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We have recently finished writing and submitting an article (I am the first author). When submitting the article, I uploaded the files and filled in the necessary information, but the final confirmation was done by the corresponding author (my PhD advisor).

Yesterday when I viewed the submitted article, I found that a new affiliation had been added to me. It is an academic research institution outside of and completely independent from my university, and I have never worked in that institution. All the work in the manuscript was done in my university, not in that institution.

However, my PhD advisor has a position in that institution, so I asked him why adding an institution that I do not belong to (and never notified me), and he simply replied that "the student's affiliation should follow the advisor's lab's affiliation", and he changed my uploaded files.

What should I do now? I feel that it is a kind of academic misconduct, is it correct? Will this have some negative impact on my future career if this article gets published and people find that I have never worked for that institution?

Update 1: Thank you all for the advices. I had a discussion with my advisor on this matter today (on message). He knew that I don't have a contract or email with that institute, but he still insist on adding that institute to me. He further said that all students in our lab need to add that institute. I checked with another labmate who has recently submitted a paper, and it is true, yet this labmate is not as concerned as me. I also asked my advisor whether that institute has a written policy that allows students of its stuff claim to be affiliated with it. He told me not to worry, he had already inquired about this matter. The discussion ended without reaching a consensus (yet it also ended peacefully).

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    I feel that it is a kind of academic misconduct, - I agree with Bryan's answer, but to address this directly, I don't think it's "academic misconduct" in that it's not really an ethical dilemma--it's unlikely the advisor would get any benefit from changing your affiliations. It's just a misunderstanding about what "affiliation" means.
    – Kimball
    Nov 20, 2023 at 13:16
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    To be affiliated with an institution you do not need to sit physically there. But it entitles you for a formal email, mail box, etc. Ask your advisors how to get these.
    – yarchik
    Nov 20, 2023 at 13:44
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    France has a number of laboratories are affiliated to two (or more) institutions, but a person is usually only employed by one of these. An agreement between the institutions indicates how the affiliations should be written in publications to reflect this fact. These affiliations are independent of the effective employer of the contributor. At some time in the past, we were supposed to put two separate affiliations. Nowadays, the general rule is a single affiliation mentionning all the institutions. The OP might be in a similar situation.
    – PLD
    Nov 20, 2023 at 16:58
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    @Kimball I am not sure whether my advisor would not get any benefit from changing my affiliations. I know some insititutes here require the stuff to put it at the "first" or "second" affiliation in order to give a high assessment score to the stuff (just like the first or second authorship, and of course, the first is best). Maybe my advisor is under some sort of pressure. But it's all my guess.
    – Cloudy
    Nov 20, 2023 at 23:26
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    Maybe that's one oh his funding sources, and some of that money funds his students, or equipment that they use. Nov 22, 2023 at 13:12

4 Answers 4

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Your advisor is likely wrong; your advisor's affiliation can include the other institute even if you are not affiliated and even if the work was done by you, but yours should only be your own affiliation. Affiliation doesn't only provide credit to the institution supporting the work but also serves as a disclosure. I can't explain why they are wrong about this except to say there is really no manual for how academia works, everyone just learns from their own advisor and colleagues unless they participate in a community like this one at Academia.SE. I've learned through participation here as well as from friends in other fields and institutions that a lot of things that I would think are normal everywhere based on my own experience are not actually normal, and that academia varies more than I would have known otherwise.

Alternatively, it's possible there is some way you sort of have an affiliation you don't know about, such as through the sources of your funding directly or indirectly, but hopefully your advisor would explain this better than they have based on your post.

I doubt this will ever harm you; don't claim this other affiliation in your CV/resume, but it's highly unlikely anyone will track this down. If they do and ask about it, you can simply say you did not work there but your advisor did and your advisor thought it should be included. If they feel this is a problem, you can agree that you found it strange but your advisor was insistent; anyone you would ever want to actually work with in the future would understand the power an advisor has and not hold this against you.

I would politely tell your advisor that you think your affiliation should be only your university, but that if they feel strongly otherwise you'll take their advice.

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    I agree with you, except for one point: they should insist that their affiliation is only with their organisation/university. The supervisor should absolutely acknowledge the second institution for themselves, but the OP shouldn't. What would happen if someone from the second institution came across the article? Or if the OP wanted to get a job at there? Far better to tell the truth, in my opinion—you never know when it might come up in the future... Nov 20, 2023 at 6:14
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    @isolatedmatrix I would follow the script I suggest in the second to last paragraph if that happened. You're right about how things should go, but I don't think this is serious enough to blow up a relationship with the supervisor. How far should OP insist? Do they threaten to quit their PhD? Threaten to take it up with the journal or their institution directly to have those authorities overrule the advisor? I don't think this boils down to truth and lies, but to where everyone is likely to expect OP to follow their advisor's guidance and blame the advisor for any error.
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 20, 2023 at 8:40
  • That's a fair point—going into conflict with a supervisor is not worth the effort. That being said, I meant 'insist' in the sense that they urge their supervisor to reconsider, not declare war against them. I don't know how much power people assume a supervisor has over decisions like that, though, so you could very well be right that, if it came up, that would be an acceptable excuse. The amount of support your comment has suggests you're right, so I will defer to your better judgement Nov 21, 2023 at 4:03
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    @isolatedmatrix I would say as little as possible unless I thought there was a real chance of convincing the advisor. The point being that at present OP can truthfully say if asked that the affiliation was added without their permission, whereas if they start a discussion and end up backing down it becomes less clear who is responsible. Nov 21, 2023 at 9:56
  • @EspeciallyLime another good point. I always err on the side of truth if I can, though, but that’s just a personal choice. Nov 21, 2023 at 14:50
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I suspect there may be a misunderstanding, on his or your part, about what "affiliation" means.

It may be that rather than parsing it as "a declaration of groups you are directly affiliated with", he's parsing it as meaning "a declaration of any directly or indirectly affiliated group that may have had an influence on your work". In that case, yes, it's fair for him to say that your advisor's affiliations may influence your work. If, say, his research was primarily funded by Nestle, nobody should take your word if you say "Nestle is super moral about All The Things". But the inverse is not true; your affiliations won't affect his nearly as much. That is: distrust and influence-taint are commutative, but only downhill.

That interpretation seems a reasonable and even likely one for someone to mistakenly come up with.

Still... any time a superior asks you to do something that might be unethical, you should have the request in writing, and your subsequent objection to it in writing.

Yes, getting it in writing can be awkward, and objecting can be awkward, but I find expressing uncertainty and asking for clarification to generally be the most tactful way of doing it. So in a situation like this, I'd ask for further clarification in email. In my writing style, I'd say something like:

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "the student's affiliation should follow the advisor's lab's affiliation". I'm not sure which of the following it means, if any - could you clarify?

  • You require me to lie about having this affiliation in order to publish (was my first knee-jerk interpretation, but honestly seems least likely: I admit it'd be completely out of character for you);
  • You interpret "affiliation" as a declaration of potential influence, rather than one of qualification (I strongly disagree with this interpretation, and in this case would like us to clarify this with the editor before continuing);
  • You think I already have this affiliation (I'm afraid I do not);
  • You require me to pay to acquire the missing affiliation, in order to publish (I do not intend to);
  • You require me to get it, but are willing to sponsor me to do so, in order to publish; or
  • Something else (this seems most likely, as I strongly feel I may have completely misunderstood - apologies in advance for that!).

[Obviously, write that in a way that would be aimed at your supervisor and your own writing style.]

But the point is, in asking a question like that, we'd be putting the onus for the "misunderstanding" on ourselves, allowing him to gracefully "clarify", even by entirely reversing his decision. We gave him 100% of the benefit of the doubt, and covered his ass well while keeping it documented. You've gracefully resolved it, without harming him or burning bridges.

In the unlikely case that he continues to openly insist that you lie, and declines to let you get clarification from the editor... well, what you do with his written response then is up to you.

A fairly low-friction path might then be to go on over his head to ask for clarification from his superiors, or from the journal's editor, stating in either case that you suspect that he might have misunderstood some instruction they gave him, and ask whether they could offer you both a clarifying correction.

However softly you couch it, though, this could have some really big repercussions from him, if his publishing history is long and filled with such knowingly-deliberate falsehoods. Retraction of papers, blacklisting, etc.

But honestly, that's fair. Because, if he is (and you are!) willing to knowingly and deliberately lie about something as significant as affiliation, then why should any other part of your paper be trusted, or any future paper?

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    I have published paper with my supervisor before. Previously all affiliations are correct. It's the first time I met this issue. And there are no history of paper retractions.
    – Cloudy
    Nov 22, 2023 at 0:59
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I think your advisor is wildly wrong, and you should protest to/contact the editor if you can risk the conflict ("I checked with the Ed, it is not necessary to... and I'd rather not because... "). It helps if this other institution is either exclusive (and presumably doesn't want "randoms" to claim affiliation) or controversial/opinionated (say, Templeton Foundation won't be acceptable to many I know, and you could argue it would hence potentially harm your employment prospects).

Case1: My supervisor had a dual affiliation (one uni, one research institute in another country), and I have never added that second affiliation to mine. It has never crossed my mind. That institute would not be happy if I'd done so; they want to select who/what their name gets attached to (if you turn out to be a fraud, they are tainted). I've regularly been a guest at that institute, but the programme director (first name basis, and a minor co-author) would have really not accepted this from me and definitely rebuked my supervisor for allowing it. This was in science.

Case2: My wife has a single university affiliation, and has PhD students in three different countries outside of her own (as second supervisor though, you sound like it's primary supervisor). No co-authored paper has ever had her university as affiliation for her students; I found in the first minute ten publications without the students' first supervisor as coauthor (so it's just her plus one or more students). The students would have to pay substantial fees to be real PhD students at her institute, so a claim without pay would not be acceptable. This is in humanities.

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  • Agreed. Just like the asker, I also think this very much does sound like academic misconduct. Giving an affiliation on a publication that you cannot actually back up is – to me – fraud. Nov 20, 2023 at 23:33
  • I'm sorry, but "contact editors and accuse your boss of misconduct" is a very very very last step. Even if one believes misconduct is occurring and has incontrovertible proof (unlike the present description here, which leaves plenty of room for simple misunderstanding and poor communication) there are much more appropriate steps internal to the school that should be taken first. Nov 22, 2023 at 14:14
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I think your advisor is just too lazy, but he is OK-ish.

Many research institutions have a lenient rule for adding affiliates. They don't keep a high selection standard for many reasons like getting more research outputs and more funds.

For example, many research institutes and centers at MIT have a lenient rule. Even if you are not MIT students, you can easily get a status of research affiliate or visiting researcher if some faculty sponsor you. The sponsor can be a junior faculty or sometimes even a posdoc. Furthermore, the sponsorship is usually free for them.

In your case, your advisor is likely have the privilege to sponsor an affiliation for your in that institution. It is even possible that a portion of your funding was coming from that institution. So he can try to place you there, and now it comes to you if you want to accept this offer or not. For example, you can ask your advisor to support you with additional funds, projects, or other resources through that new affiliation. Or, if you hate that new affiliate, you can tell your advisor that you don't want to be there.

I suggest you to friendly, openly, and respectfully express your needs before battling with your advisor. Treat him as your friend, not enemy.

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