My MS advisor who is a tenured professor in a US school is padding his wife's name into my publication papers. His wife is an PhD candidate from the same department too and she didn't have any contribution on my research work. This is ethically and morally wrong but as the advisor is my thesis committee chair and I want to do my defense in coming month, I haven't opposed his idea yet. What I could do in this scenario? (He submitted one paper in a conference already with her name as second author and I am working to submit another in a transaction- he insisted her name to put in the second author position)

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    Are other faculty aware that this is happening? Do you have any allies in the faculty?
    – Buffy
    Commented Mar 28, 2021 at 20:24
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    How would you know that his wife has not contributed? She could have come up with the idea. At the very least, he and her would have 'discussed' your paper. Proving that she has not contributed will be very difficult. As an aside, my old colleague had this rule: if you are in the same room when the paper is discussed, you are a co-author. Commented Mar 28, 2021 at 20:58
  • I haven't discussed any this issue to any faculty yet. I have professional good relationship with other faculty members but not sure how discussing this with them will affect my upcoming thesis. @Buffy
    – H.Jamil
    Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 2:34
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    Well for start, I never discussed anything related to my research with her despite I am the one who is working on this research topic and coming up with the major ideas. I understand what you are saying but this is highly debatable and question the whole idea of authorships in academia @Prof.SantaClaus
    – H.Jamil
    Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 2:38
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    Discomforting situation indeed. Assuming what you have sketched is true, you should refuse accepting that behaviour. But the "How to" is the complicated part.... Did you try asking kindly why she is being added to the authors list?
    – Alchimista
    Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 8:01

2 Answers 2


This sort of "guest" authorship is not unheard of. For instance, that may be why Chinese universities primarily give credit to the first or corresponding authors of papers (as opposed to other authors, who may be "guest" authors).

Assuming your description of the situation is correct, including another PhD student who had little to no contribution as the second author, especially one with a personal connection to the advisor, is definitely ethically questionable. It's good that you noticed and disagree with it.

Practically speaking, it's much easier to raise this issue after you have graduated and received any recommendation letters you need from your advisor. For instance, if indeed you are submitting in a few months, you could delay submission of the papers until afterwards. Alternatively, even if you submit a paper with a non-contributing second author, as the first author you will still receive the primary credit from any applications of your CV.

  • Any idea about how to raise the issue after graduation? @Elodin
    – H.Jamil
    Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 2:43
  • What are you seeking to achieve? If you feel your colleague is doing something you consider ethically wrong, you don't work with them in the future. Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 2:48
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    You can be a bit more forceful about keeping someone off the author's list if you aren't relying on the advisor for passing your defense and getting a recommendation letter for your next job. Ultimately, it can get as ugly as either of you let it; if one author doesn't want it published, they can easily complain to a journal to stop publication. This is why ideally, authorship should be discussed before the authors start working on the project.
    – Elodin
    Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 3:44
  • I am here seeking advice to do the right thing as the advisor's this particular act is wrong and I am in a really vulnerable position to confront him for this act at this moment. I won't work with him in future for sure though. @rg_software
    – H.Jamil
    Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 14:59
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    Then the right thing would be not to confront him (since you are in a vulnerable position), and not to work with him in the future. You might want to see some justice, but practically speaking it is nearly impossible to prove anything. If the lady in question is his wife, they presumably talk, so he can always claim that his ideas are largely her ideas as well. Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 15:48

The situation you describe is known as the "White Bull effect" and was for example described here:

"Junior researchers can be abused and bullied by unscrupulous senior collaborators. This article describes the profile of a type of serial abuser, the White Bull, who uses his academic seniority to distort authorship credit and who disguises his parasitism with carefully premeditated deception. Further research into the personality traits of such perpetrators is warranted."

what you can do? In your current situation: Most likely nothing. You can hardly win anything but lose a lot. But on the brighter side, in most fields only the first and the senior authorship count anyway (for exactly the reason described in the paper above).

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