Background: I had a course about 1 year and half ago that is required to do a simulation for its final report. I developed my idea about simulation based on some papers I read and wrote a proposal based on that idea and submitted to instructors. Instructors send back my proposal and said it's good but the course requirement is to have a group mate on this final project for sure. I was reluctant to it but because it was course requirement, I just randomly searched for someone that did not have any group mate yet and I found someone that she did not have any idea about my proposal at all. I wanted her name to be on my proposal and final report just because of course requirement and nothing else. Because I even did my preliminary test simulations on my idea based on the codes that I wrote by myself and it turns out my idea is gonna work. It was not the greatest idea out there but it was something for a graduate course and I really liked my idea and wanted to do this. So, I just matched with this group mate and gave her all the code that I wrote and all the resources in terms of papers and other softwares and asked her just like an operator run these codes and simulations and store the results and I will post-process them by myself. That was all the story about this final report and I wrote the report and submitted it and successfully got A grade and done.

Problem: Sometimes after this course, I just decided to publish this idea even in a not so great journal with IF ~ 1 or even less. Because, I thought the idea is nice and new and even the results that I got because of this course project is good enough to warrant a junior publication as something that I did in my spare time. So, I decided to convert the final report into a paper. Initially, I was thinking it might be fair if I put my group mate on this paper because I'm not a native English speaking and she is an american and maybe she could at least help to polish the English of the paper. So, I sent a draft paper to her for her review about a year ago, but she promised to read and send her points back to me, which never did and I did not hear back from her. I think it was stupid but I wanted to just be nice and that's it. So, I decided to remove her name and publish it just in my own name. As a result, to completely even eliminate her contribution to just running my codes as an operator, I rerun all the codes again by myself and post-processed them again (it was good to make sure at least results are reproducible...) and added some other idea that I read newly in some papers and I submitted my draft to arXiv and it's online now. I also submitted this preprint to a journal that is not that great but it's not that bad for publishing a paper based on a course work and at least the journal is not predatory.

Question: Recently, my adviser found my preprint in arXiv and he's arguing with me that you should put the name of group mate in that article because her name is on the final report. Furthermore, you should withdraw the preprint because it's low quality. OK, the low quality is not something we want to talk about cause it's really relative and by the way my adviser does not have any experience on this specific topic. My question is only because the name of my group mate is on the final report of that course, does it warrant her an authorship?! I mean, why I can't write an even very very very low quality paper based on the codes and idea that I developed initially? Probably, you might know that I'm really angry and it makes me mad that I can't publish something based on my own work because I just put the name of someone on a piece of paper without contribution from her? By the way, it's not her that arguing and it's only my adviser that wants to fight with me. Any idea or suggestion is appreciated.

  • 15
    Listen to your advisor. They give good advice here. "the low quality is not something we want to talk about cause it's really relative" - this sounds like "Because there is something worse out there my work is fine." That's an awfully low standard to judge by and not one you want to commit to.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 19, 2019 at 20:13
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    "why I can't write an even very very very low quality paper" - You can, and you can put it on arXiv for everybody else to read. The only problem is that anybody who reads it will label you as "a guy who writes very very low quality papers" and ignore everything else you write, however good it is.
    – alephzero
    Jul 20, 2019 at 9:07
  • Have you explained to your advisor that you failed the implicit course requirements by not working together with a group mate? He probably believes that you did work together (as suggested by handing in the course work together), and therefore he thinks she should be on the paper.
    – Mark
    Jul 20, 2019 at 11:47

3 Answers 3


You have exactly two reasonable options here:

  1. Withdraw the article, or

  2. offer to your group mate to add her name to the paper. (She may decline of course - that is her decision to make, not yours and not your adviser’s).

I can’t say which of those two options are better for you, but in the absence of other information I would tend to assume that the adviser knows what they’re talking about when they say you should withdraw the paper.

In any case, your group mate participated in the creation of the results, so it is indisputable that she has a right to be a named author on the paper. The fact that you reproduced her results after the fact is irrelevant. The fact that you feel that you were coerced to work with her is also irrelevant, and remains irrelevant even if we all agree that you could have done everything just as well (or even better) without her. The only thing that would be relevant is if she is asked her opinion, given an offer free of any pressure to have her name added to the paper, and decides that she’s not interested and gives her approval for you to remain the sole author.

Finally, the one thing I find a bit puzzling in this story is that your professor’s requests are a bit self-contradictory: if they really thought the paper was so bad that leaving it online would hurt your reputation, I don’t quite understand why they think it would serve the interests of your group mate to have her name added to such a low quality paper. But that is neither here nor there, and doesn’t change the gist of what I wrote above about your options for handling the situation.

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    I suspect the advisor may not be self-contradictory, but simply noting that there are multiple problems in this situation.
    – jakebeal
    Jul 19, 2019 at 21:27
  • @jakebeal they are very clearly being self-contradictory. Imagine if I said “your paper is a piece of junk! And can you make me a coauthor?” - see the problem? Here the advisor is requesting that OP make someone else a coauthor, but it’s the same principle (unless the advisor wishes the group mate ill, which I guess would resolve the inconsistency). It’s similar to the joke about two women dining in a restaurant and having the dialogue: “-The food here is awful! -I know, right? And the portions are so small!”
    – Dan Romik
    Jul 19, 2019 at 21:49
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    I see as more like: "You did two things wrong here: you put up a paper that reflects badly on you, and you also removed a co-author without their permission."
    – jakebeal
    Jul 19, 2019 at 21:56
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    The OP did three things wrong, not just two. The root cause of the problem is the decision to pretend to do a group project while really trying to do an individual project. If the OP had intended real collaboration they would have looked for a group mate who either could contribute to the OP's idea or had a better one of their own the OP could work on. Any resulting papers would have reflected genuinely group work, and there would have been no doubt about co-authorship. Jul 19, 2019 at 23:08

While it's impossible to judge contribution from outside, I generally recommend erring on the side of inclusion when it comes to authorship. If there's a reasonable argument that somebody contributed, it doesn't really cost you anything to have them on the paper.

Furthermore, there are many ways to contribute to a paper (see, for example, the CRediT taxonomy), and many journals even require a contributions section in which you can explain who exactly did what. In this case, it sounds like you wrote the paper, designed the system, built the system, and both of you ran experiments. You can't ethically "undo" somebody's experimental work by redoing it yourself.

What you should never do is to drop somebody from authorship without consulting them. You had a draft with this person on it as an author, and even if they never got back to you, for all they know they're still a co-author. Probably it doesn't matter to them very much (or else they'd likely have gotten back to you), but it's still unethical to remove somebody from authorship without their consent. It is also unethical to submit a paper without the consent of all of the authors, so that's also a potential problem in this situation, where you're just kinda doing what you feel like without consulting with anybody else.

In fact, the basic problem I see here is that you seem to be operating without any advice from somebody who can help you navigate these questions (as well as the issue of quality, which I won't touch otherwise). Your advisor is likely a good source of such advice, and even if you don't like/trust your advisor, you should be able to find somebody who knows the scientific world well who can be a mentor for you.

  • 1
    "You can't ethically "undo" somebody's experimental by redoing it yourself." why?! Because I was forced to work with someone at some point in my life, I should be locked with him/her because of that situation for ever and even If redo everything from scratch, I can't publish?! "What you should never do is to drop somebody from authorship without consulting them." I should not drop someone's name that even did not care to help about English writing of the paper? I think I was just generous and a bit stupid honestly that even I put her name on that draft paper initially... Jul 19, 2019 at 19:55
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    Because I was forced to work with someone at some point in my life, I should be locked with him/her because of that situation for ever — Well, not forever, but for that paper, yes.
    – JeffE
    Jul 19, 2019 at 20:12
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    @AloneProgrammer Yes, you can't work with someone, and then redo what they did and say they did nothing. The whole point is that doing something first is more work than doing it second: you have a template to follow. Now, perhaps in this case the other person didn't contribute much, but you have to work that out with them.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 19, 2019 at 20:12
  • It may or may not be possible to redo the experiment and remove the other author. It depends on the details. Certainly it seems fishy if they just retrace some steps to the same output. But it's a different story if there are different results. Perhaps even conflicting results. Co-authorship isn't a gift; the co-author is expected to stake their reputation on the paper too. Jul 20, 2019 at 13:01

To answer your question shortly, if you have made a manuscript with her name on it and send it to her. Then yes you can't delete her name without giving her a deadline to come back with suggestions/corrections. And as jakebeal mentions, just because you do something again, does not equal that she never did anything. I can easy see that you are very angry in this matter, so I'll give you my suggestion. She should be given a "chance" with a deadline to return with a contribution to the manuscript. In any case, she should be mentioned in the contribution for performing experiments. And lastly, stating that the advice given from your advisor is not interesting to you, is foolish as people (usually) get professorship for a reason and advice should be cherished and not thrown. IMO

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