Supervisors as co-authors but relationships sour

posted
28-Nov-17, 18:34
edited about 4 minutes later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 2 weeks ago
Hello there

This query is for seasoned PhD students/post docs on this forum.

There were some issues with my supervision, which resulted me in requesting a change in supervision - I requested to be supervised by the same supervisors all but the main one - as this is where the issue was. Anyway, long story short - the co-supervisor said that she would only continue to supervise if the main one stayed on. So the situation now is - I have a new main supervisor who acts as a sort of point of contact and I meet with, but not to discuss the intellectual content of the PhD as such. Then I have two co-supervisors (the old main supervisor and co-supervisor) who I no longer meet with and our only contact is when I send them a draft and they comment on it, prior to journal submission. They are then included as co-authors. This was the new procedure agreed by all - and instigated by the new main supervisor (who has no input herself in the drafts but is copied in on all emails).

The problem arises that there are some comments that I do not necessarily agree with/want to address - but there is now no forum for discussion. If I were to email and begin a discussion that would take me back to the original problem - having to interact in a sour relationship that does not work. So do I address those that can be addressed and leave those that I do not agree with and submit the manuscript? The comments not substantive and I am first author.

It would be useful to get some advice on here.

Tudor
posted
28-Nov-17, 22:51
edited about 18 seconds later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 2 weeks ago
Quote From Tudor_Queen:
Hello there

This query is for seasoned PhD students/post docs on this forum.

There were some issues with my supervision, which resulted me in requesting a change in supervision - I requested to be supervised by the same supervisors all but the main one - as this is where the issue was. Anyway, long story short - the co-supervisor said that she would only continue to supervise if the main one stayed on. So the situation now is - I have a new main supervisor who acts as a sort of point of contact and I meet with, but not to discuss the intellectual content of the PhD as such. Then I have two co-supervisors (the old main supervisor and co-supervisor) who I no longer meet with and our only contact is when I send them a draft and they comment on it, prior to journal submission. They are then included as co-authors. This was the new procedure agreed by all - and instigated by the new main supervisor (who has no input herself in the drafts but is copied in on all emails).

The problem arises that there are some comments that I do not necessarily agree with/want to address - but there is now no forum for discussion. If I were to email and begin a discussion that would take me back to the original problem - having to interact in a sour relationship that does not work. So do I address those that can be addressed and leave those that I do not agree with and submit the manuscript? The comments not substantive and I am first author.

It would be useful to get some advice on here.

Tudor


Regardless of your relationship, all three of you have your names on the paper and if you want it published you need to rise above any personal issues and communicate with them in a professional manner.
I know this isn't easy but I can't see any other way. The alternative is that you don't publish and that would be a shame if the work is ready to submit.
posted
29-Nov-17, 08:50
edited about 2 minutes later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 2 weeks ago
Thanks pm133. I think I differ on this (writing it as a post on this forum helped me to reflect). I think since these are not substantive issues and I am the main author I have last say and will make the changes I see fit. For example, wording of a sentence, inclusion of a particular clause. These are fairly menial issues that can be debated back and forth. In fact, one or two changes were things that a different co-author had changed from what I originally had on an earlier version of a manuscript. It is a matter of preference you could say. And as first author, I believe I get the final say on such.

On earlier drafts where substantive issues are raised - that is different. And this experience leads me to think that maybe going forward this is not going to work - co-authoring my final two papers that is. I think that we will need to be going back and forth and discussing (since I am not the type to blindly implement changes that I disagree with - I need to be persuaded if I feel strongly about a matter). So I think that I am going to request a full change in supervision. I will think about this more before coming to a final decision. It is just that it has now become apparent that if it is tricky collaborating in this situation on a paper that was basically in its final stages and almost ready for submission, how is it going to be with a brand new piece of writing in its earlier stages? Surely communication and trust are key to collaboration (and co-authorship and supervision). And an individual cannot simply rise above and supply those things - they must be mutually present.

Thoughts?
posted
29-Nov-17, 08:56
edited about 38 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 2 weeks ago
The joys of reflection! Having replied and re-read my first paragraph here, I am tempted to just make the changes. After all, if they are as menial as I suggest then what is the problem? I think it is just a matter of having requested not to be supervised by this individual because of a serious issue makes one feel heck, why do I have to change a word because you want it? And yes, that specific thing can be risen above : )

But with regard to my second point - going forward is this going to work... i.e., where there is a need to make changes and decisions about more substantive points. Any thoughts?
posted
29-Nov-17, 09:32
edited about 9 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 2 weeks ago
Just make the changes you want, you are first author, you have last say. I didn't make all the changes that were suggested to me for my papers. Whatever I don't agree with, doesn't get changed.

Going forward, it's going to be tricky. There's no easy way around it. Even if you request full change in supervision, they are still going to be on the papers though right?
posted
29-Nov-17, 10:05
Avatar for chickpea
posted about 2 weeks ago
I'd probably make the changes if I thought they made sense, and wouldn't if it was something I felt strongly about and felt the writing was best left as it was. But I think that when you publish and other people are involved, there always has to be an element of 'letting go' and accepting that while most of it is still your original work, there will be tweaks suggested by someone else - I'm thinking this happens even to the finest authors when an editor gets hold of their work. It sounds like it may be more difficult to do the letting go in this case because of the difficult relationships.
posted
29-Nov-17, 10:06
edited about 14 seconds later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 2 weeks ago
Quote From Tudor_Queen:
The joys of reflection! Having replied and re-read my first paragraph here, I am tempted to just make the changes. After all, if they are as menial as I suggest then what is the problem? I think it is just a matter of having requested not to be supervised by this individual because of a serious issue makes one feel heck, why do I have to change a word because you want it? And yes, that specific thing can be risen above : )

But with regard to my second point - going forward is this going to work... i.e., where there is a need to make changes and decisions about more substantive points. Any thoughts?


I am glad that you have changed your mind over the current paper. When you feel emotion starting to direct your actions you need to sleep on it, chat about it and try and find a way of controlling it. It doesn't matter if you are right or not, decisions made in the heat of emotion usually turn out to be bad decisions. That is my experience anyway and it is something i have always had problems with.

Going forwards, it is hard to see how you can avoid switching supervisors completely.
posted
29-Nov-17, 17:21
edited about 2 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 2 weeks ago
Thank you everyone - so helpful to have this additional source of advice. I will be thinking about all this before making any decisions. May post again and let you know what happened. ToL, no if they are no longer supervisors I certainly won't include them as co-authors. They haven't in been involved in any substantive aspect of the two studies - apart from approving the study protocols and correcting a few typos. If they leave the team then this will no longer be relevant as they won't be commenting on early drafts - the new supervisor/s will be coauthor/s instead.
posted
29-Nov-17, 20:40
edited about 1 second later
by Pjlu 4 star member
Avatar for Pjlu
posted about 2 weeks ago
This response is not so much regarding the journal article example as I think you have worked out what you think is best to do there Tudor. It is more to do with the issue of ongoing collaboration or work and what works for me. So it may or may not be helpful.

The thing is, in the professional world you generally have to collaborate with others to complete work and trust is not always present, nor do all parties necessarily think, feel or process in the same way. So it can be really difficult. When this happens, Covey's concept of 'trust in the process not the person' is something I find really helpful.

Someone could be quite difficult to work with for a range of reasons. They may have radically different values and they may process things cognitively very differently, and this difference in itself means that achieving trust is more difficult.

I guess with the PhD, one is lucky in that you can change supervisors if you really have to, while as professionally you often have little choice over who you collaborate with.

Tudor, when I find I am working or collaborating with people who I don't particularly like or whom I know may not particularly like me or value the way I go about things, Stephen Covey's line (quoted above) always comes to mind and I work on making sure I have a good and equitable process. Make everything visible, accountable, above board and follow clear procedural guidelines. Then the feelings can sit in the background, but not get in the way of doing things and general respect for all parties is the order of the day.

I'll go and have a rant to someone I trust privately at some point when the feelings become really stretched and strained by difficult behaviour. This is always in person, to a trustworthy source and never put in writing.
posted
29-Nov-17, 21:11
edited about 6 seconds later
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 2 weeks ago
Hi, Tudor_Queen,

This is the exact situation of a friend of mine. During PhD, he had a major falling out with his primary supervisor which resulted in said supervisor writing to the graduate school claiming that he had falsified his data to try to kick him out of his PhD. The uni investigated and found my friend innocent and got his PhD. His co-supervisor had also stepped up due to the whole mess.

My friend then tried to publish his PhD paper. Included the primary supervisor only for him to write back saying things like this data is not sufficient and the paper is crap. Understand that the primary supervisor had mainly been absent during my friend's PhD aside from the major issues he caused in my poor friend's final year. All the other co-authors were impressed with quality of data and ready to submit. After they all discussed, they decided that they will not include him (since he was not interested and did not contribute anyway). Paper was published in high impact factor journal.

Not sure how this would help your case, but do understand that you are not alone.
posted
30-Nov-17, 11:29
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 2 weeks ago
Hello everyone

Thank you - really. I am still undecided on what to do. I feel very much like cutting my losses now and moving on. I do not think that the input I will get over the next year on will be worth all this (i.e., the lack of mutual trust and respect that is so evident). And I am not sure that cutting loose would actually do me any further harm. As it is, for example, I wouldn't dream of asking either of those two supervisors for a reference. I don't think if they were sitting on a panel and I applied for a grant etc they would award it me (and I don't plan to be in that situation for that reason). So, my point is, I do not really feel I have much to lose if I cut my losses and say to the new main supervisor: look, I tried this set up where we don't meet and only correspond on drafts, and it hasn't worked for me. I think it would be wiser now for me to request a complete supervisory change - i.e., no longer have those two as supervisors.

What do I have to gain? Self respect I suppose. It feels ghastly to know that you are producing pretty high quality work for others to put their names on - others who you have lost all respect for (hence the original request for change). If there was something to gain - e.g., their input was actually really good and helped the quality greatly - I might be willing to make the sacrifice. But as it is - the current situation feels like a joke - and the joke is all on me.

I will of course get the current paper submitted as planned. But for the future - this final year - those final two papers. I think cutting losses might be best now. What do I really have to lose?

It's so helpful to be able to put it out on this forum and get your input.
posted
30-Nov-17, 11:32
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 2 weeks ago
Pjlu - what you say makes sense to me. It is just it feels that this situation has gone so far and it asthough I am being mis-used and stand nothing to lose by ending it here.
posted
30-Nov-17, 17:16
Avatar for DrCorinne
posted about 2 weeks ago
Hi Tudor, my two pence of wisdom. I think that you have quite a lot to lose. Your supervisors are part of a wider network, and you know very well that research specialism often means that only a very small number of people research in a certain area. So, cutting off the connection in that way would not just be matter of saying good bye to your sup. Also, even if you are not planning a career in academia, their reference - or a reference by somebody they know - might be needed anyway. Nowadays you cannot even apply for voluntary work without references. It's unfair, it's unjust, it's tough, but I agree with Pjlu, it is part of learning to deal with difficult people, and you find them also outside academia.
posted
30-Nov-17, 17:33
edited about 1 minute later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 2 weeks ago
Thank you Dr Corinne. The thing I am trying to get across is that I don't think there is anything to lose because we already are effectively cut off. For example - the advisor who is best friends with the second supervisor ignores me when I say hi and looks the other way in the corridor.

What MORE do I have to lose??

Thankfully, I have a few things in my favour. I have good data that will go in good publications and I have other connections / possible post doc routes. I will stay in academia. Also, thankfully, my main supervisor - who doesn't actually give input but who I meet with and is copied in on all emails - is invested in me and will write me an excellent reference. I do not want to lose this. Perhaps I should raise my concerns with her rather than just turning up and saying I can't do this anymore - what am I seriously getting from it. Maybe she can offer some more suggestions. Or maybe she will even say - OK, we have tried - let's make the change and I will continue to supervise you alone. I guess I will raise it with her and see what the outcome is, if I am still undecided by the time we meet in 2 weeks.

I think I am finding it difficult to stand because I am not gaining from it but they are. What is the point in that in a student-supervisor relationship?
posted
30-Nov-17, 17:35
edited about 4 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 2 weeks ago
At least that is what it has felt like this week. Maybe I will wake up tomorrow morning and see it all differently.

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