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Here are the details:

I'm a Ph.D. student in mathematics.

A year ago, my supervisor ask me to try to generalize some results, saying that this "question" is given by one of the famous researchers in our domain of work, let's call him X.

Four months ago he asked me to add the name of X to the paper, and I did.

Now, the paper is almost finished (after a lot of discussion/presentation with my supervisor), but he never read it until this week.

Today, he asked me "kindly" to remove his name and the name of X from the paper and send it to a journal without including their names, he thinks that this is not research for three names, (which sound like: it is not significant enough), knowing that I did what he asked me to do exactly, and I tried my best.


I know that I can submit this paper alone, but the whole situation is very strange, it makes me very sad and anxious for three reasons:

  1. I feel that my supervisor is giving up on me in this.
  2. Not having his name on the paper will surely affect its chance of acceptance.
  3. suppose the article is published, what will be the interpretation of not having your Ph.D. supervisor's name on it?

I will appreciate your help!


Edit: Many thanks for your useful answers, I will keep you updated.

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    Did you ask your supervisor what they meant? Why exactly did they want the names removed? Also, what kind of help / answer do you expect? What is your actual question?
    – Louic
    Dec 30 '21 at 11:12
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    I find the sentence "this is not research for three names" rather conerning. It doesn't make any sense to determine the authors of a paper based on some absurd "research output per number of contributors" target. In pure maths, the authors of a paper are supposed to be those people who made a significant intellectual contribution to the paper - each of them, and no one else. (Though, admitttedly, it's often quite open to interpretation what constitutes a "significant intellectual contribution".) Dec 30 '21 at 15:48
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    It sounds like your supervisor initially wanted an opportunity to collaborate with X, and maybe after chasing X for some time to join the project, and given that you've made significant progress, he/she decided that it's no longer at a point in which he/she and/or X can made any intellectual contribution.
    – VitaminE
    Dec 30 '21 at 18:59
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    Perhaps your advisor recently learned that adding names of collaborators who do not collaborate is increasingly considered an ethics violation that can result in a retraction if the "guest authorship" is discovered.
    – vy32
    Dec 30 '21 at 20:22
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    This question is a refreshing change from all the questions on this site about supervisors insisting their names be added to papers they didn't significantly contribute to. Dec 31 '21 at 18:28
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Actually, in (pure) mathematics, I would find it unusual to find the names of "authors" who didn't contribute to the work. I think that the request to add X, if they didn't participate, was wrong, but removing it was right. Adding the name of the supervisor is less common in math than in some other fields, but I think the same standard should apply: they are authors only if they make an intellectual contribution to the paper.

So, in the wider math community you will be fine. The supervisor's name isn't expected. The paper should be judged on its merits and will be by reputable journals.

I can't say much about your supervisor. I don't know if he is "giving up" on you. I hope not. My hope is that he is just doing the right thing here, but I don't have much faith that such is true given earlier actions.

The world of math will just judge that you did the work. If it is good, then good for you.


Applied math can be a bit different.

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    @Nacouy: As Buffy points out, it is completely common for PhD students in pure mathematics to publish some (and sometimes all) of their papers without their supervisor as a co-author. Dec 30 '21 at 15:37
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    @Buffy: I upvoted, but I'm under the impression that "The paper [will] be judged on its merits [...] by reputable journals" might be a bit too optimistic in this generality. Dec 30 '21 at 15:39
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    @Nacouy: "It's the first time that I see this situation: a supervisor asks to send a paper without his name" --- For what it's worth, it seems that the situation is quite a bit different now as compared to a few decades ago, and probably also much different where you're at as compared to my experience. At the risk of over-generalizing, my observation (here, and mostly 2+ decades ago) is that papers co-authored by a Ph.D. student and supervisor tended to fall into two categories: (1) the supervisor heavily pushed the paper along (provided nearly all the essential ideas, (continued) Dec 30 '21 at 16:17
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    I would give the prof the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they just asked for X and prof to be listed as coauthors anticipating that both X and prof would contribute to the paper. Perhaps prof intended to rope in X and contribute more themselves. When the paper was wrapping up and the expected collaboration never materialized, they said these names should be removed. Dec 31 '21 at 12:35
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    In math the historical convention is that the advisor doesn’t put their name on the thesis paper even if they make an intellectual contribution to the paper. We can argue about whether that’s a good or bad convention, and it certainly originated in an era where coauthorship was very rare, but it’s very clearly how it worked for a long time. Dec 31 '21 at 18:08
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In pure mathematics it is common to see both papers that are coauthored by a PhD student and their adviser, and papers that are authored solely by a PhD student without their adviser. Both of these things are considered completely normal and neither of them is likely to cause any prejudice against your paper by a journal or anyone else who looks at it.

It is also normal for professional mathematicians to decide that a paper is not significant enough, or that their contribution to it is not significant enough, for them to wish to have their name on it as coauthors. That is a signal that, by itself, contains almost no information. In particular, it doesn’t automatically imply that the paper is a bad paper from the point of view of the PhD student who was the main driving force behind the work. It could be a perfectly nice and worthwhile paper for a PhD student to write and publish as part of their PhD dissertation research.

What the above observations mean is that your stated reasons 1-3 for being anxious are somewhat misguided. None of the information you gave us logically implies the negative conclusions you seem to be drawing.

Does that mean you have no legitimate things to be anxious about? Not necessarily. If you believe that your paper simply isn’t good, not because of the information you gave us about the coauthorship issue but because of other more detailed information you have about it, that is a valid reason for disappointment and frustration. Or, if you have other reasons to think that your supervisor “is giving up on you”, obviously that’s not good. But, at least, the coauthorship thing is just a distraction and by itself means nothing.

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I had a very similar experience. I wrote a great paper, mostly alone but under the general (and very kind) supervision of my thesis director (the area was physics).

I added him as a secondary author (which he deserved, at least in my opinion) and he asked to be removed. He said

It is a great paper, you do not need to dilute your authorship with my name.

That was nice of him. Now, he was was a full professor ("tenured"), head of the department, and one of the vice-presidents of the university - so he did not really need another paper. But in any case, I appreciated very much the kind attention (and thanked him vigorously in the acknowledgments section).

So maybe just ask him at the occasion why he wanted his name removed, who knows?

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    you do not need to dilute your authorship with my name --- Things may be different now and/or in other places, but this fits with my understanding of authorship by graduate students in math in the U.S. in several places in the late 1970s through the early 1990s, namely a single-authored paper was considered far more significant than a paper co-authored with one's supervisor (other things equal). Dec 31 '21 at 18:04
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It's probably best to separate anxiety related to your advisor into different bins like (a) progress on your qualifying exam, (b) progress on your dissertation, (c) progress on publications, and (d) your professional/social relationship. Since everything is cyclical during a dissertation (ebbs and flow, progress and anxiety), what you feel anxious about today won't matter in 3-6 months, or 1-2 years. Your advisor probably didn't do that much work on the paper, and merely suggested pulling his name simply for that reason -- so just submit the paper after others have signed off on submission and agreed to the journal of choice.

Regarding the manuscript (paper) itself, don't ever assume a submission is going to pass reviews with flying colors, without negative or unrealistic comments. If the reviews suggest the manuscript is terrible, or it's rejected, or it needs significantly more work, at that point, would you still be anxious about your advisor pulling his name, or still speculate your advisor is giving up on you? Probably not. I've known other PhD students whose advisors would not meet with them for up to 6 months, only because they were busy - but they did eventually finish.

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