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I am unable to advance three papers written while I was a postdoc, even to submission. Two coauthors constantly stall. They send 'additional rounds' of edits, pre-submission, with minor changes, stall for months, and create nonexistant parts of the academic process (ex. asking me to send a document containing all relevant passages from all cited works and defending their inclusion). Recently, they have also begun harassing other coauthors who support moving the work forward. One has withdrawn from the paper, calling us 'dysfunctional'. He is correct. On the first paper alone, I have over 100 pages of email correspondence and no path to submission.

The reason is straightforward: they were my advisers. I left my postdoc against their wishes, but with eight months notice, and obtained a faculty position without their support. One explicitly told me he would keep me from publishing my work. He also funded the work, and created the dataset it was drawn from, which in my discipline means authorship.

So, how do I prevail? Publishing is consent based. My primary goal: publish these three works. Secondary goal: keep them from removing me and publishing my work themselves.

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  • They cannot remov[e you] and publishing [your] work themselves, that's plagiarism.
    – user2768
    Feb 25, 2019 at 16:29
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    Yup, in theory. Interestingly, I recently had front row seats to it happening, without recourse, at a top tier university and with a flagship journal. Rights are only as strong as the systems of protection available. academia.stackexchange.com/questions/115181/… Feb 25, 2019 at 16:35
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    Regarding the other question, I believe she has avenues for recourse and I would encourage her to pursue them.
    – user2768
    Feb 25, 2019 at 16:41
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    I have told her similar things. I was very surprised at how the Ombuds office, Office or Research, Department, Dean, and so on simply failed to intervene or even engage/respond. She is level headed, well organized, and to my eye did everything correctly. Possibly I am not privy to other factors, but I don't think so... Happily, my issue is not with her group, but there are enough similarities to worry me. Feb 25, 2019 at 17:36

3 Answers 3

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I'll provide a different perspective. You do say that they are engaged in the process, ask for things and make changes. That doesn't look to me like they're actively trying to prevent you from publishing. Why would they spend time on the paper at all if their goal is to not have it published?

So, to me it sounds like the problem might at least partially be with you. So be constructive:

  • Draw up a list of things you still want to change on the manuscripts
  • Ask them what they still want to change
  • Create a timeline for this to happen

You're unlikely going to get anywhere by being antagonistic, and you need the papers for your career. So relax your stance, be pragmatic and flexible, and see whether you can elucidate what their concerns are and how they can be overcome through a concrete set of steps everyone can agree upon.

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    I appreciate this answer, it is something I'd advise (so an upvote from me). However, the OP's description mentions constant stalling and delaying, creation of nonexistant parts of the academic process, and harassment. It goes on to mention leaving a postdoc against the wishes of advisers and one explicitly stating he would keep me from publishing my work. So, it does sound to me like they're actively trying to prevent...publishing (or at least, they're frustrating the process) and that the problem is primarily with them. Nonetheless, the bullets are excellent advice, as is what follows.
    – user2768
    Feb 26, 2019 at 7:28
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    I agree it's not clear to me either. But it may also be that his co-authors actually understand what it takes to get papers published in good journals while the OP does not. Writing good papers is a long process. Feb 26, 2019 at 7:32
  • Very true! @Industrademic You should think carefully about this.
    – user2768
    Feb 26, 2019 at 7:37
  • I also appreciate this answer. For eight months I have carefully considered that the slow path may be the right one, and that I might be the issue. I lose faith in that narrative when I get an 8th round of 'internal revisions', as I did before this post, which changes 10 commas, a single word, and asks why a personal communication I cited is not on Google Scholar (not a real thing). I have twice set timetables of multiple months, and been confronted with drafts of letters to the editor of the intended journal indicating that the paper was submitted without the consent of all authors. Feb 27, 2019 at 11:34
  • I think this would be a good suggestions if we can assume good faith on the part of the coauthors. In particular, they must be ready to make their share of the changes that they want to happen. I see it all the time around me that established researchers exploit the "power dynamic", when working with more junior colleagues, that more junior people need to publish more urgently and so get tricked into doing most of the work. The question gives me the impression that the coauthors are asking OP to do work more than having a fair discussion of who does what.
    – a3nm
    Oct 28, 2023 at 15:23
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You could try to get consent on what is needed and then on a schedule. You could also try to get consent to publish in accordance with the schedule, if their deliverables are missed. You could bring in a colleague as an arbitrator, perhaps someone from their institute whom you trust. One further option might be to remove their contributions and move forwards alone (that might be difficult).

You mention that one of your co-authors funded the work, and created the dataset it was drawn from and go on to say which in my discipline means authorship. Funding certainly doesn't mean authorship. Creating the dataset mightn't, if it is public.

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    Very helpful. Yesterday I used this answer to spark a conversation with a senior colleague, and secured him as an arbiter. I then used this to set an in-person meeting to set a supervised timetable, with option for authors to withdraw. The former adviser is deeply angry, and immediately talked about litigation for sharing privileged information. We'll see how it plays out, but at least there is a better promise of movement. Feb 27, 2019 at 11:29
  • @Industrademic The former supervisor...immediately talked about litigation for sharing privileged information I don't even see how this is plausible... It's sad that you've found yourself in this position.
    – user2768
    Feb 27, 2019 at 13:42
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    I do not think legal action is plausible either: it's a scare tactic. It is sad... I turned down good options with well regarded people to join a big lab at a famous school, but with a less well regarded team. I own that, but it was an eye-opening ride. Feb 28, 2019 at 15:10
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You could also wonder: if you already have a faculty position, how helpful will it be to have these papers published (you'd be first author, not last, I assume), and consequently, how much of your time should you invest in moving this forward?

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  • They are worth some effort. They cover three years of my work, good work I am proud of, done on a larger budget than I will have available in the near term. I have, of course, considered giving up. Feb 27, 2019 at 11:25
  • Sunk cost fallacy and all that. How much would publishing benefit your further career? Feb 27, 2019 at 12:37
  • This was the advice of both the Omsbuds office and the vice-dean of Research. Feb 28, 2019 at 15:44

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