6

(I am posting this for advice regarding somebody else’s problem, but for simplicity, let me pretend it's me. To clarify misunderstandings in the comments: I am asking on behalf of my partner and can supply any additional detail as needed; I am fully informed.)

I have conducted a research near the start of my PhD studies, which I have since quit. This was collaborative work with another PhD student (who has also left since then) and my/our supervisor. We had an agreement regarding the authorship of the paper: I, as the person having done most of the work, would have been first, followed by my classmate, and finally our supervisor.

Some time has passed since then, I have quit the programme, so did my classmate, but we have only got around to publishing the paper now.

Today, I received an email from my supervisor that since both of us students have left the faculty and are not planning on continuing our studies there, he proposes a change to the authorship of the article, making himself the first author, as (I paraphrase) even though I have done most of the work, it would have not been possible without his financial and infrastructural support. There is some truth in this argument, but as I said, authorship was already established.

I do not think it is fair to alter the order of authors merely because we are no longer affiliated with the institution; we were at the time of writing and the relevant research work.

The paper is already finished and is just waiting to be submitted. I am willing to take part in creating a second revision if requested by the journal upon review (and have made this clear to my supervisor).


Naturally, I have begun negotiating with my supervisor (and the 3rd author) in the matter, but I would like to ask: if my supervisor refuses to give up the place of the first author (I must add that I believe he in fact did very little work), what are my options to resolve the situation?


UPDATE To clarify further confusion in the comment section: the paper in question is a complete, finished manuscript, ready for submission. The reason this whole thing is happening now (several months after we have finished working on it) is that it has already been submitted to another journal previously and was eventually rejected. This is a resubmission to another journal.

There has been no change to the contents of the paper. The supervisor has done no additonal work (such as ‘picking it up as a draft and completing it’). He had very little input in the entire process.

I believe he wishes to change the author ordering because we no longer ‘need’ publications (having quit the academic career at least for the time being), whereas he does. It would not be the first time he claims other people’s work as his own, but this is not relevant for this post.


UPDATE 2 Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly to me) it does not seem that our (former) is cooperative in the question. Upon reaching out, he offered to alter the name order, moving me up to the place of second author, but still keeping himself as first, if and only if I agree to handle the entire submission process. In addition, he has brought up omitting me as an author altogether?? That said, I do not wish to abuse SE for a blog sharing my experience with this problem. I will continue attempting to reach an agreement with my supervisor (and the 3rd author) and potentially escalate the problem to my uni’s ethics office or similar if there is no way to handle this locally. I plan to include update the post with a final conclusion to let future readers possibly facing such a problem see how it can be resolved.

20
  • 3
    Are you personally still working to get the paper published, or have you stopped working on it?
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 17, 2023 at 16:26
  • 3
    What state of "publishing" is the paper now? Submitted?
    – Buffy
    Feb 17, 2023 at 16:34
  • 3
    I would respectfully like to ask downvoters to justify their response. I believe (and please correct me if I am wrong) voting is meant to filter low-quality questions or those that are not in scope for SE (such as completely opinion-based ones). I think I formulated the problem and question adequately. I don’t think the fact I am posting regarding my partner’s problem makes this question any worse as if it were my own situation.
    – bp99
    Feb 17, 2023 at 17:39
  • 3
    @bp99 I disagree, however well-intentioned, we ask questions be practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face, and my past experience with questions asked by third parties here is that they are not very good quality. People tend to misrepresent details and end up getting the wrong answer as a result. It's common that people are responding to a partner's complaints by trying to find a solution when their partner just needs someone to vent to and knows they are responsible for figuring it out themselves.
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 17, 2023 at 19:15
  • 2
    "Some time has passed since then, I have quit the programme, so did my classmate, but we have only got around to publishing the paper now." What does this mean exactly... Does it mean that you three continued working after you finished the PHD, and you finally finish the paper as it was originally planned? Or did the supervisor decided to pick the draft and work it into a publishable version by himself?
    – Nick S
    Feb 17, 2023 at 21:47

2 Answers 2

11

If the work has all been done, and the first author will continue to take responsibility for the paper throughout the submission process (which may include multiple rounds of revisions, some with new analyses or even new experiments), there is no reason for the authorship order to be altered.

If the original first author is not willing to participate in all these steps, there will eventually develop some gray area where even if that person did most of the original work, they can't really be responsible for the sum total of the paper anymore. In that case, it may be more sensible to have someone else take the first author position. It would not be fair, though, for that author to be somehow prevented from participating. Also, if I were advising the supervisor rather than the student in this case, I'd strongly encourage them to let the student keep first authorship. It's just not good business sense to be a jerk.

Ultimately, if there is an authorship dispute the primary recourse is to oppose publication of the paper. Assuming everything in the publishing process works how it's supposed to work, papers can only be published when every author agrees with publication, including authorship order. At that point, it's basically between the parties to decide whether their place in the authorship order is worth not having a paper published at all.

(as a side note: present affiliation doesn't really matter at all; I'd expect your affiliation to be listed as the place you did the work originally, possibly with an added affiliation for your current location if still in academia, otherwise probably nothing else Affiliation on a paper written mostly in previous position Changing affiliation on publication )

2
  • Thank you. ‘Assuming everything in the publishing process works how it's supposed to work, papers can only be published when every author agrees with publication, including authorship order’: this, albeit obvious, is a key answer element IMO. I have no experience in journal paper submission and did not know whether the consent of each author is required (at least normally).
    – bp99
    Feb 17, 2023 at 23:22
  • 3
    @bp99 Yeah, the way consent is measured varies; for some journals, the author submitting just attests that everyone agrees. For others, they may enter email addresses for other authors and the journal contacts all the authors at the time of submission - they may ask for authors to positively agree with the submission, or only ask for contact if there is a problem. Of course, if someone is left off entirely or their contact information entered incorrectly, there's no way for the journal to know they are missing.
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 17, 2023 at 23:28
5

From the information given, I see no reason that would justify a change of authorship from your original agreement for you to be the first author. The fact that the paper was previously submitted with you as first author, and the supervisor has not made any additional contribution since then, is strong reason to keep the original authorship order. The provision of finance and infrastructure are generally considered to be relatively minor contributions to a paper in their own right, and would not usually warrant first authorship in a case where another person does the bulk of the substantive work on the paper. You might also be interested to note that some journals are moving towards a system where particular contributions of authors are specified (see e.g., the credit system at Elsevier), though authorship order is still important in many fields.

Regarding the process to solve this disagreement, the first step (which you are already taking) is to discuss the matter with your former supervisor and see if he will agree to retain the original authorship agreement. If there is still an impasse then you should propose to have the matter adjudicated by an independent academic or the ethics office of the university, with each of the authors agreeing to be bound by the decision. In this case the matter could be reviewed and considered by an academic who is independent from you and your supervisor, taking account of all relevant circumstances and contributions. If your supervisor does not agree to this then you could refer the matter to the Department and/or ethics office unilaterally and seek an adjudication on the matter.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .