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I am a graduate student who started to collaborate with a postdoc last year on a research project which we both came up with. During the past year we had several discussions about this project. I mostly did the calculations and proofs and he focused more on giving general advice and comments on the big picture of this project. The collaboration seemed to go well.

Early this year we decided that the results are strong enough and we should write a paper soon. I finished a paper draft containing all results about three months ago. There are still several sections (e.g. introduction) left blank because he insisted on writing that himself.

After I sent him the draft, he didn't start to write his part but asked me to change the structure of the paper and I also finished that pretty soon. Then he had a vacation for two weeks and I didn't bother him during that time. Every time I asked him about the progress, he was either busy finding a job or having a family emergency and he didn't start to write his part until now. He said once at a time that he could finish the paper in two weeks but then two weeks later nothing was written down.

I didn't want to rush him because job/family seem to be more important things than writing a paper, but I couldn't help but worry if he was just making excuses to procrastinate. And since he seldom wrote anything down from the beginning of this project, I have no idea how long it will take him to finish the paper.

How do I deal with the current situation? I don't have a high expectation that the paper can be finished soon, but I also cannot stand waiting forever.

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    Is it necessary that it be finished soon? Or just your expectation? On the one hand, you finish it yourself. On the other, patience is suggested and that you work on something else for a while.
    – Buffy
    Jul 17 at 0:10
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    @Buffy, It is not necessary but it is highly recommended because if you don't finish that soon, eventually someone else will publish the same results and the paper becomes garbage.
    – Jane
    Jul 17 at 0:13
  • It may be that putting off dealing with a serious family issue in favor of writing the paper would be the true procrastination. See the tag description.
    – Buffy
    Jul 17 at 0:18
  • @Buffy As I mentioned, I have no objection at all with him dealing with family emergency. I am only a bit upset that he didn' t communicate to me at all about his situation. I only asked him about the progress every two weeks and each time he replied with a different reason for not working on this. It is hard not to think that it is possible that he was just working on other projects and procrastinating on mine.
    – Jane
    Jul 17 at 0:51
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    Did you try asking your advisor for advice? Is the postdoc a postdoc of your advisor? If so, they might have some perspective on the situation/postdoc in question, and can possibly help mediate if necessary.
    – Kimball
    Jul 17 at 3:29
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So, just do it. Write the missing parts as best you can. Keep the other as co-author and ask permission to publish. You have an issue that may not be resolvable otherwise. The co-author may not have any options about this.

Keep them informed, but push forward. If they come back in, then do what you need to do to merge the work. Preferably ask advice (say, in editing).

This isn't an especially unusual situation, actually. Things happen. Life goes on. Some obligations are absolute, but working on a paper seldom is.

And, if you can't do it on your own, then your only other option seems to be patience, unless you can expand the collaboration.

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    Thank you for your advice! I am okay with writing it myself. But things were a little complicated. I am worried that he may not agree with me writing it because he has a very high standard about writing quality and made very clear at the early stage that he must be the one writing the introductory and discussion part of the paper. But anyway, I will try to talk to him about the options.
    – Jane
    Jul 17 at 0:56
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    If he can't/won't do the work, then he has to compromise and your judgements prevail. If you're not a player then you're a spectator.
    – Buffy
    Jul 17 at 0:58
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    @einpoklum, NO NO NO. Taking them off the author list if their intellectual contributions appear would be unethical and actual plagiarism. You can't shut out a valid author like that. Dropping out of the collaboration before completion happens. It might result in not publishing the paper at all, since all "authors" need to agree. But there is nothing preventing the OP to complete it. Alternatively, all contributions of the "dropped" author need to be removed, which, in the present case, seems impossible. Don't play with plagiarism. You get burned.
    – Buffy
    Jul 17 at 21:53
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    @Buffy: I mean't let the post-doc choose. OP can't take them off the author list, but if the post-doc doesn't like the resulting paper, and doesn't want to help improve it - that's basically the only thing he can do.
    – einpoklum
    Jul 17 at 22:12
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    @Buffy OP writes "I mostly did the calculations and proofs and he focused more on giving general advice and comments on the big picture of this project." Sounds to me like the collaborator did not contribute much more than what you would expect for an acknowledgement. Leaving them off of the author list, especially if they're not committed to making any actual contribution to the paper, seems reasonable in this case.
    – J...
    Jul 18 at 6:31
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This is a variation on @Buffy's answer. I would ask the collaborator if it would be helpful for you to provide a draft of the missing sections that they could then edit as much as they want. You could also list out the bullet points that you think should be in the missing sections so that they can respond before you write that draft.

This is what I almost always had to do when I was a doctoral student writing with faculty. Frankly, most of the time they didn't change much but it was still the respectful way to make it clear that they own that section.

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  • Nice suggestion on a plan.
    – Buffy
    Jul 17 at 16:23

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