I was working with my advisor on a research topic for six months and we had some results. The important idea was his, but the initial idea was mine and we worked on it together. Now my advisor has published the results without my name in the authors. The paper is in an important conference.

What do I do ? Is this normal ? Should I talk to my advisor about how I get my name in a paper ? How do I approach that topic ?

I'm his only PhD student and he has joined the department recently.

Edit : The paper was written by my advisor but we derived the results together, although his contribution was more important. He included my name in acknowledgements. Should I risk upsetting my relationship with my advisor over this ?

  • 17
    Yes, you should talk to your advisor as soon as possible. It is hard to say more than this without knowing lots of things about your particular situation that you may not want to divulge. May 7, 2014 at 0:53
  • @PeteL.Clark what other things about my situation are relevant to your answer?
    – anonymous
    May 7, 2014 at 0:59
  • 6
    Is this normal ? No!
    – Mad Jack
    May 7, 2014 at 1:10
  • 1
    The above is not an exact duplicate, but perhaps it can be edited to be more general...
    – ff524
    May 7, 2014 at 1:20
  • 10
    @anonymous: Without being able to see the actual work done it is hard to see how anyone could confidently agree or disagree with your advisor's decision. May 7, 2014 at 1:39

2 Answers 2


You asked,

Is this normal?

The answer is no, it's not normal. If two people work on some research together, the "normal" thing is for them to write the paper on it together, and for both to be authors on the paper.

It's possible that you seriously overestimated your contribution to the work and don't actually deserve authorship. Even in this case, it's clear you were involved in the research and it's not normal for your advisor to go ahead and publish it without discussing it with you first.

(When I publish work that involves students whose small contributions do not warrant authorship, I always discuss it with them first. I explain why I don't think they can be an author, give them a chance to state any disagreement, and also tell them what additional work they could do in order to merit authorship.)

However, the latter (your contributions did not merit authorship, and your advisor failed to discuss this with you) is somewhat more forgivable than the former (your contributions did merit authorship and your advisor published without you anyways). (You do say your advisor is new, and probably inexperienced in advising.)

To answer

What do I do?

You should talk to your advisor. This is the only way to really understand which case you are dealing with.

You can bring this up in a non-combative way without upsetting your advisor; for example, you can ask "What do I need to do in order to deserve authorship on future papers?" This gives your advisor an opening to discuss why he thinks you didn't deserve authorship on the conference paper, and for you to respectfully state your perception of the situation.

There may still be a chance for you to get some credit for this work, if you come to agree with his point of view that you didn't do enough to deserve authorship on the conference paper. For example, once you and your advisor have come to an agreement on what it takes to get authorship, you can propose that the two of you work together on an extended version of his conference paper for a journal - on which you will be an author :)

Unfortunately, it's also possible that after this conversation you believe you did deserve authorship, and that your advisor published your joint work without you for no valid reason (i.e., committed misconduct). In this case, the best advice I can give you is to start looking for another advisor.

Finally, the lesson for the future is: talk to your collaborators about authorship early and often.

  • 5
    @rocinante I wrote this answer based on my (ongoing) experience in academia, which is that most advisors are decent. This does not deny that some advisors are bad; I just think it's more helpful/productive to start from a position of "maybe I can have a reasonable conversation with my advisor about this" than to start from "my advisor is bad and won't listen to me anyways"
    – ff524
    May 7, 2014 at 5:06
  • 1
    @rocinante trolling much ? or rather "citation needed" for "site is heavily skewed to ignore or shut down any hint of criticism of professors in academia"
    – Suresh
    May 7, 2014 at 5:45
  • @Suresh I took the liberty to take this question to meta: meta.academia.stackexchange.com/questions/949/…
    – xLeitix
    May 7, 2014 at 6:47

A previous answer here (now deleted) states an unfortunate truth of the matter—what your advisor did was wrong, but rectifying the situation could be very complicated.

The primary issue is whether or not the paper has been formally published in the conference proceedings. Once that has happened, it's too late to change the authorship credits. Basically, any such move would lead to retraction—which, as has been established on this site and many others, such as Retraction Watch, is a huge black mark in the career of any academic.

We don't have all the information here, so it's impossible to say for certain if you've done enough work to merit co-author credit, but let us assume for the sake of argument here that you do. The challenge here is that, unlike ff524, I do not believe that there's likely to be any sort of positive resolution here. Not including you as a co-author on a publication (conference paper) is either incompetence or unscrupulous. In either case, the relationship between you and your advisor is probably not going to be a fruitful one in the future. (If your advisor is incompetent, you shouldn't be working for him; the same applies double if your advisor is unscrupulous.)

If it's possible, I would suggest finding yourself a new advisor.

  • Just to be clear, I agree that if the OP did deserve authorship on the conference paper he should find a new advisor. The positive resolution is only if OP and advisor come to an agreement that the original contributions didn't merit authorship, and also agree for the future on what does. In any case, I think a conversation with the advisor is the first step to finding out what happened.
    – ff524
    May 7, 2014 at 23:17
  • This is true—talking to the advisor will explain what the advisor was thinking. But I don't see how the relationship is salvageable if the student believes he should get credit, even if the advisor disagreed and has a justifiable argument.
    – aeismail
    May 7, 2014 at 23:23
  • I do think if it was a borderline case, the relationship may be salvageable. Maybe I just have an overly high tolerance for inexperienced but well-intentioned advisors...
    – ff524
    May 7, 2014 at 23:30
  • If maintaining relationships is more important than the authorship, a possible resolution would be for the OP to acknowledge that he does not deserve authorship in the paper and ask for advice from his advisor on "rules of authorship". This sets the stage for the future. By sacrificing one authorship, you get a better chance of being treated fairly in the next few years.
    – user507
    May 8, 2014 at 3:40
  • 1
    @RJ- Sorry, I have to disagreed with that. I don't see why it is a good idea for "the OP to acknowledge that he does not deserve authorship in the paper" if he thinks he does. Sure, he can ask what is advisor considers suitable criteria for authorship, but that's a completely separately issue. May 8, 2014 at 17:39

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