I and my advisor (both theorists) used to have a nice collaboration with experimentalist A on paper X a few years ago. A and I were the co-first authors. A few months ago A came to us again on a follow-up experimental study, which will be paper Y to be submitted. A wanted to use our old theory from paper X to explain the new experiment in paper Y and asked our thoughts on this.

My advisor and I, after some discussion, found it somewhat interesting and did some calculation for a different new mechanism. I talked to A and sent my short calculation note and A also found this new mechanism a very interesting possibility and worth experimental investigation. However, eventually, we found that this new mechanism may not be all-compatible with this particular experiment, although it should appear better in some other cases and will be an important finding. Finally, we agreed to mainly rely on the old theory again in paper Y, and A probably will briefly mention this new possibility (not sure).

A wrote to my advisor and cc me asking to put our names in the acknowledgment and my advisor said OK (**). My advisor has so many papers and does not care (at least will not object in such an email reply). To be honest, I somewhat care, given the discussion and time involved (not sure if appropriate).

After a week, A wrote to me only again asking if some additional calculation or formula was possible for the explanation and comparison in this new paper Y. It is simple and I can do that. But I started to feel a bit disappointed to be still in the acknowledgment. Am I being too greedy and unethical? Or what should I do?

(If given coauthorship, certainly not co-first author, just some random position no one cares. A will be the only first author.)

(**) Actually, this was the only time my advisor replied to A's email. A was mainly communicating with me because my advisor acted not so responsively in replying to A's emails (ignored twice). But I'm pretty sure he was just too busy recently, otherwise we two didn't have to discuss the experiment and new mechanism at all when I mentioned to him A's early email.

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    It seems like your advisor has been handling most of the communication, so you should approach him and get his opinion on what to do. Trust the advisor to support your case if meritorious or correct you otherwise- this is the simplest course of action. Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 9:12
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    @AppliedAcademic See my update at the bottom.
    – xiaohuamao
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 9:20

2 Answers 2


Since the update, it appears that most of the communication has been between A and you, and the advisor was only roped in when the decision about sharing credit was made.

From my viewpoint, it seems like A considers the advisor to be the decision-making authority on this, and believes that you will fall in line. If this is true, directly making the request may not be a good idea, and you could instead prevail on the advisor to speak to A.

If my reading is wrong -you will know this best- then I think there's no harm in reaching out to A with your concerns about time. You could cite your other commitments, need to show tangible output and then ask if you could be included as an author.


Talk to your supervisor. Forward the e-mail with the new request from A to them and ask your supervisor to schedule a short meeting to discuss this. You probably want to explore the following:

  • This case in particular: What is your supervisor's idea on whether you should do additional work to begin with (since this is taking time away from other projects, presumably, even if it is small/quick)? Does this change the authorship/ackowledgement discussion in in their opinion? Would they be willing to ask A for authorship for you in that case? Do they want to settle this now or after you've done the work/they've revised the manuscript?
  • Your supervisor's attitude in general: are they someone who believes that collaboration drives scientific progress and not every effort should be turned into an authorship battle? Or are they someone who want authorship credit for things like this? How and when do they decide on authorships in their own lab? Do they have a fixed structure for that? Would they allow you to be granted co-authorship even if they are not on the paper?

You are probably right that with a long publication record this single paper weighs less for your supervisor than it does for you, but also consider what it will mean for you in the long run. If someone asks you: how did you contribute to this work? Can you give a clear answer? Check the CREDIT taxonomy for different roles. Is this a paper you would be proud of to have on your CV? Is it solid work, related to the profile you want to build for yourself? Are you comfortable being a co-author even if your supervisor would decline? If someone from another lab came to you with a request for authorship based on what you did, would you offer them a spot?

There are no hard and fixed rules for this, part of this depends on academic culture (and that differs per field) and even the personal moral/ethical principles of a single scientist (in this case your supervisor) - although you might want to check out the guidelines for author credit by ICMJE as a lead. Also remember that authorship credit also comes with responsibility for the work. In the long run one additional publication doesn't matter, but your reputation does.

It's hard to predict which data/efforts will end up in a manuscript, and indeed sometimes you put in work that doesn't result in anything tangible. Where we draw the line is quite personal. A wise scientist once told me that good scientists have more acknowledgments than publications (meaning that they generously share ideas and data without always expecting to be paid in publication currency - academia would be a better place if more people held that viewpoint).

By the way, if you have no intention to stay in academia than non of this really matters anyway.

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