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Similar questions have been asked here a number of times. I am raising it again to stress some specific issues that the previous threads have not resolved in my opinion.

The question is simply, what should the stated affiliation of a co-author who is employed in the industry be, considering that research was undertaken as an unpaid side-project in a field unrelated to that of their place of employment at the time (i.e. no conflict of interests).

Possible solutions are:

  1. No affiliation.

I am concerned that this will stand out, given that all other authors have affiliations.

  1. Previous academic affiliation.

Some users (in previous answers) seem to think that adding a previous academic institute as the affiliation for such an author is ethically wrong.

Moreover, I am concerned about crediting an institute that did not support the work, when this co-author's contribution was not supported by any institute.

  1. Affiliation of otherwise unknown non-profit research organisation, specifically created for the purpose of providing an affiliation.

This would be ideal, as there is no misattribution or blank affiliation field; however, I am concerned that this will also look anomalous in the list of affiliations.

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  • 7
    "Independent Researcher" is all you need for most purposes. – Buffy Jan 13 at 21:19
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    Independent Researcher is the same as the first option, so it has the same issue. I realise that it may be the solution but wanted to see how viable the other options are first. – Caharpuka Jan 13 at 21:23
  • I had a similiar issue. I would say list the author with the old affiliation if the paper was submitted before the employment change. After the change should probably be listed as independent researcher. – stephanmg Jan 17 at 17:38
  • academia.stackexchange.com/questions/161269/… – user134279 Jan 23 at 14:30
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+100

Listing a former affiliation as if it is current is not right. Listing an employer as an affiliation may run afoul of their rules. Permission may be required. And if they didn't support the research it is good for disambiguation purposes but no other.

Listing yourself as an Independent Researcher is correct in almost all cases, though your employer should probably be consulted as there may be contract obligations.

No affiliation is fine if the journal (or whatever) permits it, but for people with common names is less than ideal. But don't worry that it stands out. People rarely care much about it unless they want to contact you.

If you have an established personal "business" perhaps for tax purposes to manage income from publishing books and such, as I do, then you could list that. It is accurate and honest. But it might need to be public enough to enable people to use it to find you. And, creating a bespoke organization for this purpose, especially as a one-off, doesn't really help for any of the usual purposes.

But affiliation in general is used for several things. The most important is probably to indicate support from an organization, though disambiguation of names is also quite important. And a previous affiliation treated as if it were current could be interpreted as dishonest. And if someone tries to contact you through a previous affiliation and is told that you are in no way affiliated with them then you could suffer a bit.

However, specifying "Formerly a student at Universal University of the Universe" is fine, since you are clear about the intent.


And a warning. Some employers require you to get permission to publish most everything. Some will forbid publication if it affects their core business in any way. Know what is in your contract.

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  • I agree that a good part of the problem is prejudice that people have with the term "independent researcher", but unfortunately that is the name of the game (in my field at least). I am going with this option but already got some raised eyebrows from other co-authors. I will definitely also check that this co-author has no contractual issues. I'm not sure if it makes it simpler that they were not employed at the present company when the work was conducted? – Caharpuka Jan 18 at 9:42
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It depends on your co-authors' personal preferences.

1.) Industry affiliation: They could ask their employers in industry whether they may name the company as their affiliation. They are, after all, employed there, and it is likely that the employment at least partly facilitated the research. I see two additional benefits to this option: (1) The employer may be happy to see their company's name in a scientifc publication, which may increase their reputation; this would indirectly benefit your co-authors' position within the company. (2) Prominent world university rankings give bonus points to "university-industry collaborations", which is generally deemed to be highly valuable for fostering innovation (e.g. see this document from the Times Higher Education, some further evidence here, or this OECD report).

2.) No affiliation: Thousands of scholars have published under the affiliation "Independent Researcher" or "Independent Scholar" in the past years (see the evidence here); I deem this to be an honest approach, but it seems to be your least preferred option.

3.) An existing research institute: Your co-authors could ask nearby research institutes whether they would "lend" their affiliation to them. I do know of colleagues who have done so. From my observation, the benefit of this approach is that your co-authors can gain a bit of a foothold into academia through informal networking; for the publication benefits the research institute, and one cannot rule out that the institute will grant something in exchange (such as guest lectures).

I do not see any benefits in creating a new organization simply for the purpose of providing an affiliation. Unless you want to repeatedly collaborate together; then it may make sense to establish a 'name' and credible reputation for your newly established organization because this might enhance your chance to obtain research fundings and grants independently of other affiliations in the future. But this does not seem to be your plan.

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  • Your #3 feels dishonest to me. – Buffy Jan 17 at 16:17
  • There is nothing neccessarily dishonest about #3. Mrs Marsupial has an honorary appointment at my institution which has benefited from her collaboration with me on a variety of research projects (for free). If the collaborator has direct industrial experience, then this sort of research link is a good way of helping to make academic research relevant to society. It depends on the field of research, but I'd say that was a good thing both for industry and academia. – Dikran Marsupial Jan 18 at 11:27
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There are some examples where the author(s) do not belong to an affiliation. Such a paper is entitled The RNA World at Thirty: A Look Back with its Author. In this paper, the author simply omits the affiliation and just states her email.

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There are many different ways of writing "independent researcher", see e.g. this answer (or another answer to the present question). Judging from the linked papers, and also having seen this occasionally, I would say that this is not uncommon. Therefore, I doubt it will stand out in any way.

#2 is most likely not ok (as discussed by others), and #3 seems like an effort to hide something ("research institute" that nobody has ever heard of? sounds fishy). Just go with #1.

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