I'm a graduate student in a biological sciences lab. About 6 months ago I started an after-hours (does such a thing exist?) project with a fellow graduate student in a different lab doing computational physics. We principally work on the weekends and late at night, and I like to think that the time we use would otherwise have been spent playing video games, drinking, etc (not doing lab work), but who really knows?

Our collaboration has been extraordinarily fruitful and we have one paper ~90% written, and a follow up ~50% written. Both are highly theoretical, and have no direct relation to our respective theses work. Also, both our PIs know and are supportive of us pursuing this project, and neither has so much as even hinted at wanting authorship. And neither is an expert (or even an amateur..) in physics.

1) Should we include our PIs? They could potentially contribute to editing and big picture, but are not able to even assess the validity of what we've accomplished. As an "experienced" graduate student I know they shouldn't be authors, but they are also making it possible for us spend our time thinking, and they've supported our endeavor at least in spirit.

2) Suppose our PIs are not included. We're just two graduate students. Is it even possible to get a fair review with neither of us having the requisite degrees? How do we pay for publication ($1000-5000)? I'm interested in the "meta" discussion as much, or more, than the ethical discussion. For example, there is a third faculty member in this area who we've had some discussion of the science with, and who is a computational physicist. Should we include him on the manuscript as a signature of credibility? Should he be last author or a middle author, if so? If there are any physicists perusing, I'd be particularly interested in your thoughts, as my experience in publishing has been solely in the biomedical journals so far.

Thanks for considering my dilemma.

  • 1
    Just a question about "How do we pay for publication": is there no decent journal in the relevant field that does not charges anything to publish? This would sounds surprising to me. Apr 30, 2014 at 20:01

2 Answers 2


Although these questions have been discussed before on this site, I think this is a slightly different case.

If you indeed work on this project outside of work hours and do not use university resources in any way, than this project is essentially a "hobby". In this case I would make an effort actually NOT to involve your advisors in any way, the same way you would not involve them in a manuscript you prepared about antique toys in your spare time. I think it would be good to keep a clear separation between work and non-work. Even in terms of technicalities like intellectual property this makes a big difference - if this research is associated with work, the university will usually own it, not you.

However, if you need actual relevant advice on the paper from an expert, I would ask an actual relevant expert rather than your advisors. Then, depending on his contribution and on the field, he may be added as an author or acknowledged.

Regarding publication fees, you could first try to look for a journal where the fee is not that high. Also, many journals are able to give a seriously discount or even waive charges for a good reason. You can ask prior to submission and explain the situation.

  • I've upped both answers, but awarding to this one. Both answers agree on the premises that the PIs should not be included. I appreciated the more measured recommendation here that we should consult an expert in this area and include him/her if their contribution is meaningful or substantial.
    – vector07
    Apr 30, 2014 at 17:11

There have been a number of discussions on this site about authorship, and looking at the tag will reveal them.

Ultimately, the conclusion of all those discussions has been that conventions on authorship are field-dependent and define "contribution" in different ways for different areas. In your case, it sounds like your advisors have both encouraged you to work together and have not requested authorship. Since the usual response to questions like yours would be 'ask your advisor', it sounds like they've answered, by saying that you don't need to include them. But I'd check with them anyway.

The remaining part of your question deals with purely tactical considerations: to whit,

Can augmenting the author list increase chances of the paper being accepted for publication ?

I think the consensus on this site, and in general, is that misrepresenting or exaggerating contributions for any reason would be considered quite unethical (where again contributions must be evaluated in a field-specific manner).

The work must stand or fall on its own merit, and be reviewed accordingly. It might be rare in your community for graduate students to author papers without PIs, but there's always a first time (and in my community it's quite common).

On the more mundane issue of paying for publication (I assume you're thinking of one of the open access journals that charge such an amount), that's a discussion for you to have with your advisor(s) before submission. They might suggest alternate journals, or even be willing to pay the fees (again, the equivalent would be a PI in my field paying for a student to attend a conference and present a paper not co-authored by the PI: this is also quite common)

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    I believe "you don't need to include them" is inaccurate - nothing in the original post indicates any contribution from the PIs that would make it ethical to include them as authors, even if they wanted it.
    – Peteris
    Apr 30, 2014 at 0:37
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    Right. I didn't want to rehash a discussion over contributions though since in some communities "I paid your salary" is a justification for authorship.
    – Suresh
    Apr 30, 2014 at 0:56
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    @Suresh: Or, for the sake of completeness, as this question makes it particularly clear the essential part of the research was done outside of "work hours" (thus the salary might be irrelevant), "I let you use the infrastructure" (e.g. file-sharing server) or "I paid the submission fee". Apr 30, 2014 at 8:33
  • This is not one of those cases where "the PI wrote the grant that pays your salary" applies.
    – aeismail
    Apr 30, 2014 at 14:21
  • I especially appreciate the remark "It might be rare in your community for graduate students to author papers without PIs, but there's always a first". If I remember, I will post a "resolution" when we get reviews back, i.e., did we get a fair review?
    – vector07
    Apr 30, 2014 at 17:16

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