Okay, thing is my advisor (supervisor, professor) in the lab, where I am a graduate research assistant and I was doing research with a PhD student, as a part of his dissertation. The student happened to be one of my close friends. The professor wanted to write a journal paper based on the results of his dissertation with that candidate. This was kind of near the end of his PhD program (three weeks before final defense). At that time he said that he was already stressed out about defense and will write the paper after the event as it won't take him more than a week.

After he graduated, he had asked the professor about the journal paper but the professor kind of brushed it under the carpet saying he is looking for CFPs (call for papers) where they can write and never got back to him, despite his constant inquiries.

For his research on human-computer interaction, I had developed applications which formed the core of his project. So my advisor asked me if I was interested in writing the paper and she convinced me that since I developed the applications (that formed basis of the research) it was fair enough that I write it. But after a week, she ignored me and wrote the paper herself and submitted it to the journal.

I came to know last week that my advisor wrote the paper herself and got it published. This professor, is an assistant professor trying to get tenure. I am trying to understand the motivation behind this behavior.

Q1) The journal paper was published by my professor as sole author. Won't the paper count towards her tenure if she wrote it with a graduate student or will it count towards higher credit if she is the sole author?

Q2) Is it ethical to publish the paper based on my friend's dissertation? (I mean it is legal, because she will be referencing his PhD dissertation, but is it ethical or common in academia to sidestep the original author?)

Q3) One more question I have is if I should be listed as co-author for all papers coming out of this research because I developed the applications that formed basis for this research. I mean the concept for them was not mine but I did program them.

  • 6
    There are multiple important questions here I think. Could you possibly edit your question to clearly enumerate the questions you want answered? – Shion Jul 28 '13 at 3:18
  • Could the acronyms be defined in a comment please? – user7130 Jul 28 '13 at 3:41
  • 15
    As a side note, how are you people writing papers in such a short period of time? A journal paper in a week??? – Austin Henley Jul 28 '13 at 4:59
  • 2
    @AustinHenley the journal was just rephrasing his research questions and compiling his test results – james234 Jul 28 '13 at 5:08
  • 1
    Crucial missing information: does the PhD student agree with this statement of events and will they back you up? Do they also strongly object to not getting the author credit? Are they still at this institution or have they moved elsewhere? And are there are any other such cases? – smci Jul 10 '15 at 18:17

Before anything else: Don't walk. Run.

There are almost certainly details of this story that you have omitted, or that you have unintentionally embellished, or that you are unaware of, and clarifying those details here would be inappropriate. What is clear is that your relationship with your advisor is completely broken. Get help, and get out.

Q1) Wont the paper count towards her tenure if she wrote it with a graduated student or will it count towards higher credit if she is the sole author?

All publications count toward tenure, whether solo, with colleagues, with current students, with former students, or with strangers from Zanzibar.

Q2) Is it ethical to publish the paper based on my friend's dissertation? (i mean it is legal, because she will be referencing his phd dissertation but is it ethical to sideshaft the original author)

There are a few different possibilities here:

  1. Your advisor's submission does not report your friend's thesis work as her own, but rather builds on your friend's work in a novel direction. In this case, your advisor's submission is ethical, but perhaps a bit unfriendly. After all, the success of her students is a significant component of her upcoming tenure case.

  2. The results in your friend's dissertation are the main topic of your advisor's submission, but your friend did not make a significant and novel contribution, and therefore does not deserve coauthorship. But in this case, your friend also does not deserve a PhD, and your advisor's signing his thesis was unethical. This possibility seems highly unlikely; passing a thesis defense generally requires the unanimous approval of the entire thesis committee.

  3. Your friend made a significant and novel contribution, which is the main topic of your advisor's paper. In this case, your advisor is being grossly unethical. Fortunately, since your friend's dissertation is easily accessible online (Isn't it?), any competent referee or editor should quickly spot the intellectual theft. That would just be stupid.

I came to know last week that my advisor wrote the paper herself and got it published.

If you believe that your advisor has stolen credit for another person's work—your friend, her former student, or a stranger from Zanzibar—it would be appropriate for you (or better yet, your friend) to speak discreetly to your department head or another trusted senior faculty member, with both the original dissertation and your advisor's publication in hand, asking them to clarify the ethical boundaries. Do not accuse; such accusations are very serious, and your advisor's colleagues may react defensively on her behalf. Instead, explain the delicacy of the situation and ask for guidance. And then listen.

They may react badly anyway, but then you have your answer.

If they agree that your advisor has acted unethically, get out of the way. This is not your fight.

Is it common in academia to do this?

No. I won't claim they never happen, obviously, but serious breaches of ethical behavior, at the level you are accusing, are extremely rare.

Q3 One more question i have is should i be listed as co-author for all papers coming out of this research because i developed the apps that formed basis for this research. I mean the concept for them was not mine but i did program them.

That is a more subtle question. As a general rule, I would say no. Of course you deserve credit for your contributions, but only once for each contribution. If your contribution is a key piece of software, then the first paper that uses that software should describe that software in detail and include you as a coauthor. If you walk away after that first paper, later work that relies on your software—by your advisor or anyone else—need not list you as a coauthor; you already got credit. With good reason, Stephen Wolfram is not a coauthor on every paper that uses Mathematica. You should of course be cited in any paper that uses, builds on, or improves your work, but that's a separate issue from coauthorship.

But reality is rarely so cut and dried. Is moving the software to a new platform a sufficient contribution? Optimizing the underlying algorithms? Adding a new, easy-to-implement feature suggested by your advisor? Adding a new, hard-to-implement feature suggested by your advisor? Adding support for a new input device? I have no idea. You and your advisor should have agreed in advance on the contribution required for you to be a coauthor.

Normally, if you had not had this conversation already, I would recommend having it now, but it sounds like it may be too late for that. You may be better off simply walking away and finding a new advisor that you can trust.

  • 2
    well at that time i didn't knew that i could be listed as co author.I am new to research ,so i assumed since i was paid assistantship ,it was my job to develop apps for research .So i never asked my advisor about this .But right now i feel cheated out of my contribution .The research involved 3 different interfaces for an app and figuring out which interface was most convenient and useful for one professional community. Without me programming these apps ,there would have been nothing to do research on.I guess my advisor knew about it but just simply didn't care. – james234 Jul 28 '13 at 5:51
  • 3
    As a further comment on the third question, while it's not expected for a paper using software to name the software author as a co-author, it is very common to expect citation of the paper in which the software was described, and some software packages explicitly state that you should do this in their license agreements. – Aesin Jul 28 '13 at 10:40
  • 4
    In physics, no more than a few decades ago, it was quite common for papers that made extensive use of computer simulations to thank the lowly peon who wrote and ran the code in the acknowledgements. Co-authorship is more liberally granted these days, but it's worth being really honest with yourself before claiming that "Without me programming these apps, there would have been nothing to do research on." – wsc Jul 28 '13 at 18:37
  • 7
    @wsc: Unless you are doing code-by-spec (i.e., you literally shop out a project, with no intersection with the actual research), programming and gathering specs on research projects is research. Often, picking a specific implementation requires a number of novel leaps. If grad students are making software for research in-house, they should be listed as co-authors. Not necessarily high co-authors (it's far lower than formulating research questions and usually writing/analysis), but listed. It is a novel contribution. – Namey Feb 14 '14 at 18:48
  • 4
    @Blaisorblade How they're counted depends on the department, probably. For a single data point: when an old friend of mine from grad school got a tenure track appointment, he said that he was informed that one single-author paper was worth about twice a multi-author paper when promotion considerations came up. His intent at the time was to focus on multi-author papers, figuring they could be done at least twice as easily, though I have no idea how reality has panned out for him since then. – zibadawa timmy Jun 29 '15 at 2:44

I'm not really qualified to assess how other departments would treat single- versus co-authored papers. As for the other points:

[2] It is completely unethical for the advisor to submit a journal article based on work done by a student as solely her own, even if she were entirely responsible for writing the paper. Being a single author implies that the author is responsible for the entire content of the work described, referring to both research and preparation of the manuscript.

[3] Your rights to being credited for this work depend on the nature and scope of the work that you individually did. If you simply built the apps once, and then did no subsequent work on the project, then you are entitled to a paper credit for a work describing the tools and how they were used (in part or in whole). However, unless you have been doing ongoing development on these tools, you would not be entitled to receive authorship credit whenever the work is used. (You would, however, be entitled to a citation on the use of your work in future publications!)

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.