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I'm in a tight spot: My advisor gave me an ultimatum of sorts—two projects (A, B), each with its own unique complexities and looming deadlines. My funding does not comes from these two research projects neither my PI. I have another serious project C and I funded by this project C which my PI is not included.

I was told that I should and required to submit at least one paper for the nearest top conference. But I have another serious deliverables for the upcoming milestone for my funded project C.

To complicate matters further, each project has a different publication or deliverable outlet and timeframe. My advisor made it clear that a publication is mandatory, and there's a possibility of extending my RA if I can deliver. (which is unnecessary for now, it's just his thought) We, the project group, already discussed about the plan ahead for the future deliverables for this funded project C.

What makes me frustrating is my PI does not care about the project C deliverables. He subtly implied that I could co-first author with another PhD in the project group for paper A, even if it means taking a backseat. And he said it will make the another PI happy and I would be able to get extended funding. I personally don't understand why he is mentioning this. Even the PI for project C is not interested in the paper, the deliverables are more crucial for him.

I'm at a crossroads. I feel like I can't manage two different directions, definitely the paper publication can't be priority for project-wise. We, the project group C, are crossing red-zone, and I need to fully focus on this project C in order to meet the deadlines for deliverables. But, my PI does not or refused to understand.

Although, My PI is also avoiding this kind of conversation. Since my advisor is not funding me, I feel like I should assign the another co-advisor from the project group in order to just driving an effort fully on project C. Any advice will be appreciated.

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Research administrator here based in the US. This is what I would generally say to a PI who presents me with the reimbursement for publishing costs or a conference trip where the effort of the individual does not match the publication's acknowledgments.

In terms of grants and contracts, there is usually some requirement that your effort that is charged to an award (i.e., your salary) must represent your time. Though it sounds obvious, it is an imperfect system. Not for nothing, we look at effort as 100% regardless of number of hours. In academia, few people are hitting 35 or 40 hrs/week. I've seen PIs claim they work more than 80hrs every week, and thus 10hrs is not 25-29%, but rather 12.5%. That's not how it works. We generally look at percent up front and apply it to the base that the institution uses.

So, if you or a PI tell me this story about how you spend your time on project C, you are costed to project C 100% (another red flag in academia--it suggests you will never take on any other project), I then expect all of your publications to cite the funding for this project. In the event that a PI presents a publication to me without an acknowledgment that ties to the correct funding source, I won't pay out associated costs.

Not all research administrators work this way, however, technically it is a violation of the terms and conditions of most awards to pay for someone's effort if they aren't actually working on the grant. I personally judge that by the fact that the publications are unwilling to acknowledge the funding. If there is even a small of effort somewhere else, it makes it possible for another project to be part of the equation.

I have of course had PIs who then say, "I'll cite all my projects on everything." This leads to another problem, which I note to them -- you now need to include this publication in your progress report. Will your program officer find that strange? I have found that to be the least confrontational approach to get PIs to think through the process. Essentially, I'm not saying you can't cite these publications to every grant, but technically you are the one who will be embarrassed if it's not acceptable to a Program Officer, not me.

So in this case, if I were administering the lab's finances, I would be pressing the PI on why someone is pumping out citations for projects A and B when they aren't relevant to project C. That's generally in violation of cost principles, and I can say for US federal grants, is in violation of Uniform Guidance, and your institution's policies (which would respond to Uniform Guidance). Other countries probably have something similar to regulate allocations.

You could do the direct approach about co-authoring and how you spend your time. However, as an administrator, I'm wondering why we're violating policies and contracts -- at some point the PI has to choose. The PI can move you to project A and B, and you may not like that, but at least that is ethical. My bias, due to my role, is not to press on the personal approach (i.e., in my mind, I don't really think about what you want) -- I just want a logical answer to the contractual obligations. If you are 100% on Project C, according to Uniform Guidance, you aren't not allowed to work on other projects. If projects A and B are important, realign expectations and charge the funds appropriately.

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  • I think I may not explained fully enough for co-authorship. What he meant was just make write PhD student as a co-first author in project C so that the PI in the project can be happy about it. And the project A and B don’t have funding those were basically lab-wise project only for publications.
    – jakthesa
    Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 3:57
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    My immediate reaction to the question was: If you're being paid to work full-time on project C, then you should work full-time on project C. That seems to be the "bottom line" of this answer, so +1. Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 6:43

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