My colleague presented two separate posters, one at a domestic conference and another at an international conference, based on the work both of us have been collaborating for past 1.5 years.

Before submitting the abstract or the poster, they did not seek my approval. In fact, I was not aware of this until recently.

In the poster, they put themselves first in the author list and me as second. Apart from the fact that poster submission was not disclosed, the authorship order was not explicitly discussed.

In the poster, they included an elaborate set of their contact information, even (non-traditional in academic publishing) details such as tweet handle and other auxiliary information, when clearly there was space to include the rest of the authors information.

I am offended by this. I am not sure what the universally accepted academic code of conduct in such instances is?

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    What discipline is this occurring in? (Are you in a conference-driven field or a journal-dominant field?) Also, what are your respective current career statuses?
    – aeismail
    May 23, 2018 at 2:22
  • 'I am offended by this. I am not sure what the universally accepted academic code of conduct in such instances is?' Although this features a question mark, does not strike as a fully formed question. Would be worth rephrasing.
    – G-E
    May 23, 2018 at 13:38
  • Echoing @aeismail, what field is this? Oct 11, 2018 at 1:45

3 Answers 3


Ultimately there isn't a single valid approach here. The appropriate level of response depends on several factors, including the field in which the work is being performed, the nature of the conference, the status of the work relative to publishing practices in the field, and so on.

For instance, if you're in a field where posters are peer-reviewed before a conference, then it's a much more significant issue than presenting a poster at, for instance, a Gordon Research Conference where posters are explicitly considered to be "for discussion only" and are not intended to be used for publication. As for the author order, some societies (for instance, the APS) expect that the poster (or talk) be given by the first author as listed at submission—whether or not this is fundamentally the way it would be listed in a paper.

Looking at the ethical issue—has the work been published already somewhere or otherwise public? If so, your co-author may have thought it was OK to present a poster on the material; after all, you've already consented to publishing it elsewhere. On the other hand, if this is the first time the work has been presented, then it absolutely is ethically wrong to present the work without your consent.

The level of your response, though, should be scaled according to both the level of the offense and your desire to continue the collaboration. If you're angry that it was done but still want to work together, a somewhat measured response (the "sternly worded letter" approach) is probably best. If this has poisoned your relationship to the point where you can't see continuing to work together—and you want to have your colleague punished for the transgression—then you should make that clear. But I would hope the opening salvo here should be open and forthright dialogue with your colleague rather than a report to an ethics committee.

(Also, this advice can't really be generalized to large-scale collaborations where it simply is not possible to obtain informed consent from every participant on every paper produced as part of the collaboration.)

  • Let's assume that OP's case is indeed that of the peer-reviewed conference, with no previous publication. If it were a low-profile for-discussion-only affair, or a re-publication, OP would probably not have been so pissed and anyway the first case is the more interesting for us to address.
    – einpoklum
    Oct 14, 2018 at 21:14

I will mention the other side of the issue than ethics.

Assume that no contact information was there other than your e-mail and you were the sole author of the poster, but only your colleague presented it. Still you will get almost no benefit from it. If you did the considerable part of the work, s/he would be unable to present it in an attractive way and simply no one would show any interest. If s/he did a considerable part and willing to present, then she (un/)intentionally steal your audience.

I had a poster presentation overseas, and neither I nor other author and our advisor were able to go there, but another Ph. D. student of the group presented it. And no one cared. In short, the aim of the poster presentation is to sell your work to your prospective advisors/colleagues, if you are not yourself there, nothing worth to feel sad.

  • @einpoklum not at all. I mentioned that it does not matter whoever is the first author or present in the author list, if you are not by yourself there, the poster, its audience is simply not yours, so it is trivial to feel bad about author ordering ethics.
    – user91300
    Oct 15, 2018 at 8:00

I am not aware of a "universally accepted academic code of conduct". Based on your description, your coauthor's behavior was unethical (by my standards), but they did not break any laws (I am not a lawyer, just guessing).

The first point I would check is your coauthor's institution's Academic Code of Conduct or similar document. If they violated their employer's guidelines, you can notify their employer if you wish.

You can also check the conference submission guidelines for requirements on author order and contact details. Again, if they violated these, you may let the conference organizers know. Other than that, I do not think you have formal ways to punish the coauthor.

  • You're confusing "breaking laws" with a legal liability. If unfairly hurt your interests, you might be able to sue me for compensation - in a civil rather than criminal procedure - even though the state can arraign me for any sort of criminal act.
    – einpoklum
    Oct 10, 2018 at 21:38
  • @einpoklum Thank you for clarifying the law - even better would be a reference to the legal code of some country that backs up the statement. The qualifier "unfairly" in hurting the interests is a bit vague, presumably the law or the court determines what is unfair hurting of interests, as opposed to, say, legitimate competition. Oct 10, 2018 at 22:10
  • What constitutes "unfairly" or "unduly" differs among legal systems of course, even putting judicial discretion aside.
    – einpoklum
    Oct 10, 2018 at 22:19
  • There are regulations which are not state laws that are likely to have been broken.
    – einpoklum
    Oct 14, 2018 at 21:15

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