I am in my 3rd year of PhD. In my program, it is a requirement for PhD students to graduate with a paper that is published in a Scopus Index journal.

Before I entered, and during my PhD, I had already published a few papers to a Scopus index peer reviewed journal (for topics not based on my thesis). At the moment, I am trying to publish a paper as a part of my thesis (with my supervisors' names), but my supervisors keep criticizing the paper and making me rewrite it again and again. This has been going on for two years.

However, I did submit another paper (a part of my thesis) under my own name and without my supervisors' knowledge, and it was accepted. This paper was done without any intellectual contributions from my supervisors - no writing or reviewing. When I told my supervisors about the paper (but not its acceptance,) they were angry that I hadn't included their names, and they asked me to include their names in it. Unfortunately, the editor said I couldn't as I had submitted it initially as one author only.

I am aware that it is my fault that I didn't ask them beforehand, but I know in my heart that if I had included them, it would have taken months or years to even get their approval. In all honesty, they would have ended up demotivating me. I am now really scared to tell them that it has already been published and I cannot add their names.

Can you give me any advice how to handle this situation?

  • 32
    It’s important to note that it’s a supervisor’s job to criticise your paper (although there are obviously good and bad ways of doing that). Spending two years to write a paper is long but by no means unheard of. Your supervisor might very well have a point; it’s impossible for us to judge this from your description. Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 10:34
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    How closely related are the paper your supervisor has been criticizing and the one you submitted for publication? And is the criticism of the form, "Rewrite this paragraph to be more clear", or "This part needs more support; run this experiment"? If the criticism is of the latter sort, and the paper you submitted would have benefited from that criticism, then it's a lot more likely that your supervisor should be on the authors list.
    – Ray
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 19:48
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    Can you clarify why you feel your supervisors made no intellectual contribution? Intellectual contribution doesn't just mean writing! You seem to be stating the your supervisors didn't know anything about the paper and left you completely to your own devices. Is this the case?
    – cag51
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 20:45
  • 2
    Same happened to me, during initial phase of my PhD, I published an article in top journal as a single author. After that, I did 7 more publications in top journal coauthored with my PhD supervisor. In all publications my supervisor contributed nothing, not even review of manuscript draft. Now, I it has been one year elapsed and my thesis is still pending with reviewers. I personally feel that my supervisor is in sort of grudge with me and intentionally delaying my thesis review.
    – IgotiT
    Commented Jul 18, 2018 at 6:10
  • 4
    @IgotiT Your story begs the question: "what is the point of a PhD?" Doesn't 8 publications in top journals prove your credentials as a researcher. Do you really need that piece of paper? (You probably in fact do, but the question is should you need it?)
    – emory
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 19:08

10 Answers 10


The answers here are generally explaining the fact that supervisors should not be omitted from the authorship as they are supposed to direct and contribute to the research.

The critical problem is, you are saying that they did not contribute at all, and they, naturally, did not write or review the published article. Still they try to add their names as authors when they learned about the article submitted. You can not be an author if you did not even review the article, just this information is sufficient to see that the ethical misconduct is mostly on their side.

Your problem is, you can not both submit an article without making "such" people authors and at the same time maintain a good relationship with them. A one-author paper is, for me, much better than giving credit to the people who disregard the functioning of the academy, by both hardening the situations unnecessarily and also making academic misconducts. Even if you somehow get your advisors' names added to the paper, they will never ever forget this. At the same time, you shake the ethical ground of your publication by this act of "correction", and it may, in the end, cause the rejection to your paper. All the while, you will still be considered untrustworthy by your advisors, quite rightly in their perspectives.

Your only choice is to forget about updating the author names, and find some other ways to correct your relationship with the advisors.

And please keep in mind that in academy, at least in Turkey, almost everyone faced in a situation that more than the bulk of work done by someone and just because their advisors don't like them they don't give authorship to the corresponding researcher. And these advisors made their Ph.D. in top-tier universities of USA. I think you will most likely face such problems from now on.

  • 3
    thank you so much for the comment. the comment atleast made me feel better. when they were angry last time, they told me that they will be inquired by the top management on why their names are not on the paper, which is why best to put their name. which honestly i think is ridiculous because they did not contribute at all. Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 7:05
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    A supervisor not making any intellectual contribution to a PhD student’s work is nigh impossible to imagine. This would have to be a very incompetent supervisor indeed. Nevertheless, this answer provides a good alternative perspective that’s utterly missing from the other answers. Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 10:31
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    @KonradRudolph somtimes that happens, in general when advisor take subject and student which they don't have any interest, and sometimes when they simply have some issues with the corresponding student, even if the supervisor is competent. You know, the qualiy is temporal, and sometimes fluctuates; that's why I don't feel startled when I see cases similar to the question.
    – user91300
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 12:40
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    @KonradRudolph "A supervisor not making any intellectual contribution to a PhD student’s work is nigh impossible to imagine." -- It isn't. I have seen many. In certain institutions in certain countries parasitic supervisors who only sign paperwork and take credit for minion's sweat are commonplace. These are seldom available to discuss, and when they do they're just feigning interest / participation. Such seems the case of the OP's "owners", where their pretence has delayed his progress beyond patience.
    – Scientist
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 16:15
  • 4
    you'll be happy to know this is not a Turkey thing, I have seen it done in top universities around the world (not to me personally, thankfully). Basically, humans can be humans everywhere. Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 20:12

The key question is whether the supervisors made any intellectual contribution to this paper. Note, intellectual contribution does not only mean writing the manuscript! In some fields, advisors expect to be listed on all papers because of their work securing funding and running the lab (and the intellectual contributions required to do so). At a minimum, advisors probably expect to be looped in on all your activities, so that they can give advice and potentially earn authorship through those discussions.

If your advisors (according to the standards of your subfield) did in fact deserve to be listed as authors, then failing to list them could probably be considered academic misconduct on your part. In this post, we considered exactly this issue: given a supervisor who required 32 drafts over 4 years (!!), the [now former] student wanted to downgrade the supervisor to an acknowledgement so as to submit the paper without requiring their approval. The verdict was unequivocal:

If he deserves to be an author based on his intellectual contributions to the paper, then it would be unethical to deny him authorship based on being difficult to work with

Now you may not feel that your advisors deserved authorship, but this is not for you to decide -- by agreeing to collaborate with them on your thesis, you agreed to work together and co-publish any results. You can't unilaterally decide their contributions were worthless after the fact.

In this post, we consider the inverse situation: a professor taking credit for his students' work without acknowledging them. As the answers show, this behavior was completely unacceptable, but it's difficult for students to seek redress when professors misbehave. Unfortunately for you, it's rather easy for professors to seek redress when students misbehave.

In the other direction, it is possible that your advisors were not eligible for authorship according to the standards of your field. In this case, there is no academic misconduct; this is "merely" an interpersonal issue. Still, I can understand your advisors being very angry: you are supposed to be collaborating with them full-time, and instead you are secretly doing - and publishing - other work. All the worse if they are paying for your time, equipment, training, etc.

So, what should you do? I would start by understanding what your options are. Is there any way to prevent the article from being published? Can you retract the article? Assuming the supervisors contributed to the work, could you publish an addendum saying that authors were incorrectly listed? Then, you should take these options to your supervisors. Tell them that you understand you had no right to publish thesis-related work without their inputs, that you regret it deeply, and that you will address the situation however they want. Hopefully this will resolve itself, but you should think about what you will do if they refuse to continue working with you.

  • 29
    My supervisors did not make any intellectual contributions to the published paper. They did not write anything, nor review it. But since it is as part of my thesis, they feel like I should include them as authors. thank you for the advice. unfortunately, it has already been published and there is not much i can do but to apologize. i honestly feel like I will go crazy if I don't have any other paper to do (other than my thesis). i Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 6:13
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    Writing is the easy part! If you steal their idea and publish it, it does not become your idea just because you wrote it up. I know you don't think you "stole" their ideas -- but in a sense you did, by agreeing to collaborate with them on your thesis, you agreed to pool your ideas and your publications. You can't go back and re-adjudicate who thought of what after the fact, and you particularly can't do so unilaterally.
    – cag51
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 6:24
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    @PearlHyatt Authorship and attribution can be a touchy thing to sort out in general. Standards and expectations vary across fields, and even locale. In some cases it is accepted practice that things like "provided the idea and fundamental design for the research" is already good enough for authorship, at least in part because this is considered a genuinely significant and difficult task. Experimental/laboratory sciences, or anything that routinely involves a "PI", seem to be in this vein. For more purely theoretical work such a contribution is often only worth an acknowledgment. Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 6:41
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    It is not about academic misconduct on his part, it's about the academia process being rotten. This is why people that never actually did research appear in a gazilion papers and if you ask them about any of the papers they appear on they tell you the student that did that left years ago and cannot help. Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 14:53
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    telling someone else to continuously rewrite without giving any directions is no contribution.
    – Scientist
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 16:17

To add on to cag51's answer, chances are the editor is being careful about changing the author list because situations where authorship was purchased have happened before. One can guess how it's done: the original authors submit the article, it's accepted (or accepted pending minor revisions), and then during the next stage they amend the author list. Superficially, from the editor's point of view, this seems like what you're trying to do.

It's likely that the journal will let you amend the author list, but only if you give a thorough explanation of why you need to change it. Tell them the added authors are actually your supervisors. Prove it by using your institutional email address, giving your supervisors' names, and their official institutional websites. You can copy your supervisors, too, using their institutional email address (this is arguably a good idea in any case, given the academic misconduct). You may be asked about what each author's exact contributions were, so prepare a response.

You can't change the past, but you can change the future. Making genuine, good-faith efforts to fix the mishap will go a long way towards fixing your relationship with your supervisors.

  • 7
    and not just the organizational issues: You should describe how they contributed to the paper. E.g. author abc gave the idea for this paper, def did the state of the art and performed the expewriments, abc and def interpreted the results and did the discussions, ...
    – OBu
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 6:23
  • 3
    And adding onto what OBu adds, the journal in question hopefully has some guidelines regarding authorship criteria which can be pointed to. If their own criteria support the addition of the other author(s) that should make things go over more smoothly. If they clearly do not, that could be used as a potential defense against the supervisor's ire. Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 6:47
  • 2
    @OBu That would be rather hard, though, as Pearl does not believe the supervisors contributed anything.
    – Jasper
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 13:12

I am going to add a different point of view to this discussion. In my perception it is blown out of proportion. It is just a paper, one paper. And I understand your supervisors do not really have a legitimate claim to be co-author.

Don’t be too harsh on yourself. It happened and from your point of view I fully understand your actions. You just didn’t foresee the consequences what might happen when the paper against all odds would get accepted...

I guess the main problem is perceived loss of face by your supervisors.

For now, I see you taking your responsibility. You are trying to learn from this situation. My advise would be: discuss it openly with your supervisors. Tell them you feel you made a mistake which you sincerely regret. You tried to correct it, but couldn’t. You tell them what motivated you to take this initiative (sending in as sole author). You are really sorry and you want to prevent such situation from happening in the future.

I also hope your supervisors will equality take their responsibility. Everybody contributed to this situation. Your supervisors are more mature and more experienced than you are. If I were your supervisor, I would blame myself most and would ask myself (and you) what I should have done differently.

I have experienced similar situations from both sides (not as PhD supervisor but as master thesis supervisor (resulting in publications), as team leader, boss and the person being supervised).

  • 6
    +1 sound perspective. Hopefully everyone involved is equally sane and this leads to an outcome better for anyone involved (readers included).
    – Scientist
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 16:21
  • 1
    @Scientist which is rarely the case when everyone involved are equally sane :)
    – Arefe
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 8:00

I think the problem here is very similar to the one in this thread.

The ethical issue is not that the advisor's name should be added at this late stage---which would be unethical, as they apparently did not contribute---, but that they should have been given a chance to contribute, and hence become a valid author, before publication. Similarly to the linked question, you agreed to collaborate with your advisor and went behind their back, denied them the chance to contribute, and published a paper on a topic that they presumably wanted to collaborate with you.

Honestly, there is not much that can be done at this point. I can understand your advisor's standpoint as well as you wanting to move faster. I also think that your advisor is being unethical by demanding that you add their name to a paper that is ready for publication.

I do think your advisor is overreacting a little, but it is difficult to predict people's behaviors. There isn't anything wrong with publishing alone per se during your PhD (as many do), but it has to be mutually agreed beforehand. Presumably your advisor has shared many ideas, comments and suggestions with you in the past, and you not wanting to share one of yours, and work on it together, may be seem as a sign that you either don't trust them, or work to make them not trust you, all of which are bad for an advisor-student relationship. In any case, use the approach to understand what you did wrong, and correct it in your future collaborations.

If you feel that leaving yourself as the sole author will definitely hurt your relationship with your advisor, in my opinion the path that would burn the least bridges is to prevent the manuscript from being published (if at all possible at this stage), work on a new version together, and submit to another journal. The editor may not be happy about this, but ask your advisor if this is something that they would be OK with.

  • 1
    This answer is weird. I want my PhD students to develop into independent researchers. If they develop a result without my help, of course they should just publish it, without asking my permission. I have no more right to be their coauthor, or even to be their collaborator, than anyone else. The idea that my PhD students should ask my permission to do the very thing that the PhD program is supposed to train them to do is mindboggling.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 14:22
  • 1
    @JeffE it is not about seeking permission, it's about giving the advisor a chance to collaborate. This is analogous to the supervisor independently working on a students' thesis project and publishing before the student. The advisor knows that the student is interested in that topic, and given that they have a formal collaboration, it would be borderline unethical for the advisor to work on it independently. Similarly, the student knows that the advisor has vested interest in the student's thesis project, and not involving the advisor in a related publication is unfair to the advisor.
    – FBolst
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 19:23
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    @JeffE "The motivation behind OP's action is very selfish." Is it really? According to the OP: "I am aware that it is my fault that I didn't ask them beforehand, but I know in my heart that if I had included them, it would have taken months or years to even get their approval. In all honesty, they would have ended up demotivating me."
    – user76284
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 19:51
  • 1
    @user76284 that's a good point, especially because the advisor seems to be unethical. But I still think the situation could have been solved more diplomatically. Perhaps even by changing advisors if the current one is unwilling to collaborate effectively.
    – FBolst
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 19:56
  • 1
    @user76284 is right. Anything that demotivates the student is a no-go and must be avoided or else they will likely hop off at some point. It seems this particular student is wiser than most beginner PhD students. Commented Jul 21, 2018 at 6:02

The answer you have accepted already has the main point right: a supervisor is not necessarily entitled to co-authorship on every one of a student's papers just because they are a supervisor. (But it may help to check if your institution has a policy on this if you intend to argue your point!) I have a few further thoughts on how you might handle the uncomfortable situation of needing these people on side to graduate.

During my PhD candidature, like your supervisors my supervisor would unnecessarily obstruct me in my attempts to publish most of the time. (One of many reasons I did not complete a PhD with him, but that's another story.) I actually missed the submission deadline on one publication I had specially written a paper for because he insisted I could not publish without his final approval and then ignored all my attempts to request that approval. But he was also a big help in getting me to publish work based on research I had done with him as a student prior - because having a publication already made the university more willing to take me on as a PhD candidate, and he wanted me as a student. So it benefited both of us in a way he cared about.

The fact that publication is required for your graduation makes me wonder if your institution also places publication requirements/expectations on research staff. And I wonder if they, like my supervisor, are unmotivated when it comes to pushing through to publication anything that is not going to usefully impact on their quota or - as they see it - yours. Perhaps the publication you are targeting is not of a type they need further authorship credits for and so they are happy to keep casually nitpicking or trying to discourage you from the effort until you are working on something they care to push through. Maybe they don't even realise they're doing it, or that they have been discouraging you rather than helping. Maybe from their perspective you are easily capable of getting your publication requirement fulfilled and they feel pushing you to perfect that publication is what they should do as supervisors. I happened to be at my university while they were transitioning to a system of expecting certain publication output, and the quotas had a peculiar impact on behaviour institution-wide to say the least.

To smooth this situation over you might seek their advice on what publications to submit to in future, even if they are not your preferred venues. Then you are giving them every opportunity to be on board and contribute. But if they continue to obstruct you like this resulting in your having fewer publications than you might be capable of, you are not obliged to let them do so. Cultural expectations of PhD students do vary, but given the situation you have described you appear to have or at least to want some independence in your course, and as someone learning to be an independent researcher it is fine to occasionally say, 'Thank you for these suggestions but taking this on board I am going to go with [this approach].' If you find you are never able to do this then this is not an ideal supervisory situation for a student with a desire to direct their own learning.


Well, based on your description, it looks like you now have limited options. If the paper has already been published it might be too late to add other authors except possibly as an addendum. If the journal editor is not receptive to this, you might find it difficult to correct. So presumably a big part of the issue now is what you should do to follow this up, and what you should do in the future, when dealing with other papers. From your post I am also assuming that you do not dispute the claim of your supervisors that they are legitimate co-authors of the paper. In view of this, here is my advice:

  • When engaging in a relationship between student and supervisor, it is a good idea to negotiate the expectations for publications up front, prior to writing papers. Supervisors have reasonable claims to be included in publications if they are assisting you with your work. If they make an appropriate contribution to the research, they are entitled to be included as co-authors. It is a good idea to discuss expectations at the start of your supervisory relationship.

  • Certainly you should not publish work they have helped with behind their back, without them having an opportunity to claim co-authorship. As others have pointed out, this could amount to academic misconduct. It is unsurprising that your supervisors are angry, since they have spent a lot of time helping with this research, but they are not acknowledge as co-authors. Since you are a graduate student, and not necessarily experienced in this, they might forgive this error in time, but you'll have to wait and see.

  • As a student, you probably do not see things from the perspective of these academics. When you are an academic, supervising a student is a huge amount of work, and the main reward for that work is co-authorship of papers. Career success as an academic is hard work, and any activity that takes away time without producing research is generally a negative for success. If you take substantial time from your supervisors, but then prevent them from getting a valid co-authorship of your supervised research work, you harm their careers. (You are still paying the university for your degree, but the academics are not getting a reward for working with you.)

  • It sounds like you have already made some effort to rectify this with the journal, but you have not been successful. It would be a good idea to push this and make sure you exhaust all avenues of possible mitigation. If it is too late to add new authors to the publication (I don't see why it would be, at least in the online version) then you could ask the journal editor if you can publish an addendum with this information. I would suggest making every effort you can to convince the journal editor to allow you an opportunity to make this change.

  • Regardless of whether you succeed in adding their names to the paper, you should keep your supervisors updated of the progress of the paper, even if it is bad news. If you have been unsuccessful in adding their names to the paper, and it has now been published, you should update them of this fact. They might get angry again, but they are going to find that out sooner or later, so it is better if you disclose this information. If you are making efforts to seek an addendum, etc., you could also mention this, and keep them updated of your progress. It might even be worth asking them to help you convince the journal editor to allow an addendum (e.g., emailing the editor with you).

  • For future papers, it sounds like you want to be able to get advice from your supervisors, but you also want to have the freedom to submit the paper once you think it is ready, without having to be constrained by them adding more requirements. If this is the case then you should negotiate this with them up-front. It may well be reasonable for you to ask that you be allowed to submit to peer review at a certain stage, even if they want more changes. Peer review is a reasonable test of whether the paper is ready for publication, but bear in mind that your supervisors want to be happy with the paper if they are helping with it and intend to claim co-authorship. You should negotiate with them up front to discuss when you will have discretion to submit.

Good luck with sorting this out. The best outcome here would be to get a change to the online version of the publication to reflect the appropriate authorship; second best would be an addendum; third best would be for your supervisors to accept that you have made an error that might not be able to be rectify, but you've tried your best to fix it.


As I see it, there are two distinct questions: (1) Can you publish without putting your PhD supervisor on a paper to which she/he has not(!) contributed? (2) Can you include such a paper as part of your thesis?

1. Can you publish without putting your PhD supervisor on a paper? Basically all scientific journals have publishing guidelines stating that only those people should be included in the list of authors who have made important contributions to the paper. So, if in your case your supervisor did not contribute to that specific paper, then it is not even allowed to put him/her on the paper. Naming people as authors who have not contributed to the work is considered scientific misconduct. Note, that some journal guidelines even specifically state, that being the head of the division, department or institute, or providing funding for the research is not sufficient for earning authorship. There must be an intellectual contribution. If, on the other hand, your supervisor has made an intellectual contribution to the paper, then it would be misconduct not to include him/her on the author list (or at least offer them to include them).

In order to publish scientific work in a journal you do not need an academic title: you can publish as distinguished professor, but also as student or even as layperson that has never set foot into a University or institution of higher education. If you read through journal guidelines you might also notice the general absence of words like ‘student’, ‘supervisor’ or ‘professor’. The only distinction that is technically made is between corresponding author and co-authors. Here again, a supervisor has no privileges or a right to be the corresponding author only because of his/her rank/function. The idea of academia is that your contribution is evaluated based on the content only and not based on your gender, nationality, age or rank. So, even as a student or as a lay person you have the right and the opportunity to publish on your own account–as long as this work is yours. (It’s not too frequent, but it does happen.)

Has your supervisor made an intellectual contribution to the paper? This might be a question that might be more difficult to answer and where you and your supervisor might disagree. If your supervisor read and commented on your manuscript, this counts as a contribution; but also if he/she just discussed the ideas with you informally or within seminars, this can be considered a contribution. Arguably, even suggesting the topic of the thesis can be seen as contribution, though here the question arises how detailed this suggestion is. If the suggestion is of the kind “you might work on quantum mechanics”, this does obviously not give your supervisor the right to be on all papers you will ever publish on quantum mechanics. If, on the other hand she says “Hey, look at the work of XY and their results YZ, which are rather interesting because they imply that XX and therefore it would be interesting to investigate what happens when ...”, then this idea/plan might be a substantial intellectual contribution. So it is really the question of how much did the supervisor contribute. Who can decide that? I do not agree with the notion that only the supervisor can decide this because of his/her experience. If you have never discussed the content of this specific work with them, then you will know that and then it is correct not to include them. (Note, however, that this is the best way to make new enemies for the rest of your life.) Legally, this is a question of intellectual property. Only few disputes between academic authors go that far that they are brought to court, but if they would, it is by no means said that judges would agree that a teaching relationship gives supervisors automatically rights on their PhD students intellectual output.

To sum this up, I cite from the guidelines of the International Commettee of Medical Journal Editors: "Examples of activities that alone (without other contributions) do not qualify a contributor for authorship are acquisition of funding; general supervision of a research group or general administrative support; and writing assistance, technical editing, language editing, and proofreading."

2. Can you include such a paper as part of your thesis? This is a different question from publishing and depends basically on the policy of your University and the ruling of your thesis committee. The official University regulations are usually rather vague on such things. They sometimes regulate what kind of clothes you have to wear for the exam or graduation ceremony and they generally say that you have to hand in a written thesis that must be examined etc.. but they usually don’t say anything about shared authorship in publications. The supervision agreements I have seen, so far, usually have some statements that a requirement for submitting your thesis is that a number X of papers have to be submitted to or accepted by peer reviewed indexed journals, etc.., but I have never seen agreements that explicitly state that your supervisor has to be on all those papers. So, whether you can add your paper to your thesis depends on the judgement of your thesis committee. If your supervisor is part of the committee, that might be a problem.

At this point it is worth to mention that just 2-3 decades years ago the publishing culture was rather different with many papers being single-author papers –specifically papers stemming from a PhD thesis. John Nash published his thesis outcome as a single author paper (in PNAS) so did Alan Turing, John Krebs and many others. (Ok those were more than 30 years ago, but there are also enough more recent examples). Since then, publishing practice has changed, but most examination regulations of Universities haven’t kept up with that change and do not consider the issue of co-authorship at all. But they usually do consider the PhD candidate to be a rather independent and intellectually mature subject, and they do regard the thesis as a piece of work that should be the sole intellectual work of the candidate. When you hand in your thesis, you usually have to sign some sort of declaration that you wrote the thesis all yourself. If you are handing in a paper-thesis (where the main part consists of published or to-be-published journal articles) and if these articles are multi-author articles, then you are—strictly speaking—contradicting yourself (because in the author contribution statements of those articles you will usually read something like “XY did this, YZ did this and all authors wrote the paper together”). So, the old idea of a thesis as an entirely independent piece of work done by the candidate alone, as it still lingers around in the examination regulations of most Universities, does not fit together with the highly collaborative way science is done today. As current practice and the official rules and regulations do not fit together anymore, this is also legally a grey area.

Publication have a very central role in the evaluation of academic researchers and, as a consequence, many of the most bitter feuds that are fought in academia originated from disagreement about authorship of formerly collaborating scientists. Many people will have strong feelings about this issue, because they have already been in one of the two situations: where they have unjustly been left out from an author list or where they were pressured in putting people on one of their papers that did not contribute anything useful or anything at all. I, too, have experienced both.


To begin with, you should have been totally honest with him. Failing to do that is entirely your fault. A successful PhD depends on the relationship between the student and the PhD advisor way more than any actual results and papers.

Now, the fact that he is your PhD advisor does not necessarily make him a co-author of yours. He must have contributed in some way to the paper, even remotely such as an idea or a conversation. I would go as far as saying that if you used equipment from his lab, especially specialized lab hardware (if it applies to your case), then yes, he must be a co-author. After all, the criteria for including your advisor as a co-author are considerably looser compared to any other person.

On the other hand, if his contribution was zero as you claim, then in my opinion he has no right to ask for co-authorship, even if you paper was in the same field as your thesis. Strictly speaking, your advisor does not own the scientific field you both work on, even if he did in fact invent it. Science progresses by expanding the ideas of other people - provided proper credit is given. Realistically speaking however, you have to work very carefully in order to prove that he did not contribute to the paper. In cases like this, academicians may resort to the slightest of technicalities in order to claim authorship. For instance, a scientific term that is not standard in the literature but appears in his papers and your paper for him, and probably your institution, constitutes definite proof that he was part of the work. Did you cite some of the past papers of your advisor? That would be really helpful for you. The opposite may as well be interpreted as a proof of misconduct on your part.

I totally agree with the person who wrote that is it something that blew out of proportion. Too much fuss for a paper, even an article, in my opinion. I think the real reason behind it is your advisor's hurt ego and not his decision to punish your for an academic misconduct. The fact that you managed to publish on your own an article to a journal without his contribution might just infuriated him. Is it a prestigious journal in the field? Has he submitted articles to that journal which were rejected?

To help you prepare your defense (sounds like you will need one):

  • Do not bring the journal editor into this dispute. The more parties are involved, the more difficult the situation will be. Unless he gives you a way to add your advisor as a co-author.
  • Check the policy of your institution. Is it required that he is a co-author in your papers? Are you required to publish a paper as the sole author?
  • As stated elsewhere, consult an ombudsman such as the dean of students.
  • Review your paper meticulously. Find as much evidence as possible that your advisor was not part of the work. Also, look for evidence which can be used against you. If you have cited his work, especially papers you are not a co-author of, it can be used to your defense.
  • Along the same line of reasoning, check your written communication with him, mostly e-mails or even reviews of other papers he has published with you. Find any proof that he was not part of the research for that specific paper. If by any chance you find written evidence he has previously rejected the main idea of your paper, then it is to your advantage.
  • Try using your advisor's ego to your favor. Tell him he will be a co-author to a far improved version of this article. With his contribution of course. And work on that improved version.
  • Additionally, tell him that being the sole author of a journal article gives you some prestige, especially if the journal is well known. By extension, he gets some of that, since he is your advisor.
  • Please keep in mind that it is crucial that you always remain honest with your advisor.

I hope the above will help you.

  • hi @george thank you for the comment. I am from the social science background, we do not require any lab. its a purely theoretical paper, i did not cite any of their work as my work is a totally different area from them. it is a prestigious journal and my advisors have not submitted the articles to this journal. Commented Jul 18, 2018 at 4:49
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    @PearlHyatt all these might explain your advisor's reactions. I figured that it was probably a top tier journal as the editor adamantly refused to amend the author list - of course that is not to say that journals who do that are not worth publishing to. If your article is in a different area and your advisor did not contribute to it, my guess is that the dean of students will hear you out. But please make sure you prove beyond any doubt that is truly an independent work. At any rate, congratulations for publishing to a top tier journal!
    – George
    Commented Jul 18, 2018 at 8:38

My answer is going to be more succinct than most because so many have already contributed so much, but I feel there is a single course of action that will address the concerns.

  • Contact the editor of the journal and indicate that you are withdrawing the paper. In that email/phone call/letter/etc. BRIEFLY describe your oversight in citing your PhD supervisors as the reason for withdrawing the paper.
  • Apologize to your supervisors for the oversight.

Journals hate to withdraw papers from publication after acceptance. They've already spent editing and review time to get to this place - withdrawing the paper is a nuisance and they would resent having that time wasted. No matter what they have told you about their policies, they likely prefer publication over withdrawal from publication. If they are trapped by their organizational policies, they will likely be able to respect the position you're in.


  • Work with the outcome, whatever that outcome is.

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