Recently I've had three different sets of co-authors give up on the publication process. Here are the three cases:

  1. Publication was rejected on the basis that additional work was needed, amounting to repeating all the experiments. One co-author has retired, another left academia, and a third just isn't interested in the field anymore (and has also left to work elsewhere). To do all of the work myself seems a little unreasonable if after all that I'm still 3rd author.

  2. Publication was desk rejected by multiple journals (5 so far) due to either being "too theoretical" or "too applied". The other authors wanted to just turn it into a tech report, but after I started reformatting it, they decided they didn't care if it got published anymore due to the multiple rejections and wanting to move on to other things. 2nd author left our organization recently.

  3. Publication has been written, but one of the authors refuses to move forward with the submission process because they are unsure if our conclusions are right. Unless we have a "bullet proof" (their words) interpretation of our results, we can't submit.

I don't want to give up, but it's demotivating to have co-authors who don't care. Is it worth it to keep fighting these battles all by myself if they still benefit?

  • 6
    It is kind of hard to fault somebody who retired not being very interested anymore.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 20:18
  • 2
    It's your work, nobody can answer that question but you. But sometimes it can be wise to just drop stuff and move on. Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 20:27
  • 2
    Only you can choose what the time of your life is worth and what you want to spend it on. If you want to keep bashing your head against the wall then you are free to do so. The ones who do pass learn the hard way to treat the new ones. They think it's the right way because that is what they were once taught and so the poison gets refreshed in each new generation. I've seen this first hand and it's not pretty. You can lose respect for people over far less stuff than how easily they lose their moral compass in that process. Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 20:48
  • 3
    If it went the rounds 5 times, wouldn't it be easier and more productive to dump it to arXiv (if even publishing it somewhere at all) and focus on something more productive? Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 21:05
  • 1
    But another 5¢: There typically is someone in each publication who cares much more than others. For that particular paper it seems that's you. Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 21:06

3 Answers 3


Parts of your question are too circumstance-specific to really be answerable without more details, but a couple of the final points can be answered a bit.

Is it worth it to keep fighting these battles all by myself if they still benefit?

You sound like you resent the fact that they still benefit. That’s the wrong thing to be focusing on: the question is, do you (and your field!) benefit enough for it to be worth your time and energy pushing the work through to completion/publication? If so, then do it — and if they benefit, then that’s a bonus, and with luck they’ll even be grateful to you for it later.

If you feel a third authorship isn’t worth the effort it’d take, but e.g. a first or second authorship would be, then discuss this with your co-workers as honestly as you can. Say something like: “I think this work is worth the effort to get published, and I would be happy to do the main share of the work from here; but given the amount of work needed, I think in that case we should consider changing the author ordering to reflect it. Would you be willing to consider that?”

I don't want to give up, but it's demotivating to have co-authors who don't care.

It’s not necessarily that they “don’t care”. They may feel as frustrated and torn as you — caring about the work and wanting to see it published, but feeling dispirited about the chances of that, and that at this point their time and energy are better spent on other things.

  • 6
    on point 1) be more direct. "Because of the amount of work required to finish this manuscript, I require first authorship to continue pursuing the project further." If they have truly given up, and they don't disagree with the paper, surely they would agree to this. The alternative is that the paper doesn't get written and they get no authorship credit. Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 0:59
  • @PLL IMHO, I guess I feel the way someone might feel on a school group project when people don't help but still get the grade. Maybe that is resentful but I think that the story of The Little Red Hen applies here: everyone helps, everyone benefits. It's about being a team player and supporting others when they are having trouble, and I feel in this case that it hasn't been a two-way street.
    – iwantmyphd
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 14:33

You don't really have a problem here in most situations. If they are willing to have their name still applied and you are willing to do the work, then just do it.

If they don't want their name applied to the work then ask them to remove themselves as authors and just acknowledge them in the future work.

The problem would occur if they don't want it published at all. Most likely they can prevent it unless you want to step into an ethical issue.

But if it is published, make sure you give them a chance to review, especially if they are still authors of record.


I agree with a lot in the other answers but wanted to add a few things.

If you want to publish, then do it. If you decide to just archive some as tech reports, then do that. I understand this is a lot of work. Only you can decide how to allocate your efforts.

How to publish? Some ideas to just get it done...
(1) Aim lower. Either continue submitting to different journals (go down a rung on the impact ladder to one with a higher acceptance rate) or break papers up and send to conference proceedings.
(2) Get help. Hire an undergrad to help with all this and supervise (spot-check the work). Solicit grad students (or even peers) to help. Offer to add them as co-authors if they make a significant contribution (you define what that means).

If that fails / you decide to stop:
Can't make that happen? Not worth the effort? Put the draft papers on your website as a tech reports and prominently display how to cite them.

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