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Approximately a few months ago, I was an intern in a research institute. One of the supervisors in a department became a PI of a project which seems to have huge implications. He needed help in performing simulation analysis and 3D modelling. As I was starting school soon, he persuaded me to work with him on this project, concurrently with my studies, telling me about the huge benefits of the project's impact and that he will include my name in the publication. Having the desire to really make an impact and wanting my name on the publication, I agreed to work on his project and extended my internship for another 4 months

During those few months, I worked tirelessly providing all sorts of simulation analysis, and from what I gather, this supervisor is good to work with. Fast forward, post 4 months, I've long ended my extended internship, and continued with my undergraduate study. 2 weeks ago, I asked him if he will be including me in the publication, he told me that 'it depends on whether the publication content has my contribution'.

Upon receiving that, my heart shattered still thinking that it's simply just a friendly way of saying 'no'. From that train of thought, it spiraled to hating myself onto putting my trust on to these people. I feel used. I feel exploited. I feel cheated.

Am I right to feel this way? Or am I simply overthinking about it.

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  • "he told me that 'it depends on whether the publication content has my contribution", that is the obviously correct thing to do in any case, but does not tell you anything about the actual paper you are interested in. You need the specific info about that paper. Have you discussed in detail what the current state of the preparations for publication of the results are? Is there a draft already circulating? Do you know who is responsible for writing? Etc. Jun 18, 2023 at 18:03

2 Answers 2

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This is an unfortunate situation. It sounds like you did quite a bit of work under the impression that authorship was a sure thing. Right now, I don't think you can do much, other than see how things shake out. You should, however, be persistent and stay in contact about this. Ask for more details on the paper and get a sense of how things are going. Be clear about your concerns.

"I worked extensively on this project under the impression I would be an author. Is there a way to make sure I am a part of the paper moving forward?"

is better than

"Will I be an author"

Keep in mind that papers can take a long time to put together and projects often stall for periods of time.

If time goes on and things do not go your way, you have a couple options. You could discuss with your PI how you feel and express that you would like to get a publication. I would shy away from any insinuation that you are owed authorship, but a frank conversation about your goals is good. Keep in mind that this experience can still be valuable. You can always talk about it in a future application even without a publication. And if your work was not published, you could ask to publish separately or present the work as a poster at a conference.

You can reach out to the department head if you really feel that you were taken advantage of (and don't mind burning bridges). This should probably be a last resort.

There is a big caveat here though. In my experience, undergraduate students sometimes vastly overestimate their contribution to a project (and how critical they are to its completion). On top of that, it takes some time and experience to learn to navigate authorship conversations. Your position may not have been as set in stone as you initially thought. None of this would be your fault - it's on your PI to guide you in these things - but its something to be aware of. This is especially important if your PI is acting in good faith (i.e. they were not exploiting you intentionally). If your contributions are not used, then you should not be author.

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There are two conflicting rights here.

First, a paper should only contain those as authors who have contributed materially and substantially to the contents.

Second, you were promised an authorship on a paper to be send to a rather prestigious outlet. You have a right to have this promise fulfilled.

How you get out of this conflict in a constructive manner depends on your situation. If you are not included among the authors, because your contributions were not used, then you are owed compensation. There is always a fudge factor when including authors, as for instance negative results can be quite valuable for the research process, but are usually not included in the final result. But if the PI with good will cannot include you as an author, they "owe" you another publication, maybe with you as the first author, or some other compensation. You can always bring this to the attention of a supervisor like the chair of the department, but don't expect a good outcome if the PI has decided against including you. From their putative perspective, there was a good chance of you getting on a good paper, but by bad luck, it did not work out, so nothing can be done.

Your best chance are: wait what really happens with the authorship. Then, if you are not an author, bring up your volunteer work and the promise of authorship and ask for compensation.

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    While the professor should not have promised authorship if it was not clear that the contributions would actually lead to authorship, I don't think that the OP is "owed" authorship.
    – sErISaNo
    Jun 21, 2023 at 5:40

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