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I'm early in my career (undergrad in US) and I coauthored a paper with a graduate student. The paper is not groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, but it is my first publishable(?) research and I am proud it.

He was about to defend when we submitted the paper, so he assured me that we would resubmit if rejected, despite the rush around the defense time. The paper got rejected, but he successfully defended and left to a private research lab. Despite trying to reach him, I haven't gotten any response since a short thank you note (for helping with research, surprisingly) replying to my email congratulating him on the defense. He is occasionally active on Github. The only versions I could find of this paper are the current one on arxiv, which is an old copy without my name on it, or the unlabelled copy we submitted to the journal. The latex was on overleaf, but that seems to be unshared with me.

I'm at a loss as to what to do or why this happened. He even invited me to his defense and thanked me in the dissertation. His advisor is somewhat scary (blunt perhaps? he's quite famous and comes across as though he doesn't have time for anyone beyond his highest preforming PhD students), so I'm not sure if I should email him.

If I somehow get access to the paper (or copy it from the journal pdf to latex manually), would it be unethical to try to modify and resubmit by myself. The PhD student would definitely be an author given his contributions, but likely would have to focus on his current job if he even responds.

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  • If your coauthor is absolutely determined not to publish the paper, there is nothing you can do but to move on and write other papers. But... there is always a chance that your coauthor will change his mind. This has happened to me: I had to wait for 3 years... Commented May 3, 2023 at 15:17
  • I disagree. It goes both ways. The OP can't publish the coauthor's name without consent. The coauthor does not get to hold the paper hostage indefinitely.
    – Cheery
    Commented May 4, 2023 at 14:32
  • So at what point can I move on and continue with the paper?
    – aome
    Commented May 5, 2023 at 6:16

3 Answers 3

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You cannot submit a paper without the consent of all authors. When submitting, you normally have to confirm that all authors have read the final version and approve of submitting it to the journal. Not having consent of everyone--but telling a journal you do--is thus not only highly unethical but fraudulent.

It is unarguably not an ideal situation for you, but you should keep on trying to contact him and/or the advisor, who might at least be able to shed some light on the situation. Even though they might be intimidating, a request such as yours is perfectly reasonable and I would not be afraid to contact them.

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  • So if he no longer wants to work on the paper, is it dead in the water?
    – aome
    Commented May 3, 2023 at 7:08
  • @xxxxxxxxx If he continues to be unresponsive, is there a certain point at which I can move on with the research and submit?
    – aome
    Commented May 5, 2023 at 6:14
  • @aome I don't think there is. Or maybe only after a much too long time. I wouldn't count on uit.
    – Sursula
    Commented May 5, 2023 at 6:32
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If this were my problem, I would waltz right in his advisor's office and ask if he's heard from my coauthor. If so, I'd explain the situation and see if he could meditate the situation at all, if I can't reach my coauthor. I wouldn't care how intimidating their advisor is, who they are, or what their reputation is, I have work that needs publishing and I won't let someone's attitude get in the way of that.

This doesn't mean you be mean of course, but you must be assertive go and speak to them in person and see if you can work this out.

Just as a note, this is why you also gotta be friends with your coworkers, sometimes. I've never met my other mentor/coworker (he's in NYC, I'm in Atlanta), but he's also my friend. I can text or call him, we text pretty much every day, we usually have weekly meetings. So while we're coworkers, we're also friends. My point, is that having a good personal relationship (even is you're not close "friends") is equally as important as a functional and good professional relationship. That way, you'd have a clear communication channel set up, instead of working with someone (it seems like) you don't know very well.

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  • I'd say I was friends with my coauthor. That's what makes the entire situation more mystifying.
    – aome
    Commented May 4, 2023 at 5:31
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You can't submit the paper without the approval of all authors. It will generally violate publisher policies, and if the journal finds out that some authors actually don't approve of the submission, expect the manuscript to be desk rejected. Either you excise their contribution and submit without them, or you are stuck.

On the other hand, you can try harder to contact them. From your description it doesn't seem like you've tried very hard. Other things you can do are:

  • Give him a phone call.
  • Contact their supervisor. It sounds like you're intimidated by their fearsome reputation, but if you specifically need their help (this issue should qualify; they are only of only a few people that can help) then you should not worry about contacting them.
  • Contact their department receptionist.
  • Contact their office mates (i.e., other people sharing their office), if you can tell who they are.

Someone should be able to help you contact your co-author.

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