My professor once came to my office and she proposed to me a well-posed research question: it was a theorem to prove that she was extremely happy to see and that would be a nice research question. After some months I went to her office claiming I solved it. She read it and highlighted some points that were not clear to her. I made the proof clean and neat, even generalizing it more than what she wanted. At the very end, she said: "well, I see you solve it. Nice!" and all ended up like this.

My question is: I basically did everything on that problem and my advisor "just" (even if I am grateful for this) made me aware of the research topic and basically read the first draft pointing out some things to explain a bit more. Now she seems not to be interested in publishing the paper, while it is for sure worth of publication since this is what she told me at the beginning. Hence, I am willing to do the job on my own. The question is: should I write it as a solo author, just with some thanks in the intro page or is it more polite to put her as co-author (even if, honestly, she did no more than what I told above)?

  • 5
    if she's your supervisor why don't you ask her?
    – sleepy
    May 17, 2021 at 19:56
  • Because I interpreted her silence like "your paper is actually easier than I thought", probably not worth of publication. And I honestly think this is not the case. Just this.
    – Porcupine
    May 17, 2021 at 20:01
  • 7
    @Porcupine There are lots of possible explanations for her reaction. If she's your advisor, part of her job is to advise you about publication, so just ask her. May 17, 2021 at 21:00
  • As I say below: it should not be just a thanks but a proper credit in the intro: "We [author's we] here prove the following problem/theorem conjectured by XYZ [your supervisor]." May 18, 2021 at 1:10
  • 2
    I went through the answers. They are more than sensible. But in my opinion you should discuss with the supervisor. Perhaps there is nothing publication worth and you might get convinced of that. Once this point gets clear you might ask yourself, her, or here about authorship. I would expect a supervisor to have commented "write it down and publish" or "let's publish it", as it is in your description, her enthusiasm about the proof seem to have scaled down.
    – Alchimista
    May 18, 2021 at 8:49

1 Answer 1


You owe her an acknowledgement in the paper, but nothing more. If she wasn't involved in the solution or otherwise in the paper, then she is really not a co-author and most would agree.

In some fields, advisors are regularly given authorship when they really shouldn't be, but that is more due to things like funding a lab and providing general support that makes research possible. But nothing you describe suggests that she is an author. Editing a bit and cleaning up the presentation isn't authorship.

But put a thank you in the paper for suggesting the problem.

  • This is exaclty what I was thinking about. Thanks for the nice feedback!
    – Porcupine
    May 17, 2021 at 19:56
  • 3
    Not enough. The prof may not deserve authorship for the proof, but they deserve credit (not just thanks) for proposing the problem. Identifying conjectures/problems are, if interesting, worth academic credit. Formulation should be something along: "The following problem was posed by ....". An acknowledgement is too weak here. May 18, 2021 at 1:09
  • 2
    @Captain Emacs: Also, putting the credit in the paper's context/motivation discussion of the problem makes more logical organizational sense. Indeed, some papers even have titles like "On a problem of XXX" (an extreme example), although this is not a good idea unless the title includes additional wording that gives some idea what the problem is (not good -- this title). May 18, 2021 at 7:17
  • Makes sense! Thank you both!
    – Porcupine
    May 19, 2021 at 10:18

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