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When I was a student, I wrote a paper and submitted it to a journal. Having graduated, I am working for a company and am very busy. Recently, we got a revision for the paper and my prof asked me to do it. Unfortunately, I don't have time for it right now. Then, I got another email from him that if I cannot, he will ask another person to do it and change the name of the authors. He put my name as the third author, while I was responsible for everything for the paper and it has been published in my thesis and I was the first author. Now, I have a few questions:

  • Can he change the author's name while in my thesis I am the first author?
  • Suppose that he changes the name without my agreement, how can I stop him from publishing my paper in his name?
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    If you are not in academia anymore, is this worth fighting over? Nov 18, 2022 at 21:13
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    I am fighting for my rights and future students.
    – 8Simon8
    Nov 20, 2022 at 2:41
  • Well, it really depends on what the "revisions" are, then. Nov 21, 2022 at 3:01
  • One reviewer said that it needs minor modification and the other reviewer has a few concerns and question which can be justified.
    – 8Simon8
    Nov 23, 2022 at 1:07

2 Answers 2

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  1. Yes, your prof can make a change to the list of authors, but it would be un-unethical to do so unless the amount of contributions changes. I note also that the paper has passed the first round of reviews. Most (or all) publishers do not allowed new authors to be added or the order of authors to change after submission. This means your prof may fail to make any changes, unless he/she withdraws the paper and submits it as a new paper.
  2. You only need to inform your prof that you will not sign off on transferring the copyright of your article to a publisher. Hopefully, this will dissuade your prof from any un-ethical actions.
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  • Thanks for your reply. He didn't do anything. Idea, building and running models, writing paper, all was mine. He only gave me funds from his grant during my Ph.D. and nothing more.
    – 8Simon8
    Nov 18, 2022 at 21:19
  • If he changes the name of the authors, I will receive an email from the editor?
    – 8Simon8
    Nov 18, 2022 at 21:20
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    @8Simon8 You will receive an email from a journal once a paper is submitted. However, your Prof may delete your name from the paper. In that case, you will find out after your article is published, and you will then need to follow a journal's policy regarding authorship dispute. Hopefully, by informing your Prof that you will not sign off on the copyright, and thus creating a dispute, your prof will not act un-ethically. I've also updated my answer. Nov 18, 2022 at 21:46
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    "Most (or all) publishers do not allowed new authors to be added or the order of authors to change after submission." Do you have evidence that "most" is really true? "All" certainly is not.
    – Anyon
    Nov 18, 2022 at 23:10
  • @ vitaminE @Anyon - Thank you so much for your reply. It is very helpful.
    – 8Simon8
    Nov 18, 2022 at 23:25
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I would imagine your professor is trying to put some pressure on you. Maybe (likely!) you did not discuss the authorship details in enough detail in advance. Unilaterally changing the authorship is unethical, however, walking away from a group project in the worst possible moment without facilitating the transition in any way also leaves a bad taste. If the paper was rejected and due to resubmission, the renegotiation would be more straightforward.

A case could be made for the professor's perspective, if the revisions are a substantial amount of work: they would require someone else to do what you did almost from scratch, relying on the description in the first version on the manuscript alone. This could be similar to abandoning the paper altogether and starting it anew, where your contributions to the lab would be recognized but the claim to the first authorship would not be as rock solid. Walk a mile in their shoes, this scenario is fairly bad for both sides. You are not obliged to keep working for them, but they are not obliged to see this paper to completion, either, and hardlining the "not my problem" approach well may tarnish your professional reputation. Especially if you knew in advance you would be taking up that job demanding pretty much all of your time and energy and did nothing to mitigate the issues you are facing now (admittedly, this is not exclusively on you though, the professor should have raise these concerns before).

Having said that, I would advise you to focus on what you are and are not willing to do for this work. If you could make yourself available to someone taking this project over and help them with some questions, it would be reasonable to demand no changes in authorship. Otherwise, I would probably give it up if I were you: even if you have played the leading role in the paper, not cooperating with the rest of the team just enough to see the paper to completion is a bad move. As is usual in negotiations, a good strategy is offering the other side choices instead of shutting down their propositions.

Find something that works for all the parties involved. You can take a hard stance on authorship, but it is then on you to describe what will your responsibilities be and how are you planning to get this paper published. You could ask for an extension of resubmission deadlines, offer consultations or try to find time to work on it yourself, anything really as long as you do not just walk off. See the other side of the story, too.

The rest is as easy as stating "sorry, I do not think the change of authorship is appropriate".

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  • Thank you so much for your comprehensive response.
    – 8Simon8
    Nov 23, 2022 at 1:13

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