes his/her own paper out of "your" project, which will probably go deeper/further/in a somewhat different direction.
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 16:54
  • The University rules do not restrict this at all actually. Many of my peers are now getting the work they did for their masters thesis published along with the PhD student they did with. Its not considered as collaboration in our Department as every masters student works under a PhD student for their masters thesis project. Some however get the work that they did in their thesis as well as the PhD students' papers.
    – user82874
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 17:20

2 Answers 2


For both a masters' thesis and a PhD dissertation, there needs to be a core piece of work that is primarily the student's work. Collaboration can certainly be fine, but there needs to be a core idea that is "yours" in order to get a degree out of it.

It's at least conceivable that you and the PhD student were collaborating on something that had only one degree-worthy idea in it, and therefore a tough decision had to be made.

It's also possible that this is being used as an excuse for something unethical like cheating you out of your masters' project.

Whether this was legitimate, or not, we can't really tell from the information given.

It does sound that the situation was, at least, not handled very well. The supervisor has oversight of both your projects and should have prevented your projects from overlapping too much, before you wasted lots of work on something. Also, if you contributed significantly to the eventual PhD project, at a minimum you should still get credit for this (e.g. with paper authorship).

  • Can you please provide me with some evidence to show the HOD and all that my PI is neither fair nor ethical about this matter? A masters thesis of some one whose core idea was also a part of a PhD student's thesis will be invaluable to me here.
    – user82874
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 17:27
  • It is true that this work has only one paper's worth of idea. This has occurred to many of my peers but they are all getting those works published with them getting credit along with the PhD student. In my case, my PI wants even more work on the publishable work despite preventing me from using as my masters thesis, just to get authorship. In short, he is intent on making me work on two projects and give me my degree for only one of those. I pretty much gathered from your answer and the other comments now that my PI is cheating me out of my degree and a paper authorship now. Thanks a million!!
    – user82874
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 17:45
  • @AadityaGovindarajan I didn't actually say that...I said it was not clear from the information given. If your PI is asking you to work on an additional project that may be an opportunity and good for your career, rather than cheating you... Assuming you get authorship for that second project and it isn't so much work that it interferes with getting your degree.
    – user24098
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 21:31

You are not working"under" this student, and he is not your supervisor. You have a common supervisor, and that is your professor. Explain him the situation and let him decide.

It sounds very much like one of these usual "get off my turf" things in the lab which happen when PhD students need to secure some results as their own. Having master students helping set up experiments and then doing the experiment yourself (if the setup works) with as little as possible participation of the student is unethical at best, but not totally uncommon to be attempted by PhD students. In my experience most professors act appropriate when confronted with such a situation.

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