We are preparing a new paper and my supervisor tells me that we have to put the name of a person on our paper because he was involved in getting us the grant. He says it is because of future grants and that we want to show that he was involved in the research -- and obviously he was not. I think we are supposed to work with him on the last year of my PhD, but not now. My supervisor already knows that I am against it and tells me that this is an “order” and it is because of some sort of “politics”. I can reject but I am not sure what are the consequences. What a PhD student should do in such a situation?

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    You need to ask yourself if this is a hill you want to die on. In any case, you now know that you should ask about how they handle authorship during the interview for your next position if you stay in academia.
    – user9482
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 9:21
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    I've had similar requests with similar reasoning from a collaborator as a postdoc. I could prevent it because my advisor had my back. It's much more difficult and risky as a phd student against your advisor.
    – user9482
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 9:25
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    In some fields, everyone that helped to, or gave money is an author of the paper. Commented May 1, 2018 at 10:36
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    @AnderBiguri It may be a convention, but it's a ludicrous convention. Commented May 1, 2018 at 12:39
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8 Answers 8


This is a very common situation in Korea. It's because of the grants and the relationship that is good for future grants.

To me, it's a personal choice. If you want to continue your work and live in your current institution, you have to do that. Otherwise, let's go.


Have you written a grant proposal? My SO at the time was a prof and geochem research scientist. She has generated millions in grants for her collaborators, students and herself to push their research forward. The latest grant I saw her work took many months gathering data and papers, hashing out schedules and compensation for collaborators, students and contractors. She had to prospectively estimate everything from travel costs for the people gathering samples, to costs for reactor and instrument time.

Would her time have been spent better doing science or assisting her students? Absolutely, but grant writing can be difficult as it requires intimate knowledge of the discipline and particular work being done on the project. This is a difficult role to fill that is usually done by researchers themselves, if they want to stay in the "biz".

If she wasn't already one of the lead authors on this research, I would say she undoubtedly deserved to be named on the project. Just because you are writing a paper does not mean the paper is your final product. The paper is a description of your final product, the process of creating the product, and credits those who assisted.

The person that procured your grant absolutely assisted in your research, consider how your project would have gone without it.

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    If you put that much work into writing a grant proposal you should involve yourself in the project and should have contributed to the manuscript.
    – user9482
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 14:33
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    In my experience, any scientist that is involved in a grant as deeply as your SO is also sufficiently involved in the development of papers under that grant - so naturally merits authorship under all criteria. I bet the person in OP's question had very little to do with the grant proposal - possibly just as a famous name-drop, or to have a bigger the "collaborations" section.
    – juod
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 14:37
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    Does our administrative assistant who handles payroll and funding for trips and reimbursement and travel documents and lord knows what other things I can't think of that supports my research get authorship credit then too? Of course not. Do the grant writers in the office of research who help us seek out and write grant proposals get authorship? Of course not. There needs to be something beyond getting and giving money. Commented May 1, 2018 at 16:28
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    It seems like the concept of "authorship" has been conflated in the industry to subsume everyone who has made material contributions to the science described in a paper. I assume that those who want "credit" for being materially involved would necessarily want to be part of the authors as citations seem to be the real currency of the realm. I know papers often offer thanks to individuals or groups that provide non-material support to show their gratitude, maybe if these credit sections had more weight in the industry, some who insist on authorship could be then satiated with a credit.
    – joshperry
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 19:41
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    @joshperry In my field, the only person who gets authorship is the person who actually wrote the paper. Everyone else — the ones who facilitated data, helped with editing, even drew illustrations, provided funding, etc — will get at best a footnote acknowledgement if it's an article, and mentioned in a foreword if it's a monograph. So when I see these debates on authorship I admit I take a much more cynical view. But as you say, people should get their credit. Credit shouldn't be equated with authorship, though. Commented May 1, 2018 at 19:54

You should put them on the paper.

You are a PhD student. Your role is to produce original research and set yourself up for a potential careers as an independent researcher. Spending your energy and political capital fighting battles as a guardian of your take on the meaning of authorship is simply a waste of your time and energy. Souring your relationship with your advisor over something that ultimately has almost no negative effect on you is a bad choice for you to make.

The definition of whose role justifies authorship exactly is grey enough that you should not feel that you are doing something markedly unethical, even if you would prefer not to. Pick your battles, and let this one slide.

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    Depending on the journal, the rules for authorship are not grey at all, but may be clearly defined. Yet many insist in skipping these. Check for instance ICMJE authorship requirements which are adopted by most mainstream bioscience journals. Another point, the giver of gift authorships does lose something. Apart from being forced into to a favor-exchange deal which can grow in the future, a paper with excessive null or bad-reputed authors is taken way less seriously than single-authored authoritative pieces.
    – Scientist
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 13:11
  • @Scientist ICMJE are adopted by many biomedical journals but have fortunately not yet spread and polluted bioscience journals more generally. But you are more generally correct that some journals do have specific guidelines that can be adhered to in those cases. As for your final point, I don't think that's remotely true in the area I work in - and single author research papers are exceptionally rare - but these standards vary so widely between fields that I won't comment more generally. Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:09

If you really hate the idea putting someone on your paper because of funding and not contributing to the research directly, you could write in the text "thanks to XY for funding". With this, it might be obvious that this person is on the paper because of funding purposes. But you should also keep in mind that this person might not have been involved intelectually, but did indeed help you researching if he funded you.

In my department I see this quite often and the people don't actually care too much. Personally I would also not care too much, since you are the 1st author (I assume) it should be known that you did the the most work of this paper.


The wise thing to do is to simply give in. The ethical thing to do is to report this.

If you choose the wise path, your adviser will simply shrug off your insubordination. But, expect him to make you offers you can't refuse from time to time. In exchange, you keep publishing with the group, and if you do your job well, you may have a better chance to stay in the academia. It is worth doing this if your presence in the group ensures you would publish in high impact journals.

If you choose the ethical path, you have to report these people. But, it depends on how ethical is the university you study at. Do they ever enforce these rules when it comes to authorship, plagiarism, etc.? Would your word count in any way against your adviser's? Can your adviser retaliate? Are you ready to leave the research group/university over this? If you can answer yes to all these questions, be ethical.

If you choose to be wise, at least try not to do the same unethical things to your own students/postdocs when you get to be a PI.

I personally advise wisdom, because wisdom means you choose your health over the health of the academia. Doing so you save yourself years of pain, but you also help salesmen/politicians take over academia. When salesmen take over academia, odd things happen. For example, there is a guy at my institution who gets free authorship from a big collaborative project. He does not do research on it, he has no PhD, and he simply uses these papers to boost his CV to stay group leader and get lots research money that go into his salary. Now this guy is in grant committees and gives money to other guys just like him and cannot understand how is it possible for a normal person to take one year to finish a paper. I mean, he publishes at least 40.


My first reaction upon reading the question was no.

However, @johnperry provided a useful perspective. Writing a grant can actually be part of the experiment planning and design. Thus, the person in question might comply with the first criterion of the Vancouver convention.

Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND

Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND

Final approval of the version to be published; AND

Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

Given these criteria, these are some good questions that you can ask your supervisor:

Has the person in question made any intellectual contributions to the project that I'm unaware of?

If the person drafted a grant proposal for the project you worked on, you should be able to check this grant proposal.

Has the person jn question made intellectual contributions that qualify under criterion 1 of the Vancouver convention?

Should I send a draft of my paper to this person for editing, revisions and approval?

Frank answers from your supervisor may make the matter clearer. Maybe the person really did a good job with drafting the grant proposal and put his scientific expertise into that.

A refuse to answer will be a red flag, but than it's your call to comply or to leave.


Probably the answer is to put them on the paper. (I would tell them to pack sand if they want to insert irrelevant edits though...some things are too much.) There is a lot of hypocrisy in academia.

I had same experience, but was headed to McKinsey and had a national award (so nobody could touch me). It was still a big kerfuffle when I told the buddy of my advisor to pack sand (and the advisor himself had no real contribution, so it was like second order BS). Two papers: one I just punted on...eventually we published without him a couple years later as my advisor wanted to get it out. And another where I would have crashed the cars too...but I had a colleague who had done a lot of supporting experiments...so got her out...but even there, I too my name off first author at the end (despite being prime mover).


To determine whether somebody is an author to a paper a simple rule is to ask yourself the following: "Would this research have been performed the way it is, was that person not somehow involved?"

If the answer is yes, then that person likely deserves authorship. It's then up to them to give it up.

This is analogous to having somebody "lending" you class time to perform an experiment during their course (e.g. with their students): even if they do not collect the data or run any analysis,, you wouldn't have performed any of that without their collaboration/interest/resources.

edit: I probably should have said "To determine whether somebody may expect to be an author to a paper a simple rule is..", and "If the answer is yes, then that person may claim authorship."

I agree that this is a poisonous setting, but is not up to OP, who is a PhD student, to change it. If he/she is told add an author to the list, in my opinion that's entirely to be expected if it falls within the loose rule above. Is this how it should work? Most likely no. When OP will be a full professor who can set some of the rules of the game, I'll tell him to follow the COPE guidelines that @Roland suggests below.

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    I suggest to follow COPE's recommendations instead of your "simple rule".
    – user9482
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 14:38
  • By that judgment, I'm sure the president of the university should be on the paper, too. In fact, why not have OP's representative in the Parliament/Congress/Senate on the paper? How about the head of the grant agency?
    – user21264
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 6:52
  • @Roland No need to be paternalistic. See the very answer to this matter in the "common scenarios" section of the COPE's document. Tell a PhD student who is ordered to add somebody in the list of authors to go to their supervisor with the COPE's document in hand, and have their academic life die right there. These changes may come when the PhD student will be Full Professor; for now things work this way (at least in my field).
    – L.A.
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 6:59
  • Does it include the possibility that the research would have been better if that person had not been included? Usually this is exactly the case with gift/honorary authors. No matter how innocuous, typically they increase the burden on submission process and on the list of authors. The more useless authors the weaker is your work -- that's a rule of thumb to observe.
    – Scientist
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 13:16

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