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TLDR: I spent a long time helping with a paper from a group at another university. The first author, who was at the same institute as me, promised multiple times I would be one of the coauthors. But, the night before submission, he informed me that I won't be on the author list. There are about 20 coauthors in total.

Now the paper is on the second round of revisions (and on arXiv). I learned that I would not even be acknowledged in the "thanks" list. What is the best thing I can do here?

The field of this paper is between applied statistics and computer science. The authors are not listed alphabetically.


Full story:

I am quite new to publication. A friend from another group come to ask for help. He is postdoc leading a project. I started helping by providing comments on writing the paper, polishing the paper, and providing a statistical model. He said with the model, I could be the second or third author.

Later he told me that I might not be the second author because they decided to not use my model, but I will still be on the author list. I understand this.

I trusted him so I don't have a signed document or any record to prove that he promised this. I was still providing comments. We discussed this specific project more than twice a week. Each chat lasted more than one hour. I asked him once to include my name, but he said the paper will not have any names on it until it is good enough for publication.

Right at the night before the submission, he called me saying that he cannot add my name because his supervisor doesn't want me on the list. I don't personally know his advisor, who has a dominant personality. He is the only first author.

His rationales of excluding my name were:

  1. I did not write anything, and by the rules of the publication, I have to contribute in every major aspect of the paper.

  2. He thinks: only first authorship will help my career. Even if he gives me the authorship, it won't benefit my career.

  3. One of the supervisor's students who gave comments was also excluded by the supervisor.

  4. He is new to that group, so he wants to build a better relation with his supervisor.

  5. The supervisor said almost all authors must be in the group at the first place. (By group, I don't know if it is the research group or this project group. There is at least one author who is completely unaffiliated with the supervisor's group and never attends any group talks.)

To calm me down, he further promised me three things that night:

  1. He can bring me into other projects he is leading in the future. This has never happened and now I don't think further collaboration with him will help me.

  2. This current paper is unlikely to be published at a top journal but his next project is very likely to be published at a top journal.

  3. He can later introduce me to his advisor for further clarification or collaboration, but this never happened.

Later, when I asked him for a written agreement regarding a future collaboration on another project, he hesitated, saying that he cannot be sure about the contribution and authorship until the work is finished. Since then, he's been occasionally ignoring my calls.

I disagree with rationale #1. He intentionally prevented me from writing down anything on the paper. He only took my feedback. Moreover, no one contributed on every aspect of the paper except the first author. The publication culture of this field is that everyone is highly specialized and only works in a narrowly defined area.

He also admits that I spent more time than the second author on this paper. To my knowledge, most of the coauthors did not write anything on the paper.

Well, I was convinced by him that night. His point 1 is probably generally ethical. What do you think?

However, I thought I could at least be acknowledged, but now it seems like my name will not appear anywhere in the paper. I would like to be at least thanked in the paper, without having everyone think that I am trying hard to free ride. What can I do?

(Using "he" is not intended to imply that the first author is a male. The story should be read as gender neutral.)


The night before submission, he sent me a screenshot of the text exchange with his supervisor. The conversation goes like this:

He: I think we should probably add HighGPA because she provided a lot of feedbacks and helped with the statistical methods.

Supervisor: My student Jane also provides feedbacks and comments, yet I don't put her in the list. All authors should be in the group and the weekly group talk from the beginning.

He: I respect you as the final decision maker. I actually promised HighGPA an author slot a few months ago, and since then, she've been providing helpful feedbacks and spending not less time than anyone else in the group. Can you do this as a one time courtesy and I promise that this will not happen in future?

Supervisor: Maybe next time. We already have 20 authors. Now add Joe Doe because he helped with initial data collection.


A timeline is added for better organization of the events.

Before Jan 2020: A posdoc shortly shared the same advisor with me before. I worked for one project he was leading. In that project he trusted me: he let me edit and rewrite the paper, add my own contents, and then he blindly approved them.

Jan 2020 He joined a new group.

Feb 2020: Posdoc presented the idea to his new group. At the same day, he invited me to help with the project by providing remarks and helps in applied statistics. I start to help with the project by providing him feedbacks every week. I did not put my advisor or my previous advisor in the loop because they are less relevant to his subfield; this is the first mistake I made.

March 2020: He invited me to his PI's group meeting, with the condition that I, just like other members, have to read and present a paper once a while. I find this requirement ridiculous as I have my own things to do so I did not go. (This could be the second mistake I made. Back to then I underestimated the value of networking and presenting. Now I won't forgo any chance to preach my paper and idea.)

April 2020: I was asked to prepared a statistical method. He promised that with the method I can be second or third author.

May 2020: My statistical method was rejected in a group meeting. I am not sure if he brought me up for the method. He said to me that I cannot be second author but there will be no problem for authorship. He first asked if I can improve and revise the paper just like what I did before for the last project. I agreed but later he hesitated to let me directly write or comment on the paper. I respected him.

Late June 2020: He finished an early draft and I asked him to include my name. He said "no worry, the names will be added before submission." I am still providing feedbacks twice a week.

Sep 2020: The paper is about to be finished and he contacts me less for feedbacks. He contacted me asking if I can revise the final version. I agreed but he found reasons to delay sending me the up-to-date version.

Oct 2020: Finally he send me a semi-final version for my final feedbacks. He politely and indirectly ask me to not to directly write on the paper or comment on the paper. I still trust him and respect his request. I provided oral feedbacks instead. Though I find it weird, as he wrote 95% of the paper and based on his previous style, he will be more than happy if I am willing to write on it.

Late Oct 2020: The night before submission, he told me that his supervisor refused to include me as an author. He send me the screenshot. Note that he handles the submission process of the paper and his advisor hardly ever writes down a sentence.

The first author explicitly complained to me that the second author contributed very little, yet the supervisor "forced" the posdoc to put the person up as the second author. He chose not to fight the supervisor because he is new to the group and he wants to build networks with team members.

Early 2021 The paper is on arxiv without my name being thanked.

I agree with all of you that acknowledgement carries no weight in academic career. However, I am human so to be thanked or not to be thanked makes a huge difference.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please see this FAQ before adding another comment. – cag51 Apr 12 at 14:47

10 Answers 10

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While we cannot conclusively determine whether or not you would have deserved co-authorship, for the reasons others mentioned (number of authors on the paper, the time you invested into this project, etc.), it seems likely that you should have been one - or at the very least acknowledged. Now, let me share with you my hunch why that never happened, and how you can maybe learn to protect yourself from a similar situation in the future.

The postdoc's PI never even knew about you. Everything you write about the situation boils down to keeping you in the background, probably the postdoc claiming what you contribute for himself:

  1. "We don't add names before we're ready to publish."
  2. "I'd like you on the paper, but my adviser thinks you shouldn't be on." It's not me - it's them!
  3. And he keeps you compliant and quiet by promising you future projects that never happen.

Maybe my personal Hercule Poirot went overboard here, but this smells rotten. You will only know if you finally directly contact your postdoc's adviser. While contacting a senior PI might be culturally discouraged, the path through their underlings preferred (not where I am from, but in some parts of East Asia, say), I'd encourage you to always cover your bases in the future.

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    I actually agree with your Hercule Poirot. There are other evidences. Right after submission, he starts to ignore my calls, and ignore his own promises at the same time. So you are right that he promised the future project only to keep me quiet rather than truly help me. – High GPA Apr 11 at 12:01
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    @HighGPA: Well, it's still a sad world where, if it's true, this kind of stuff happens in academia. I don't know if I would push for anything regarding this specific case - it might turn into a he said-she said with no clear benefit for you. But do make sure to be more careful in the future. Best of luck! – gnometorule Apr 11 at 12:03
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    @HighGPA A variation: 1. Postdoc promises authorship, without consulting PI. 2. PI is upset that the postdoc has overstepped his authority. 3. Postdoc should have come clean and apologized to you, etc.; instead, he tries to cover up his mistake, compounding the trouble he has caused. 4. Things fall apart as he continues to avoid blame. – Michael E2 Apr 12 at 16:07
  • @MichaelE2: Certainly possible too, especially after the convo at the end of the question (which wasn’t there when I wrote my answer) was edited in. All we know almost surely is that something not kosher happened. :) – gnometorule Apr 12 at 16:09
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    @gnometorule Hi gnometorule, even with the added conversation, I still agree with you. The posdoc has his own funding and is less dependent on his advisor. He wrote almost every part of paper, and the idea was his. Earlier or later, he can surely add me in if he really want to. Again sorry that some details were missing from my first post as the whole process took eleven months and I cannot recall every detail right away. – High GPA Apr 12 at 19:37
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Your “friend” is no friend to you at all, and behaved unethically in promising you coauthorship and making other promises that he has not kept, and that it’s not clear he had any intention of keeping. The other answers analyze at length whether you being a coauthor makes sense or not, but that seems beside the point to me. You were promised to be made a coauthor, and such a promise must not be made if there isn’t a good reason to make it, and must be kept if it were made and it is even remotely reasonable to keep it (which it clearly is).

As for your question of what you should do, the main thing you should do is learn from this experience and in the future not put yourself in a position where it is so easy to exploit your labor and talents. The reliance on verbal promises, lack of written documentation, and the fact that only one person knew about your contributions, have all put you in a vulnerable position.

Aside from that, you can try to argue that you deserve an acknowledgement, and you can try to make other people in the “friend”’s group aware of his nasty behavior. There are some arguments to support doing both of these things. It’s also possible that none of them will be productive and that trying to do such things will only lead you to a waste of time, frustration, and disillusionment with the academic research and publishing process. So another possibility is just to let it go, learn from the experience and resolve to avoid such situations in the future. Which one of those paths to take is your personal decision. In any case, good luck!

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    OP did what is recommended at the beginning of a collaboration, rather than an implicit agreement: they agreed explicitly ahead of time how authorship will work. Nonetheless, they were cheated out of authorship or at least acknowledgement. The collaborator's group acted despicably (assuming the PI was fully kept in the picture). Not sure how OP might have protected themselves against this. I do not think that written agreements is something I have ever seen, but clearly OP is seen as vulnerable and should be more cautious in seeking out collaborators. Avoid large groups, that's what I can say. – Captain Emacs Apr 11 at 21:11
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    @CaptainEmacs I’m not referring to formal written agreements, but it’s good to have some written record of things said in conversation, and more than one person in the know including trusted parties. For example, following a phone conversation OP could send an email: “Hi [name], I enjoyed discussing [project] with you today. I’m really excited at the idea of becoming a coauthor on this paper, which you said would definitely happen based on my contributions so far. Let me know how else I can help. Copying [my advisor] to keep them in the loop.” ... – Dan Romik Apr 11 at 21:21
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    I understand the point of your answer, but I tend to agree with the objection made by @CaptainEmacs: I'm not sure if "distrust" is the right notion to capture it, but if I got an email stating "I’m really excited at the idea of becoming a coauthor on this paper, which you said would definitely happen based on my contributions so far" the point that I would perceive as most outstanding is not the OP's excitement, but rather the OP's very determined way of ensuring their co-authorship. That need not necessarily be a bad thing, but as CaptainEmacs says: it keeps things at a more formal level. – Jochen Glueck Apr 11 at 22:47
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    @JochenGlueck it’s never a bad thing to be assertive and signal to those around you that you will stand up for yourself. This is a common misconception in academia (that I have seen expressed here far too often): people focus too much on being “nice” and on not behaving in a way that will be perceived by others as unpleasant or formal. Meanwhile they miss the fact (that I have personally witnessed many times) that if you show that you have a backbone and cannot be easily pushed around, even if that means being a bit unpleasant, the people around you will respect you more, not less. – Dan Romik Apr 11 at 23:55
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    @HighGPA to clarify, the email idea was just one suggestion for how to create a little bit of protection for yourself. I’m not necessarily advocating always sending such an email or using that specific language. It depends on the details of the situation, personalities involved etc. In some situations other approaches will be better. The main message is to be aware of the problems that can arise and act to prevent them in a tactful way that won’t damage the relationships with your collaborators. Also, as CaptainEmacs said, choosing your collaborators wisely can also save a lot of trouble. – Dan Romik Apr 12 at 15:55
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Basically, you spent XYZ hours on this work depending on your colleagues promise that you would be co-author. This is time you would have spent on your own research otherwise. Pacta sunt servanda and you did your part.

In addition, I agree with @JochenGlueck that if the paper already has 20 authors, there is no good reason why you shouldn't be also one of the authors.

You could try to get an acknowledgement, but, frankly, that's not worth much.

Probably, I would express a mail with a low-key message of disappointment, listing the most important of the above arguments, plus the arguments that you feel you considerably contributed to the results (that your work led to a dead end is not your fault and may have triggered their current line of insight) and you disagree with their judgement that you do not deserve co-authorship.

Papers, especially with many authors, are so complex today that if one really strictly applied the rule that authors must be authors in every major aspect of a paper, there would be authorless papers, simply because nobody has full overview over every aspect.

I would not demand anything, just let them know that you felt let down. With this, you should cut your losses and not work with these people again, declining politely if they ever had the cheek to ask you again in the future (yes, people are that gormless).

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    @HighGPA Hard to know. Did you ever communicate with the supervisor? If you think that it will help, you could write to your "colleague" and their supervisor. If they would have the power to damage your career, it might be prudent to limit it to your colleague. In any case, stay low-key. – Captain Emacs Apr 11 at 11:26
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    @HighGPA And you are completely right to keep your advisor out. You learn to fight your own battles, especially as they were not involved originally, good decision. – Captain Emacs Apr 11 at 11:28
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    I agree with many points made in this answer, but I'd be a bit careful about the suggestion to "list[...] the most important of the above arguments". If not phrased very carefully (and very briefly), such a list of arguments might contradict the - very important - constraint of keeping the email low-key. (Lists of arguments are often perceived as, well, argumentative.) A second thing to keep in mind is that the removal of the OP from the list of authors apparently occurred some time ago (the paper is in the second revision now), so writing such an email now might come across a bit odd. – Jochen Glueck Apr 11 at 11:36
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    @JochenGlueck I kind of agree with you, Jochen. Probably, if the paper is rejected or it needs further revision, I can start to ask for inclusion of my name in a future version. I forgot to mention that the paper is now also published on Arxiv, without my name being acknowledged. – High GPA Apr 11 at 11:41
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    Upvoted. This is the nice answer I was lazy to write while commenting under OP question. – Alchimista Apr 12 at 11:10
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Very strictly speaking, the following is rather a discussion of the circumstances than a plain answer to the question "What is the best thing I should do here?" Anyway, I think the following points should be pointed out in some detail.

Should the OP be a co-author of the paper?

Many (not all) people here seem to agree that, given the information the OP provides, the OP should actually be a co-author of the paper. Still, I think it is worthwhile to list the following points in detail:

  • Giving extensive comments on a paper might or might not, in general, entitle you to be a co-author of a paper. This might depend on the cumstoms of the field and on both the relevance and the quantity of your comments.

    (Buffy makes, in their answer, a point that contributing comments and suggestions does not make you a co-author; I can follow this argument to a certain extent, but I would also be careful with it. For instance, in pure mathematics, it is indeed very uncommon to give authorship to somebody who merely made comments and suggestions. But then again, authors are listed alphabetically - i.e., not ranked by their contributions - in pure mathematics, and typically papers in pure mathematics don't have so many authors. If it is possible and common to rank authors by their contribution, things might change. As I said above, the details might depend both on the quanitity and the relevance of the suggestions provided, and on the specific field.)

    Remark: In an earlier version of this answer I said that I agree that the OP should be a co-author. Buffy's answer made me re-think this claim and phrase it a bit more carefully. But still, I'm under the impression that things did not go well here be any reasonable standards. Since the first author has already promised the OP authorship, it seems at least odd that the reasons that they are given now for not being listed as a co-author, contain several non sequiturs (please see below).

  • The rationale that the OP "ha[s] to contribute in every major aspect of the paper" in order to be a co-author is, obviously, ridiculous. Is anyone seriously supposed to believe that each of the 20 co-authors of the paper contributed to every major aspect of the paper?

  • I'd like to specifically point out the following aspect that has already been briefly mentioned in Captain Emacs' answer: the mere fact that the OP's statistical model - which was initially seen as a major contribution by the first author - did not make it into the final version of the paper, is no indication of whether this model did or did not contribute to the findings in the paper.

    It is a major point in scientific research that, at the beginning, we do not know how things will work out in the end (that's why it's called research, after all). Our only way to scientific insight is trial and error, and it happens very often that what we tried first does not work out well, but guides us the way to a better solution.

    For instance, many of my papers have gone through many stages of "development" and it happens frequently that what seemed to be a key idea at the beginning got, at some point, completely removed from the paper. In general though, this does not necessarily make this idea an irrelevant contribution to the development of the paper!

    Whether this is the case in the OP's concrete situation is, of course, not possible to determine from the information provided.

Why would they do this?

Several suggestions of why this has happened have already been suggested. I would like to add that there is actually quite a large variety of further potential reasons, and it might be extremely difficult - even for the first author and their supervisor - to figure out in retrospective which of them applied. Here is a - completely non-comprehensive - list of examples of potential reasons:

  • It might be their honest opinion that the OP's contribution was significantly less than the contributions of each person listed as co-author.

  • The aforementioned point might be only the supervisor's opinion. The first author might disagree, but might not have the courage to bring it up, given the supervisor's dominant personality.

  • On a related note, somekind of misunderstanding might have occurred between the first author and their supervisor. Consider, for instance, the following hypothetical dialogue:

    First author: "I think OP should be a co-author of the paper, too."

    Supervisor: "What's their contribution?"

    First author: "They contributed many very useful remarks and comments on the paper."

    Supervisor: "That's not a sufficient reason to be a co-author; my student xyz has also made several remarks, but they're not listed as a co-author, either."

    First author: "Ok."

    I've witnessed many "discussions" between people with "dominant personality" and their supervisees/employees that followed such a pattern (although on other topics). There are various problems involved: (i) A "dominant personality" is a character trait that is quite strongly correlated with forming strong opinions, and with forming them quickly. This can easily lead to a sentence such as in the fourth line of the above dialogue, where the supervisor expresses a certain opinion despite that they still have insufficient information to make this conclusion. (ii) People with "dominant personalities" are - almost by definition - difficult to argue with, and even more so if you are in some essential way dependend on them. This might result in the first author just giving in instead of pointing out that there can be various degrees of contribution by means of giving comments and making remarks.

  • Maybe the first author was indeed playing you false and never had the intention to add you as a co-author.

  • They (or only the supervisor) might follow a "policy" that people from outside their lab need to contribute more than people from their lab in order to get co-authorship. (Needless to say that such a policy would be ridiculous, but people tend to do a lot of ridiculous things).

  • For some weird reason they might even think that it is better for the OP not be co-author of the paper. (They might, for instance, argue that it could hurt the OP in the future to be a co-author of a paper when the OP is, in their opinion, not able to give good arguments of why are a co-author.)

  • Then again, it might be real malice, or somekind of discrimination, be it conscious or unconscious. (Maybe one them doesn't like people with blue hair, or people who are white on their right side and black on their left instead of the otherway round, or some other kind of nonsense that human prejudice is able to come up with.)

  • Another option is simple ignorance on their side. Maybe they think it's "not a big thing", and thus didn't bother to really reflect on what they were doing.

Of course, combinations of several such reasons could have occurred, too. My main point is that there are various possibilities which differ considerably with respect to the intensions and (non-)ethics involved, and it is, in general, extremely difficult to figure out which reason applies to which extent.

So my advice is to be extremely careful about making any assumptions (and even more so about making any accusations, even if only in private).

Relevance of the situation to the OP's career

It has been argued that having one more paper where the OP is one of 20 co-authors might not necessarily do a large benefit to their future career.

Still I think that there are several potential benefits which should be pointed out:

  • Even "not a large benefit" would be different from "zero benefit". In particular with regard to the very competetive academic job market we should not forget about this.

  • It is my understanding that the OP is a mathematician. So while being one of many co-authors of a paper in a field between applied statistics and computer science might not count as a huge scientific contribution, it can serve the OP another purpose which should not be underestimated:

    It would give the OP the opportunity to argue (for instance, in front of a hiring committee) that (i) they are able to work in interdisciplinary projects, that (ii) their work/expertise is appreciated by people from outside their own field, and that (iii) they did not only work with people from their own lab.

    In some hiring processes these points might make a significant difference.

  • One point which is, in my opinion, too often neglected is that there tends to be a considerable difference between a person's opinion and their actions. I've heard numerous scientists claiming that "qualitiy is more important than quanitity", that "counting publications is not a good indicator of how capable a researcher is", and that "Researcher X has a lots of papers, but most of them have a different first author, so we shouldn't conclude from this that X is really good."

    However, whenever it comes to concrete decisions (in particular, to hiring), all those "irrevelant" or "non-conclusive" indicators suddenly play a very prominent role in the decision. Sometimes this can even be observed within a single sentence, when somebody says e.g. "Well, I have to say I really don't believe in citation counts, but if we compare candidates A and B it is really remarkable that candidate A's work got fourth as many citations."

    So assuming that a paper with 20 co-authors would most likely not benefit the OP in the future is, to put it bluntly, a bit naive in my opinion. It might even happen that someone explicitly notes that this paper shouldn't count too much but, unconsciouly, still takes the higher number of total papers as an indicator of the OP's qualities as a researcher. (Of course, if we only restrict the discussion to this single paper, the effect won't be very high - but such things add up during a career.)

  • Another point is citations. Even if the OP would be just one of many co-authors, every citation for that paper would occur is an additional citation for the OP in a bibliometric database. In my experience, people don't make much of an effort to differentiate where all the citations of a researcher come from - they just look at a few numbers such as, for instance, the total number of citation, and maybe the top-cited articles and/or something like the h-index.

So to sum up, I'm somewhat reluctant to conclude that this publication would not have benefitted the OP much.

What to do?

Now we come to the actual question, and my answer will most likely be disappointing for the OP:

I don't think that much can be done about this.

Pressing people to make you a co-author could, in general, be a dangerous thing to do. If the reason why the OP was excluded is on the rather harmless end of the spectrum (for instance, a misunderstanding between the first author and their supervisor), a simple email with a kind request for clarification right after the decision to exclude the OP might have had some chance of success.

However, the paper is now in the second revision, and at this stage the (other) authors might even be a bit more reluctant to add another author. If they did so, it might be expected (at least in some fields) that the corresponding author at least briefly outlines (for instance, in a response letter that accompanies a revision) why the new author was included. "We first excluded OP as a co-author without good reason, but now we admit that we were wrong" is probably not a good thing to write there, so the corresponding author would need come up with a more decent formulation. Of course, this would be absolutely possible without too much work, but it still is one additional obstacle (at least psychologically) that the other authors would have to pass in order to grant the OP co-authorship.

Further remarks.

  • That the OP is not even mentioned in the Acknowledgements is a different point. This seems to be completely weird - giving credit in the form of a simple "thank you" at the end of the paper is essentially for free for the authors, and as a rule I would always thank everybody who helped me to improve a paper by providing me with a non-trivial amount of non-trivial comments.

  • Despite all that has been said above, it is important to note that such kind of "collaborations" still have the potential to benefit the OP in the future, even if they turned out like this.

    For instance, depending on the personality of the first author, they might now be under the impression that they owe the OP (or they might not be under this impression - as mentioned above, this is difficult to say.)

    The first author might also mention the OP's expertise to other people working in different groups (not necessarily the first author's group), which could increase the probability of future collaborations (not with the group responsible for the paper under discussion - the OP will probably not be particularly keen on working with them again - but with different and, hopefully, more obliging collaborators).

    The point I'm getting to is that what has happened is reason enough not to work with this group again, but I would advise against adding any further damage to the relation with this group (should they ever suggest to the OP again to work with them on a paper - OP can just kindly decline, referring to lack of time or the like).

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    That's a well thought-out answer, but I don't agree with this point: "adding co-authors at this stage will typically cause the corresponding author more trouble" -- Revisions can lead to substantial efforts that might involve additional authors. So it's not given that the editor will ask for clarification. If they do, there are graceful ways to reply, such as "Mrs. X developed a statistical model that greatly helped to generate insights relevant for the revised version" (which would not be untrue, even if the insights were also relevant for the first version). – lighthouse keeper Apr 11 at 16:03
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    @lighthousekeeper: You're right of course. I didn't choose the wording well; what I meant is: adding a "new" author after the initial submission should, in my experience, typically be accompanied by a brief explanation in the "response letter", even without the editor explicitly asking for it. It would certainly be possible to write a good explanation for adding the OP as an author. It is, though, something which the authors would need to do "in addition" to the revision - which could reduce the odds that the other authors are willing to do this a bit further. I'll edit my answer accordingly. – Jochen Glueck Apr 11 at 18:15
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    @CaptainEmacs: I agree with you on that. Probably the idiom "burning bridges" is a bit too strong for what I intended to say. Indeed, I'd suggest to avoid working with these people again. But in addition, I'd also suggest to avoid any further damage to the OP's relationship to them that goes beyond what has already happened and beyond not working together in the future. (I'll change the wording in my answer accordingly.) – Jochen Glueck Apr 11 at 18:20
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    Jochen you are so smart. The hypothetical supervisor-first author is almost the same as the real conversation. The real conversion goes like: HE: I think I should add HighGPA because of she provides many helpful feedbacks; Advisor: one of my student also provides feedbacks but I exclude her; HE (politely): A few months ago I promised an authorship to HighGPA, who later spent more time than everyone except me; Advisor: maybe next time as we already have about 20 authors. Advisor added: Now please add Joe Doe to the list because he help collect data....... I will add this in the main question. – High GPA Apr 11 at 21:04
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    "The point I'm getting to is that what has happened is reason enough not to work with this group again, but I would advise against adding any further damage to the relation with this group". Upvoted. – Alchimista Apr 12 at 11:19
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Sorry, but you may not like this answer.

Spending time and effort helping someone on a paper, even giving advice on presentation, doesn't make you an author. Had they used your statistical model, assuming that you created it and it is of publishable quality, then you would, of course, be an author. But if they decided not to use it, then you have no real claim to authorship of this paper. If the model is a standard one that you merely suggested that they use, it probably doesn't make you an author if they use it.

However, if you helped them understand the problem better, perhaps that being the reason that they didn't use your model, then they really should acknowledge your contribution to their thinking even if it isn't directly represented in the paper.

I'd suggest writing to the authors, maybe to all of them, asking for an acknowledgement of the form "Thanks to HighGPA for contributing ideas to early versions of the paper". That much is owed, I think.

If they object, then I'd let it go and focus on your own work, unless you want your advisor to get involved. But your advisor, speaking informally with theirs, can make things happen.


And writing to all of them is probably more effective than writing to only the lead author(s), as you then become harder to ignore.

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  • I think there may be a typo (missing "not") in sentence 3 of paragraph 2. – Daniel Hatton Apr 11 at 13:25
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    @DanielHatton, yep. Thanks. Fixed. – Buffy Apr 11 at 13:32
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    Uh, writing to all authors might be perceived very negative imho. – DonQuiKong Apr 11 at 20:06
  • I truly appreciate your answer, Buffy. Regarding your question, I did help him the first author understand and solve problem better, but it seems like that he is the only one who I directly spoke with and the only one who clearly knows my contribution, for now. – High GPA Apr 11 at 20:25
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Without knowing the field you're working in, it's difficult to say who should be author.

In some fields, co-authorship is given for any number of reasons, such as to acknowledge the PI who originally collected the data, even if they weren't directly involved in the paper.

In other fields, authors are only the people who both worked on the paper and are asserting that it's true. They would instead directly acknowledge other people's help and/or cite something to indirectly acknowledge the work upon which the paper is based.

I would think that you should get some recognition for the contribution that you described, but I don't know that it would qualify you for authorship without knowing your field. And I also don't know if you actually agree with their findings, and thus maybe it's better that you were not and author, but simply acknowledged.

I'd also like to mention what I've taken to calling a 'null acknowledgement'. That is, you used someone else's work, but then went another direction. This is especially important in data citation, as there are a number of observational fields where someone might see something of interest, look at data from an instrument to get context and determine if it's a known type of event before doing a deeper analysis. Although you might not cite that instrument or its data, you still used it. And not acknowledging that you used it might affect their continued funding.

Similarly, if someone helped you determine that an approach to analysis was not correct, they still helped you get to your solution, and deserve some recognition.

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  • Much appreciated for your answer and your suggestion! I agree with their finding. The field of this paper is between applied statistics and computer science. – High GPA Apr 11 at 19:29
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    I guess I should've been more specific ... I can only comment on my own field, where it tends to be "MainAuthor, Supervisor/PI, AlphabeticalListofEveryoneElse". As a reviewer, I once saw a paper that I'm pretty sure the co-authors never read (and told the editor, as it neglected to compare their project to similar ones that their co-authors had done. The editor refused to believe me until I pointed out that there were only 5 references, and none of them were to papers by the co-authors that should've been cited). I think I got black-listed as a reviewer for that. – Joe Apr 11 at 20:26
  • Hi Joe, you've done a good job reviewing. Why you got black-listed? Probably you deserve to review for a better journal. – High GPA Apr 11 at 20:28
  • I'm IT support in an obscure field of physics. I was only reviewing papers about new tools / software in the field so it was at most one per year. They might've thought I was racist as I had first pointed out the number of grammatical errors, and primary author was a non-native English speaker, and at least three co-authors were American or British. And I said that the whole paper needed to be re-written (citing the style of a paper by one of their co-authors) – Joe Apr 11 at 20:37
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If the supervisor of the postdoc and your own are not in the loop yet, they should be. At the very least, they should be able to provide perspective.

My feeling is that if someone has worked on a project, even if their particular solution didn't work out, they should be considered for authorship.

I don't know what field you are in, but the claim that papers don't count if you are an author but not the first one is dubious.

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  • Many thanks for your input! The field is between applied statistics and computer science. – High GPA Apr 11 at 20:20
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While some others disagree, I think you have a strong case for co-authorship of the paper, particularly since you did work on the project in consideration of a promise to be included as an author. The role you played sounds sufficient to me to warrant co-authorship, particularly on a paper that already has so many authors (who presumably each did a small part). Irrespective of this, there is a legitimate issue of research ethics in making a promise to you that you would be a co-author and then reneging on this after you did your work.

In terms of what to do now, if you wish to pursue the matter I recommend you seek a resolution from an independent adjudicator at your university. For example, you could ask for the matter to be adjudicated by an independent faculty member in the university's research committee/research office. There should be some kind of faculty member at the university who has expertise on the ethics of research authorship, who can adjudicate an internal dispute of this kind and provide a resolution sanctioned by the university. Indeed, that kind of adjudication would generally fall directly within the purview of academic staff in the university research office.

To get the ball rolling, I recommend that you write to the corresponding author of the paper, note your disagreement on the matter of authorship, and inform him that you would like your authorship/non-authorship to be adjudicated by an independent academic in the university research office. Write to the university research office and ask for an appointment to explain the matter and to seek an internal adjudication. This might also be a matter where the university ethics office might want to get involved, in view of the promise of authorship and later withdrawal of that promise.

Regardless of whether you are eligible for authorship, the university is likely to take a dim view of the fact that you were promised co-authorship and then this was withdrawn after you had made your contribution to the project. There may be an ethics breach involved here, due to misrepresentation of your right to authorship, and you have a good case for some kind of resolution in your favour. Certainly I would think that an adjudicator would be sympathetic to your position, even if they feel that your contribution falls short of what is required for co-authorship.

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  • Hi Ben, much appreciated for your input! I am truly sorry that I forgot to make it clear that they are from a different university. The posdoc recently moved from my institute to the new university. Does the same procedure applies? Shall I write an email to a faculty member on the ethics team of that university? You mentioned that the adjudicator will be sympathetic to my position. This really encourages me and I appreciate this. However, I am still pessimistic because I did not write any part of the paper -- I only provided verbal feedbacks and remarks, which are hard to track. – High GPA Apr 12 at 4:51
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    I would think that an adjudication at their university would be fine. So yes, you could instead write to the research office at their university and seek an adjudication. Procedures will differ by university, but initial contact with the research office should let you know if they are happy to perform an adjudication of this kind and what the relevant procedure is (if one even exists). As to the view of the adjudicator, I can only speculate, though you also did some modelling for the project (which was ultimately not used). – Ben Apr 12 at 5:03
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    I think you should definitely discuss the situation with your own advisor before starting off any formal procedure, especially one that drags in another institution! – Lou Knee Apr 12 at 13:35
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Authorship can be a contentious issue. In this case, I think it is actually impossible for any of us, including the OP, to know whether it should have been granted. While the OP helped the main author via discussions and suggestions, the final version of the paper may look very different and be the product of many other discussions, suggestions and contributions by other people. In all the projects I have worked on, I have had conversations with people and heard suggestions. They have offered this freely without making co-authorship demands, nor have I offered co-authorship because people close to me in academic positions have told me that would not be appropriate. To me, work that has co-authors involves more collaboration. Devising the idea together, being part of the team that evaluates and discusses approaches.

The postdoc in question may not have ever been in the position to offer authorship. They are working on a project defined by their supervisor and funded by a project their supervisor submitted. The main ideas for resolving the problem may have come from the supervisor. I am a postdoc, but I would not offer coauthorship of anything without discussing it with my supervisor. It may be, in fact, that the LW's statistical model was excluded by the supervisor because it was part of a collaboration that the supervisor was not comfortable with and that was outside of the scope of the funded project.

I think an acknowledgment would be nice, but it is not something to be demanded and probably does not make a difference for the OP except a warm feeling. Lessons for the future are more that not everything is about authorship and the scope of most projects predetermines who can and cannot make the author list. This answer is offered since most people have said that the OP should be a co-author, and it is possible that the scope of the work was much greater than the OP's contribution, and there was simply not a good argument for the OP's inclusion on the list. The OP may also have a dominant personality that makes it difficult for the postdoc to voice that perspective.

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  • Thanks for your answer. “evaluates and discusses approaches" was exactly what I did in the first few months. The idea of the project was come-up by the posdoc. – High GPA Apr 14 at 20:15
  • Perhaps I do have a mild dominant personality, I am not sure. By "mild" I mean I could have forced the posdoc to adapt my method anyways; this is because the supervisor did not handle the data or write the paper, so if the posdoc simply tell the supervisor that this method works the best among alternatives (which was true), then the supervisor would have no option but to accept it. I did not do this and I did not even think about doing this back to 2020, so I doubt that I had a dominant personality. – High GPA Apr 14 at 20:20
  • I don't mean this as critically as it came across. I just mean that there is usually another side to the story. It is hard for me to understand how a project the two of you did all the work on morphed into something with 20 other collaborators. That makes me think there must be more to the story. Something was not transparent here, but it is hard for me to read this without imagining a project much changed from the first version. – Liz Apr 15 at 16:51
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This is only a partial answer, specifically discussing the point of whether the OP should be a coauthor or not.

While I would agree with the general premise of other answers discussing this point (e.g. @Buffy and @JochenGlueck), I would like to take a different point of view. In my opinion, the details of the contribution of the OP and whether their statistical model made it into the paper or not do not matter much, since the promise alone is (or should be) sufficient to gauge the magnitude of the OP's contribution.

The reason for my conclusion is that I think the metioned answers do not sufficiently acknowledge the nature of a promise to become a co-author. Undoubtedly, the decision whether one should be a co-author of a scientific paper is based on whether one contributed or not, as @Buffy and others write. However, at the point where one is promised authorship by the first author, the relevant parties have already determined that your contribution is indeed valuable. A contribution to the scientific progress of a project cannot be nullified by further progress afterwards.

Of course, in the real world, the first author may have hastily promised authorship. Even if that is the case, however, the hasty promise in itself is malfeasance. As the OP states, they invested a lot of time into the work. They may not have done that if they had not been promised that the resulting contribution will warrant authorship.

So in my view, the situation is a clear case of the OP's work not being valued appropriately by its co-authors, one way or another. The OP was either tricked by the first author or their authorship was wrongly denied.

With regards to recommendations for action, I do not have anything to add to the other good answers.

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  • Hi Wolpertinger thanks for your answer! I am quite interested in what you said: the nature of a promise to coauthor makes the contribution sufficient. So generally, who can give this type of promise? I am guessing that, if all the first author(s) agree on adding someone, then the promise is given? Does the last corresponding author ethically have the power to give or deny promises? In my case, it is clear that the corresponding author believes that she has the full power to determine the co-authorships. – High GPA Apr 14 at 20:29
  • The first author explicitly complained to me that the second author contributed very little, yet the supervisor "forced" the posdoc to put the person up as the second author. – High GPA Apr 14 at 20:31
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    Hi @HighGPA ! I would maybe not say that it "makes" the contribution significant, but the first author figured your contribution was so significant that they promised you authorship. A corresponding author should not have the power to "decide" authorship. It is the contribution that counts and a first author postdoc should be able to gauge what your contribution actually a was. A promise, in my view, is just the stamp on it. – Wolpertinger Apr 14 at 23:06
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    The main point of my answer is to say: You did nothing wrong here; you were treated badly; your contribution was valuable. I'm sorry this happened to you and I hope it will not drag you down. – Wolpertinger Apr 14 at 23:06
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    @HighGPA Yes, I fully agree. I hope that this will not discourage you from doing great work and contributing to science though! My answer was mainly intended to not make you doubt your contribution and search for a mistake that you did yourself. – Wolpertinger Apr 15 at 8:16

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