Just a quick question regarding authorship. Recently, a PI won a grant, which was used to buy some computer equipment (~$1000 piece of computation equipment along with some other equipment not relevant to the post).

I am a student that has been using the piece of equipment, as it was not being used by their students.

I am now going to be submitting a manuscript, which used the equipment as mentioned above. Does this entail the PI who won the funds to pay for it authorship? Or, as I believe, just acknowledgment (for both the grant and the PI who won it)?

EDIT 1: I should note, my research has nothing to do whatsoever with the PI's grant or their research.

EDIT 2: I found this interesting paper on the subject.

  • Varies according to the field, I believe. Find out what is the custom in your field.
    – GEdgar
    Jun 14, 2018 at 0:54
  • ask your PI / last author on the paper Jun 14, 2018 at 0:55
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    I'm aware it varies by field. Yes, I have consulted with my PI (supervisor), I am seeking general advise.
    – Shinobii
    Jun 14, 2018 at 1:15
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    See dfg.de/en/research_funding/principles_dfg_funding/… for the German guidelines. Short summary: No authorship, independent of field.
    – OBu
    Jun 14, 2018 at 8:21
  • If you are aware that it varies by field, it would have been a good idea to specify your field... Jun 14, 2018 at 14:09

3 Answers 3


Authorship, no, not if the only contribution was a piece of equipment. Authorship at a minimum requires an intellectual contribution to the project.

Acknowledgment, perhaps. $1000 sounds like a fairly minimal investment for an acknowledgment even, but the standards for what is worthy of acknowledging are much more up to the authors of a given paper. If the work truly would not have been possible without the equipment, then it may certainly be appropriate. If you were just borrowing someone's unused computer, that doesn't sound acknowledgment-worthy to me.

On a brief note in the other direction: some people come here and ask authorship questions where they feel someone (usually an advisor) doesn't deserve authorship, but in reality they made a substantial intellectual contribution to the project. Norms for this vary by field, but make sure when you are assessing answers you get here that you are describing this PI's complete contribution accurately.

  • Keep it mind there's also opportunity cost for that equipment. If a random student from another lab fills up my file server, it's not the couple hundred bucks I spent on an SSD that's my contribution.
    – Fomite
    Jun 14, 2018 at 23:03
  • @Fomite I don't think that's correct. The opportunity cost of that SSD could not be more than the cost of that SSD, unless there is some sort of world-wide SSD shortage, which you could also represent with an increased value of the SSD. Opportunity cost can't be more than the value of the thing you don't have the opportunity to use. I could see if someone is taking up lab space, their use is of more than just equipment, because space is not free, but space is still not an intellectual contribution and I stand by my answer.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 15, 2018 at 19:03
  • I don't actually disagree with your comment - just that it's inherently the dollar value that represents a "minimal investment". Because while there is no shortage of SSDs, there is a shortage of "Time I have to spend dealing with the server throwing errors because you filled up that SSD." I don't think it rises to the level of an intellectual contribution, but I think both there are smaller amounts that would, and larger amounts that wouldn't.
    – Fomite
    Jun 15, 2018 at 20:22

Journals have clear requirements of the authors, so it seems like you're asking a trivial question. But the rules do get bent/broken every day, so perhaps it is useful to point out that those requirements aren't a huge deal. It isn't like patents where including a non-contributing inventor can invalidate the whole thing. Keep in mind people stick their neck out by co-authoring your paper; if you commit misconduct or make a major error, they look bad too.

But the job of all authors isn't done until the paper is published. You need them in the loop at each step, and with an unsubmitted manuscript you aren't near the final step yet. So the real question is are you compelled, by custom or politeness or something, to offer an opportunity to co-author your paper to those who have helped you. This doesn't mean just slap their name on there like you would a reference, but to send them the draft and ask them if they wish to co-author it. Which implies that they will subsequently contribute meaningfully, and thereby earn legitimate co-authorship. And indeed the boundaries of what kind of favor rates this response probably varies by field.

I will say that burning bridges (by annoying people who had expected their minor contribution to pay off) can hurt you, while minimizing the number of co-authors doesn't help you too much. It may even hurt you as you appear less collaborative.

  • Thanks for your insight. Let's not forget, what seems cut and dry for authorship, is generally never so, there always remains a large gray area. You are correct about the burning bridges statement, and I could care less about how many co-authors are on the manuscript. I suppose I find it overall petty, that anyone can buy $1000 piece of common equipment (with a grant or otherwise) and assume co-authorship. Seems like an easy way to pad a CV. In my mind, acknowledging the PI would be sufficient. Perhaps I am being overly emotional here, as the PI was quite rude about it.
    – Shinobii
    Jun 14, 2018 at 16:14

Is the grant related to the project you worked on? If so, in my field (CS) that would be enough. Without their intellectual contribution there would have been no grant, no equipment, and no project.

Perhaps you should ask why are you writing a manuscript without supervision from a more senior researcher (if that's the case).

  • 1
    At least for Geramny I strongly disagree (assuming that the publication is not related to the grant the PI wrote, which is how I understood the question)! Ref: dfg.de/foerderung/grundlagen_rahmenbedingungen/gwp (english version at dfg.de/en/research_funding/principles_dfg_funding/…)
    – OBu
    Jun 14, 2018 at 8:18
  • I disagree about your disagreement. If the project one is working on has been designed by someone else, you are mainly executing a plan. You can have an original approach and be the first author, but in my view this does not dismiss the PI's original work in coming up with the idea. Of course, if the project OP is working on has nothing to do with the grant's original idea, then yes, the case is much weaker. Jun 14, 2018 at 8:33
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    and the OP wrote "I was using the equipement as it was not used bei their students" which indicates, that the OPs project is unrelated to the grant. I agree: If someone acquires a grant, they put significant IP in it and this qualifies them as author for resulting publications.
    – OBu
    Jun 14, 2018 at 9:17
  • Further, the epuipment is a typical off the shelf component. I could use my laptop instead, but the $1000 piece of generic equipment is faster. I may just buy my own and be done with it. Thanks for all the discussion! This is a great ethical example of authorship woes.
    – Shinobii
    Jun 14, 2018 at 13:46

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