Is it ethical to provide statistical consulting on a disseration to a Ph.D. candidate

Steve Simon


Someone asked a hypothetical question about consulting assistance for a Ph.D. candidate. Clearly some assistance is okay and the question is when the work becomes so much that the work is no longer perceived as that of the Ph.D. candidate.

I do help a fair number of PhD candidates. As long as their chair and committee are aware of the extent of my involvement, I don’t see an ethical problem with helping them and charging a fee. I do charge a greatly reduced rate, because I remember what it was like to be a poor graduate student.

Every discipline has different standards for the degree to which a PhD candidate is expected to do the work by themselves. No one writes a dissertation without some level of assistance outside the dissertation committee. They might invoke the assistance of a librarian, for example, to help them conduct a thorough review of available studies in a meta-analysis. They might employ the services of a transcriptionist if they are conducting focus groups. They might use a database analyst to prepare a data capture system.

The dissertation must be substantially the work of the PhD candidate, but if they delegate some of the tasks with the consent of the dissertation chair, I don’t think it is our duty to second guess them. Most dissertation chairs are grateful when they find out that I am helping out.

What are the limits to what a consultant should do? Obviously the writing itself should be done by the Ph.D. candidate, and I would limit myself to reading a draft and offering a few suggested changes and additions.

I’d also suggest that the candidate must have a level of understanding sufficient to be able to defend their work in a hostile environment. Everything I do is intended to enhance the candidate’s ability to defend their work. So no spoon feeding and no black boxes. Other than that, I just try to respect the wishes of the chair and the committee.

You can find an earlier version of this page on my original website.