I performed part of my PhD thesis in a lab outside my university. After deciding to publish the result, the head of the lab did not give me the permission to publish it. He wanted to be the coauthor, himself and one of his students. But they did not have substantial contribution to the project. They allowed me to use their lab and their materials. he blocked my work totally. I do not have permission to publish the results just because I do not want to give credit to them since they did not contribute to my work. According to ICJME, technical help does not make eligibility to be the coauthor. Their lab knew these standards and accept them. However, the problem is that I cannot prove that their help was not that much to make them eligible to be coauthors. Even my supervisor believes that I should consider them as coauthors because he thinks that they helped me during my stay in their lab. Also, he thinks, like many other people, that it is a custom to consider the head of the lab as a coauthor. Does anyone have suggestions for me? How can I unblock my work?

  • 3
    What field are you in? 'Giving authorship' for lab use and material use is the custom in some fields. We could discussed if this is good/bad, but if it is customary, you can't do much.
    – Emilie
    Jul 24 '18 at 17:09
  • 4
    So using their facilities (and training and procedures and...) was not substantial? Simple - publish the paper without using any data obtained there. Sounds like it should be easy to do that, right?
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 25 '18 at 1:59
  • @Emilie : my field is Biotechnology. I was working on an enzyme mutation.
    – bina
    Jul 25 '18 at 5:44
  • 5
    Well, I'll be blunt - if you came to my labs to perform work you would have my people as co-authors. The equipment isn't up and running and ready to perform leading edge work all by itself. It takes knowledge and expertise. Maybe the stuff you used could be found anywhere and just works all the time. But, likely not.
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 25 '18 at 12:32
  • 5
    Creating, maintaining, and operating a lab that can carry out relevant experiments that actually get technical results is a non-trivial undertaking in many cases. You relied upon the lab being functional. There was an agreement that you could come in and use their equipment, which you needed to get your results. You needed their technical expertise, and used it. Perhaps you knew how to run a sample through a machine. But, the machine being there, and being ready to provide correct results was dependent on the expertise in the lab.
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 25 '18 at 13:37

Sorry, I don't think you can do much at this point. These things should be negotiated before any resources are shared. Nothing is free, and different people may expect different forms of gratification- reciprocation, acknowledgement, authorship. You are entitled to having your opinions about this, and the correct time to voice them is at the beginning of the labwork/collaboration.

It is possible that your advisor has a prior understanding with this lab that you are not aware of. If this is not so, share your misgivings with your advisor and seek to learn his/her reasons for conceding authorship. With that knowledge, you can avoid such a situation next time.

This time, 'unblock' by giving credit.


This is definitely something that should have been discussed, and agreed upon prior to entering their lab. However, the past can't be changed, so finding a way to move forward is prudent at this stage.

  1. You want to publish your results
  2. You will be first author.
  3. You used the facilities of the lab you were visiting which are maintained by the head of the lab and potentially another of his/her students.
  4. The head of the lab is customarily (but not always) last author.
  5. Perhaps there is room for negotiation; add the head of the lab, but not his/her student.
  6. Learn from this experience and be clear, IN WRITING, about publication intentions in situations when you are visiting another researcher's lab.

At this stage it really does seem you have two options.

  1. add them as authors (or the compromise mentioned above) or;
  2. don't publish.

Best wishes!

  • 2
    Not only that, but choosing not to publish is going to be seen as very anti-social and could seriously burn bridges with this lab because it seems like the OP doesn't understand how authorship works. Jul 26 '18 at 20:40
  • 1
    Depending on what the data in question is, and any prior lab agreements on who gets to publish with it (or data related to it), the answer may still be a flat out "no" end of discussion.
    – JonSG
    Jul 27 '18 at 23:10
  • 1
    Agreed @AzorAhai , negotiation and compromise at this point, to save not only OPs reputation with this lab, but potentially others, is probably necessary. Jul 29 '18 at 2:30
  • 1
    @SeriousAboutPsych, Ok, I understand. but according to ICMJE (icmje.org/recommendations/…) they do not eligible to be the coauthor. I do not understand if that lab accept ICMJE standard, they still wants to be coauthor. If we agree about an standard we should follow it in practice. When I asked them about type of their help, they could not answer it properly.
    – bina
    Jul 29 '18 at 7:06
  • 1
    @bina Your question doesn't say you all agreed a priori on ICMJE standards. If you did, you should add that info to the Q as it is very important. Jul 30 '18 at 1:42

In general, it is impossible to prove a negative. However, the lab with which you worked may be able to show that what they did meets the requirements for co-authorship.

But I would consider the issue from the following perspective: everyone else—including your own supervisor—is saying that you should consider them as coauthors. Given that they are more experienced than you are when it comes to publishing, it would be reasonable to follow their advice.

The most important thing for you right now is that you are the first author on the paper. If you believe that there was no value added by working in that lab, as someone suggested in the comments, then you can demonstrate that by excising what you did with them from the paper and seeing if it's still viable. If you can do that, then you can just go ahead and submit the paper without their contribution or permission. If you can't, then perhaps you should reconsider what is possible and reasonable.

(One final thing to note: the ICMJE guidelines are recommendations, not rules.)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.