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My PhD supervisor (in the field of artificial intelligence) invited me to several meetings with another PhD student. Since I have more knowledge than my supervisor in some topics, I made many suggestions about how this student could improve his methodology. In total, I went to 5 meetings of 3–4 hours each. I could have used this time to do my own research.

When the other student started to write his manuscript, I asked to be an author, since I had contributed directly to the research, but he felt I only deserved to appear in the acknowledgments. So I asked my supervisor to be on the paper and even volunteered to help writing it. My supervisor said “Don't worry about his paper, you have your own things to do, and he is not going to submit this work anytime soon”.

One week later, they submitted the paper to a major conference without my name on it. I felt really insulted that they used my time and skills with no credit to me.

I didn't actively do the research or help write the paper, but I felt I was supervising the student since I have the most experience on this topic. Many academics in my field get their names on papers by just giving suggestions.

What should I do? I am planning on taking it to the head of department.

  • 25
    I'm surprised by the various answers suggesting that actively participating in multiple discussion sessions of several hours (in which you brought in your special experiences) would not justify authorship. I do agree to the general sentiment that talking to the department head would probably be a bad idea, but I would definitely seek clarification with the PI, and avoid a similar situation from happening again by explicitly discussing authorship explicit in the first extended discussion meeting. – lighthouse keeper Sep 24 at 17:32
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    @Azor, in some fields, including OPs, conference proceedings are what people care most about. – Peter Taylor Sep 24 at 20:12
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    If 15-20 h of work (which is what the author claims to have contributed) qualify me for authorship in a major conference submission, I am so going to change fields. – Marianne013 Sep 24 at 22:06
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    You should say what field you are in. I research molecular biology and attend 1h+ lab meetings every 2nd week , and I certainly don't expect co-authorship when I only contributed to discussion on analysis and methodology. – Cell Sep 25 at 0:13
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    @user1998012 next time. if you want to be co-author tell them that in advance, before you give the advice. and expect no one to help you for free! many people are helping me and non asked to coauthor. – asmgx Sep 25 at 2:17

11 Answers 11

32

You look like you are an expert on a field that your supervisor isn't, and that expertise is necessary for a collaborator to make progress on his thesis. Therefore, I would expect that your supervisor would motivate both of you to work together, so that the other PhD student can benefit from your expertise, and you could benefit from working on a related subject you know about. In that case, co-authorship would be reasonable and come of naturally. I also believe that you would generously offer co-authorship to your collaborator, if things had happened the other way around (i.e. he had provided advice the way you have).

But things evolved differently, so:


Do you deserve to be a co-author?

In my opinion, yes. Judging from your descriptions, it looks like you've been doing lots of "supervisor" work here. As others have noted, a supervisor is anyway included regardless of their contribution. To my understanding, and based on my academic experience as a PhD student, this is not just a "typical" practice; since the supervisor is expected to get co-authorship, they should provide actual supervision (advice, intuition etc). Providing it through a delegate is fine, but I would expect that the delegate receives proper credit.


Should you take action?

No. Unless you don't mind hurting your relationship with your PhD supervisor and possibly triggering a conflict with him. Given the circumstances, I'd suggest you give up on co-authorship, but express your feelings to your supervisor.


Is this fair?

No, at least in the way I perceive academic ethics. Unfortunately, ethics and rules in academia are easily violated in subtle ways. If you are not the one holding power, there's very little you can do without risking a conflict with people who have huge control over your academic future.

  • 9
    I sympathize with you and can really feel your frustration and disappointment. However, think about it: what are you trying to achieve here, apart from satisfying your long-accumulated frustration? Do you trust that the head of the dept (who is also a professor and a PhD supervisor, wink-wink) will take your side? How will you provide proof, if needed? Make sure you understand what it means to accuse a professor of academic dishonesty. PS. I am pretty sure it CAN "get worse than that". – rascob Sep 25 at 13:48
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    This is solid avdvice. Me, being slightly more childish and spiteful would probably also never help any of them again (after completing the phd naturally). Build connections and relations with those that are generous and fair, it is good for both your career and your life. These two obviously signed themselves off. – Stian Yttervik Sep 25 at 18:59
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    Does 20 hours of meetings warrant co-authorship into a paper that takes thousands of hours to develop? – corsiKa Sep 25 at 19:14
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    It depends. I have considered co-authors people who have provided their expertise for less time than that, and I still think it was the fair thing to do. But then again, you could ask "Does simply reading a paper and proposing ideas warrant co-authorship?" Again, "it depends." – rascob Sep 25 at 20:11
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    @corsiKa I have never seen a definition of authorship criteria that includes "invested amount of time". I have seen "substantial contributions to conception and design of the work" (ICMJE guidelines). Being the sole contributor with a particular type of expertise in 20 hours of discussions makes it more likely than not that this criterion is fulfilled. – lighthouse keeper Sep 26 at 4:33
85

Actually, I think you should relax and take your advisor's advice. Collaboration is a good thing, and it is a two-way street. You give a bit and you get a bit. I assume you got an acknowledgement in the paper for your help. I don't think it would be appropriate if you weren't. But authorship is a different thing.

You contributed ideas. Research seminars are often organized to give ideas to researchers but the members don't become co-authors in the normal case.

Congratulate your colleague and, as your advisor suggests, spend your effort on your own work, not raising an objection to someone else's.

But, it is good that you contributed ideas. Do that a lot and you will have a lot of people willing and happy to work with you. Occasionally you may need that help.

Pay it forward.

75

I am planing in taking it to the head of department.

Let me assure you that this is a bad idea. 99 times out of 100 the department head will not intervene in these matters. Moreover even if they do (again, super unlikely), and you get things your way with this paper, I assure you that this will forever mar your relationship with your advisor. I would be extremely upset if one of my students went over my head like this.

How about you have a discussion with your advisor about how you feel? What constitutes author worthy contribution highly varies between research groups, so I would not be so quick to decide that your contribution suffices (nor am I in a better position than your advisor to make this call). Maybe you can be more involved in follow ups? In relating this work to your own? As Buffy mentions, you’re not just letting it go because that’s the way it is, it’s also because being adversarial will have far reaching repercussions beyond this one paper!

In my experience, a collaborative approach pays dividends in the long run: Be the person people want to talk research with!

EDIT: To clarify: It is impossible to judge whether X number of hours warrants coauthorship status, as this is very discipline/relationship related. Some PIs think that even a short conversation about the paper and some suggestions warrant coauthorship, others think that unless you actively participate in writing you shouldn't be a coauthor.

Unless something outright unethical is happening (e.g. the OP made major contributions, which is not obvious from the OP), I don't think they have a case, certainly not one department head I've met would intervene in..

  • 3
    Yes, bad, bad, idea – Buffy Sep 24 at 13:00
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    +1 for the last sentence alone - the more you talk with other people the more they will talk with you, and often just the talking will prod some part of your brain to reconsider a problem in a new light, whether you were talking about it or not. – Jon Custer Sep 24 at 13:49
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    I don't think that is a comparable situation directly with what is known, they're just saying to bring it up with the supervisor first again. The point is to not pull the trigger too quickly else cause some irreversible problems. Especially since there seems to be an argument on whether he even was mistreated. Either way, can't get the best of both worlds. Have to decide which you would prefer, the other post/comment seem to just be giving which choice ends up being better for him in their opinion, not necessarily the most moral choice. – Chrismon Chin Sep 24 at 20:46
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    @user32882 let me be clear: students absolutely should approach department heads, ombudspersons etc when the situation calls for it. An authorship dispute is not one of those situations, in my opinion. It’s an overreaction that’ll have very negative consequences. It’s not the department head’s job to intervene in these situations. – Spark Sep 24 at 23:11
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    @Roland I’m not even starting to get into the low standards of authorship that PIs set for themselves. Sometimes the standard is: “existing” – Spark Sep 25 at 8:33
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When the PhD student started to write a paper about it, I asked him to be on the paper, since I felt I contributed directly to his research. But he said I just gave him suggestions and he could add me in the acknowledgments, not as co-author. And he said I should ask my supervisor if I deserve to be on the paper.

As a general rule, contributing ideas, providing feedback, inspiring others does not qualify a person for authorship. During such discussions, we think and state our own views and ideas without paying much heed to the legwork involved for implementing the same.

Making those ideas come to life are an entirely different thing.

One week later, they submitted the paper to a major conference without my name on it. I felt really insulting that they used my time and my skills with no benefit for me.

You have gained plenty from these discussions. You got to parade your knowledge and mind before others. You draw inspiration from them and later on you may gain a formal collaboration. Also, you gained an acknowledgement. Anything more, would be injustice to the authors involved in the paper.

Science rarely progresses without discussion with people from diverse backgrounds. That is what makes science inter-disciplinary.

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    So my supervisor also shouldn't be on the paper by this general rule, should I said it to him? My supervisor invited me for the meeting since he doesn't know about the topic and wanted someone else to help to "supervise" the PhD student. – user1998012 Sep 24 at 12:27
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    In some fields, the supervisor is on every paper no matter the specific contribution. Not necessarily the best practice, but it is very common and accepted/required in some fields. Especially if the PI has established a lab via grant money. – Buffy Sep 24 at 12:44
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    Whether or not your supervisor should be on the other student's paper is a different question. They are your direct supervisor, not theirs. And I am very sure, this person does in no way fulfill the role of a supervisor for that student. Because, "supervise" is a very broad term for defining the role of a supervisor. For academia, it includes providing resources, mentorship, presentation skills, constructive criticism, meltdown control, an idol (sometimes), praise and funding. That is the tip of the iceberg for what a supervisor is. – FoldedChromatin Sep 24 at 13:04
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    "You got to parade your knowledge and mind before others." This only help when they are grateful for your help. Otherwise you're just another repository of information and a free one at that. If you aren't being valued, then your time is of better use elsewhere. Also, being listed on a paper is a bigger "parade", as well as more permanent/less easy to forget. – computercarguy Sep 25 at 21:52
  • @user1998012 You can also consider having your supervisor's name on your paper as a privilege, since your paper now has a reputable name on it. I'm sure you have done some literature review where you looked up papers by a specific professor. You wouldn't easily have found papers written by their PhD students, if it wasn't for the fact that the supervisor's name was on it. – Sanchises Sep 26 at 6:47
16

In the future I’d suggest being clearer about whether a project is joint work earlier in the process. It doesn’t sound to me from your description that you deserve coauthorship, but I do see why you feel shortchanged. The earlier on that you have this conversation the less chance there is for miscommunication and hurt feelings.

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    The one part I do find concerning is that your advisor may have lied about when it was being submitted. If it were me, and probably a wiser person wouldn’t do this, I’d ask what happened with the submission when they told me it wasn’t being submitted soon and if I didn’t feel like I could trust the advisor after their response I might consider switching advisors. Not in the main answer because it’s probably bad advice. – Noah Snyder Sep 24 at 13:52
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    But don't assume there was deception. A change of plans can arise naturally as well. – Buffy Sep 24 at 14:21
7

There are plenty of answers already, so there will naturally be some overlap between mine and what's already said, but I hope to be able to give some food for thought anyways.

First of all, judging by the way you express yourself, both on the OP and the comments, you seem to be quite agitated by the situation. Before you do anything, you need to find a way to calm down and try to think straight. Don't take any rash decisions, in the heat of the moment. As others have also eluded to, it might have detrimental and unexpected effects down the road. That's step 1.

Then let's unpack the situation, you are in a lab where there is some research is carried out. On this one project you feel you have more hands on experience on a field/method than the PI. The fact that your PI trusts your knowledge and brings you in is a very positive sign. Second positive sign, I believe, that you are in a lab where expertise is shared and people contribute to each other's projects. I have worked in intellectual isolation long enough to appreciate how valuable that is. Try to reflect on that a bit, that's step 2.

I think your frustration is justified. However, it is not uncommon that situations like these happen. What counts as authorship varies ALOT between labs, and even among the research groups at the same place. That is just a fact. It's a bit of the culture that the PI fosters (or allows) within the group. Also, don't even question on why the PI is on the paper, that jsut is the case, s/he pays for all of you, and has likely contributed to writing the paper. You might disagree with it, but it simply is the case. I think it would be fair to say many users here at AC.SE have experienced one or more cases like this.

Once you have calmed down, what can you do? The way I see it, you have two options:

  1. Accept the situation and commit to the existing culture. Again, you don't need to agree with it, you just need to get through. Play the game with the rules others are playing, if you want to keep playing. Next time you get called in for your expertise, establish the mode of collaboration as the first thing, before you commit. Otherwise, learn as much as you can, get your projects done and move on. Next place you go to, you can (and likely will) pay more attention to these kind of things.

  2. If the situation really doesn't sit well with you and you don't think you can work effectively in that place anymore (in other words if the bridges are burned from your end) then you can certainly complain and "fight". I think you can make a case, but my guess is that nothing will really change with respect to this paper. But you might seriously hurt your position in your group. If being right is the most important thing for you, then surely whatever we/your PI/head of the dept will say won't make it better.

This reminds me about that silly joke, if you are in a fight with your spouse you can be either right or happy, both not both. Choose what matters most for you, and go that way. There will be consequences either way, I feel.

  • I more or less gave up about this paper at the moment, and I already said that I won't attend those meetings anymore. But I am willing to take it further since it is not the first time my supervisor haven't been supportive. I started to take a different research path that my supervisor never liked, and more people in my lab is taking the same direction as me at the moment. It was 1-2 years of intensive arguments (that slowed a lot my research) to make him accept that this was the best path. That is why he was inviting me to his meetings since more people are taking my research direction. – user1998012 Sep 25 at 12:55
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    Then I wish you the best of luck pursuing this issue, and I mean that genuinely. I'd just advise to tread carefully as you take this issue up the ladder – posdef Sep 25 at 13:32
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The other answers cover most of the points but I’d just like to add that submission doesn’t necessarily equate with acceptance. They may have rushed this paper slightly to meet a conference deadline and neglected you in the rush to submit. They may be planning a journal submission after the conference and would like to collaborate with you on this. The supervisor/student may have decided to "take a punt" on this conference, knowing that the paper will be reviewed quickly and that reviewers' comments will be useful even if it is a likely rejection.

Bottom line: don’t take it personally. Consider if you want an authorship on a paper that you have had no direct control over.

2

There are some formal rules around academic ethics in relation to authorship. Vancouver Protocol states that authorship credit should be based only on substantial contributions to:

  1. conception and design, the acquisition of the data, and/* or analysis and interpretation of data
    AND
  2. drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content
    AND
  3. final approval of the version to be published.

Conditions 1, 2, and 3 must all be met. Specifically, general supervision of the research group is not sufficient for authorship.

These are actually tough requirements that many authors do not seem to meet, so the reality of ethics w.r.t. authorship is less perfect than it could be. But when complaining formally, you should perhaps refer to formal rules in addition to (or even in place of) citing similar cases where a person that did as much as you did got an authorship regardless of whether he/she was actually entitled to that according to the rules.

1

It's possible that your supervisor and your cuckoo think that you don't deserve co-authorship because they didn't let you edit the paper before submitting it. But the amount of time you spent providing needed advice and guidance in my opinion deserves more than a mere acknowledgement.

That said, raising a stink about this paper isn't going to be helpful to you. You need to finish your own degree, and making an ennemy of your advisor is not the way to get there. In addition, most department chairs are not real managers, and all they'd do with such a request is flee, not try to help you over the opinion of their colleague. So you should probably just let this slide, and maybe try to get an acknowledgement in the final published product.

But you should also pay attention to what this incident says about your advisor. Pursue every possible opportunity to publish with other people! If possible far-away people who don't have any institutional links with him. Be very sure that all help you provide him in your field of expertise will bring you at least co-authorship on whatever the project is, negotiating that up front. Make sure he doesn't just suck you dry for the duration of your studies. Don't outright refuse to cooperate, but be vague and unavailable if necessary.

0

You have numerous replies. I will simply say "no, by my and what I believe are reasonable standards, you are not qualified to be a co-author" and "no you would be very unwise to involve the department head/chairperson." If one of my Ph.D. students felt the way you do, I would counsel them appropriately. If they subsequently went to the Head/Chairperson, I would sanction them (such as tell them to move to a different advisor).

  • If my advisor tells me to move to a different one, this would be the best outcome! My advisor is slowing me down and he has minor influence on my academic development. – user1998012 Oct 1 at 9:01
-3

I have a bi-weekly meeting with my MSc and Ph.D. students that some time is 6 hours long. We discuss ideas and brainstorming solutions; they work on different subjects. When I was doing my Ph.D, I designed an algorithm from A-Z gave it to an MSc student to implement, he published a paper I did not co-author it and did not ask to be a co-author. Why that? because I was a fully-funded Ph.D. student, this is my work I was hired to do that and this was part of my training.

Now, I am a supervisor, and I am on every paper of my MSc and Ph.D. students work. I secure funds for all of them to work on their research.

Are you a fully-funded Ph.D. student? If yes then do not complain, as you are a professional researcher, not an undergraduate student working on a group assignment.

If you are not a fully-funded Ph.D. student, then I do not understand why you are doing a PhD. Because, if you are that strong and more knowledgeable than your supervisor and at the same time not funded, then I would strongly suggest that you switch your supervisor.

In the future, please tell your supervisor you are busy with your research point and do not go to these meetings.

  • a SIX HOUR biweekly meeting!? Do your students tell you that they are busy with their research and will not attend? :-) – cag51 Sep 25 at 3:02
  • Of course :) sometimes. Usually students are looking forward for those meetings. We go for 6 hours when there is a major tging like prepare for defense, conference presentation, an industry partner visiting our lab, etc – Ubaidah Sep 25 at 6:34
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    If you designed the algorithm, you definitely deserved to be co-author of the paper. Research is about developing new ideas, writing code/paper is a smaller scientific contribution than developing the idea. – user1998012 Sep 25 at 12:35

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