I published 3 papers as first author. Now, my supervisor requested me to place him as first author in my 4th paper. Should I agree to my supervisor's request to place him as first author of my paper? Is this ethically fair and legitimate? Is this only in my country?

He has the contribution of proofreading the paper, advising me how to organize the paper and results, suggesting co-authors for the paper. He does not know the paper technically, however.


3 Answers 3


There are really two questions here: (1) Is the request ethical/fair? (2) Should you agree to the request?

Unfortunately, these two can be quite independent, and we can only honestly answer the first. It is neither ethical nor fair, going by the information you've provided. Its safe to say that this would be a form of exploitation, even if it doesn't add to much in the long run.

Having said this, you need to decide what to do, based on the possible repercussions of either choice. If you agree, could this become a regular request? Or do you have reason to believe that its a one-time thing that you are doing to help him out of a tough spot? Ethically, you should not agree, because even if its harmless, these things create a culture of gift authorship. Practically, you need to decide based on your individual context.


This is hard to give good advice about without a lot of context. What is ethical and what is done (in some fields) don't necessarily match up well. In some fields, an advisor is often a co-author - even first author.

If the other person has made no contribution to the paper then, ethically, the request is wrong. But you may need to accede to it just out of personal protection. If the advisor has some influence or control over your future then you may be stuck, no matter the ethics. And you may have no effective way to counter it while preserving your future career.

It isn't really a question of which country, though this sort of thing does vary by field. In situations in which the advisor funds a lab in which work is done it is pretty common.

But, think about why he is asking. Think about whether it is really valid. But think most about how your long term career will be affected if you go along and if you resist.

And note that having another paper on your CV is still a good thing, even if he is first author. And even if it isn't right.

  • Indeed, you are correct. It varies by research field. In physics it is often alphabetical by last name. It meant I was first author on all the papers I published before I went to industry, even though my contribution to the last one was quite minor. But even that varies somewhat by journal. And some very large labs with enormous numbers of collaborators on a series of research projects will have their own rules.
    – puppetsock
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 19:51
  • 1
    He is asking because he wants to get promotion from government. The promotion requires faculty members to have one paper published as first author per annum. If I resist then he cannot harm me much legally except that my relations with him will always be strained. It is because his other students have been keeping him as primary author in one of their multiple papers. So, he requires me too to do so.
    – Abdullah1
    Commented Jan 11, 2020 at 9:44

Is this ethically fair and legitimate?

Impossible to say from the information you provide, but it is a distinct possibility that no, it is neither.

Sadly, academic vampiricism is not uncommon, and it always turns my stomach when I see someone senior do it do someone junior. (It is an abuse of power and, soi-disant big shot scholars should not feel they have to act this way.)

Putting up a fight may however not be worth it.

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