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I am a research fellow at my current university. I have been working under a very difficult line manager and we could just not be on the same page. I would be asked to publish 1 paper a month, expected to work 25 hours a day to meet deadlines and run personal errands. Our every technical meeting would be him saying, "you are paid to publish, publish in high ranking journals" and any paper I would write would involve his name even though 100% of the every work was mine. But I accepted this as a given since he was my line manager and the funding was with him, I would add his name to my papers along with other names suggested by him, usually I would get 5 authors for my paper, whom I never met.

I have been working on a paper idea, which I believed to be good, but it was an idea for a conference, not a high ranking journal. I presented the idea to him and he told me not to chase it further as he needs journals not conferences. And even if does get accepted he would not pay for it.

So I have been working on it alone at home and on the weekends. It is now at a stage I am happy with and I am most probably going to publish it in a good conference.

I have given my notice for leaving, and given the above history I want to publish this as a sole author. After all, he would not be paying for it and he refused to be any part of it.

Ive discussed this with a colleague and he painted a very grim picture, he suggests that if I do go ahead with this, my line manager can even take me to court and state that he was working under me and on my funded project, he went ahead and published without me and basically stole project time and project ideas. And he suggested not to publish this paper and just abandon it.

Sorry for being so bitter, but I worked very hard on this paper and would like this to be published. Adding his name would also not benefit as he's not very happy with me leaving and he would not give consent to publish, this would make it more complicated.

Im new to such problems and wanted a more experienced approach on what to do.

Thank you

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    What does your contract or university policy say on the topic? Your answer is specific to your contract and university. In my position, I'm required to get ethics approval before I can do outside research including publish. – Richard Erickson Jul 31 '18 at 14:55
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    If you're not able to switch to being under someone else, do you have a friend or confidant in the department you can talk to honestly about this experience? Especially someone senior, as they'll know much more about what can be done to help you get out. This seems like it is a personally and emotionally damaging experience. It also is potentially professionally damaging, as the authorship bit seems quite unethical and it seems highly unlikely that you'll be able to meet the paper-per-month demand without publishing very low quality work at least some of the time. – Stella Biderman Jul 31 '18 at 15:06
  • @StellaBiderman hence my notice for leaving, I was expected to publish one a month, I am ashamed to have published two such papers that are of so low quality that I chose not to include them on my CV. He has no research background, all his publications are like this, When I would argue about the difficulty of the task, he would argue that libraries and code are available online, just apply them to datasets and publish the results. A month I dont publish is the month I get angry emails until I publish – StuckInPhD Jul 31 '18 at 15:08
  • I see. I thought you had said that you had given him notice that you wanted to publish alone, not that you were quitting. – Stella Biderman Jul 31 '18 at 15:10
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    How time critical is the paper and is it related to the work you are doing now? It seems to me that you could simply delay submitting this paper. If it's not related to the project you have been employed on and you have done it using only your own resources, why not just wait for 6 months before submitting it? You have already given notice and in 6 months time, nobody will know when you did the work. After all, he told you not to pursue it, but after you stop working for him, you can pursue whatever you like. – JenB Jul 31 '18 at 22:51
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As @Richard Erickson said in a comment, the answer is specific to your university and your contract. Here's the steps I would take if I were in your shoes:

Firstly, read your employment contract. What you're looking for is any language about intellectual property and the results of research. In the comments you mention patents and profits from patents, but that's irrelevant here. If it is specific to patents then it doesn't apply to anything that's not a patent, such as a conference paper. Assuming your contract doesn't unambiguously say that the university owns the IP...

Secondly, go talk to your university legal department. Do not cast this as a dispute. Simply tell them that you were reading your employment contract and wanted clarification about what the university's policy around IP is. Inquire over email, or get them to send you an email confirming their position if you wish to talk in person. If they tell you that their position is that you own the IP to your work, then you're golden. If they tell you that their position is that you don't and you think that your contract doesn't support that claim...

Thirdly, consider hiring a lawyer. This can be expensive and can be a massive waste of time if you're wrong about your contract (lay people generally are, compared to lawyers). Deciding if this is a worthwhile step is a personal decision based on a lot of factors I don't know.


If your university owns the IP, you're likely stuck. Your manager is most likely the person who the university has selected to approve you publishing things, and that seems like a non-starter. If he has a boss who reads your work and is "really in charge" then it might be the boss, but whether you're likely to get anywhere going around your manager depends a lot on the social dynamic.

It's also possible that you can get him to disavow the IP, but I don't really know enough about the details of contracts to comment much on that.

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Actually, it sounds like you are well and truly stuck. But only for this one bit of work. If you can risk a lawsuit then maybe not, but it seems like you would have powerful adversaries and little support.

You can publish the work, including all the expected co-authors or simply abandon it as you are leaving. One of the things you will want in leaving, is a decent letter of recommendation unless you have already lined up a new position. It might be necessary to focus on that to the exclusion of other factors to protect your own reputation for the future.

However, since he has discouraged you from submitting to a conference, and you have already given notice of leaving, perhaps you can also give him notice that since he rejected it, you intend to pursue it. You may get pushback or not. But the notice, if properly stated, may free your hand. His refusal to endorse the work might be taken as a release, especially if you submit after employment ends.

In future, however, make sure that you build more realistic expectations into your contract.

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Personally, I would go ahead and publish as a sole-authored paper.

If your line manager did not make a contribution commensurate with authorship, he/she should not be named a co-author. A line manager who insists otherwise is abusing his/her position. A university which takes you to court over it is unworthy of the name "university" (possible exception: if you are revealing confidential/privileged data or breaking ethics rules, that might be another matter), especially given that you did the research in your time, not the university's.

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