In recent years, as a PhD student in West Africa, I have helped several undergraduate and PhD students who were stuck with some particular problems to the point where they were barely to leave (I can't go into more details for obvious reasons). Sometimes, I had to spend weeks with their particular problems at the expenses of my own work. However, every time one submits his/her Master thesis / publish an article they never include me in acknowledgements but I never told them to do so because I thought that's obvious. Or maybe because I don't like to appear like an arrogant/rude person.

Now, I know this behaviour will never stop. How can I ask for credit whenever I help someone; should I ask him before or after helping him/her?

Some of the PhD student have finished and working as post-docs in Europe. I didn't finish my PhD yet for several reasons: because I have a very toxic advisor. Now I am fighting with huge depression, what next?

Thank you

  • 6
    At this point it's too late to ask for acknowledgements, but it could be worth saying a polite "no" to the next person who asks you for help. Focus on finishing your own PhD from now on. Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 14:46
  • 4
    If you spend weeks helping other people with their problems, you have a problem with setting boundaries. Limit your time of help to 30 minutes per person and week. Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 14:54
  • In addition to what @lighthousekeeper said: spending weeks on working on someone else's problem warrants co-authorship, not merely an acknowledgement.
    – user132477
    Commented Oct 17, 2021 at 15:50

2 Answers 2


Whenever you collaborate with someone on a project, it's good to start an early conversation about authorship and other credit. Nothing has to be especially polite about it: remember that this is someone else asking for a favor from you (even if it's a bit of a coerced favor when your advisor asks you to do it). "No." is a complete sentence.

It's perfectly reasonable to answer with "Yes, I can help you with that, but it will take a lot of effort and I'd expect to work together on the paper and share authorship". If you don't think your effort rises to the level of authorship, you can say similarly "Yes, I can help with that, but please give credit to my effort with an acknowledgement in the manuscript", or afterwards "Here's that analysis you asked for. I don't think this work warrants coauthorship but I would appreciate if you would include an acknowledgement for it." Acknowledgements cost other people almost nothing - it shouldn't require any level of groveling to obtain one, but you do have to make your expectations heard if you want other people to meet them.


You raise several issues beyond the main one.

For depression, see a health professional. It can make a big difference.

For advisor issues, if not resolved, consider finding a better one. It might move you from an impossible path to a possible, if longer, one.

But the larger problem, not just for you but for academia generally is that people aren't adequately taught academic etiquette beyond the bare bones of ethics. Yes, you acknowledge help in a visible way.

I don't have a general solution to this, but you might be able to make a change at your institution by taking some action. One potential way would be to bring the problem to the attention of the administration. One way to make it easy for them is to, along with peers, write up a one page description of responsibilities that can be given to new students, or put on some web page. Utopian that I am, it might have some effect, but at least it moves the conversation from a complaint to a solution. It might be something that advisors could give to new students when the take them on.

But, health care first.

  • Thank you very much for your valuable answer. Unfortunately in third world countries I can't do anything. I will be fired immediately if I complain.
    – user148016
    Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 15:46
  • I had some fear that might be the case. Good luck to you.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 15:55

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