This happened in my group. One of the master students in our group had a manuscript derived from her thesis, and the manuscript was planned to publish with she and her advisor (who is the PI of our group) to be the authors. However, she put the manuscript on the internet some time ago without the advisor's consent (I learned that she put it on research-gate publicly). The PI got furious about this and said that what the student did was disrespectful to him as a co-author, and he would no longer co-author this work (this happened in our group meeting from which I heard of the event).

Here are some facts about this event that comments request me to tell to make things clear.

  1. The manuscript is almost finished but still under some revision by the time she put it on the internet.
  2. The student exposed the PI as the co-author in the unfinished the manuscript on the internet, and she did it without the PI's consent.
  3. Consensus on co-authorship was reached before this event happened, so I assume the PI deserves the authorship.
  4. The PI said to the student that he would from then on have no relation with the work, but he hoped she could revise the work as best as she can.
  5. The paper fortunately was read by no one on research-gate.

Although I know making a manuscript accessible to the public without consent from all co-authors is illegal , but the action my PI choose to deal with it, i.e., no longer co-author the work is still surprising to me. What's his point of doing so? Is this so serious an issue that he has to do so? Why he don't even give the student a chance to right her wrongs? I newly learned that the paper was withdrawn, but attitude of the PI remains unchanged. Is the student still unforgivable even after she withdrew the manuscript?

I also have further questions: What should the student do with the almost finished work? Simply bury it in history or try to publish herself? At least in my point of view, neither is a good solution. Since our PI was soooo angry, I don't even dare ask the PI why he took such an extreme action. So I am asking here.

  • 8
    Sounds like the PI refuses to work with the person in question ever again - understandable from my perspective. You cannot write a publication together on that basis. The PI obviously does not need the paper. We can only speculate about the details. Jan 1, 2021 at 18:13
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    @Snijderfrey Yeah, still surprising to me that the problem is serious enough to make the PI 'refuse to work with the person in question again'. Would you please explain a little bit to help me understand the underlying way of thinking?
    – Danadey
    Jan 1, 2021 at 18:33
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    Putting an unfinished manuscript on arXiv can cause serious reputational damage to a scientist if it contains errors, inaccuracies, exposes a line of ideas which is not complete and can be taken up by a third party to complete the work. Whoever did put the arXiv paper online basically exposed the PI. In the present case, maybe the document was simply not quite polished rather than erroneous, but clearly it is considered as a breach of trust by the PI. Better for the student to seek a new supervisor, the relation seems irrecovably damaged. Jan 1, 2021 at 19:48
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    I don't know where to place my comment so I do it here. Nothing change for OP... But why a supervisor should assume that a master student knows what is right and what is wrong on this subject? At least it seems to me there is not a community flow of info within the group. In the time the results were obtained, even a naive student should get an idea of how things work. It is a fault on the supervisor side. Still, OP, how came to your mind that a work done in collaboration can be disclosed to public without a previous discussion /notification of the involved persons?
    – Alchimista
    Jan 2, 2021 at 9:24
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    OK, well "illegal" does mean "against the law" (more or less), so I'd suggest using a different word. Judging by the context, perhaps "unethical", "immoral", or "inappropriate", or something along those lines, would be a good choice.
    – David Z
    Jan 4, 2021 at 7:48

4 Answers 4


I think that the action was a serious breach of trust, but I think there are better ways for the PI to deal with it. If the student didn’t mean malice but published because of inexperience, there should be a way to correct the action and move on.

Concerning a student, I think the best choice is for the student to contact another member of the faculty committee and obtain guidance in how to deal with the PI. I’m suggesting this because the question, while superficially only addressing a paper, cuts much deeper: If your PI advisor is so angry with you as to not coauthor a paper, the relationship may be fractured to the point that efficient mentor ship and guidance has become impossible and the student might be best advised to consider changing advisors.

The answer to the question about the continued membership in the lab will then determine the best path forward for the manuscript as well.

  • 2
    The student indeed didn't mean malice but did the wrong thing because of inexperience in this event (assuming no other unpleasant history, since I don't know)
    – Danadey
    Jan 1, 2021 at 18:54
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    Then what should be done to the manuscript it the student ends up switching an advisor in your opinion?
    – Danadey
    Jan 1, 2021 at 18:58
  • It will require further discussion with the PI. If a colleague or the faculty committee can not reach a satisfactory solution, then the student should reach out to the ombudsperson at the university and request aid in resolving the issue. Jan 1, 2021 at 19:05
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    The PI said he just leave the manuscript to the student and no longer care about it anymore (Sad answer).
    – Danadey
    Jan 1, 2021 at 19:13
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    As pointed out by @Buffy this is not a clear permission to move ahead. The student needs to seek mediation to clarify how the manuscript could be published, seek clear consent, and possibly rewrite the manuscript so it does not rely on substantial contributions from the formerly intended coauthor. Jan 1, 2021 at 19:41

student ... put her work on the internet ... without the advisor's ... consent. The PI got furious.

I will assume this information is exactly correct and nothing else has happened.

Sure, the student should have asked permission first, but posting your own work on the internet is not major misconduct. The PI's response should be to ask the student to get permission next time.

Is it unforgivable?

This is not only forgivable, it is a trivial matter.

I think the PI is actually angry about something else you did not mention.

  • 1
    Oh, I would hesitate about whether "her work" in my previous post is a proper description. It's her thesis work to be exact, which means the student did almost all of the work while the advisor serves to do something like giving advice, pointing out some mistakes and telling the student how to polish the writing, etc. I don't know what's your standard of "your own work". Sole author work only? or this case also meet your standard? Apology in advance if my wording in my previous post was unclear. I have made it clearer now.
    – Danadey
    Jan 2, 2021 at 14:41
  • @Danadey What does "thesis work" mean? The actual thesis? Article manuscript for a journal? Something the student wrote up for themself, or specifically to publish on ArxiV? Had the PI seen it, or proofread it, or did they at least know it was being written?
    – Karl
    Jan 2, 2021 at 19:06
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    "giving advice, pointing out some mistakes and telling the student how to polish the writing," This does not necessarily meet the standards of authorship, depending on the nature of the advice. The supervisor really aught to participate in the design of the project. Jan 3, 2021 at 2:34
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I am not part of their research so I don't know the details. But judging from what I heard from the group meeting it was indeed their consensus that the manuscript would be co-authored in their original plan, so I am simply taking this as an assumption of my post XD. Which means, all I know is in terms of this question is : it concerns a manuscript derived from her thesis, and the manuscript was planned to be co-authored.
    – Danadey
    Jan 3, 2021 at 2:51
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    I still suspect the PI is actually angry about something else. But if you are not personally involved, there really is no need to speculate. Jan 3, 2021 at 2:53

Let me clear up one point not addressed in the answer of Mario Niepel, which is otherwise great advice. If the PI is validly an author of the paper in question, then it cannot be published without their permission.

It wasn't clear from the comments whether that permission has been given, nor in what form. So the other author(s) need to obtain that permission, and most likely even the permission to acknowledge that PI.

This can get a little weird, since you also have to avoid writing in such a way that plagiarism occurs, using their ideas without acknowledgement.

I hope the author(s) can work this out, perhaps with the help of "higher authorities". But "no longer caring about it" isn't actually permission. Some papers have to just be buried for such things, even though it is both unfair and a disservice to scholarship itself.

  • 1
    I would agree and will revise my comment. This does not constitute a clear permission. I would still strongly suggest to get a formal mediator involved (committee member, colleague, or ombudsperson). Jan 1, 2021 at 19:39
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    Yes, @MarioNiepel, but updating/editing your answer is probably better than commenting it. Comments on this site can disappear.
    – Buffy
    Jan 1, 2021 at 19:43
  • Agreed. I think I did not suggest to go ahead to publish based on the current information in the actual answer. It was only in a comment that I suggested to take the fact the PI no longer cares as an implicit go-ahead. I agree that is not right. I will reread the answer though to make sure. Jan 1, 2021 at 19:47
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    ... and I didn’t take it as such. Just a good reminder to consider that people will often read answers but not look to comments for further clarification. Best to edit and include all pertinent info into the answers. Jan 1, 2021 at 21:05
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    Informally, yes, I think. But if his name appears anywhere it should be made more explicit that he permits the use of the name. And the student still needs to avoid plagiarism if the name cannot be used.
    – Buffy
    Jan 3, 2021 at 10:34

It is not illegal to unilaterally publish an article without the consent of co-authors; you and your PI clearly know nothing about copyright law. See generally the law of "tenants in common" with regard to copyright law. Also, there is a legal definition for authorship, and I seriously doubt the PI met that legal definition. It sounds like the legal rights of the student may have been violated; they should talk to a copyright attorney.

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