I'm familiar with the general notion of Academic Freedom.

But I just ran across the phrase "given his/her academic freedom", which is a concept I've never run across before. It seems related to students writing solo papers, and etiquette around a student publishing without their advisor.

In general, are there aspects of academic freedom that don't exist until they are be bestowed on people? Tenure is about the only thing that may fit that bill, but that seems typically framed in terms of job guarantees. Do students pass any similar hurdles?

Update: The reference is from Wikipedia: Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski - Wikipedia

As a sophomore, Pasterski worked on the CMS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider.[8] She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. degree in high energy physics under the supervision of Andrew Strominger[16] from whom she was given her academic freedom in the Spring of 2015[17] based upon Pasterski et al's 2014 discovery of the "spin memory effect" which may be used to detect/verify the net effects of gravitational waves.[18] After being granted that academic freedom, she would complete the Pasterski-Strominger-Zhiboedov Triangle for electromagnetic memory in a 2015 solo paper[19] that Stephen Hawking cited in early 2016.[20]

  • 3
    Where did you see this written? I've never seen the term used in this way. Dec 3, 2017 at 16:39
  • 2
    I think the question is unclear unless you provide more context of the quote. Dec 3, 2017 at 17:51
  • @NateEldredge I've added the full quote that prompted my question. It is from Wikipedia, and given a sense for what the author might have meant, I'd be interested in updating the Wikipedia page or seeing someone else do so. I hope my question can be re-opened, and I'm still interested in not just this specific usage, but also more general perspectives on academic freedom for students etc.
    – nealmcb
    Jan 21, 2018 at 15:51
  • 5
    I voted to reopen. However, my guess is that it's just a peculiar turn of phrase. Generally, a PhD student's research topics are something that the student and advisor agree on, and how they reach agreement varies. Sometimes it's a true negotiation, sometimes the advisor just makes suggestions and the student concurs, and in this case it sounds like the student is setting the directions with the concurrence of the advisor. But saying "granted academic freedom" makes it sound like some formal pronouncement, and I've never heard of there being formal structures for this. Jan 21, 2018 at 16:39

1 Answer 1


Going back to Wikipedia's source, we're told that

Strominger has since moved Pasterski, as a second year graduate student, into “Mode 2,” where she is given the latitude to work without his direct supervision on any topic of her choosing with anyone she wishes.

In other words, Pasterski seems to have quite a bit of independence to choose the direction of her work and collaborators. I suppose this represents academic freedom in the sense of "freedom of inquiry", but as far as I can tell neither "mode 2" or "given academic freedom" are formal designations at Harvard. As such I suspect they are not associated with the kind of protections that the academic freedom of professors can have (i.e. tenure). That is, in this case, it appears to be an agreement between advisor and student on how to handle things.

Since the original source calls it "mode 2" it seems likely that the phrase "given her academic freedom" is just a turn of phrase in the Wikipedia page. After all, freedoms are generally not granted by or from an individual. The notion of student academic freedom is generally defined in policies that would apply to all, not as a prize to be won for jumping a hurdle. Of course, I cannot prove a negative, so the latter might still happen somewhere.

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