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I am a masters' student. I have written an article, which was part of my thesis. This was my first article. After I handed it over to my professor, it was highly commended. My professor was not the least involved in writing the paper. He just gave me the idea, which I am sure was his.

But after a while I realized that my professor had given my paper to a colleague for submission. This corresponding author is my professor’s old student, who now teaches at another university. I never ever met him. My professor confirmed this. I am listed as a co-author of the submitted paper. As far as I know, they haven't changed the content. Meanwhile, my article has been approved by the referees and has reached the revision stage.

This is a theft. How can I tell the journal that this article was written by me alone and that nobody other than me and my professor should be authors? Can my reporting to the journal prevent this theft? As I have heard, where I live, such behaviors are commonplace. I am looking for a way to stop these acts.

Appendix: After talking to advizor about it he told me my paper was in trouble (while my paper was highly praised by him). I asked: Why didn't he tell me to correct my paper myself? (He didn't answer) And finally he said my article was rejected. (While I have seen on the Journal site the referees agree with my article and the article has reached the revision stage.)

  • Answers in comments have been and requests for clarifications that have been addressed have been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. – Wrzlprmft Sep 3 at 7:31
  • What was the order of the authors? The symbol indicating the corresponding author is usually less relevant than the oder. (However, in my group we always publish in alphabetic order) – Lot Sep 3 at 9:06
  • My advisor, corresponding author and I. – Roja Sep 3 at 9:46
  • Can you say what country you are located in? It doesn't really matter, but I'm curious. – Faheem Mitha Sep 5 at 6:20
37

Sadly, I'm going to give you advice that you will find unsatisfying as would many others. It can be dangerous to your future career to push too hard against an advisor who is behaving badly but has power over you and your future.

No matter what you do, you aren't going to change "the system." You might be able to force an editor to correct authorship to your liking, but it could be at the cost of poor, even negative, recommendations from the advisor and others in his sphere.

Make it your goal to graduate successfully and move on to another position in which you have some control over your future. This is what you lack at the moment, so I advise not making it worse. Don't think of this one paper as the only one you will ever write or that your whole future depends on it. Especially don't think that your whole future depends on getting sole authorship for this paper. You could win that battle and lose the war.

As we see in other questions here, students get stuck in such situations all too often. But the system doesn't change when it is dysfunctional and has a lot of momentum. Find a way to look to the long term and not the short. In particular, that means getting a good letter of recommendation, even if you have to bite your tongue.

Sorry that this feels wrong. But you have little power and no authority to change it.

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    +1 Also, the "corresponding author" is just the person who handles the communication with the editor. There's no status involved in being, or not being, the corresponding author. – mhwombat Sep 2 at 20:12
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    @mhwombat Agreed about corresponding authors... importantly a masters student would rarely be a corresponding author in my field because they likely wouldn't even be at the same institution by the time a manuscript is published... Though order might matter, depending on field. – Bryan Krause Sep 2 at 21:23
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    What a defeatist answer. Let the OP decide for themselves how much they value recommendations from such a corrupt advisor, or whether they even want to continue with the advisor. – curiousdannii Sep 3 at 7:13
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    @curiousdannii You do realize, this is a question and answer site and Buffys opinion was implicitly solicited, right? – Minix Sep 3 at 10:26
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    @KamiKaze, while I would like a better world, let me note that in the #metoo situation, women who spoke up were either completely ignored or beaten down or already had a some social power that they could bring to bear against the people engaged in improper behavior. I can't predict a bottom up revolution in academia for two reasons. First, while bad things occur, they aren't universal and second, the people at the bottom don't have the opportunity for collective action, being both dispersed and also more concerned with their own studies. But, we hope that they behave better when they (more) – Buffy Sep 3 at 12:20
61

I would start by asking your professor, in a non-confrontational way, why he did this. Perhaps there is some reason that is not obvious to us. Maybe he felt that the paper had a better chance of being published if this third person was involved. (Not saying that he was right to do this, just that he may have had some reason.) You might say something like this:

Professor X, as you know, I'm pretty new to academic publishing, and I'm trying to understand the process better. I was under the impression that only people who contributed to the research should be listed as authors. I'm curious why Joe Smith was added as an author. Did he make a contribution I don't know about?

If you think you may publish more papers with this professor, discuss your expectations about authorship with him and come to an agreement.

EDIT: Several people have suggested that the phrasing above is still too confrontational. I think they have a point, but I'm not sure we can come up with a phrasing that everyone is happy with. So I suggest that the OP read the comments below for ideas on how to phrase this.

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    That second paragraph doesn't sound at all non-confrontational to me. – Dawood says reinstate Monica Sep 3 at 3:54
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    @DawoodibnKareem It is direct, but probably the strongest polite request that could be tried. – Captain Emacs Sep 3 at 11:11
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    +1 Second paragraph is good but better, I think, without the last line. – camden_kid Sep 3 at 12:46
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    The suggested text is confrontational. It could perhaps be improved as "Professor X, as you know, I'm pretty new to academic publishing, and I'm trying to understand the process better. Can you help me understand Joe Smith's involvement?" – R.. Sep 3 at 17:32
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    Perhaps replace the closing two sentences with I'm curious as to why Joe Smith was added as an author. – user2768 Sep 4 at 7:50
14

I am a bit surprised by all these indirect answers. To my opinion you have the right to know. Therefore, write a short email (if it is a common way to communicate in your group), you can combine with other points too.

Just a naive question - what exactly was A.B's contribution to this paper?

It could be that the idea of the whole work belonged to that person.

  • Nothing, exact nothing. As mentioned before, the idea had come from my advisor. I worked alone on the paper. I don't know where comes from A.B. I asked advisor as @mhwombat soggested. – Roja Sep 3 at 10:42
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    He told me my paper was in trouble (while my paper was highly praised by him). I asked: Why didn't he tell me to correct my paper myself? (He didn't answer) And finally he said my article was rejected. (While I have seen on the Journal site the referees agree with my article and the article has reached the revision stage.) – Roja Sep 3 at 10:43
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    @Roja Based on that additional information, I would talk to someone else at your university (department chair, ombudsman, etc) about the situation. – chepner Sep 3 at 12:05
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    @Roja The sentence in the yellow box is not a question to you, but a proposed form of email. – yarchik Sep 3 at 13:16
  • @Roja If you ask such questions, try to get the answers in writing (at least as an email). That way you could later reference them, if there was an arbiter involved and it turns out the paper was in fact accepted. – Frank Hopkins Sep 5 at 19:35
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I'm surprised nobody said this, but if you're certain you're being treated unfairly*, you should at least take a look around and see if you can get a better advisor. Of course you should make sure this is doable before you burn any bridges, but pretending it's fine will only make it worse: as time passes it will only be harder for you to change the advisor, and as long as your career depends on them, there likely will be more "favours" you'll have to do down the road.

(*)

  • one thing you should check is how publishing works in your field, perhaps it's customary to add someone on the author's list to get published in the right journal. I'm not saying that's ethically impeccable, but your adviser woudn't be the one to blame
  • another aspect is to be sure the new co-author was really not involved. For instance, how do you know the idea your adviser gave you to work on didn't originate from that person?
  • It's too late to change the advisor. – Roja Sep 3 at 12:56
  • @Roja Then you'll have to finish your thesis with this one, but I'd say in your last year you should already be looking for a new place to continue your career. Best of luck! – Dmitry Grigoryev Sep 5 at 6:34
  • I'm looking for it. thank you – Roja Sep 5 at 8:03
2

I sympathize with your situation, and indeed, in the immediate term if your professional career depends on the goodwill of your advisor, I wouldn't advise getting too confrontational at this point.

All of this said, however, there is a great service you could do to the community: If and when you become a faculty member, make sure you hold up the highest standards in publishing and in particular, managing authorship. I think that in the long term, that's the only way to improve the system.

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    This is exactly the decision I have for the future. I will never forget, and one day when I have the power to confront, I will do my best to improve the system. – Roja Sep 3 at 12:18
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    -1 for suggesting OP keep their mouth shut about this while other students of OP's adviser, and that co-author, continue to suffer the same form of plagiaristic abuse. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Sep 3 at 22:47
  • @einpoklum: I never suggested that the OP keep their mouth shut. All situations like these are complex ones involving human relations and it is impossible to give an objective answer of the sorts "always speak up" or "always keep shut". That is why I advised against getting too confrontational. There is a long road between the two extremes of keeping shut and being confrontational, including for example, mature conversations that maintain mutual respect and decorum. If you think that every injustice that humankind has ever experienced can be fixed by "speaking out", you are sadly mistaken. – udax Sep 5 at 3:05
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Probably one of the biggest problems with academia is that there is no HR department, and your advisor holds a disproportionate amount of power. Especially in the flat American system, where one can become a PI by just 30 years old.

This being said, I think your best bet is to just let your advisor do what they want, and then get out of his lab as quickly as possible.

  • I quite agree with you – Roja Sep 4 at 7:31
  • As i stated before, i disagree with the sentiment of the last sentence. There might be a valid reason. Without talking to the Prof. i wouldn't do anything. Maybe the reason is so good, maybe not. But "get out of there" might be the worst decision in some case. So No, don't "just let him do what he wants and get out" rather "discuss the problem with the persons involved and decide then what you do." That's the grown up way. Thats the way a HR department would handle the situation btw. – Sango Sep 4 at 7:38
  • @sango: I have spoken to adviers. I suggest you read my comment in response to Yarchik. Sometimes talking is ineffective when the answer is just a lie. – Roja Sep 4 at 9:36
  • @sango the PI also needs to decide to act like a grownup, or else you just lose. An HR department acts like an impartial 3rd party, and if things go poorly they can make sure you are protected from unfair future treatment. Sometimes managing relationships is about knowing when not to say anything. – olliepower Sep 6 at 18:49
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I think there is a misunderstanding and you should understand what a "corresponding author" is. While it could be the PI, it could also be someone who is simply assigned the administrative duty of getting the paper published correctly and handling all the correspondence. As this is your first published paper the advisor may simply have chosen someone with experience.

Personally, my advice would be to say "I noticed that you made X the corresponding author. I would like to learn more about what is involved in getting a paper published so that I can be the corresponding author on my next paper"

https://www.editage.com/insights/5-pre-submission-tips-for-corresponding-authors

  • No misunderstanding. Please read my comments in the other answers for more complete information. – Roja Sep 5 at 4:24

protected by Alexandros Sep 5 at 7:50

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