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I was working on a problem in the field engineering. I have used one approach and it turned out that it does not work well. After that I got into conflict with my supervisor, and realized that it will be hard to publish the original paper with him. So, I have redone everything with another approach, wrote a paper, submitted it and at as soon as my paper have been almost accepted, my supervisor wrote to the editor claiming that he also should be an author of the paper. He haven't even seen the new paper nor haven't analysed or interpreted the new results. What should I do in this situation?

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12  
Don't walk. Run. Your relationship with your advisor is broken. Find a new one or get out. –  JeffE May 11 at 0:13
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Honestly, do whatever makes it easiest to move on. Offer to add your (now former) advisor as a coauthor as a parting gift, or just let the paper die. –  JeffE May 11 at 0:22
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Here's the scoop: in some departments at some institutions, it is an unwritten rule that you are to list your advisor as a co-author on any publications you submit if the work is related to solving a problem which is funded by a grant that your advisor secured for you. I am in such a situation, and know of many who are in a similar situation. –  Mad Jack May 11 at 1:17
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@AustinHenley: In some countries (Belgium, for example) or under the rules of some funding agencies (Belgian FWO), only publications with the principal investigator's (PI) name count when doing reporting for a grant. A PhD student paid by the grant needs to put the PI's name on paper to make the bean counters happy, to improve the evaluation of the project, and to increase the chances of getting future grants. –  Dave Clarke May 11 at 7:01
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Note to self: No grants with Belgians. –  JeffE May 11 at 13:47

3 Answers 3

This entire situation is an ethical quagmire that both you and your advisor are responsible for.

The reason why I say that you share in the creation of this situation is the following. Let's replace your advisor with an external collaborator. The sequence of events, as you have outlined here, runs as follows:

  • The two of you collaborated on an initial version of the paper.
  • You had a conflict on some issue (seemingly related to this paper)
  • You then proceeded to go behind the collaborator's back, redo the analysis, rewrite the paper, and submit it without informing her.

Under such circumstances, it is clear that you would bear a large percentage of the blame for the situation. The fact that it's your advisor instead of an external collaborator doesn't change the ethical considerations here.

Your advisor probably feels that because you were previously working on the problem together, you have cut him out of the loop without his consent. You should have showed him the preliminary results of your new analysis and let him decide if he wanted to collaborate further. If he was to be an author on the original paper, he was entitled to at least that much.

Of course, at this stage, it's hard to say what to do—your advisor has also complicated the situation by asserting his author rights on a paper he allegedly has never seen, which is also wrong. I would follow JeffE's advice here and take the path of least resistance. Getting out of this mess of a relationship is the critical step right now.

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Maybe you should review the supervisor agreement that you signed at the beginning of your studies. In some institutions it is stated that you MUST put your supervisor as a coauthor of any research paper; which is the result of your working at that research group. In this cases it does not matter even if your supervisor has only told you to adjust the font size (being sarcastic by the way).

Bottomline, all depends on the supervisor-supervised agreement signed.

Good luck! and try to settle differences with your supervisor.

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I find this hard to believe. Where is such an institution??? For example, UGA and Columbia have written criteria for authorship. Gifting authorship (someone who has not provided a significant research contribution to the paper) is extremely unethical. –  Austin Henley May 11 at 3:21
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None of the institutions I've done research at have asked me to sign any sort of agreement related to authorship. I've never heard of this practice before. –  ff524 May 11 at 5:10
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The agreement researchers sign in my department is silent on this topic. –  aeismail May 11 at 5:36
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Same here, at two different departments as a grad student, one as a postdoc, and one as faculty. –  JeffE May 11 at 6:21
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@DikranMarsupial The primary investigator has made a contribution to your research - (s)he has obtained the funding for your job — Money is not an intellectual contribution. Control is not an intellectual contribution. Responsibility is not an intellectual contribution. Authorship requires an intellectual contribution. –  JeffE May 31 at 0:57
  1. The advisor is being reckless in asking to put his name on a paper he hasn't read. The paper could be wrong, of poor quality, or even have academic misconduct issues (I'm talking in general ... I'm sure this is not the case for your work, but serious problems have occured in the past).
  2. Do not publish with your advisor if he has not contributed anything to the work. Of course, the fact that you've collaborated on this problem before makes it very hard to think that this is the case.
  3. This is a real mess ... I can think of two reasonable solutions: a. Tell the editor the current situation and rely on his/her opinion to sort out the issue. b. Add an acknowledgment to your advisor saying that this work is a rework of a previous unpublished work written with him.
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