About a year ago I noticed that my PhD supervisor has listed on his faculty page that he co-authored a conference presentation together with me. The problem is, he didn't-- the research itself was entirely mine, and I wrote and gave the presentation alone. (This is in the social sciences, not the hard sciences). He never talked to me before claiming co-authorship on his faculty profile, and in fact, has never mentioned it to me-- nor have I mentioned it to him.

I can understand that he may have felt he needed the "extra credit" to beef up his publications last year while he was trying to get tenure. Now that he's got his tenure, though, and now that I've finished my PhD and am applying for jobs, I am worried that, should my potential employers google the items on my résumé and come across his co-authorship claim, it will contradict my résumé's claim that I was the sole author... making me look like the liar.

I'm really reluctant to "give in" and credit him as co-author for the presentation on my résumé too, because (a) it doesn't feel fair and (b) I don't have many publications/presentations to begin with... so including him as co-author could dilute what little power my résumé has.

However, I am also embarrassed to ask him to take this "publication" down from his faculty page, because I am worried that he may get defensive, which could ruin our relationship-- which would be a problem, because I still depend on him for references as I look for a job.

Any ideas/perspective on how to handle this?? Thanks!!

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    I'm confused. What name does the paper actually have in the journal/proceedings? – user107 Aug 20 '13 at 16:23
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    @Nunoxic not all conferences in the social sciences have proceedings or even archives of the presentations. – StrongBad Aug 20 '13 at 17:07
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    @DanielE.Shub That seems very, very odd. Is there a reason why they don't? – Austin Henley Aug 21 '13 at 21:59
  • possible duplicate of When should a supervisor be an author? – EnergyNumbers Jul 6 '14 at 11:23
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    Keep it on your page as only authored by you. If the subject ever comes up, pretend like you think he just made an honest mistake. – einpoklum Oct 8 '14 at 22:04

In a number of fields it's standard for the supervisor to be listed as the last author on papers or presentations that their students produce. This is because the supervisor helps in a number of ways, some of them indirectly: they get grant money, they train you to use the lab, they train you to do statistics... or they might make suggestions for the research design, the main theoretical focus of the presentation/manuscript, etc. If I wouldn't list my supervisor on a conference presentation, the only possible reason would be that it slipped my mind to add his name.

I would therefore ask other PhD students in your department what the standard is in this case, because your supervisor might not think that he's doing something wrong.

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    +1 But there still is an obvious lack of communication (OP goes to the conference as a sole author and the supervisor lists himself as a co-author) and that is something that needs to be solved. – Ondřej Černotík Aug 20 '13 at 17:21
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    I disagree. Getting grant money, training students, teaching them to write papers, giving them suggestions and all that is part of our job as supervisors. It's what we get paid for. It's also what we owe the student for sacrificing his/her time for us. Publication and authorship is a completely separate matter and should reflect a contribution to science, which all of the above is not. – Pedro Aug 20 '13 at 17:23
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    @Pedro Actually, a number of scholars in different disciplines might beg to differ with you. Remember that publication cultures are sometimes significantly different in different disciplines. – Shion Aug 20 '13 at 18:41
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    You might find this comic instructive - but I partly agree with @Pedro: While it is common e.g. in Physics to not only list your direct supervisor (who actually did help you) but also the head of the faculty (due to more or less providing the funding and proof-reading/approving/discussing the final draft), that might actually be put in the "thank you" section instead. On the other hand however, said head may be established in the the community, so their name being in the author list is rarely harmfull but rather to your benefit – Tobias Kienzler Aug 21 '13 at 7:51
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    I’d strongly suggest speaking to other faculty in your department, not just grad students (at least if you have some other faculty member you know or trust reasonably well). On the one hand, they will be more experienced in the norms of the field; on the other hand, if they agree that the credit is unwarranted, they have more authority to help you deal with it, e.g. supporting you when you raise the issue with your supervisor. – PLL Aug 21 '13 at 16:32

If there is an archival record of the conference presentations then the authors are whoever the authors are. If the conference doesn't have any type of archival record of the presentations, then you are in a grey area. Who is going to be authors when the work is eventually published? It sounds like the adviser expects to be an author. Presumably you have not talked about authorship with your adviser. I cannot stress this enough, prior to starting any project discuss authorship and funding with your collaborators and advisers

Given that a project has already begun without prior discussions of authorship, you need to work it out ASAP. I would hope that your adviser was not simply claiming credit to "beef up" his CV (if he was you have some serious problems). My guess is that he thinks he made an intellectual contribution to the work. You need to have a civil conversation with him to understand what his expectations are about the minimum contributions needed to warrant authorship. If you strongly disagree with this view, you need to consult other colleagues to determine who is being reasonable/unreasonable. Once the authorship parameters are laid out, you need to understand what he believes are his contributions. These then need to be compared to the criteria for authorship.

Do not suggest that your adviser has taken credit he doesn't deserve unless he is substantially below the authorship bar. It is an unfortunate situation but a co-authored paper and a reference is generally much more valuable than a single author paper and no reference. If he is clearly below the authorship bar then you have a MAJOR issue.

  • Excellent answer. Academics (at least the ones I know) are usually open to reason. Finding out if the adviser actually has a reason to be listed as co-author should not ruffle any feathers (unless he is really trying to 'steal credit' and he feels like he is getting caught which seems unlikely since he's made a public claim which you might well run across). – earthling Aug 21 '13 at 14:40

To be fair, if your advisor had no intellectual involvement in the presentation, then he does not have the right to list it on his CV. However, getting him to agree to take it off is a different matter altogether.

Perhaps the way to begin this conversation is to ask your advisor why the paper is listed on his web page. Don't make it a demand, but instead probe the reasons for doing it, and perhaps drop a few suggestions. For instance, as you mentioned above, you could ask: "Won't having a single-author credit on my CV be helpful?" as part of the conversation.

However, I think if you make it more of a "mutually arrived at decision" rather than a demand that he take the publication off the CV, you'll get a more favorable response.

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    Thanks a lot, everyone! These are really helpful perspectives, and I think the points that have been raised about the differences in norms between disciplines is interesting in and of itself. Made me realize that perhaps I was assuming too much about his motives and about it being unfair. I will try aeismail's suggestion of probing my supervisor's reasons for doing this. Thanks again!! – Fretting Aug 20 '13 at 19:55
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    Don't forget also that however counterintuitive it may be, his name on your work may be beneficial for you too (as a "quality stamp" or as the evidence that your point of view is supported by at least one person with established reputation, which in social sciences may make a lot of difference). So, it is much more complicated than just "stealing some part of the credit". – fedja Aug 21 '13 at 3:54

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