We have been a few postdocs in a reading group on a specific research topic, sporadically meeting up (via Zoom) for over a year now.

This started out of scientific curiosity and none of us is terrible familiar with the topic. Our ulterior motive has been to set up a paper in the end.

Problem: one individual in our group, Person A, has been ghosting both of us for several months now.

We have been friends for several years but roughly since the beginning of the year, that person has stopped reacting on my attempts at communication. The last time we happened to run into each other at a department picnic, that person has avoided any communication with me, even avoiding eye contact.

I don't know what happened and speculation is rather pointless. I'm wondering more concretely how to move on with the research side project of ours.

The remaining two of us would be able to set up on something on our own. Considering Person A's behavior, I'd rather not see them on the project (personal gut feeling).

How do we get Person A off the project without committing unfair conduct in the eyes of the research community? I believe the inaction on their side is already a quiet retreat from any collaboration, but they could later on claim to have been pushed out by us against their will.

  • 6
    Ask them if they still wish to continue, and, if not, you indicate - in a kind tone - that you are interested to continue without them. Any reason why that's not possible? Jul 27, 2021 at 2:32
  • Probable duplicate: Co-authors on a study have cut communication, what can be done?
    – cag51
    Jul 27, 2021 at 2:41
  • Sounds to me as if this particular individual (i) was part of your reading group but has effectively dropped out, and (ii) is not a collaborator on your side research project. People's interests and energies drift. Keep moving, I expect the broader research community will judge you lighter than you think. Jul 27, 2021 at 15:12
  • @CaptainEmacs: their input in our reading group discussion was rather shallow, I don't want them to claim cooperation pro forma but then become effectively non-contributing again.
    – Ambicion
    Jul 30, 2021 at 11:10
  • @Ambicion So, you want to drop them silently? That's possible, but you should brace for fallout, depending on their personality and expectations. I usually prefer clear communication, but sometimes that's not possible. I guess the decision is yours. Jul 30, 2021 at 12:03

1 Answer 1


If I understand what you have written, you can just drop them. A reading group, hoping to produce a paper in the future, doesn't yet have significant intellectual contributions to that paper to say who should be the authors of what.

Once someone has earned authorship of a paper, they can't be "dropped", though some would call that a controversial statement, especially when someone doesn't continue participation to the end. But that is to avoid charges of plagiarism.

But the comment of Captain Emacs is helpful. Ask them if they wish to continue or wish to withdraw. Tell them that you need to make progress and will do so without them if necessary. It is possible, however, for someone to take a minor role, not making actual contributions other than comments on the work of others. That may not earn authorship status, but it can be a bit subtle.

If they don't reply to your request then assume they no longer wish to contribute and continue without them. Be prepared, however, for a future request to rejoin. Evaluate that request if it happens.

But meeting to learn about some topic and working on a specific paper are quite different things.

From your description of the behavior of the other person, I'd guess that they have other issues much more serious to deal with than continuing with the collaboration. Don't take it personally. They may be needy.

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