I've been working on a project with a faculty member (let's call him S) that is not my advisor (let's call him A).

They are in different departments, and have little overlap. I am working on something with S (actually I am doing it mostly by myself, with a bit of advice from S) and am planning on publishing the results. I have shared the project with A, but since it's not his field, I know he has at best a vague understanding of the contents of the paper. However he did give the idea for the methodology, which I used.

S has continued giving me advice about this paper, mostly relating to expanding on the theory of the methodology he suggested. I don't think it's very useful (he doesn't understand the context) and would prefer to just go in the direction set with S.

However, when it comes to authorship, should I include A? It feels wrong to not include him when he has been giving well-intentioned advice (and supplied a crucial suggestion for the methodology). However, it also doesn't feel right to include him, since he isn't familiar with the rest of the contents of the paper beyond the methodology section.

  • 5
    I won't comment on this specific case, but I don't agree with your general premise that all the authors should be familiar with the whole work. Sometimes I help people in their research and they help me, and often it concerns rather isolated parts of the whole task. I don't see anything wrong in such collaboration. Mar 28 at 14:35
  • @rg_software that makes sense! I'm still early in my PhD so I'm not familiar with the usual protocol for authorship
    – 900edges
    Mar 28 at 14:52

I am a mathematician, but I did co-author a paper published in a chemistry journal. The paper was co-authored by seven people from the lab where I worked at the time: two mathematicians, two physicists, two chemists and an engineer (the lab director). I understood (and still understand) only the math part of the paper, I am sure that non-mathematicians, including the lab director, do not understand the math part. Nevertheless, certainly, there were no objections to including all seven people as co-authors.

  • Not really the same situation as that of OP but the answer applies. +1
    – Alchimista
    Mar 29 at 8:26

Ideally, he (either S or A or both) should be included if and only if their intellectual contributions appear in the paper. If they have contributed that, then they should be an author, just as is true for any other person.

Unfortunately, the world isn't ideal and in some fields it is just "pretty standard" to include an advisor even if they have contributed only indirectly (such as funding a lab). Many see this as an aberration. But I'll write further here about the world as it should be, not as it is.

A contributor (of intellectual content, not just time and effort) of even a part of a paper is still an author. "Advice" probably isn't, in itself, enough of a contribution to rise to the level of author.

If you have a good enough relationship with the advisor, I'd suggest that you just ask him for his advice and reasoning. Don't argue over it, but consider whatever he says. I was never co-author with any of my students and would have declined in any case. I also advised a few other students for whom I was not the official advisor. After they completed their dissertation and were working on other papers, then I'd have considered it on any joint project, of course.

But the question you want to ask yourself, to help resolve this, is whether it feels like plagiarism to write the things you do, attributing the ideas of S to yourself. If it does, then they are almost certainly worthy of authorship.

It isn't the same thing, however, if what you got from them is an idea for a question to explore. Thank them for contributing, but if the answers are yours then authorship is yours. Ideally, at least.

In a less ideal world, you might have to do what you have to do.

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