A while ago I presented at a conference where a recent PhD gave a presentation co-authored with his professor. The talk, which was about a topic similar to that of my own talk, was good. The presenter had to leave the conference early due to some other commitment, so I didn't speak with him. His professor approached me and said he liked my talk and that as we were working on similar things, maybe a collaboration could be possible. I said sure.

A few weeks later, the professor emailed me and suggested a Zoom call to discuss a potential collaborative conference paper (him, his recent PhD student, and me). In the call, we agreed to submit a paper. The recent PhD said very little in the call. The professor had a few ideas for analyses which seemed to me to be impractical/difficult to conduct. I said "I can do XYZ on the paper, but if you want to do those additional analyses, that is fine with me". He said he would. If the paper would be accepted, the professor would attend and present. The conference is far away from where I am and I don't have funding to travel there.

The professor then set up a shared document outline which stated who would write what part of the paper. It looked like this, more or less:

  1. Introduction (Professor)
  2. Review of literature (Professor)
  3. Analysis A (recent PhD grad)
  4. Analysis B (me)
  5. New analysis (Professor)
  6. Possible additional new analysis (Professor)
  7. Discussion (Professor)

At this time it was 2 months before submission deadline. I wrote Section 4 and added my references approximately a month prior to the deadline. 8 days before the submission deadline, nothing else had been added. I emailed the two and asked them what was going on. The PhD grad added his section, which was good, in the next few days. The professor added some content which was a mess - it contained many errors and was largely irrelevant. Upon seeing this, it became clear to me that the recent PhD knew about this topic, but the professor did not. The professor wrote he had been ill and would add additional content in the next few days. A day before the deadline, the professor had added nothing more. I very hastily wrote an introduction, literature review, and discussion (omitting Sections 5 and 6). I removed the irrelevant and error-filled paragraphs that had been added by the professor. I wrote an email stating that I was surprised that he had done nothing, but we could submit the content as a short paper, if necessary.

The next day the deadline for submissions was pushed back. The professor wrote "I'm sorry they didn't announce the change in the deadline, which I knew was coming, earlier. I will add my content in the next few days. I would like the authorship order to be PhD grad, you, me". I wrote back okay.

Now, with 2 days until the deadline, the professor has added nothing. I have decided I don't want to pursue any further collaboration with the professor. Which would be the best option for me?

  1. Let the professor do whatever he wants. If he adds something, fine. If not, also fine. Don't contact them again.
  2. Ask the professor not to add anything additionally, stating that it is enough to have a short paper. Otherwise, let him do what he wants and don't contact them again. My concern here is he would again add low quality content that I would have to change.
  3. Tell the professor that the authorship should be PhD grad, me. We can mention his name in an acknowledgement.
  4. Tell them I've changed my mind, remove all of my content from the paper and ask to be removed as co-author. Don't contact them again.
  • 1
    If possible, talk to one or both of them on Zoom again in the next day, and figure out what is happening. If that is not possible, try to talk to just one of them.
    – gib
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 9:00
  • 4
    How is this gaslighting?
    – Cheery
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 11:35
  • Have you asked recent PhD how they want to handle this?
    – Dawn
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 14:39
  • @observer your post is super long, I tried to shorten it to make it easier to read and understand, and subsequently increase the chance of a good answer. I don't know why you changed it back. The post would profit greatly from being only half as long and much more concise.
    – Sursula
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 15:12
  • Sursula you changed the text significantly and made it grammatically incoherent. If it's too hard for you to read more than a few lines, maybe just move on to a different post?
    – Observer
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 15:42

1 Answer 1


Collaboration often poses challenges when individuals do not engage as anticipated. it is important to approach the conclusion of such projects with a positive and constructive mindset. The matter of authorship and the sequence of authors can become ambiguous, particularly in inter-institutional collaborations.

Science fiction author Larry Niven once said at a convention panel:

"A collaboration is a case where two authors each do 90% of the work." (see https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/191158/how-to-sustain-and-realize-a-collaboration#:~:text=SF%20author%20Larry%20Niven%20said,do%2090%25%20of%20the%20work.)

Given this perspective, my recommendation (though it is more of a suggestion than a definitive answer, as it might be subjective) is to wrap up the paper without further waiting for co-author input. Submit it with all three of your names, and if your contribution was significant, you could rightfully claim the position of the first author.

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