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I obtained my research degree under rather abusive circumstances from a Korean university. My research work involved a data set from a company. During my studies, I presented my work at a conference as the main author. I won the best paper award. Under pressure, I handed over the tools I developed and the data set to another student in the group.

I have now been invited to submit an article to a special issue dedicated to this conference. My (former) professor is threatening me to name that other student as first author, otherwise they will submit the article without me.

What should I do?

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    Is this a PhD thesis you are talking about? I am unfamiliar with Korean academia, but from what it sounds like - if you already received your degree from the university - it might be the best to leave this xenophobic mess behind you and move on.
    – Sursula
    Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 7:41
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    Although this situation may have to do with the specific country, I wonder whether it's appropriate to focus that much on nationality and (potentially) xenophobia. Even if we suspect that it has something to do with Korean university culture, couldn't the same thing happen to a Korean student/assistant as well? And could useful answers not be given by people experienced with similar situations in other countries? Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 13:32
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    I read a lot of abuse in this question, but not a specific question anyone can answer. You apparently got your degree, so at least you have that. For the interpersonal conflicts, my suggestion is to talk to the department head or a grievance office in the university. I would suggest to think about what specifically you want to have addressed, because that is not clear to me from the post. Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 17:21
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    @FarahJabeen I've rewritten your question, focusing on those details that seem relevant to the publication dispute to me. You can roll back my edit if you disagree.
    – Arno
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 3:41
  • @ChristianHennig I mostly agree with you, but I've left information that this happened in Korea in regardless when editing. There might be some useful culture-dependent advice in how to navigate the social dynamics of this.
    – Arno
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 3:55

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While overall it seems prudent to minimize any future inactions with these people, getting this paper might be worth it to engage a little bit longer. You have your degree, and thereby the power of your former professor over you is significantly diminished.

For this publication, there are two independent things to do before interaction with them further.

One, make sure that you have all the relevant document of your work on the project in safe spot. You don't want to find that your draft on the university's SVN is suddenly gone without a trace, something like that. With the conference presentation already out there, you are in a very good spot anyway.

Two, make a rough tally of what work still needs to be done for the article, and who could do that. If there is a lot more work to do, then letting the other student do it in exchange for first authorship might be a better course of action than fighting for it and doing it yourself. In the rest of my answer, I assume that her earning it isn't a feasible option.

Having done those two things, you calmly point out to the professor and other student that you have ample evidence of your crucial contributions to the project, and that any attempt of them to submit the paper without you will end up with you pointing this out to the relevant editors, which will then look very, very bad for them. Instead, provide a simple plan involving limited interaction for how this paper is going to come to be, if at all.

One important question is whether the professor and/or the other student themselves can make a decent claim to authorship rights. The answer is probably yes for at least the professor, and that means that just as they cannot publish without your approval, you can't publish without them either. Do consider whether you are prepared to walk away without the paper happening.

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