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I am doing my second postdoc under someone who is well known in the field. I did some extensive calculations and got very good results in my grad school on a topic out of curiosity. My PhD advisor was okay with it but never wanted to publish a paper out of those results as they were not his expertise.

Now when I was in my first postdoc position I had written up the entire work and asked my PhD advisor whether I should put him as a co-author. He declined to be a part of it and advised me to publish it on my own. In the meantime I moved to another position and now my advisor is a big name in my field.

I am currently in a big dilemma. Do I need his permission to publish it as a single author (as I have use the institution's affiliation) or should I just go ahead and submit it? Because my fear is that if I let him know about this paper he will certainly slow it down by being a part of it and as a postdoc I need more publications. He is not in a mood to help me out with more publications while I have already given him tons of good results. Please help!

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    Can you submit with your previous affiliation? (Ask your PhD advisor first, but given that most of the work was performed there, it would make sense to give them credit. Maybe with a footnote you are at another institution now).
    – Aolon
    Aug 8 '21 at 4:34
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    "while I have already given him tons of good results"--rather strange attitude as for a scientist.
    – yarchik
    Aug 8 '21 at 5:38
  • If you work in a 'conflict of interest' field, you definitely need to mention all your sponsoring authorities, from all the time you were working on the project, and you need to notify them before naming them. This is not the same as authorship, and is listed separately
    – david
    Aug 8 '21 at 11:03
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Ethically, you have no need to include anyone but yourself, given the situation. Yes, you can certainly do this on your own. It isn't even a question of etiquette. It is your work, it is your paper.

But, no on can say whether it will cause you grief if you do this. If your current advisor is unethical as well as being well known then it might. But if they are honest, then they know that they have no claim to authorship here.

You could acknowledge them, perhaps, for providing you a position in which you could complete the work, but nothing more is owed.

The only caveat would be if you have signed away to all of your IP while you hold this position. That can happen at some industrial positions and some variations appear at some places in academia. In which case, you would need the permission of the institution to publish.

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  • So should I let him know that I am going to submit this work and whether he is okay with it? I have already done a first author paper with him and wrapping up two other projects. The only thing I am bothered about is his letter of recommendations to get a faculty position.
    – Rahul
    Aug 7 '21 at 19:21
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    That requires your judgement of him and how he would react. I don't have a way to know. It shouldn't be necessary, but it is impossible to judge from a distance. But "good relations" are a plus, as you know.
    – Buffy
    Aug 7 '21 at 19:31
  • Thank you so much
    – Rahul
    Aug 7 '21 at 19:48
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    @Rahul: Irrespective of authorship, your supervisor is (usually) also your boss, so it’s a good idea to inform him of what you are doing with your work time (or even free time, when it is work-like stuff) as soon as possible. This can be as little as: “I would use some gaps between other works [time when my code is compiling; whatever your field has] to wrap up some project from my previous postdoc.” This way, he is not surprised when you suddenly publish a paper and has the opportunity to voice any potential objections as early as possible.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Aug 8 '21 at 7:38
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In my view, the tradition in academia is that it's normal to do some work on past projects in each new position. It's simply unreasonable to expect academic work to fit neatly within the academic calendar or progression. There is no reason to expect your PhD work to be completely wrapped up at the moment you start a post doc; no reason to expect your post doc work to be completely wrapped up the moment you start a second post doc; no reason to expect your second post doc work to be completely wrapped up the moment you start a tenure-track position. You can extend the same principle to work done under various grants.

Your new advisor doesn't have an authorship role in this work, and your old advisor doesn't want to be an author; this leaves you as the sole person deserving authorship, so you should be the only author.

I think it would be a good professional courtesy to let your current advisor know you are working on finishing a project from your time as a PhD student. In my view it would be unreasonable for them to be upset unless this work is some form of crankery. However, no one can predict with certainty the mind of another and not all people are reasonable. You'll have to use your own judgment.

It would, however, be reasonable for them to expect that you continue to make progress on your new work while working on this old project; it's also reasonable for them to expect that, in the future, once you leave for a new position you'll put some time in to wrapping things up for them as well.

There are many questions here about what your affiliation should be for that publication; my view is that you should list both your old and new affiliations, since part of the work will have been done while you were at each.

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It's a serious question in research ethics. I highly recommend reading the book "A new approach to research ethics," they cover this whole topic in chapter 3, "Publishing - Authorship."

In that book, they are referring to a very well-known guideline for authors, known as "Vancouver Guidelines", created by the editors of ICMJE. This guideline recommends that authorship be based on the following 4 criteria(quoting):

  1. Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND

  2. Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND

  3. Final approval of the version to be published; AND

  4. Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

Note that, according to these rules, a co-author needs to meet ALL aforementioned criteria. Therefore, being a supervisor doesn't assert co-authorship by default. From an ethical perspective, your PhD advisor probably didn't felt she/he contributed enough and therefore did the absolutely right thing to let you publish without her/his name as co-author.

Regarding having your new advisor in your papers, I suggest following the Vancouver guidelines as much as possible. However, I understand in the vast majority of scenarios, especially in countries/universities/departments/groups promoting publish or perish cultures, the aforementioned guidelines are probably just too cute to be taken seriously for obvious reasons. If you are conducting research in such a culture, you will probably be under constant pressure to have gift/guest authors in your papers all the time. To resist such unethical pressure or not, is a personal choice.

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Have you ever talked to your current advisor? What can you loose showing him your current draft? You can inform him that you are going to publish results you created before arriving with his group. Or you could ask him for comments or advise where to publish. This might turn out just nicely for you.

Ethically, he cannot force you to include him as a co-author. If he has something essential to contribute, you can ask him to write a follow-up paper together to save you time and getting your work published. If he threatens you, you know at least what could have happenden if you published without notifying him. Depending on the severity, you just might add him as a second author, report him to your institution, or even look for another adviser.

I am not sure that being the sole author is worth all the hassle. Whatever he does, you can still go ahead and publish the paper.

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