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Background:

My coauthors and I have been writing a paper together for quite some time. The project has not been the main focus of anyone in the group for the longest time, so it has been going very slow, but it is quite thorough with a lot of results and a lot of writing. The project was almost concluded a long time ago, with a draft that documents all the findings, but has been awaiting a coordinated effort to prepare the final draft and submit it for review. I am the first author of the paper, most of the methodology and writing is my contribution, and also a major chunk of the research design and conceptualization. Admittedly, I am also the main reason the nearly ready draft is still not completely ready for submission. That being said, the others did not take initiative to finish the job either.

I now noticed that some of my coauthors have submitted a draft for review, and also posted a preprint on arxiv, which uses some of the methodology that I actually came up with. It is nothing super fancy, but it was my design and it was discussed thoroughly and over a long period in our meetings and we did the same analysis (on a different data) for our project. They have also used a code that was developed by one of them for our project. I also suspect that in one part the data we collected is used based on the description in their preprint, although since they haven't released their data, I can't be sure about that, but I can claim that at best they have replicated the same data collection and analysis for that.

The problem: The issue is that there is no mention of our project or me in their draft. I knew they are working on this topic, but I was never informed of the fact that they are using some of the same analyses. Keep in mind that our project far precedes the project they have submitted the paper on, and frankly, if my coauthors had the time to complete that project, I would expect them to at least get their tasks for our project done, some of which are almost identical to what they did for their paper, apart from the data used.

Question: What can I or should I do in this situation? To be fair, I can't block them from publishing their work and ask them to wait because just I'm busy with my other commitments. Meanwhile, this is my work and the work they did for this project for which I am the lead author, and I think it is reasonable if I expect to be given credit for it. So, I would expect that they would either wait until our preprint is posted on arXiv so they can cite it, or just not use the same methodology. But what can I do right now about it?

Two options I could think of: Besides just giving up and taking my chances with just moving forward and submitting our own paper as if the other paper hasn't happened and hoping the reviewers won't notice the connection and others in the field will cite my paper for the methodology instead of the other one (which seems unlikely), I could think of the two options below with the help of the comments. I would appreciate feedback and comments on them.

  1. Ask my coauthors to not submit their revisions if they receive it, until we submit our paper on arXiv, then add a citation to our paper in their revised version. This seems reasonable to me, since in fact right now I have done my part of the remaining tasks and am waiting on them to finish their part, and after that with a proof reading and minor cleanups, we'll be ready for posting a preprint on arXiv. The issue with this, is that I'm not sure how to handle this conflict-free. Because of the power imbalance that I'll explain in "keep in mind", any tension is more likely to put me at a worse position. They have a strategic advantage, unless I can somehow find support from somewhere that would reduce the power imbalance.
  2. Ask them to add me on their paper as a coauthor. There are multiple problems with this though which I explain in the comments. To repeat the main ones here, is first, I really don't want my name on that paper for both moral and career concerns, and second, even if I agree, a paper on which I'm a middle author is going to be cited for the methodology I developed for a paper on which I'm the lead author, which sounds very unfair to me.

Keep in mind: I don't actually want to hurt my coauthors. They are also students like me, and I understand we all need the publications. I also still have work to do with them, a little work until we submit the draft for review, and after that probably a lot more for revisions. So, I don't want to increase tensions and create conflicts right now, especially since I'm very busy with my main PhD work and already have almost no time for this project. I know the journal they submitted their paper for (not 100% sure, but at least 90% sure), and in principle I can contact the journal and let them know about this, but that seems like a bad idea to me in quite a few ways. On the other hand, there is a terrifying power imbalance involved here: They have an experienced highly cited and well-published professor on their paper, while our paper only has a young (very successful) professor that is on the paper on a collaborative basis, so I, a simple PhD student, am basically the project leader, and have almost no support. My advisor is not involved in the project, in fact no one from my institution is, and I don't see why the professor who's our coauthor would have any incentive to get involved in this conflict.

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  • The situation when two people write a paper together is such that each only has to do 90% of the work. Adding more collaborators usually only increases the fraction for each by a few percent. It's not your question. But it's important to be sure you really want to be in a collaboration before you start. And treat it as "businesslike" rather than just friends having fun.
    – Dan
    Jan 18 at 17:52
  • @Dan I understand that NOW, but I was a very inexperienced 1st year grad student when I started this project and didn’t have much selection criteria other than “whoever wants to join”. And soon it became too late, and stopping the collaboration would hurt me the most.
    – nara
    Jan 18 at 18:19
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    Could you try talking to them? Is there a chance they might agree to add your name to the paper they submitted?
    – Stef
    Jan 18 at 18:27
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    You could talk to them or you could largely give up a project and learn a valuable life lesson that way. Talk your expectations before you start anything together, from marriage to research proposals - the more on the line, the more thorough you should be. If your little collaboration ends up being uncooperative, well, you have learned the hard way. You still could establish primacy of your research, but that would mean entering a conflict. Another life lesson: always consider if you are willing to bite back.
    – Lodinn
    Jan 18 at 18:42
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    Well, I have a few less-than-ideal experiences where months of work just entirely fizzled because everyone moved on, no one bothered to actually publish or whatever. In your situation (and in general, really), either you are ready to spend time and effort defending your contributions or bear the cost of losing them to dubious ethics. It is a whole lot easier if you publish fast - unless your work was basically stolen and you can prove it, wait long enough and someone gets all the credit and you get nothing.
    – Lodinn
    Jan 19 at 21:46

1 Answer 1

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Finish an acceptable version of your paper as soon as possible and send it to arXiv. If it appears within a few days/weeks of the other paper it may be considered simultaneous. That version can be imperfect, you can improve it later, just make sure there are no major flaws.

Cite the other paper while explaining the relation to your paper. Something like: "Our methodology has potential applications to X and Y, for example it was already used in the other paper to do Z."

Keep in mind that your coauthors have to approve the text before it is sent to arXiv.

As a diplomatic gesture, you might consider apologizing to your coauthors for the delay in writing your paper.

Ask the authors of the other paper to cite your paper in a future version. Now that your paper is on arXiv, they have no excuse not to do it.

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