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I am a postdoc at a European University. However, I am planning to quit my postdoc in a month or so since the research environment and the city life is not to me liking.

Also, I work with a Professor who is very polite, but also very busy with meetings. My salary comes from the project he administers, so he is the boss of the organization and the project.

For the past four months I have been working on a problem day and night including weekends as I found the problem very interesting and challenging. The theoretical part of the work is complete. It is a "complete" solution. He had NO contribution at all in this. Not even a single email exchange. He is too busy with meetings all the time. He is in the department twice a week for two to three hours at a time. I am also managing his master student as he has no time.

He is definitely polite and nice though, but I have not received any input from him other than giving me printed research papers. But he always asked me to give him the PDFs of lengthy derivations which I did. But I am dealing with analytical/numerical Navier-Stokes equation and its variations, so you can imagine how much terse that is. He has the entire theory now with him from my work. He may have been a good researcher in the past but no contribution to this work. And he had no proper publication in the work that I am doing so I am not sure how much he can contribute in writing the paper.

Now remains the numerical part which I believe I can do in next 2/3 weeks. And I have the ability to write the paper by myself when I have the numerical solution.

I talked to him and asked if I can work for him based in another city. He said if it is a week visit, that is fine, but not otherwise. He said it clearly that "I will not pay you to work somewhere else."

I still have a cordial relationship with him. No worries on that part. So, I am going to leave the place and the position in a month or two for sure.

So, he gains co-authorship just because he has the authority to provide employment? What should I do? Please help. I could have continued to live in the city though it was little boring for me, provided I was able to get inputs from my collaborator, or if he had given me necessary freedom to collaborate with other researchers, which he hasn't.


Update 10th June, I have resigned now. This problem has evolved into a new stage. Please post your replies there:

Gifting co-authorship if the topic of research was suggested by my boss?

and

Acknowledgment of funding and adding an affiliation in exchange of permission to use experimental data?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. @Vikash: Please edit information that is relevant to the question into the question. Also, please try to keep your question focussed on what is relevant to the problem of authorship. – Wrzlprmft Apr 9 '18 at 7:54
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This is a form of gift authorship. The worst form, if he imposes it on you. I know some people would think otherwise, but my last supervisor, who was a big name in his field never signed papers he had no contribution on. And this was despite of the fact that he was the big grant writer and winner of the group.

It's hard to tell what to do. In my case, I used to simply do what I was told by the boss. Only I never had such dilemmas. But, I had a few friends who were in the same situation as you. When they refused co-authorship, their supervisors got angry. I work with one of these supervisors at this time. The guy went around and told everyone my friend "stole" his idea. Nevermind that dude had no ideas to begin with. The other guy, wrote a negative recommendation letter for my other friend who lost a very tempting postdoc offer over it.

My recommendation is to stall until you leave the group. Until then you fix all the details you need to fix for the paper and find out if your boss plans to contribute anything else to it. If it wasn't his idea and had so little involvement in it, once you are gone, you can publish without permission. As a courtesy, you can tell your superviser, after you're gone, that you are thinking of including him in the paper if he has time to make a contribution you think would be useful and within his capabilities. If not, include him in your Acknowledgements section.

Edit: backup your correspondence with him (emails). You may need them if he's the kind of guy who gets upset and writes your editor that you "stole" ideas from him. Hopefully, it won't be the case.

  • He just got pdfs from me for the theoretical derivation part, but no comments on them. We do not have any such email exchange. It is just one way. he is super busy. We did had some meetings like 2/3 times a month to know what I am doing. I never received anything fruitful from him other than salary. Yes, one last contribution but not so, is, The papers he was sending to me, I knew they were of no use. And then I found Mr. X's paper and found that as the right place to begin my work. I went to his office and he had the same paper in his hand. And then he said "Oh..so this is a joint finding" – Vikash Apr 6 '18 at 22:32
  • What's considered acceptable varies widely by locality, sadly. The head of an institute in Europe may expect to be coauthor of any paper that is released by the institute. (This also applies in other parts of the world.) – aeismail Apr 8 '18 at 21:03
  • @aeismail My former boss was the head of the department in a EU country. It really depends on what kind of person that guy is. – user21264 Apr 9 '18 at 6:35
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Different people would approach this differently. Given that you like to avoid conflict, why not give him authorship, finish your notice period, and leave on a happy note?

I don't think it would hurt you very much to add an author, especially your host. Rather, you are creating a collaboration that may be useful some day.

What you are suggesting, i.e. writing the paper with dual affiliation would actually be a little dishonest, because the work is all done at the first institute. This business of sharing your password and returning salary sounds rather unnecessary, and pardon me, slightly immature. I understand that you consider it the scrupluous thing to do, but let me assure you, it will leave a bitter taste with the institute and/or the host.

As I understand you are leaving because the city doesn't suit you, not because the institute is not supportive. No point burning bridges then, isn't it?

  • If you cook a meal in 30 minutes for the guests in your home, but I take the credit away from you. How would you feel? This work took 4 months of my time, including weekends. I do not think I would like to have collaboration with a person who cannot contribute actively. He has not even given any idea that I could try. I would not have mind if such an idea had failed. But all the research exchange has been just one way. I have used the office and the computer, no lab or training of any such type. Sorry for being immature, but that was only to convey how confident I am of my claim. – Vikash Apr 8 '18 at 11:56
  • 1
    I understand and appreciate your passion for your work, that's great! But three points: (1) your strong feelings about this and your desire to avoid conflict don't really add up, you may not be able to satisfy both. (2) you mention no lab/training- was it suggested before you joined that these would be given? If not, is it possible that you had some unfounded expectations? . – user153812 Apr 8 '18 at 13:21
  • (contd.) (3) I know this varies field to field, but it's a bit strange to me that you are insisting so much on the 4 month thing. From what I've seen around, it takes that much time or more to put up a quality paper anyway (on a lighter note, likewise cooking a meal does takes 30 min or more ;). Coming back, the fact is that if you want to do this without him, you should be willing to take possible backlash. Some people would be okay with that, some less so. – user153812 Apr 8 '18 at 13:22
  • Well he has accepted himself many times that he should more actively contribute to the paper but could not since he is busy with meetings. he often says, he will catch-up, but never did. And he has dropped enough hints that he has a share on the paper, he is boss and so co-authorship come natural. Should I just go upfront and ask him "Could you please clarify if you are expecting a co-authorship even though I have done all the theory and the numerical part, and so I am confident I can write the paper by myself"? he will certainly say, YES. what next? – Vikash Apr 8 '18 at 13:39
  • Or, in order to avoid all these messy conflicting situations, should I just inform the dept that I am quitting. I leave, and publish the paper when I join a new institute after two months? Can he claim later to the editor that it was his idea, his work? He has no proof though. He only has pdf of my theoretical derivation so far. He has got no programming codes and final result yet. they are still with me. – Vikash Apr 8 '18 at 13:43
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I find adding a contributions paragraph (or making the acknowledgements paragraph "Acknowlegements & Contributions") to papers and posters very helpful. I think they also have merit for the reader, providing a better idea whos specialization is what (particularly for highly interdisciplinary papers).

Some medical journals require it, and so far, I've neither met nor heard of a revision calling to cut that paragraph out. Even if that would happen, it means that the editor and reviewers have read it - which provides an outside control instance against gift authorship.

  • In case we're really talking gift authorship, I think that even of those who'd accept a gift authorship without any second thought if it just involves entering their name on the front page, the vast majority would not type out outright lies about their contribution.

  • I also assume that potential co-authors do know the rules for authorship, and hesitate to type out ridiculous non-contributions (provided instrumentation) that rather should be acknowledged. However, if that happens, I'd think you may just leave it as it is. Editor and reviewers will see it. They know the power difference between PhD students, postdocs, and professors very well, they'll draw the correctand conclusion. I trust they will also take appropriate action, as the reputation of the journal is directly implied.

  • They do take action: I've made the experience of being upgraded to co-first-authorship by decision of the editor based on our contributions section.


If your European University happens to be in Germany, the DFG rules for authorship are quite clear and avalable in German and English.

Part of the strategy for quality assurance for scienctific research is that there are ombudspersons for scientific questions.


The question whether or not your professor is entitled for co-authorship IMHO cannot be decided from what you told us so far: while you did not describe any sufficient scientific contribution from their side, but it is still possible that there is sufficent contribution which you do not yet realize.

Please do not get upset, but we're all stranger to both you and your professor. We just know that:

  • There are black sheep who take or even demand gift authorship.
  • But we also know that there are students who do not recognize proper scientific contributions by their supervisors.

    • Typical candidates for such unrecognized contributions are: questions and possibly short (but to the point) conversations after seminar presentations, over a coffee. A suggested experiment or solution strategy on the hallway. Note: the length of a sentence is not a good indicator of the amount of thought or intellect someone put in to arrive at that sentence.

    • he does not contribute anything at all, other than placing research papers on my desk. And I never read those papers, never found them related to what I have been doing.

      How can you know that they do not contain relevant ideas if you do not read them!?
      How do you know he never thinks about the pdfs he asked for? Or never thinks about the topic even without your pdfs?
      (Authorship needs scientific contribution plus writing contribution - IMHO at the moment you cannot know that there aren't (going to be) any)


Here are some borderline cases to ponder:

  • suppose you have an ideal supervisor S and two students or postdocs: ideal researcher I and not-so-good researcher N. S closely follows their work. As S is a good supervisor, they work with least possible disturbance by S. Also, as a good teacher, any guidance is done in a way that the researcher in question is lead to discover the error/solution/correction themselves. S critically weighs all arguments brought by the researchers and pinpoints any weak points. Turns out, N needed some guidance to arrive at their paper, whereas I did not. I basically answered all questions before they were asked.
    Questions: So S clearly has contributed scientifically to the N paper. Is his contribution to I's paper less, solely because I is a better researcher than N? In other words, S doing the same except expressing a few questions to N which he doesn't express to I, does their contribution depend on the contribution of N vs. I? If so, could (or mabe even should) S ask some questions to I (that are OTOH neither necessary nor OTOH dumb), and thus gain a scientific contribution also to I's paper?

  • Assume a supervisor S thinks over a problem long and intensive enough to arrive at an idea how to tackle/solve it. E.g. sufficiently to decide that a solution can be managed by researcher R within a reasonable time frame. If S then hands over the task and explains the proposed solution strategy to R who in turn solves the problem, they clearly have a scientific contribution.
    Questions: if the S hands over the problem, but for the sake of the improved learning possibilites for R does not (initially - though it is at hand should R not find their way) outline the solution strategy, does S lose their contribution?
    Once R knows the task, they avoid any discourse with S, in order to make sure they'll get a single-author paper (i.e. avoid S's co-authorship). Is this a valid strategy for R?

Please note:
Wheras I maintain (until you convince me of the opposite) that what I called scientific contribution, are scientific contributions, I consider it a different question whether they are sufficiently large to warrant co-authorship on their own (assuming everyone contributes to the writing, which is also necessary), and one where the answer is very much field dependent.
Personally, if I were a supervisor in the described cases, I'd prefer acknowledgement - but then you cannot count me as I'm not entirely in academia anymore and thus do not have the full publication pressure.


"Could you please clarify if you are expecting a co-authorship even though I have done all the theory and the numerical part, and so I am confident I can write the paper by myself"? he will certainly say, YES. what next?

  • I'd consider this rather unnecessarily confrontational - particularly as you say you'd like to avoid conflict.
  • A more neutral alternative would be to tell him you're ready to start writing the paper and whether he wants to become co-author.
  • If he then says yes, it is time to tie down who is going to contribute what to the paper.

  • (BTW, This idea is largely not my own: I heard of a similar strategy from an acquaintance, where the student basically said they'd like to have professor as co-author on the paper, and what scientific contribution professor suggests to make)

  • I will tell you in points. 1) He is a Professor here and heads a research group within the dept. 2) He hired me and so my salary comes from the funding of one of the projects which his research group has. 3) He administers the project. 4) In the beginning he gave me two binders containing like 70/80 papers. 5) Since he is also working for the first time in this particular research field, he has no read them either. 6) I went quickly through them and found that they were not something that I would prefer. – Vikash Apr 8 '18 at 22:45
  • 7) I often pick a paper whose results I can reproduce and then I build my work on the top of it. This strategy give me confidence. 8) Then in mid-January, I found the right paper, say X's paper. I read it and liked it. I went to his office to show the paper. And then he said "Oh..so this is a joint finding". he had not read the paper in detail. 9) I worked the first half of the theory, send him the report. 10) He never replied any research related in mail. So in meetings he said, he trusts my derivation. Never went through it. But always asked for pdfs which I mailed to him. – Vikash Apr 8 '18 at 22:54
  • 11) A couple of weeks ago, i finished the theoretical derivation. he was very happy with this. 12) I thought this is the right time to ask him for a favor. Actually I am working in a remote location, and the dept is geology but I am a physicist. I cannot talk about my work with my colleagues. I feel like an old duckling. And city has nothing to offer for me. Not much activities are here. Since my work is theoretical/numerical I thought of going to city, an-hour flight time distant and work with physicist, fluid dynamics researchers there. many people had done it in the past. – Vikash Apr 8 '18 at 22:58
  • 13) I talked to him and asked if I can work for him based in another city. He said if it is a week visit, that is fine, but not otherwise. He said it clearly that "I will not pay you to work somewhere else." 14) This shook me. And he has often told me "we should have a meeting. I will help you in writing research proposals. I will extend your postdoc by 6 months or one year". But such meeting never happened in last 4 months. I believe he is just luring me to do more work in exchange of giving financial security. – Vikash Apr 8 '18 at 23:00
  • 15) Well he has accepted himself many times that he should more actively contribute to the paper but could not since he is busy with meetings. he often says, he will catch-up, but never did. And he has dropped enough hints that he has a share on the paper, he is boss and so co-authorship come natural. 16) he comes to the dept like twice a week and stay for max 3 hours. he just says he is busy with meetings. 17) Now my numerical code is ready, plots will be up soon. 18) he has not written a paper on the current research idea so I am not sure how much he could help. – Vikash Apr 8 '18 at 23:02

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