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First author is a PhD student, as am I. All of the other co-authors are our supervisors. The first author doesn't want me to read the paper, because we are both PhD students and I might plagiarize (?!) her work. Can I report this person for unprofessional conduct to the University committee? Or how should I behave?

More details/Update: My supervisors are having huge issues with this student also because now she doesn't want them as co-authors of other chapters of her PhD. As for me, the supervisors sent me a copy of the manuscript so that I could read it, but she discovered it and overreacted. She submitted that paper to a good journal but didn't keep me in the loop so I had no idea about the reviews until our supervisors told me (again against her will). Now, she doesn't want to acknowledge my contribution for another paper. Because of this latter my supervisors and I decided to collect evidence of her unprofessional conduct in the present and in the past.

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    The only solutions are not either you behave or report the student. There are middle ground cases where you can have a conversation with everyone involved and convince them that letting you read the paper is the correct way forward. You can convince them, e.g. by making sure that all the information is shared via writing (email) and with other important people (supervisors/academics) cc'd, thus putting you in a situation where you would be caught cheating if you were trying to plagiarize it. – Ander Biguri Oct 8 at 12:45
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    And then they'll try to convince me about how intelectually honest academia is compared to business – David Oct 8 at 13:54
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    Just to give you context/orientation: such a demand/situation is extremely bizarre... Nonsensical. So do not get sucked-in to thinking that there is any way that this can be interpreted as reasonable. It is nonsense. – paul garrett Oct 8 at 23:08
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    My supervisors are having huge issues with this student also because now she doesn't want them as co-authors of other chapters of her PhD. Is ist normal for a PhD thesis to have multiple authors? – smcs Oct 9 at 13:46
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    My response would be, “If I don’t read it, you may not put my name on it. And if my name is not on it, nothing I wrote can be in it.” – WGroleau Oct 10 at 5:17
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There is a golden standard (codified in the Vancouver Recommendations on authorship) that every author individually vouches for the correctness of the entire paper. In other words, you can't ask a co-author to only read and write part of the paper, because they need the whole paper to vouch for its correctness. They wouldn't satisfy the criteria to be allowed to be authors. It also suggests a broken collaboration culture if there isn't even enough trust among co-authors to let each other read everything that's happening in a collaboration.

But beyond that, the idea to not let the co-authors read parts of the paper just doesn't make any sense: A paper is intended to be published, at which point it becomes available to everyone, not just the co-authors.

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    Do you know, by any chance, if the last author (and main supervisor in this case) has got the last word on the paper since the first author is a student? This person doesn't want to acknowledge my contribution for another paper while my supervisors think she should. Can they push her to add my name on her paper? – Giuditta Bonetti Oct 8 at 2:04
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    @GiudittaBonetti I think that would be a separate question. – nick012000 Oct 8 at 7:29
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    Regarding the second paragraph: publication takes a finite (and often long) time. A misguided PhD student worried about the OP plagiarising their work may be banking on the OP having to submit their thesis before the paper is published. But it's also possible that the journal sends a copy to all authors. – Chris H Oct 8 at 8:21
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    +1 for naming the Vancouver Recommendations, viewable from etikkom.no/en/library/practical-information/… Note though that these are a golden standard, not binding and stem from the medicine research, whereby (speculating here) the specifics of some recommendations may not fit any other research field equally well – XavierStuvw Oct 8 at 10:15
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    To me "it suggests a broken collaboration culture" might be a bit too harsh as we are talking about a PhD student, though I definitely see the reasons for you writing that. But it seems to me that it hints more at and undeveloped collaboration culture and possibly misguided supervision, at least regarding this particular topic. – penelope Oct 8 at 12:55
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Can I report this person for unprofessional conduct to the University committee?

Whoa, there! That would be a huge escalation. Talk to the person concerned, first. If that doesn't work, talk to your advisor. If that doesn't work, consider going higher. But don't start with the nuclear option, ever.

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    Yes. The other PhD student is probably acting out of ignorance of academic practices, not malice. – mhwombat Oct 8 at 12:06
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Talk to your advisor.

Dealing with this sort of thing is what they’re there for. They’ll probably tell you that it’s fine, and maybe have a word with your colleague and/or said colleague’s advisor.

In general, though, if you’re going to be putting your name on a paper, it’d be a good idea to have read it first - if it’s poorly written, it’ll tarnish your name as well as theirs, after all, and you might be able to see areas where you can improve it.

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    Your advisor should insist that you see it all and agree to it all. If you haven't seen something in a paper your name shouldn't be on it. Likewise if you object to anything in it. The other student is a bit paranoid as well as insulting. – Buffy Oct 7 at 23:59
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    My samples and my analysis are on that paper. I was asked to write results and discussion of my data without having access to the paper. That is crazy. Supervisors are on my side but they feel like they have got no power over her and this paper. Now, she doesn't want to acknowledge my contribution for another paper and so I'm collecting evidence to report her. – Giuditta Bonetti Oct 8 at 0:25
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    @GiudittaBonetti You have the power to not transfer your copyright on what you wrote or give permission for it to be published. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 8 at 12:52
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    @GiudittaBonetti your advisors need to make it very clear to her that academic conduct demands that (A) all authors have read and agree with the entire paper, (B) everybody that contributed substantially (and nobody else) is an author. So unless she removes all your content, she can't publish it. (C) plagiarism is primarily a problem with people that are unrelated; for her PhD her advisor has supposedly an email/commit history that shows what is her work, and what is yours. You can't plagiarize her without your supervisor noticing, that would backfire badly. She ought to trust co-authors... – Anony-Mousse Oct 9 at 8:12
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While I agree with the major advice in guests's answer (you do not have to allow publishing a paper you have not seen), I feel as it could be more concise (and I do not agree that you should agree with publication of anything 'passing' a very low quality bar).

I agree with you that your situation is highly unusual and not good academic practice. I understand that you have discussed with your situation with your advisers and they are generally supportive, however I do not understand why you or your advisers feel like you have no power over this student or the publication?

You have power over every publication containing your work, data which you have not made public, results of your experiments or your analysis: you have power to allow re-usage of your materials under your terms, and you have the power to demand proper attribution. As others have correctly noted, you vouch for every publication you put your name on, and you should not allow something you have not read to be published under your name.

While I agree that reporting this behaviour as unethical to the University committee is very much over the top, and would suggest escalating it is small steps, but know that you do have a nuclear option available to you if all else fails. I would recommend going through the next general steps:

  • Talk to your advisers (you seem to have already done that).

    Explain that you are happy to share your data and contribute with your analysis of the experiments/results in a collaborative effort to publish. Explain that you are not happy to share your data, experimental setup or results outside of a collaboration before you publish them. Get their support for your opinions.

  • Talk to the PhD student in question.

    Explain the same as above: you are happy to collaborate. As the data is not yet published, you can not share it with researchers you are not collaborating with. Explain that your potential contribution (data, experiments, analysis) is substantial and why you think it warrants an authorship.

    Then, explain that every paper a researcher vouches for every paper they author. Explain that a sloppily written paper, or even worse, an erroneous one, will potentially damage your academic career as well. Explain that if there are any interpretations or conclusions in the paper discussion, you need to be sure you agree with them and support them before you attach your name to those claims.

    Finally, say that you are happy to collaborate on those terms, and those terms only. Explain that you can not in good faith put your name on a paper which you have not seen, and do not give the permission this person to re-use your materials (data, experimental setup - those do not have to be attributed, but still need to be legally obtained). Hope that the other PhD student agrees to those terms.

  • Talk to the PhD student in question more formally, involving your and their advisers.

    Repeat everything from above. Make it clear that you do not give permission to reuse your data, but are happy to collaborate (on regular terms, where your work is attributed and you are able to approve of the manuscript and suggest changes before submission).

    If, at this point, the PhD student still does not agree, make it clear that using your data without permission, or worse, your work, analysis or conclusions without attribution, would be grounds to request retraction if the work got published.

    You have just given the PhD student three choices: proceed to work in a proper collaboration with you; proceed their work on their own, not relying on your data, results or input; proceed to submit their manuscript relying on your data and input, getting involved in unethical academic practices, which will give you grounds to request retraction of that paper and potentially damage their reputation.

  • (if the paper gets published but not under the above terms) You may now consider first going through the University channels (with the support of your advisers), but if it has come to this, you now have the power to start biting back.

    This could be either the situation where the paper got published without your name but still using the data you did not give the permission for, or with your name but without your prior knowledge.

    Say that your next steps are to contact the Editor in Chief of the journal where the paper was submitted, explain the situation and ask the paper be retracted. At this point, the University might mediate somewhat (e.g. allow the person to attempt to retract the paper themselves to save face?), or there might be not much they can do.

  • Finally, get in touch with the Editor in Chief of the journal in question.

    Explain the situation. Either that your data has been used without your permission, or that you never approved (or have seen) the manuscript on which you are a coauthor and do not approve of its submission and publication. Provide some proof (This will have required you to keep an e-mail trail of all the crucial points of this process. Especially the part where you explicitly tell the student that you will not share your data unless you enter a proper collaboration, as well as where you ask for access to the manuscript before the submission).

Hopefully, it does not come to this, and you find an agreement through one of the earlier steps I propose, even if that agreement is potentially not to collaborate. Even more hopefully, the PhD student in question realises how to work with other people and changes her opinion.

Be friendly, be nice and be open. Behave. But do all of that with the knowledge that you do have power over your own work, and be firm on exercising that power if needed

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Some journals now require or permit an authorship statement, which appears online alongside the paper. Writing one (honestly of course) stating who did what would then make it harder for you to later claim work that you'd agreed in writing was someone else's. Whether this would satisfy a seemingly paranoid first author is another matter, but it may provide a route to a resolution, especially if driven by the supervisors. Encouraged by my examiners I included such a statement in a list of publications in my thesis for all papers on which I was an author, though clearly this wasn't signed off by the other authors of the papers.

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My advice is to get a read of the paper or take your name off (and ask them not to use any of your work (tests, samples, etc.)

NOTE: this does NOT mean setting yourself up as an editor or nitpicker or gatekeeper or the like. Just make sure the parts that are your work are accurate. As for the rest of the paper, just make sure that it is not so scientifically crazy you don't want your name on it (pretty low hurdle). Other than that, let the first author do her thing in terms of describing work, structure, wording, journal choice, etc.

Obviously get your advisor involved. But if you don't see the paper, don't let your name be used (even if they are OK with that for them).

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    "As for the rest of the paper, just make sure that it is not so scientifically crazy you don't want your name on it (pretty low hurdle)" No! NO!!! The whole paper will have the asker's name on it. They must make sure that the rest of the paper is of a standard that they are satisfied with. I agree that, from an interpersonal point of view, it's probably a good idea not to insist on minor stylistic changes when working with an awkward co-author, but one must be happy with the scientific content. – David Richerby Oct 8 at 7:52
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    How can you check all your contributions have been removed from the paper if you are not allowed to read it? The reason the first author is so paranoic about plagiarism might not be a good one... – alephzero Oct 8 at 9:12
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    It's not reasonable to expect a review of papers which you are not on. You could be proactive and list your contributions (what data, samples, text). – guest Oct 8 at 11:42
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Making my comment an answer :

The only solutions are not either you behave or report the student.

There are middle ground cases where you can have a conversation with everyone involved and convince them that letting you read the paper is the correct way forward.

You can convince them, e.g. by making sure that all the information is shared via writing (email) and with other important people (supervisors/academics) cc'd, thus putting you in a situation where you would be caught cheating if you were trying to plagiarize it.

Hopefully that would convince the first author that you do not plan to act maliciously and gives them proof to react in case you do.

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The academic staff need to take responsibility for appropriate behaviours.

Yes, basic expectations should be simply part of the PhD program training.

However, sounds like there may be a need for "coaching", or behavioural management for other staff involved. Academic staff should be reaching out to the University for support on this.

At worst, there is a mental health issue here that similarly requires appropriate support.

Bottom line: This is at root an HR issue, not one as to processes and procedures.

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This is not normal. Your lead author is displaying multiple behaviors associated with mental illness and/or an attempt to cover up malfeasance. There needs to be an intervention and she ought to be encouraged to seek counseling.

Graduate school can be very stressful. People can crack.

You and the other authors should act both to protect your interests and to get her some help, rather than pursue a punitive course, if at all possible.

I did an intervention as an undergrad, completely different situation, but the end result was the person got help and no official punishment, although the officials were very helpful and assisted in said intervention. YMMV.

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