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Disagreement with supervisor over paper


User: saskia - 28 January 2021 16:56

Hi,

I'm in the final year of a PhD and have had several papers published. Six months ago I expressed an interest in writing a paper related to my main topic that wasn't part of my original thesis plan, and my supervisor allowed me to pursue this. My progress has been very slow because the analysis has been challenging, but it's a novel idea and I had pre-approval to submit an article to one of the top journals in my field. I have discussed my idea with several academics and have had a lot of interest and support for it.

When I sent a draft to my adviser, they just completely dismissed it. They said it wasn't good enough to submit to X journal, and then said I'd just repeated the work of an old paper. I'm very familiar with the paper in question and I know my work is completely different. I tried to clearly explain why my paper was valid but they just talked over me and told me to stop working until I'd done more background reading. Throughout my whole PhD my supervisor has implied that I'm a sloppy researcher who doesn't understand how science works (last year I won an award for academic excellence).

I have re-read the original paper, just in case, and it's very clear my work is not the same. I have discussed this with someone who was heavily involved in the early studies in the field. This person is fully supportive of my paper and agrees it is really not the same as the original (it doesn't discredit the original, it's just not the same thing). We discussed it at great length several months ago.

However my supervisor continues to treat me like my work isn't valid. I don't think they are intentionally being unkind but it doesn't change the situation. On all of my papers so far there has been a point where they keep inventing random things for me to do instead of letting me submit the paper, so this is not new. But this time it seems like they want me to rewrite this one from scratch or scrap it entirely. I have another paper I need to get started on and it's just so stressful. My funding runs out soon and I'm already spending all my time looking for postdocs. This paper is central to my fellowship applications.

I know my work isn't wrong. I'm not trying to sound arrogant, but I have checked many times, I haven't just made a stupid mistake, but my supervisor does treat me like I'm sloppy and stupid. On several occasions they've reminded me of their credentials instead of actually engaging with my paper. How can I get them to understand what I'm doing if they just won't read what I've written or hear what I say?

User: rewt - 29 January 2021 11:00

It is difficult to say without knowing your supervisor first hand. Though can you wait until your PhD is nearly done (and thus don't need your supervisor) and then submit it as a solo authored paper. You can simply tell him that if he doesn't agree you will publish without him.

User: saskia - 29 January 2021 12:19

Unfortunately my thesis is a three-paper structure and it's the final chapter of my PhD.

User: trevalda - 29 January 2021 14:16

If you happen to have more than one supervisor (norm in the UK is usually two), your second one might be able to intercede on your behalf? If not, I would say perhaps focus on just making it through the viva and then you will have more intellectual freedom to work on your idea/topic.

User: saskia - 29 January 2021 15:19

OK, thanks everyone. But to be clear, I can't submit my thesis until this paper is submitted, it's part of my thesis. I have another short project that I need to do and I can't start work on that until this one is done, because I need to reference this one in the next one. I can't just pretend it never happened. It's an entire paper. I am 100% dependent on my supervisor signing off on it.

User: rewt - 31 January 2021 22:38

You do not need your supervisor's permission to publish a solo author publication. Seriously, if you believe in your work you should seek validation from the academic review process and not your supervisor's opinion. Your supervisor sounds toxic and I think you shouldn't let him get into your head. You already have two papers from the sounds of it and have won an academic excellence award, you are good! So don't let your supervisor get to you and start plotting an exit route. If you submit the paper without his name on it and it gets accepted in a decent journal (preferably one that he has published in) it kinda of makes his opinion moot.

On another note, I agree with trevalda, it would be very good to talk with your second supervisor if you have one. Just be honest about your opinions and that you think it is a worthwhile piece of research essential to your PhD. Listen to their suggestions and see if there is an easy compromise that everyone can agree on. You could also talk with your independent reviewer or someone in the graduate department about your issue.

User: glimmerbat - 02 February 2021 15:14

This supervisor probably isn't being deliberately obstructive. You say that they haven't read your paper, but is there any merit in their suggestions? For example perhaps your paper draft isn't as clear as you think. If they haven't understood your results, you may not be communicating your work as well as you'd hoped. After all, it's your idea and you've worked on it, but if it's something novel then your supervisor won't be as invested as you and doesn't know all the subtleties. Therefore you need to state your aims very clearly and also emphasise how different your work is to the original. I know it's frustrating, but is there any way you can use this to make the work stronger? You don't have to back down to pressure but your life will be a lot easier if you keep your supervisor on board. You can publish your paper independently, but they still have to sign off on your thesis some day.





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