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My advisors told me he wants to help me publish the theoretical section of my dissertation. He offered it! I have written my part, but he hasn't done his section. It's been a year. I have reminded him a few times, but he doesn't keep his promise. I know I have to move on and publish this piece on my own. I just don't know how to tell him! Is this common? I know he helps others, so I feel ignored.

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Has he offered a timeline when he might be able to do his part? Have you had any communication regarding this? If not, you should reach out in advance and offer your timeline, giving him a reasonable timeframe to complete his work.

If you've had such communication before, and he hasn't been able to stick to agreed upon dates, I think you should talk to your advisor and explain the situation. Then, you could write a very polite email to him, including your advisor and any other stakeholders, explaining that you need to submit this work soon. At this point you could ask him if he still has time and would be able to complete his section, say within one month. Mention that you understand he is busy and has multiple priorities to juggle, and that if there isn't time, you'd just like to concentrate on your part and submit it. If, at a later stage, you both have time, you'll be willing to work together if he'd like to submit the theoretical section separately, with him as the first author.

I think this will sound pretty reasonable and you'll be able to publish without antagonizing or destroying working relationships with anyone.

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  • offer him more time? a year already... and give more... It'll be out of date before he gets to do his section...
    – Solar Mike
    Nov 26, 2018 at 19:45
  • If you have given him time earlier, and you communicated very clearly upto what time you could wait, then there isn't a decision to be made the and the question is isn't needed. If you haven't done so, then it makes sense that you do so now. Nov 26, 2018 at 23:49
  • So you say the year is not sufficient...
    – Solar Mike
    Nov 27, 2018 at 2:24
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    @Solar Mike a year probably would have been sufficient a year ago, but if the co-author hasn't done anything until today, inisiting now that the work should be ready "yesterday" doesn't help, as annoying as this may be. Nov 27, 2018 at 8:51
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There's surely a lot of politics involved. You have to take these into account in deciding the best way out of this. Also weigh in what are your short-term plans. First of all, make sure your slow co-author isn't actually a good one but just lazy or with poor communication skills. Towards this goal you'll rely a lot on diplomacy and intuition for probing the person. When doing that, find out politically where he stands. I will discuss a few potential scenarios below.

  • Your 2nd author is a younger student of a friend of your advisors'. In such case this person has booby-trapped you into providing him a gift authorship. Problem is, if you don't he'll start moaning to his advisor who will complain to yours, and then you get scolded and/or sabotaged in the backlash. In such a case, I suggest you diplomatically push and probe your co-author in the presence of advisors, directly asking this person whether he's no longer interested in the project so that you can move on.

  • Second author is a senior academician who's actively seeking to intrude in as many papers as possible for a glossy record at career start. This is a common situation. These guys go around fishing for "collaborations" when all they want is their name on another piece of paper. In this case you should evaluate how close & dear is this person to your advisor, and to you. If you're likely to rely on his signature in the near future, perhaps you should start digesting the fact that you'll write everything on your own and just add his name. If this person is still fresh in the department and not holding any influence towards you, just politely tell him you'll be moving on. Expect some veiled threat and/or yelling. If you find yourself forced to swallow him, at least try to get him to pay for publication fees and get the paper into a better journal somehow.

  • Your lazy coauthor works in the same lab. Regardless of position, in such case you should consider either taking this person in for free or stalling until the moment you leave the group. If you leave, just brush him aside. In either case, start writing his section immediately.

Whatever you decide, do it as diplomatically and clean as possible. You're likely impulsive and inexperienced at this stage, and any escalation of this situation may easily become a career burden or even a permanent stain.

Judge wisely, and good luck!

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  • The second author is a senior academic. He told me he wants to be the second author to help me with publishing and that his name would put my name on the map as well! I start thinking that my work is SO BAD that he doesn't know how to get rid of me, so he is stalling...that's what I think.
    – Kar Masia
    Nov 27, 2018 at 8:46
  • Honestly, working as an international student in the US academia is by far the most difficult thing I've done in my life. The work doesn't bother me. The mental health aspect of it is the most difficult part. I never know if I am as qualified and valuable as the local students. It's exhausting!
    – Kar Masia
    Nov 27, 2018 at 8:52
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    @KarMasia From what you describe then it’s more like situation 2. If you’d like to get criticism on the technical quality of your work, ask input from 1-3 colleagues you trust. Don’t rely on seniors taking part in it to judge because they’ve private interests in your actions, so they’re prone to manipulate you. Once you find out how bad is the ms and improve it, you can test his reaction. If you think you’re being used, find a diplomatic way around the situation. Unfortunately abuse of foreign scholars is fairly common in academia—read other threads in SE Academia. Good luck!
    – Scientist
    Nov 27, 2018 at 11:05

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