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My last Phd work was submitted to a high impact journal (IF >35). The manuscript came back for revision with 2 positive comments and 1 no-suggestion on my last day in his lab. Given its positive comments, I expected to go for next round of review as long as the comments are fully addressed. The comments requested simulations and experiments, which I supposedly would not be able to perform as I graduated and was leaving the next day. So my advisor threatened me on my last day to submit to IF (~5) journal or share my first authorship to someone (person X) who was not involved in the project at all. For the later, he reasoned that X needs to commit full-time ~ 4 months just for revision and stop all other works. Although I explained to go through comments first and discuss and that I can revise, he did not agree any of it. He asked me to choose 1 of his options, no negotiation (like giving co-first after X shows to put significant effort). I agreed to give X co-first authorship under the condition that major revisions will be done to address all reviewers' requests and convince them. Then my advisor privately told X will be the co-first and to revise none, minor, or major; choice is up to X. They spent 1.5 months only for quick revision, without addressing all comments. I told X about the problems with the revision, but no any reply. It was rejected directly by the editor. (At this point, they already broke the deal.)

Then they submitted to another journal, got rejected by the editor again.

Another journal (IF >10) finally passed the editor and came back for revisions. All 3 reviewers are positive. Yet the editor asked for all the comments/experiments to be fully addressed. My advisor did not even notify me about this decision. X told me that they wanted to submit to IF ~5 journal because too many experiments need to be done for the revision. X said need ~ a month or more to revise, and my advisor wants X to focus on looking for a job. So X asked if I am okay with this decision to submit to IF ~5 journal. (This is how I know there is a revision requested.) I am very mad because how X can deserve a co-first if they did not even put in effort and time! The revision comments are very positive, but they said they think it will not go through. (I am basically #w$%t&f?)

Similar things happened repeatedly during my PhD in his lab. I am very mad, but I am helpless. I used to hope this work would help my faculty job search if it gets published. This time, I did not want to "waste" this work while it originally even had the chance to go through IF>35 journal, but they messed it up since then.

Note: My advisor is a complete a**o who used to call/write bad recommendation letters for those who were against him.

Any suggestions on how to handle this?

UPDATE 1: So they agreed to submit a revision. Knowing that they will not treat it seriously like last time again, I revised the majority myself, incorporating old experimental data. There are still many simple experiments (~ 2 weeks worth of time) needed to be done. How can I make sure they will do the job and do it right?

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    Astonishing is how all this was mishandled. It could have been a nice starting point for a new student and everyone could have been happy. I know this doesn't help you but I had to comment.
    – Alchimista
    Dec 5 '20 at 10:19
  • Saying they will submit to a lower quality journal isn't really a threat. You weren't able/willing to do the revisions yourself, so the options were to have someone else do them (who, yes, then becomes a coauthor), or submit to a lower quality journal. Dec 6 '20 at 5:40
  • Whose job would it be to be doing the extra experiments that the reviewers asked for? Dec 6 '20 at 15:46
  • @CaptainEmacs Supposedly, X would be the one as X's name was added for revising purpose. Based on last experiences and per X's request, I did most of the revisions to minimize X job for this newest revision. I am worried X would not complete the rest to fully address the comments and would not respond if I am not satisfied with the revisions. Dec 6 '20 at 19:25
  • I think the "best" way forward is to cut your losses, try to get it published reasonably well, and never work with these people again if you can avoid it. Dec 6 '20 at 20:29
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These are your options:

  • Focus on your new project in a new lab working with better colleagues.
  • Do the revisions yourself.
  • Let the former advisor do whatever they want.

I agreed to give X co-first authorship under the condition that major revisions will be done to address all ...

You agreed to the co-first authorship. You should not break that agreement. Unfortunately, revisions being "done" is subjective so you cannot punish the other party for breaking their part of the agreement. Next time, only agree to someone's authorship after they have earned it.

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  • I haven't downvoted, but you say: "Next time, only agree to someone's authorship after they have earned it" - well, that wasn't an option in the first place. Dec 6 '20 at 15:45
  • Yes, you are right that only agreeing authorship after they have earned it. But it was not an option for me. (edited to clarify) He told me not to proceed with the revision unless I agree first. So I agreed with a condition (listed the revision tasks), but X was only informed about getting the co-first no matter what X does with the revision. It seems my paper destiny depends on what X wants to do with it. Dec 6 '20 at 19:10
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Go back to your first principles of your own personal ethical code. Your situation is complex so calmly apply the question is that right or wrong. If it's wrong then decide will I let it go or will I act on it. If you decide to act on it you will know you're acting on principle and are in the right. Also try to think, what is the other person's point of view. Do they think they're right and I'm being unreasonable. When you're calm, try to speak to the coauthor as it sounds like the supervisor is not a good avenue for you. Get it published, out of your hair and draw a line behind it. It's not that big a deal about the impact factor and impact factor is currently used inappropriately as a standalone ranking. Read up on that, you may be using/ thinking of the impact factor in a way it was never intended to be used. Co- first author is also no big deal, try not to be egotistical, if the other co-author gets this over the line and it gets published then you've been spared that work. Try to be relaxed, these things happen literally the whole time in academia.

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