I joined a new lab a while ago, and am having an issue with keeping the credit for my work. Two instances so far:

  • I co-authored a series of papers with the professor and a senior graduate student. I was always the first author, and it'd be fair to say that I contributed 95% of the research work and 70% of the writing. Somehow the other student was invited to give several talks on our work at various department seminars. I hadn't known until recently when I accidentally discovered his slides in our shared repository. The problem is that, in his slides, he only put his name, and there was no mention of my name/no credit given to me.
  • Before joining the lab, I developed a research software, which was quite successful and widely used. When I joined the lab, I transferred the development to the lab, and a graduate student helped me to extend the software a bit. When programming, I always sign my code with my name: (C) 2010-2013 by My Name (Email). Just today, when I looked at the code (publicly shared on github), I discovered that the student had deleted my name from all the files and replaced with his name: (C) 2010-2013 by His Name (Email). He even hadn't joined the development until 2012. If people just look at the code, they would think he were the sole author.

Of course I want to keep the credit for my work. But I don't know what I should do. I feel that there is a culture in the lab that people just don't respect the credit for shared work. I don't want to cause heat in the lab. Both those students have been in the lab for longer than me.

  • 4
    There might be two separate issues here. Your first point is a matter of academic integrity, and will probably have to be handled by discussing with your colleagues. The second point could also be considered an academic integrity violation, but beyond that it is a copyright violation as well. (If in the USA or a country with similar copyright laws.) For that, you may have some legal recourse, and in fact you might be entitled to have Github remove the repository if the other student refuses to revert to a revision with proper credit.
    – David Z
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 19:44
  • 1
    P.S. not that I'm suggesting that your first step should be to complain to Github, but the point is that this sort of problem is not unprecedented in the tech world and there are procedures in place to handle it.
    – David Z
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 19:46

6 Answers 6


Talks with one name only

Here I think that customs vary between having a long list of authors and a long list of collaborators* and only the speaker spelled out on the title, possibly including a long list of authors on the abstract.

* e.g. a slide listing the contributions of all the collaborators.

I'd recommend having a look how other people in the department handle this, and then maybe expressing astonishment (semi)publicly because where you came from it was handled differently. I think it is preferable to have a public discussion and the customs/style of the lab developing in some way than to offend everyone just because your previous lab put authors and not the speaker on the front slide.

Related issue: I like to know who tells what about my work. But OTOH, I think it is quite usual that you don't recognize your own work when a collaborator presents it... There are also drawbacks to being spelled out on the first page of a talk.

Only student's name in code

I think this is much clearer. And, as you say the code is in a git repo, it is still easy to sort out things now.

As a first step, talk to the student privately and request that he rolls back these changes and adds "Contributions by " (ideally a contributions line for each logical step in the development with date and name - but the git messages can do that as well) only where he actually contributed code. Of course, if he is the sole author of new files, those stay "his".

I'm in a field where software isn't (yet) really a category of publication in the mind of most researchers. However, the usual result of not thinking about that is that there is no statement of authorship nor of a license. In contrast to that, deleting author lines is an active step.
As a second step, I'd explain that deleting the authorship lines from source code is as serious as taking a colleague's manuscript and submitting it under his own name without even mentioning the collaborator.

As a next level of pressure, you could explain to him that you talk to him privately as you do not want to unneccessarily endanger his graduation: from a legal point of view this is a clear violation of your author's moral rights (not necessarily copyright - although also the terms of the license could have been violated). Violation of author's moral rights is an offense that is extremely relevant for academia and thus may put him onto the fast lane to being thrown out of his programme without graduation.
Which you also should keep in mind if you need to go to your boss with the problem: be careful not to destroy more than absolutely necessary here.

(Always assuming of course that the copyright is actually yours as opposed to your previous employer's. But, if you find out that you just have author's (moral) rights, but not the copyright that is a point that makes it necessary right now to "heal" the legal issues by putting the proper copyright and authorship lines into the code ;-) )


Regarding the first point, the only conceivable reason for omitting your name is that the student was under the mistaken impression that in a presentation you only need the name of the speaker. It's not an uncommon mistake that students make when they're starting to present work.

But the usual way to fix this is to have a big "Joint work with X and Y" just below the name of the speaker. And there's absolutely no reason not to do that. I think it's perfectly reasonable to ask the student to include your name on all presentations and even on abstracts announcing the presentations (again, using the 'Joint work with..' formulation. If the student resists, then it's time to go to the advisor. There is no reason your name should not be on the presentation if you've contributed to the work.

Separately, how come this other student is giving all the talks if you're the primary author ? Maybe you should ask your advisor if you can give a talk on this at the next opportunity.

  • 2
    In my field it is quite common to have the list of collaborators (often not well separated from acknowledgements) as an extra slide. Looks more like acknowledgements. And it is not only fresh students, but also professors and PIs giving an overview of what is done in their labs. It is less common if the talk has one clear subject, and more common in project meetings/seminars where anyways more or less everyone in the room contributes in some way or other. (+1) for why does a minor contributor give all the presentations. Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 21:30
  • 2
    True. If I give a talk summarizing the work of many papers I will do as you say, but for a single paper I try to place the coauthors on the title page.
    – Suresh
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 0:21
  • Although this is somewhat advice, I am not sure it answers the questions at all.
    – blankip
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 15:02

Let's be real. They (well at least the grad student) are going behind your back on both of the issues to make themselves look better.

Either they feel they have contributed much more to the project than you believe or they are just really unethical.

When you say that you did 70% of the writing - is that the real writing or does that involve formatting and proofreading? I just know that a person in my field (tech engineer) who acts as an "editor" would not necessarily be credited on the discussions about the topic or paper but would certainly be credited in the paper itself.

Need to handle this swiftly but show restraint. You first need to figure out if this is a problem with the lab or the person. You need to figure where you relationship is with the grad student and professor and whether you wish to continue either.

If you want to stay on good terms with the grad student it is simple. You go to them and say - "I know you switched my name on code, I know you are presenting these things as yours, please change these things or I will take the next steps." If this person wonders what the next steps are - and needs the threat as motivation - then they should be done to you. Then you move on to professor.

If you talk to the professor about these things and he/she seems astonished and takes action see where that goes. If the professor doesn't offer an opinion you may need to go to the next level.

I know for a fact that students have been expelled from universities that I have had affiliation with for removing copy-write/author information. This isn't an "ooops" case by the student. The git stuff is borderline dumb/illegal but the presentations are just the icing on the cake.

Personally I wouldn't trust the student again. I don't know enough about the situation to comment on the professor. The other student could have easily conned the professor into thinking the stuff was theirs. I think some of the other answers are a little too conservative. If it were just the presentations I might agree with them but changing author info on code is blatant. I would not start ambiguous conversations acting like what this person is doing might/might not be "incorrect". They are in the wrong. Confront them or professor and follow chain of commands at school and git.


I'm an undergraduate student, so I'm not particularly knowledgable about these issues. I had a thought I think is worth bringing up, though: Both of the incidents you brought up involve students. Is it possible that the students are simply unaware of what's expected or otherwise made simple mistakes? If so, talking to them in person would quickly resolve the issues.

I bring this up because it seems to me that you're in a position to get the students in question in serious trouble if you want to, possibly putting their academic futures in jeopardy. If they aren't being willfully antagonistic, it would be cruel to rake them over the coals (although it doesn't sound like you want to do so). Please take a gentler approach to start unless it is clear that they are deliberately acting selfishly.

EDIT: @blankip made me think about my answer some more. The students' unethical behavior might be bad enough to warrant some kind of punishment, regardless of how aware they are of it, not just a heart-to-heart talk. My biggest concern is that it also seems unethical (or at least cruel) to me to try to have the students expelled, subject to legal action, or something similarly extreme when they're relatively new to academia unless it's clear that they were deliberate.

  • 1
    You would think it is all right to erase someone's name from a paper and put your name on it? I really don't understand everyone's rationale that this is a "dumb" mistake.
    – blankip
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 4:09
  • 1
    Absolutely not. What I'm concerned about is that, on the off chance that these students aren't fully aware that they're out of line, it would be just as wrong to end their academic careers with over-agressive tactics. There's a difference between a significant but survivable punishment and expulsion and legal activity, and I don't think it would be right to give students the latter unless it's clear they're being willfully unethical.
    – Kevin
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 4:52
  • 1
    We are talking about a junior high kid. We are talking about a graduate student. Are you saying a graduate student doesn't know better? Not saying that you press to have him expelled but there should be immediate changes.
    – blankip
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 4:55

Presenting Your work

It depends on how the student was presenting your work. Was he presenting it as something he researched by himself, or was he presenting on some work that the lab had been working on. It can be valuable to present research results to other labs and even across disciplines. If he phrased it as just a discussion of the latest work in the field that should be fine. If it was phrased as "this is what I did", then there's a problem.

Copyright of software

What license was the software released under? Did you transfer the copyright to the university? Did you work on the software on university time?

If you worked on it during university time this could be tricky question. Normally software is protected under copyright, but this could be seen as individual works for hire. Either way he shouldn't have removed your name and added his. The software should probably contain the universities/lab name for copyright with you AND him listed as contributors. You're an academic, so here's a paper to read on the topic. http://www.ifosslr.org/ifosslr/article/view/30

  • Thanks for the link! I haven't read it, but it seems useful. The software was originally developed for my PhD work; the university does not hold the copyright. But I didn't specify any license, just as simple as "this software is open source" and "if you redistribute or derive your work from the software, you should give credit to the author(s)". I guess I should really think about a proper license.
    – Tim
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 4:29

Ask him, politely, like if you were interested to compare your slides (maybe you also participate in seminars) or if you don't, pretend to be really interested in his slides to learn. Again, politely, tell him that you are happy that he used your work ("oh, you did well showing our work" something like this) and force him to include your name.

About second issue, talk to him about it openly. But think about the long-therm consequences and short term consequences. Is it really important to keep that credit? Which are the colateral damages of putting this issue on the table? Are you leaving soon the department? Or, on the contrary, are you in tenure track?

Anyway, if he is not cooperating, think about stealing his girlfriend :D (he'll learn how you felt about your software) And, at the end, you're lucky to be first author, you could be 2nd or 3rd author even doing everything.

  • Is it really important to keep that credit?YES!
    – JeffE
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 6:14
  • JeffE, sometimes is not, believe me. It really depends on the department and the country and its policy. I suggest to value the long therm consequences of the decisions and who has the influence and power in the department. It is not a question of fair or unfair, it is a question of survival.
    – user11683
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 13:13

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