Who should pay?



All PhD students know that the student-supervisor relationship is fraught with potential pitfalls.

A recent letter I received highlights how important it is to establish clear rules between yourself and your supervisor regarding joint authorship of papers, especially when submitting a Thesis by Publication. The student was asking for advice for a friend and I really had no easy answers.

Instead I asked for permission to publish this letter so we can all think about, and learn, from what happened in this instance. I’ll be interested in what you think about this situation in the comments.

Dear Inger

A fellow-student at my university has just submitted his Thesis by Publication, containing three papers all co-authored with his supervisory team. Or were they?

This particular student is an international student who was studying on a scholarship. His scholarship was awarded for three years, and he was able to get a six month extension. At the end of 3.5 years the funding ran out, so he took on as much teaching as possible and worked hard to finalise these very good papers and submit them, and to include the updated versions in his PhD which he subsequently submitted within the required four years.

He worked for four additional months and then was presented with an university invoice for thousands of dollars of “supervisory fees”. As an international student he was not entitled to continue studying for free after his 3.5 year scholarship ran out, and four months of supervisory fees added up to a lot of money.

His question is “who should pay?”

Technically he is responsible for those supervisory fees. The reality is that he was working for that extra four months producing papers from which his supervisors will benefit. They were most definitely NOT working on those papers. In addition, some months earlier, they had benefited from his work by attending a conference in a glamorous European destination at no cost to themselves.

The student is trying to pluck up the courage to confront his supervisors and negotiate that they pay his “supervisory fees” out of their research budgets. He is concerned that this may damage his relationship with the supervisors who are needed as referees for job applications. He has also received one of his PhD papers back from a journal with a “conditional acceptance”, but requiring quite a lot of work.

He asks “how will I pay my rent if I keep updating these papers for free?”

He is teaching part-time at the university as an adjunct but has no research budget. The university does not require the papers to be published in order for him to pass his PhD. Updating and resubmitting the paper will enhance his reputation yes, but it will also enhance the reputation of the supervisors who are listed as co-authors. Should he stand his ground and say that he will only continue working with them if he receives some sort of remuneration?

Should students continue working on papers after they submit if the university won’t give them a job?

What do you think?