Work leading to the application note

During the c(o)urse of my PhD studies, I have written some analysis tools. I later collaborated with another PhD student to developed a proper analysis application. We then wrote an application note, to publish it in an journal. A third PhD student provided us with data, did an analysis using out tool and wrote the corresponding methods section in the application note.

The problem with authorship

By the rules of the journal, there should be three persons as authors: us three PhD students (Contributed work, and involved in draft). But as it is custom, is proposed an author list including us PhD student, the respective supervisors and the head of our research group/PI

However, my supervisor wants me to only include two PhDs and himself as last author. It seems quite important to him that the author list is short. Additionally, he wants to submit the paper himself to the journal. He has little knowledge about our work, nor does he understand the reasoning behind the analysis performed.

His sole contribution was to review the draft, so that all technical passages are now very understandable, as we explain our work to a scientific layman.

What I am asking myself currently

  1. This is my first publication and I wonder if the demands oft my supervisor (him submitting to the journal, claiming to be the only "guest author") are justified, given the nature of his contribution?
  2. Given this context, who should be author?

On a side note: While writing this, I also realize that the relation to my direct supervisor is quite toxic...


We three PhD students are not in the same Departement.

  • Discuss the issue with the other two students. See what advice they have. Lobby them for your position if you like.
    – Buffy
    Oct 22, 2019 at 22:11
  • 3
    I should edit this for the tyop, but I love the idea of "the curse of my PhD studies"
    – Flyto
    Oct 22, 2019 at 22:18
  • 1
    "my supervisor wants me to only include two PhDs and himself as last author. It seems quite important to him that the author list is short." -> if it's so important to him, his wish can easily be satisfied by letting the three of you be the authors.
    – Erwan
    Oct 22, 2019 at 22:54
  • Seriously there's no more reason to restrict the list of authors to 3 than to 2 or to 4, did he give any reason why he wants it this way?
    – Erwan
    Oct 22, 2019 at 22:57
  • @Erwan: Not really. Just that is better to have a short author list for such papers, as it makes each contribution more valuable. At the same time he states, he has no clue about such papers and did never pupish such a paper before. I assume, he wants to be last author. Nearly every other supervisor would be higher in hirachy and the render him not last author
    – rikisa
    Oct 22, 2019 at 23:06

1 Answer 1


Authorship customs tend to be very field-specific, but I've never heard of discarding a co-author from a paper just for the sake of having a shorter list of authors. This sounds ridiculous: following this reasoning your supervisor could as well decide to be the sole author of the paper!

It's common in many fields to add a supervisor as co-author (usually the last one), even if their contribution is very limited indeed. However good authorship practice recommend that every co-author should have played a significant role in the paper. So in theory you are right: if anybody should be removed from co-authorship, it's the supervisor himself.

Needless to say, it's completely unethical to deprive an actual co-author of the credit.

If there is any room for argument with this strange request, I suggest the following: check a few recent issues of this journal and count for each paper the number of authors. You should be able to easily prove that papers with more than three authors are common and there's no reason to discard anybody.

  • Thanks for you Answer. I did as you suggested. In general one will find paper with similar scope and several authors, and some with only two authors.
    – rikisa
    Oct 23, 2019 at 6:55

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