Update: I talked with my advisor about (1) the possibility of asking the editor about submitting our paper this journal X and (2) the possibility of me as the sole author to submit this paper. She said no and no :(

Background info: I am from the field of social science, and this paper is from my dissertation. My advisor provided funding for my dissertation ($9,000). My advisor has been very good to me. I just graduated last year and am now an assistant professor at another university.

I did plan to add my advisor as the second author of this paper, I also told her in an email I would like to submit this paper to X, the top journal of our field, and I attached the draft in this email.

Then I heard back from her yesterday with an edited version. In the comments, she told me not to submit to X because she is one of the associate editors which creates a conflict of interest--I emailed the editor to confirm and this is indeed the rule. This rule was not listed on the journal's website and my advisor did not tell me when I sent her the email saying I would like to submit to X journal.

I really want to submit to this X journal because I imagine it would help me a lot with my academic career. If I knew that any paper with associate editors as a co-author cannot be submitted to journal X, I would never send this paper to my advisor for comments.

I wonder if I can ask my advisor to withdraw her authorship and I will be the sole author for this paper so that I can submit to X. I am not sure how unethical my behavior can be? Or maintaining a good relationship with my advisor is more important than having a top journal publication? Any suggestions are appreciated!

  • 2
    Major journals usually have dozens of associate editors, so a paper with one editor as an author would be handed to a different editor and there would be no conflict of interest. I've never heard of a policy like what you describe, and it doesn't make sense to me. Jan 6, 2020 at 21:47
  • This journal has about 30 associated editors...I emailed the editor in chief and he said: "We had set up this rule at the start of my editorship and I feel it is best to maintain it given potential conflicts of interest." I guess I need to submit to another journal.
    – Susan
    Jan 6, 2020 at 21:53
  • 1
    In general, journals can worry about conflicts of interest themselves as long as they have complete information. You don't have to take action as an author on that score, as long as you don't hide relationships.
    – Buffy
    Jan 6, 2020 at 21:56

3 Answers 3


This is not about the relationships with the former advisor at all.

The list of authors is supposed to be determined based on who actually worked on the particular research (which sometimes – however good or bad it is – may mean simply being a supervisor and providing funding). If the researcher contributed to several of

  • the formulation of hypothesis
  • data collection / measurements / numerical simulations
  • data analysis
  • writing the actual paper
  • insert here other field-specific steps

she should be an author. Certainly, different criteria for being an author of the paper can be applied, and the list is very field-dependent.

However, the unfortunate amalgamation of facts that

  1. you want to submit to a certain journal X
  2. this journal X has a certain conflict of interest policy
  3. the presence of one co-author who normally would be listed in the list of authors does not allow to submit to X

should not be used as a reason to exclude one from the list of authors. At least, the initiative should not come from the other authors who could benefit from it.

So, I would strongly consider submitting to a different journal.

Alternatively, you (or your colleague in the potential conflict of interest) can ask the journal X editor to arrange a submission/revision process through another associate editor(s). There might be other associate editors willing and qualified to do it for the paper in your field and your particular research direction.

  • Unfortunately, in some fields and in some places "other field-specific steps" means "The supervisor is always included". Whether that is good or not is debated here endlessly. But it is a fact of life for many. The work comes from a funded dissertation. Don't take a purist approach if it leads to career destruction.
    – Buffy
    Jan 6, 2020 at 21:40
  • @Buffy true. And I am not arguing about that :) However good or bad it is – if the person is normally listed as an author for a certain paper, one should still be regardless of the journal policies, IMHO. If it is impossible to be arranged in X – different journal. Jan 6, 2020 at 21:41
  • @Buffy clarified in my answer, as I see how it could be easily read as a purist approach before my edit. Thanks! Jan 6, 2020 at 21:45
  • Thank you! So it is helping revise the paper that makes someone the author, not funding it? I am asking this because, if I knew this conflict of interest, I would have submitted the paper directly to journal X instead of sending it to my advisor for comments.
    – Susan
    Jan 6, 2020 at 21:47
  • @Susan in my field, doing solely a review of the paper before publication without participating in other steps does not qualify for the authorship. However, would be very good for the acknowledgment. Jan 6, 2020 at 21:49

Removing the advisor's name from the paper does not fix the underlying issue preventing you from submitting to journal X, which is the prevention of conflicts of interest. By removing your advisor from the author list and submitting to X, she wouldn't have to make an editorial decision about her own paper, but will now have to make that decision about her advisee's paper, which is not much less of a conflict of interest than the original situation. Removing your advisor's name denies credit where it's due, and also attempts to circumvent the spirit of the conflict of interest rules, so I don't think you should do it.

If you really have your heart set on journal X, it might be possible to see if your advisor can recuse herself from any decision making related to this paper, but it sounds like that would require a special dispensation from the editors. You mention she's an associate editor, so presumably there are other associate editors who could handle this manuscript, but again, this will come down to the editors and how far they want to stay from COI territory.

  • Not exactly. The student has moved on and is no longer a "direct subordinate".
    – Buffy
    Jan 6, 2020 at 21:54
  • 1
    @Buffy Good point, edited. Still a potential conflict, though, particularly since the research was done while the OP was working under the advisor. Jan 6, 2020 at 21:57
  • 1
    This journal has about 30 associated editors...I emailed the editor in chief and he said: "We had set up this rule at the start of my editorship and I feel it is best to maintain it given potential conflicts of interest." I believe this is a new rule and I don't believe the editor and my advisor would change the rule for me :(
    – Susan
    Jan 6, 2020 at 21:57
  • But still. Talk to your advisor. Don't make assumptions about what is possible. Explore the complete landscape.
    – Buffy
    Jan 6, 2020 at 21:59
  • @Buffy Thank you for all the advice--I am very grateful. I just talked with my advisor about (1) the possibility of asking the editor about submitting our paper this journal X and (2) the possibility of me as the sole author to submit this paper. She said no and no :(
    – Susan
    Jan 7, 2020 at 2:00

As an adult, and a professional, contact them and discuss how you feel about this and why it is important to you. Should they have informed you... maybe, but you didnt really ask and maybe they didnt expect you to publish in X or want to.

Your advisor seems to believe in you and work well with you, I cant imagine an adult conversation discussing your desires and her rules within her own company. Maybe you cant be published if you are invested or funded by anyone at X anyway.

  • 1
    This is the correct action. Let me add that just dropping her and submitting to X will come back to haunt you since she is an editor there. You need to ask her first if that is OK, just to protect the relationship. There will be other (sole author) papers. Journal X can still be in your future.
    – Buffy
    Jan 6, 2020 at 21:36
  • Thank you for the suggestions. I plan to talk to my advisor over phone today. I was just worried if it is very unethical to even ask her to do this for me, and how asking this violates the authorship standard ?
    – Susan
    Jan 6, 2020 at 21:40
  • Asking is perfectly ethical. But protect the relationship, I think. Long term thinking is usually best. But present sole authorship as an alternative option, not a done deal.
    – Buffy
    Jan 6, 2020 at 21:47
  • Thank you! I agree.
    – Susan
    Jan 6, 2020 at 21:48
  • 1
    @Susan Authorship is not meant to be distributed as a method of repayment. You should definitely not trade authorship on one paper for authorship on another: either someone has contributed at the level of an author and deserves authorship, or they do not. Trading may be more appropriate in the authorship order where order matters, but should not be used in determining the list.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 6, 2020 at 22:55

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