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I asked the same question 3 months ago. I am a Ph.D. student in mathematics and am suffering from a problem. My coauthor has not responded for 2 months, and as a result, I am unable to submit the paper without his consent. It has been almost seven months since I completed the paper and sent it to him. I am requesting that he proofread and make any possible language changes before submitting it to the journal. When I asked the same question three months ago, I got some of his reply, and he promised to finalize the paper (i.e., proofreading and language) in 15 days. But again, two months passed with no reply, even after four emails were sent to him. A total of seven months passed in this way.

He is a professor. We live in different countries, so no physical meeting is possible. We just met once at a conference. Despite our verbal agreement to work together on the project, let me tell you that I did all of the writing and editing for the paper, and he only assisted with proofreading, which revealed some errors that I then fixed on my own. I still offered him the authorship, and he accepted it eagerly.

Since it has been seven months and I have already mentioned it in my profile about the title of the paper, I have even cited that paper in my other new paper and have used some concepts from that paper, so I told him that even you have less time then at least submit the paper in some database like arXiv, etc. But he is telling, people can steal the work from arXiv, and that is why he doesn't prefer arXiv. I don't find it a very reasonable comment, though. In my opinion, he is very good in terms of ethics. He has good publications in reputed journals in mathematics. But very irregular in cooperation.

What choices do I have? Without his approval, I am unable to submit the manuscript to arXiv or a journal. However, I can't just leave the work undocumented for a very long time. To claim our work, it should at the very least be stored in ArXiv. Besides that, I am a Ph.D. student and I need publications.

Any suggestions would be helpful.

Edit: I live in Asia and he lives in Europe. So it not economically suitable for me to set up an in-person visit. This situation occurred before as well, he will not reply one or two months and then suddenly replied. He even proposed a post doctoral position to me if possible. But the question is even if he busy, he can just tell me that I will do it later so that I can be assured that he is in collaboration. About 6 months ago, i said him that my supervisor has read my paper and proofread on the language part, should I offer my supervisor an authorship, but he said not but we will acknowledge your supervisor. I agreed with him. This shows he doesn't want others to involve in the paper, but he is not doing the final action, completely keeping me immovable.

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    What means are you communicating: emails? Any other? Jun 7, 2023 at 18:52
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    Do you actually need this person to proofread? Or just approve the paper? If you had someone else proofread, would they just approve?
    – Dawn
    Jun 7, 2023 at 19:20
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    @semmyk-research, yes through email. After getting no reply, I have also sent a message through researchgate profile because both of following each other.
    – learner
    Jun 7, 2023 at 23:17
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    @Dawn, I don't need much the professor for proofread, if he is busy i can submit the paper after proofread. I have mentioned him that I have grammar software to check grammar. But he is not going in any direction? I am completely unmoved by his ignorance
    – learner
    Jun 7, 2023 at 23:20
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    I would take the proofreading out of the request. Proofreading is not a job for a senior scholar. If you need proofreading, you should work with your main supervisors to find a proofreading service. Personally, if I have to proofread for someone who is not a native English speaker, that can take a lot of work. Then you can assure the co-author that all you need him to do is a quick read to make sure the changes you made are technically correct and approve the submission.
    – Dawn
    Jun 8, 2023 at 1:43

8 Answers 8

7

You want the simplest possible request.

I would take the proofreading out of the request. Proofreading is not a job for a senior scholar. If you need proofreading, you should work with your main supervisors to find a proofreading service. Personally, if I have to proofread for someone who is not a native English speaker, that can take a lot of work. You said in a previous comment that the co-author mentioned wanting to proofread. This is probably because he is not happy with the current state of the writing. If you can improve the writing, you can make his task easier.

Then you can assure the co-author that all you need him to do is a quick read to make sure the changes you made based on your previous technical discussions are correct. This is the fastest way to get him to approve the submission.

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    Yes, that is what I will do. I will write it more appropriately, i can use grammer software as well. Then I will send it to him. Even in that case, I get no reply, I will proceed to take a decision. But I hope for better right now
    – learner
    Jun 8, 2023 at 7:16
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    I had to proof-read an article which was written by a non-native English speaker and it can be much more arduous than you think as you have to understand what they meant to say and then think of a way to re-word it so that it sounds better without changing the intended meaning.
    – Tom
    Jun 8, 2023 at 12:42
  • Very much this! In a previous book I edited, one 40-page article, written by an Italian, took at least three months to proofread – and I’m not just talking about occasional work when I could find the time here. I was working as the editor for the publisher, and I probably spent at least 200 hours of actual, effective proofreading time on that one article alone. Even if the writer’s English isn’t terrible (as @learner’s doesn’t seem to be), it can still be enough that trying to correct it reveals hundreds of passages that actually aren’t fully understandable when you look closer. Jun 8, 2023 at 14:59
  • @Tom, i am not disagree that I might have badly written that paper. Though I have checked several times and my supervisor as well checked. It is not that as you perhaps guessed. But the problem is that he is not responding since 2 months and this same situation happened quite few times in the last 1 years. What I want is that he should reply me that I need time. This is completely unjustified
    – learner
    Jun 8, 2023 at 16:48
  • ''This is completely unjustified'' Stuff like this is quite common in academia. I had to wait a year or longer before I could finally publish a paper which I worked on with three busy colleagues (two of them not especially good at writing in English).
    – Tom
    Jun 8, 2023 at 17:28
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Practically, to ensure you’re getting through

  • Check your coauthor hasn’t changed jobs (google & look at recent papers) and thus primary email address.
  • Email them at every email address you have for them
  • Email them from a different account - sometimes email from some domains can be silently blocked by university mail filters

Assuming you are

  • Presumably your colleague is busy so write a short message that’s quickly actionable
  • Ask directly whether they still wish to participate in the project
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    He is a established mathematician in Europe, so I think he didn't change the job 2 months because we had conversation two months ago. I have emailed through other email ID which I did before as well because the same situation occurred over the last year. He will reply after keeping off him for a certain time. At the least I can send an email to his colleague who works at the same University. But I am thinking where it would be good or bad approach?
    – learner
    Jun 7, 2023 at 23:30
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I am sorry you're in this situation. It happens, for various reasons, that one collaborator holds up a project for a very long time (maybe they're a perfectionist and always take a long time/very busy right now/depressed or having health issues/etc). Unfortunately, there's no ethical way to proceed without some sort of consent from them. The most one can do is minimize their responsibilities and encourage them to speed things up, and in the future try to be more careful about selecting coauthors.

Some concrete ideas in your case are:

  1. Talk to your advisor for advice. If your advisor (or some other mentor) has a good relationship with this person, they may be able to encourage this person to speed things up and/or have specific advice on how to deal with them.

  2. Set up an online/phone conversation with your coauthor. Then you can try to (i) convince them why it's important for you to get this out soon and (ii) come up with a plan together to complete a draft expeditiously. Maybe you can get them to agree to a deadline where you will submit in say 2 months as is if there's no more feedback.

  3. Set up an in-person visit to/from this person for a few days so you can hammer out the paper then.

  4. If it really seems impossible to complete this in a timely manner, can you move some things from this paper to your new paper (or just repeat them)? It's also possible to cite a result and say this will be proven in a separate paper.

  5. An extreme option is ask your coauthor to publish part or all of the paper without them if they won't agree to any of the above. I don't know how reasonable that is in your situation (if they pointed out mathematical errors that you couldn't have found without them, that might be worth co-authorship, and in any case you did agree to co-authorship, so that should not be revoked unless all parties agree), but it will be harder for you to maintain a good relationship with them.

  6. Work on other things and try not to stress out about this project so much.

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    I built up the collaboration on my own effort. My supervisor don't know much him than me. Initially, it was supposed that I will include the paper in my thesis. But later I chosen to write my thesis on other published papers because he is delaying the issue. I have no phone contact, we discussed online zoom meeting twice so far and once through Skype. I have emailed from different email ID. Also through researchgate profile I send message which I did earlier also and he replied before.I know his colleague in his university. But would it be good to seek information about him from his colleague?
    – learner
    Jun 7, 2023 at 23:38
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    I know it is difficult to submit a paper in a journal without his consent. But I can i atleast submit it to arxiv database to secure the work ? In that case, if in future, have he doesn't want to be in authorship, can I remove the co-author from the paper? I'm not sure whether arxiv allows it or not.
    – learner
    Jun 7, 2023 at 23:42
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    No, you shouldn't submit it to the arXiv without his permission either.
    – Kimball
    Jun 7, 2023 at 23:56
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    But would it be good to seek information about him from his colleague? - If you think there might be a health issue etc, and want to verify he's okay, that seems reasonable. But I don't think you should tell his colleague to tell him to finish the project.
    – Kimball
    Jun 8, 2023 at 0:00
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    Thank you. I will wait more 2 weeks and send him emails to him again. He might have health issues which he had before as well (according to his previous message). He is a young professor though. But even after 2 weeks I do not get his reply I would contact his colleague to get some information about him.
    – learner
    Jun 8, 2023 at 0:47
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It's one of those tough luck in collaboration.

I'm in the same situation currently. I presented a paper in Dec 2020. Around May 2021, I received an invite to submit an extended paper to a A* in my field. I reached out to my MSc advisor (of well over a decade, more closer to 2 decades).

Long and short, after submitting for first round, we need to submit for 2nd round. It's been close to one and half years now. Fortunately, I got him engaging this week! Hopefully, he should read the revised manuscript this week and revert to me.

What choices do I have? Without his approval, I am unable to submit the manuscript...
Any suggestions would be helpful.

So in my case, though still rocky, the following have been of assistance

  • engage proactively and professionally on email, ensuring you keep all emotions out
  • leverage on alternate channel. I've had Zoom/Teams session. At times, I initiate this. It doesn't matter how long it last: 10, 20, 30 mins, 1 hrs.
    PS: we haven't had one for a while now
  • leverage on alternate space to communicate and keep it short, direct, focus.
    In my case, I initiate Signal and do the gentle nudging

Do check that you still have current contact. At times, people move on.
In my case, I was fortunate to know when my coauthor change university last year.


[Edit] I'm in agreement with @innisfree. He suggest ... short message that’s quickly actionable.
That has worked for so far on this long arduous journey. Still worked last week which resulted in my coauthor promising to read through today. I'm keeping fingers crossed.

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I had the exact same experience with my PhD advisor. Once per week I will write an ask if she had the time to check my manuscript. The authors were 4, 3 supervisors and me (PhD student that continued as a postdoc at her lab). It was the main publication of my PhD. Very few meetings, not answering on my emails. At some point she corrected it and then I realized that she just moved text (deacription of compound a placed for compound b, mix and match of time points). Clearly she did not read it (November 2022). I managed for her to submit it when I started calling after my contract has been completed (5 months after). It was extreme and very hurtful. I do not understand why she did it but this is it. I find it unprofessional. Anyways, call and call and call again. Good luck 🍀🍀

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  • Sorry that you have gone through the same situation. You know what makes difficult to bear, my co-author can respond me and can say that he needs more time so that I can be assured that he is in active mode, but he is not responding
    – learner
    Jun 8, 2023 at 16:54
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In addition to the other advice, it's worth reminding him why it's important to get the paper out the door sooner rather than later. You've mentioned it appearing in other parts of your work, which is a valid reason. Will you be applying for jobs this fall? Are you applying for a grant where this paper is an key part of your narrative? Concrete reasons why faster publication is important can be a good way to encourage (not guilt!) your coauthor to move a little quicker.

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  • Yes I mentioned some of it mentioned but I will wait next 15 days and then will email again and let him know my decision
    – learner
    Jun 9, 2023 at 13:06
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It is saddening to hear this. However, you should try contacting your co-author and have a lengthy discussion with him regarding this.

Try:

  • emailing the individual constantly (Every few days)
  • contacting his institution and doing a welfare check
  • find his other contact information
  • e-mail them from a different account
  • setting up a physical meeting with him
  • discuss if he wishes to participate in this project anymore

Good luck to you.

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  • Emailing constantly? Absolutely not appropriate.
    – innisfree
    Jun 8, 2023 at 1:28
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    I meant, not that kind of constantly, but after every few days Jun 9, 2023 at 6:59
  • @Overwatch321, thank you. I understand literally what you mean. Thank you for your answer.
    – learner
    Jun 9, 2023 at 13:02
  • Still not appropriate. I would genuinely find it disturbing, and depending on other circumstances possibly a form of harassment
    – innisfree
    Jun 10, 2023 at 1:46
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Use ChatGPT to improve the English style "Improve the grammar ...."

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  • Thank you for your suggestion. This will solve the problem at my end. But how do I solve the issue that my co-author is not responding since 2 months?
    – learner
    Jun 9, 2023 at 9:29
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    I would give them an ultimatum. That they respond within say, 2 weeks and if they don't you will assume that they are happy for you to take whatever action you feel necessary to progress the publication. This is reasonable on your part, and would only antagonise the thinnest of skinned individuals who you probably don't want to deal with any more anyway. Jun 9, 2023 at 12:29
  • Thank you for your suggestion. Yes I will write my paper with perfect way in terms of phrases. Then ask him to respond within 15 days. Otherwise I will proceed, infact I worked every thing in the paper, he just pointed out few error and i myself corrected those. By the way, i have been very polite every time I email him. I never used something that might offend him
    – learner
    Jun 9, 2023 at 13:05

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