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My friend is in a new postdoc position. Her PhD thesis is unpublished. Her new adviser hired her with the mandate that she get it published (or a paper based upon it) in a good journal, with his help. He also expects to be last author on that paper (she is first), something at which my friend has balked, and is now fighting.

To me, this sounds very reasonable. He stated it upfront, before she was hired, and she accepted. He has certainly put in time helping her to rewrite it and address reviewers.

As a related question, the current version of the paper has no other coauthors. Her committee is not included. To me this sounds odd.

The field is Engineering, and this is happening at an R1 in the USA.

Thoughts? Should her postdoc advisor be on a journal article published out of the postdoc's PhD Thesis? Should her committee?

Update: She and I spoke this weekend, and she agreed to let me post this.She has removed him as an author mid-'revise and resubmit'. He was gracious, and has not contested this with the journal. The journal rejected shortly after the resubmit; she will need to find a new outlet. She further negotiated that she be sole author on all future pubs. The situation is certainly to the detriment of their relationship, but I think she feels much more comfortable with the situation going forward. A second and third piece planned are now shelved: she does not have a the statistical skillset to reanalyze the data for these pieces. She now looks toward one day hiring her own postdoc to do so. Her role has been changed to one more focused on writing proposals for funding and data acquisition, toward future projects with publication. She does not believe her postdoc was threatened by this change beyond the inherent risks of a mid-position role change.

I certainly learned a few things.

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    Well, it depends... If the post-doc advisor has contributed to the paper, they should be on it. But, likely the PhD advisor did as well, so they should be on the paper. But, in my experience, post-docs finishing up work from their PhD have an author list from the old institution only. – Jon Custer Jun 11 at 21:20
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    I'm puzzled. Why is she fighting him as last author now when she initially agreed to it? Why should the thesis committee be included in the author list? – lighthouse keeper Jun 13 at 15:56
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    I voted to close because this question cannot be answered without seeing exactly what the "rewriting" was. – Anonymous Physicist Jun 14 at 11:11
  • Yes it can, see below. So please don't close, this question comes up often in face-to-face discussions. – Debora Weber-Wulff Jun 22 at 9:11
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No, not unless he made a significant scholarly contribution. Your friend's institution almost certainly has a co-authorship policy that prohibits this type of honorary co-authorship, urge her to look it up.

However, she should be aware that this might permanently harm her relationship with her post-doctoral adviser.

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    I talked to her this evening (and indeed she is following this discussion with interest) and she does think that the adaptation of the manuscript from her thesis to the paper in review included a contribution worthy of authorship. She also regrets agreeing to do it. I mentioned that if she did remove her advisor, she would likely also need to remove his contribution. She is torn about that, especially as the paper is now under review. – Industrademic Jun 14 at 22:46
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    If it is already under review then she has pretty much made her decision. It would be an awkward conversation with her adviser trying to explain that she wants to withdraw the paper and revise it into a presumably weaker paper just for the sole authorship. Plus, the journal editor and reviewers have probably already put effort into reviewing the manuscript, so this becomes ethically a bit dicey. What she should do is ask her adviser if she can be the corresponding author. – user109831 Jun 17 at 13:37
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    She is already first author and corresponding author. – Industrademic Jun 17 at 18:53
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I like the definition from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, that is applicable to all fields, in my opinion: http://www.icmje.org/recommendations/browse/roles-and-responsibilities/defining-the-role-of-authors-and-contributors.html:

The ICMJE recommends that authorship be based on the following 4 criteria:

  1. Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  2. Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  3. Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  4. Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

Note that this is an AND definition: just revising critically does not confer authorship. I realize that it is usual in many fields to have honorary authorship, but this practice must be stopped! I find it highly unethical for the postdoc advisor to have made this a condition of employment.

I would start looking for a new job soon, as this situation will only get worse. She should also consult with the university or institutional ombudsperson for good academic practice.

  • Interesting. My professional org has similar guidelines. Condition of employment aside, by my read her adviser has met all four criterion: the building of the manuscript involved reanalysis of the data. Revising was the nature of the rewrite. Final approval was implicit. Finally, the impetus for these steps was number 4. That said, it is an academic point; she has removed him as an author. – Industrademic Jun 23 at 15:04

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