11

In September 2016 I saw a PhD advertisement in a forum. I emailed the advertiser and he sent me a half-baked draft of a research project and told me that if I want this position I would need a first-author publication and therefore I should make that draft publishable. I did that and sent the draft back to him.

After some time I asked him about the paper and he told he has submitted that and we will hear from the journal soon, but he did not give me any confirmation email from any journal. After few months he asked me to do the same analysis on another topic but this time from the scratch.

I started research on that topic when I was waiting for the journal he mentioned to inform us. One night, in Skype he asked me to send him some of my personal pictures. First I thought he might just be curious but he started a nasty conversation about my marital status etc. I felt that something was going wrong and I told him that I don’t want to carry on that that collaboration. I stopped research on the second topic and ask him about the status of the submitted paper. He replied that he didn’t want to publish that with me anymore.

I was just shocked by his reaction and got too upset feeling being badly abused. I then submitted the draft to a journal in 2017 without mentioning his name, but he asked for retraction. I sent all of conversation via Skype and Teamviewer to the editor and him. The editor told me I should disclose this with his university, but that the journal could not help and has to retract the paper. The paper has been fully retracted in November 2019. The retraction note of the journal says:

This paper is significantly overlapped and based on an unpublished research by ... The author disagrees with this retraction

Does this retraction note imply that I committed some academic misconduct? How can I handle it in future academic applications.

  • 1
    I'm sorry to hear this person harassed you. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 23 at 9:01
  • 1
    This is creepy. You are very much in the right to cut off all interaction with that person. You are also in the right to report him to the university (although the incident is now 3 years old, you may be out of time). However, you are not in the right to submit a paper without mentioning him as co-author. He had the idea and the concept. Whatever the case, if this was your first (or second paper), I do not think you have to make a big fuss out of the retraction. The circumstances were quite - so to say - unique. If asked, you can explain. – Captain Emacs Apr 23 at 10:09
  • Sorry @Captain Emacs, you meant if this is not my first or second paper rather my lets say forth paper, I must be more worry? Because I could not understand the point here – user6517 May 31 at 21:58
  • 1
    @user6517 It would be easier with an earlier paper as this would indicate that you were less experienced. But I am not really counting papers here; it's more the inexperience that counts. I think the accepted answer is pretty good. – Captain Emacs Jun 1 at 0:24
15

In the following, I may misinterpret what happened. In this case, please correct me. I just don’t want to append “if I understand correctly” to every second sentence.

Let’s first consider whether you did anything wrong: As your “collaborator” designed the research underlying your paper, he was entitled to authorship. You understood that he waived that right, which may be correct or at worst an honest misunderstanding. However, when submitting the paper, you did not disclose this situation to the journal, and as a result, they could not double-check that your collaborator waived the authorship, etc. Thus I can understand the journal’s reaction. This failure of disclosure is the one thing others can truly hold against you, but I would not consider this to have career-ending severity, in particular given your collaborator’s abusive behaviour.

Second, how bad is the retraction note? If I were to read that note without knowing anything else about it, I would primarily be confused, asking myself things like: “How is overlapping and being based on unpublished research a bad thing? Why was that research not published?” It’s nothing which clearly says that you committed misconduct. In particular, I have no idea what actually happened and would not judge you without hearing your version of the story. Of course, others may jump to wrong conclusions, but then you probably do not want to work with such people anyway.

Now, how can you handle this situation in the future? I strongly suggest to be upfront about it. Should you not mention it and somebody will find it, this can get you into big trouble. Keep in mind that as long as your collaborator is around, they may inform any of your employers about it. Also, sitting on this ticking bomb will not be good for your psyche. For example, mention the paper in some special section on your CV, noting that it was retracted due to “misunderstandings/disagreements about waived authorship” (be careful not to present it as an achievement). This is accurate and explains the retraction note. Hiring committees and similar may ask you about it, but then you can tell the entire story, presenting your evidence if applicable. When you do so, make clear that you are aware of your mistakes, but also that your collaborator was far worse.

Finally, follow the journal’s recommendation and contact your collaborator’s university about this. If your abusive collaborator was officially discredited, this could substantially strengthen your point. Whether this is feasible depends on how strong your evidence is, and I strongly recommend that you seek professional help with this (your current university may provide some).

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Great answer and thanks for your work on this question as well. I agree that the retraction is confusing and I would be more likely to ask the author about it than write the author/their research off based on the wording presented. – Dawn Mar 21 at 18:10
  • 2
    I would suggest that you write a “standard paragraph” about it to send/reply to anyone who asks about it. Have a friend read and vet it to make sure you are both accurate and presenting yourself in the best possible light. – Dawn Mar 21 at 18:12
  • 2
    @user6517: you think in this case I better to mention this paper than not mentioning? – Yes. Please see my edit for some additions on this. – Wrzlprmft Mar 21 at 20:51
  • 1
    This is solid advice. @user6517 I agree, you should mention the retracted paper in this case, because the reason for retraction is not really academic misconduct, but misunderstanding. – 6005 Mar 21 at 21:32
  • 2
    do you think I can find a job in academic in future? – I cannot give any substantiated answer to that question. At best, somebody who intimately familiar with your work and career can do that. Probably nobody can. Apply to academic jobs and see what happens and don’t stress yourself about it (because there are plenty of alternatives). – Wrzlprmft Mar 22 at 9:43
2

Wrzlpmft addressed most of the questions. I would like to add an additional answer to this part of the question.

How can I handle it in future academic applications.

You should ask the journal to change the retraction notice to indicate your agreement.

The prospective supervisor committed misconduct. You were correct to stop working with him. However, he does not seem to have waived his coauthorship. Unfortunately, his misconduct does not remove his coauthorship. So the professional thing would be to agree that the paper should be retracted so as to demonstrate that you respect his coauthorship. This does not imply that you respect him as a person. Anyone evaluating academic applications will not select someone who does not respect authorship.

| improve this answer | |
1

Agree with Wrzlprmft; based on the scenario described in your OP, by providing an explanation before it comes up you show that not only are you innocent of misconduct in that incident but also that you have learned a valuable lesson from the experience and you're a better researcher for it.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.