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I worked in a research institute a few years ago. Since then, circumstances of life led me to work now in a small consultancy.

A former collaborator reached out saying they're publishing a paper for which I'd be a co-author, and asked for my email and current affiliation. Co-authorship would be entirely based on past work I did at my previous employer (i.e. work I did at the research institute and not work I'll be doing now).

A first doubt comes from reading the [affiliation] tag's description here in the website:

An affiliation is a contractual connection between an academic institution and a student or an employee.

The place I work at is not academic. Does this pre-empt this whole conversation?

If not: in broad terms, the field where I'm now in is the same. However the place where I'm at (and the sub-field in which we work) is not really functional to my desired career trajectory – for example, as I'm looking for a new position, I have to make a bit of a stretch when I describe my current role in my CV.

This means that I'm not sure I want to appear as affiliated to my current company on that paper – also considering that it would be my first peer-reviewed publication (I'm not looking to get into universities in the future but my career plan sees me in contexts that collaborate very closely with academia, so in theory it might not be the last one).

So the point is:

  • Am I overthinking it (i.e. should I just use my current affiliation and nobody would even care)?
  • If it makes sense, based on my situation, not to want to appear with my current company, what is the best way to tell this to the person who reached out to me? Would something like "I'd prefer to appear as unaffilated/independent, if the journal allows to" make sense? I'm really not familiar with this situation.
  • Any other suggestions?
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    Putting your affiliation means the work is done with all the formal authorizations. When you signed your contract with your current employer, you may have agreed on a clause that everything you create belongs to the company. Double check this, otherwise it can be a formal mess.
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 4, 2023 at 8:56
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    Will you be a co-author because of your past work or because of new work you need to perform? If it is old work, use the old affiliation and a personal email.
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 4, 2023 at 8:59
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    @EarlGrey Even if he did sign a contract that says everything you create belongs to the company (not generally legally enforceable as such, but still common), it sounds like his only input to this article is to provide a current e-mail and affiliation. That would under no circumstances make the article the property of his current employer. Also, adding an affiliation does not imply any formal authorisations in many places – it often just means ‘this is where this person currently works’. Aug 4, 2023 at 20:54
  • @JanusBahsJacquet not that easy. "Affiliation The primary affiliation for each author should be the institution where the majority of their work was done. If an author has subsequently moved, the current address may additionally be stated. Addresses will not be updated or changed after publication of the article." example of "affiliation description" from a Springer Journal ( springer.com/journal/11145/submission-guidelines )
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 7, 2023 at 10:04

4 Answers 4

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I don't know the standard in every field, but the approach I tend to see in chemistry, physics, and mathematics is:

  1. Put the place at which you did the research as the 'main' affiliation.
  2. Add a footnote with "Current affiliation", or "Current address" or something with your updated contact information.

I can't find any specific papers at a glance that do this, as it's not especially common, but some related posts on this site support the principle.

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    This is roughly the answer I would give (from the physics/engineering border) but would note that I have encountered journals that display this the other way: current affiliation in the header and a "was at Miskatonic U when this work was done" as a footnote. But the final layout is busy-work for the editorial staff, just make sure it's clear which is which in the submission.
    – Lou Knee
    Aug 5, 2023 at 12:14
  • I agree. This happened recently with me. A coworker was publishing work I assissted with, and has nothing at all to do with my current employer. My affilliation is down as my previous. To my mind, publishing with your current employer is them giving (at least) tacit approval for the work.
    – masher
    Aug 9, 2023 at 13:01
  • +1 from biomedical experience as well.
    – Argalatyr
    Aug 10, 2023 at 1:49
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You're overthinking this. An "affiliation" is a way to get in contact with you. It's usually your employer, but plenty of people do not have an employer (e.g., they are retired) or for a variety of reasons do not want their employer listed (e.g., they did the research on the weekends, independent of their employment). In other words, the description you quote from the journal's page is wrong and incomplete because it does not account for the breadth of possible authors: Not every author is affiliated with a university.

So, you can just provide your home address, or simply an email address. I've got a paper where one of my co-authors simply lists his email address and the town in Germany where he lives, and that's all that was necessary (see the first author here).

In other words: Don't fret over the affiliation thing and enjoy being asked to be a co-author on a scientific publication!

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    Although the "submitting paper for review" forms 99% of the time asks about current affiliation, I always think of affiliation as "where was the author affiliated when they did the work". In one instance, my co-author suddenly left this world, so I should have written "hell" in the affiliation (as per their strong belief and religious antagonism), according to the forms formulation.
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 4, 2023 at 13:07
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    I'm not sure I can agree with this. There was, presumably, an institution that supported the work of this co-author by providing a job and space, minimally. That institution deserves recognition for this, because it is really part of their portfolio. I'd go, as recommended in some of the other answers, with the affiliation to the school that supported the work, and a "current affiliation" footnote. Aug 4, 2023 at 20:21
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    Note: the description quoted is from this site, not the journal’s website. It’s the description for the affiliation tag here on Academia.SE. Aug 4, 2023 at 20:57
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    @EarlGrey Journals use a deceased author footnote for that case exactly, to show you can't contact them, and to indicate the author was unable to provide final approval of the work. This goes to the broader point, which is you can footnote changes in affiliation and make everybody happy.
    – user71659
    Aug 4, 2023 at 22:13
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    @JannikPitt statistically speaking, review times are long enough that one may die between submission and final acceptance.
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 7, 2023 at 10:01
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On one hand, if you are a co-author because of the work you did in the past, then the affiliation is the old affiliation at the research institute. The affiliation refers mostly to where you performed the work. This is the APA standard, 7th edition:

the author affiliation identifies where the author worked or studied when the research was conducted … If an author’s affiliation has changed, give current affiliation in the author note.

If, on the other hand, you are asked to be a co-author and you will contribute with some new work, you need to put your actual affiliation.

The best way is to ask for a guest affiliation at your former department, because copyright and all the intellectual rights can be complex, if you put your current company as affiliation. The company may have some claim about the intellectual work which clashes with the publishing license.

To get a guest affiliation at the uni, you should probably ask your company HR responsible person if they agree (especially if you are a full-time employee).

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  • Thanks. I now realise that it wasn't clear in the original post: co-authorship is completely based on work done in the past when I was working in that other place (updating my post to specify this). Now this makes me wonder... why would I be asked my current affiliation, then? Does it make sense to you? Extra info (not sure if useful): the collaborator who reached out to me is not based in my previous department, but rather in a completely different institute
    – Matteo
    Aug 4, 2023 at 11:22
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    You are way overthinking the particular wording of your co-author's email. You should instead imagine that they asked which email and affiliation they should put on the paper and ignore the word "current" in their email, which seems to be the main source of your confusion/overthinking.
    – Pilcrow
    Aug 4, 2023 at 11:35
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    It is NOT true in my field that affiliation is mostly about where you did the work. Aug 4, 2023 at 15:36
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    @AlexanderWoo good point. Hypothetical question: if your co-author agreed to submit a paper for review, and during preparation of the manuscript your co-author dies, what do you put as affiliation (hypotethical question based on my unfortunate personal experience as first author of such paper)? I was tempted to put "Hell" (and I knew the co-author enough to know they would have enjoyed such affiliation ;) ) ...
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 4, 2023 at 16:15
  • This is tricky. If the deceased author is identified with a place, then it seems reasonable that they keep that affiliation - after all, the John Smith who was a professor at X University for many years will still be thought of as John Smith from X University for quite a few years, and this is a good way to distinguish them from John Smith at Y University. (I just looked - my advisor's advisor kept his affiliation in his only posthumous paper.) But if there is not longstanding connection - I think "(Deceased)" would be best. Aug 4, 2023 at 16:57
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We use "independent researcher" for these authors.

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