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I left a PhD program in statistics last August after nearly four years in the program. The department graciously allowed me to finish out my Masters, so I graduated in December and have since started a new job in a related but unusual field for my degree. One of my reasons for leaving the program was my relationship with my advisor, which was causing me daily stress that I decided was no longer worth enduring.

About a month before I decided to leave the program, I submitted what was to be the first paper of my dissertation to a well-regarded journal in our subfield. I was first author and my advisor was listed as second author. In December (right as I was about to graduate with a Masters), the paper returned as an acceptance with minor revisions. There were only a half dozen or so reviewer comments, mostly minor.

I got to work addressing the reviewers' concerns, which didn't take long. My advisor, however, raised a major concern. He insisted that one part of the algorithm described in our paper was incorrect and that I should fix it. I asked him why he thought it was wrong and his reply essentially boiled down to "I'm convinced it is wrong". I stubbornly refused to do the additional work of another proof until he could identify where the original error was. This led to a very contentious Zoom call where my advisor told me that we should re-check essentially every part of the algorithm - because if one part was wrong, then perhaps everything was.

I eventually did the proof he had asked for and showed that I had been right all along. I sent the proof to my advisor and asked him to read it so that we could submit the paper. He said he would, but now almost two months have gone by and I have not heard from him. My previous experience with him leads me to believe that this radio silence is intentional and that he has not just forgotten about the whole project.

My options are: A) Do nothing and (presumably) let the paper go unpublished. Given my career trajectory, it is not hugely important to me that the paper be published, although it would be nice to see my name as first author. B) Nudge my advisor for a response, potentially provoking a demand for more work that I consider superfluous. Dealing with my advisor any further will almost certainly cause me a great deal of stress (or relationship is very strained).

If you think I should take option B, how can I be clear that I do not wish to put much additional work into the project and believe it should be submitted now that I have answered every reviewer comment? Should I make an ultimatum, or try to offer some sort of compromise?

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  • If the paper is accepted, why can't you just send a revised version to the publisher? – Basia Mar 17 at 20:27
  • @Basia journals typically require the consent of all authors for the initial submission and any revisions. Submitting without informing or against the wishes of a coauthor is a big no-no. – astronat Mar 17 at 21:30
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    @astronat isn't blocking the publishing just to spite your co-author even a bigger no-no? If I were sure that the paper is worth it and the co-author is just being mean, I'd write an ultimatum "I'm going to publish the paper as it is, if you don't want your name on it, tell me in the next X days" – Basia Mar 17 at 21:47
  • @Basia I agree, that is probably the right strategy. From you comment I thought you were implying the OP should send the revised version back without telling their supervisor. – astronat Mar 18 at 7:44
  • @astonat Sorry for not being clear enough. The informing part was obvious to me, I was just puzzled that the OP named two options: either giving up or working more on the already accepted paper – Basia Mar 18 at 9:34
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If you really don't care about the paper then A seems ok as long as the paper isn't published without you.

But you could nudge the professor and then decide what you want to do. If you get unreasonable demands then you can back away which should prevent the paper being published (ethically, at least). But it is possible that your worst fears won't be realized and you have a simple way forward.

But I would save any ultimatum for a later round after you hear a response to a request to submit. You want to be the "reasonable party" in any conversation.

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Ask your supervisor what steps need to occur to get the paper published. Request that a timeframe be established for each step. Clearly state how much time you are able to contribute to the project (total and within the next month).

This is not a hostage situation. This is an all-too-common disorganisation or negligence situation. It can be hard to tell the difference, but in this case we can be sure it is not a hostage situation because you do not see any value in the hostage.

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