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I completed my master degree at one of the top universities in Europe more than 5 years ago. Me and my supervisor had some conflicts at the end of my thesis submission and then he was not interested in publishing my work any longer. Then I somehow gave up to publish my work either. Anyways, after many years, during my doctoral studies, I added some novel results to this previous work to make it more valuable.

This topic was selected by me. Of course, during my master thesis, my supervisor supported my research. He gave me a lab space and some chemicals were purchased but as far as I know I had some money inside the university to support the student's lab work. Main work was done by me but my supervisor did some analyses and I already put them in my thesis.

Now, I currently consulted with my doctoral supervisor about her opinion if I would like to publish my work partly done many years ago during my master thesis and some parts were added during my PhD time. She left the decision to me.

I met my master thesis supervisor last year and when I asked about this thing, my master thesis supervisor did not say anything and I understood my master thesis supervisor don't have interest in this thing anymore.

I'm a bit confused but I also want to publish my results. I wrote a manuscript with the data that I already had in my master thesis and also included novel results which have done during my doctoral studies after many years completing my master thesis and as well as mentioned my master thesis supervisor's name in the acknowledgment part as thanking for things she has done or more like thanking her for some analyses hem made. I am the corresponding author and one co-author who did some novelties are on the manuscript right now.

My fear is how my master thesis supervisor would react. Could she go over to do against something on my master thesis diploma? I am not sure about my legal rights, I could not find answers. I already contacted with my previous affiliation but they were not helpful. If I told my name, they would contact with my master thesis supervisor immediately and she would be mad at me. I'm looking for some opinions and then I will decide what I am going to do. Thank you in advance.

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    Can you ask your master supervisor directly in the way that you clearly say that you'd like to publish this and of course she'd appear as a co-author if she wants? Optimally she'd say "publish it if you want, I don't want to be co-author", and then this would be settled. But really ask in such a way that you get an answer. "She didn't say anything and I understood" is not how things should be done in science. Dec 6, 2023 at 21:48

3 Answers 3

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The fact that the other person is your supervisor isn't the important point. If another person contributed enough to the paper to rise to the level of authorship then they need to be an author and to agree to publication. If they contributed intellectual/creative content to the work then it is likely they deserve authorship, though some would insist that the other person participate in the writing/editing process itself.

This varies by field. In mathematics, not much is required in terms of time - it is the insight and creativity that matters.

Harvard publishes a set of guidelines that might work for you.

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  • Thank you for your answer. Well, my supervisor was there as my supervisor and she did some analyses to get some physical data which I used in my thesis and of course I want to use this data in this desired publication. The current co-author also did some theoretical calculations to support the main idea and the person contributed the paper. Therefore now me and other person name is on the authorship area. My former supervisor´s name is mentioned on the acknowledgment part as thanking her for doing some measurements. I will read your recommended website. I hope I can get other opinions as well.
    – Anonymous
    Dec 6, 2023 at 21:46
  • Personally I think if she is offered co-authorship and refuses, this shouldn't stop her student from publishing alone, regardless of whether she'd "deserve" co-authorship or not. At least if she doesn't object against publication under only the student's name when being asked. Dec 6, 2023 at 21:50
  • Thank you for your reply as well. From my side, I wish she would have wanted to publish it together with me. She could be the corresponding, it is not a problem from my side. But apparently, my former supervisor doesn´t seem to have any interest in this work. Maybe she doesn´t find it worthy to be published or something else. I really don´t know. But as someone can imagine, this publication will help me to achieve my goals. I have been asked several times "why haven´t you published your research during your master?" and sometimes I couldn´t really answer.
    – Anonymous
    Dec 6, 2023 at 22:15
  • I am not fully relieved. Asking myself, "what if she go against on my master degree diploma" or something like that. Because she would take it in different level. Because i my master degree is affected and then now my PhD will be in danger, no? I don´t know maybe I overthink a lot but it scares me.
    – Anonymous
    Dec 6, 2023 at 22:16
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    I think your worries are unfounded. Perhaps you should talk to her about this.
    – Buffy
    Dec 6, 2023 at 22:35
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From what you say, it seems your former supervisor contributed ideas, analysis and supervision (among other things). These would definitely be enough for an authorship, as long as she also approves the contents (see the criteria in @Buffy’s link).

The most appropriate way forward, since she did not express interest in helping writing the paper, would be to write a paper draft and send it to her for feedback and comments, asking very clearly “I would like to publish this which includes part of my masters’ project when I was under your supervision. Are you willing to be a co-author on it? If so, would you mind giving me feedback or comments?”

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  • Statistically, 85% people would say yes. This is a fair question to ask instead of making assumptions and trying to defend them.
    – kensaii
    Dec 8, 2023 at 5:02
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Your prior advisor can't unilaterally rescind your master's degree. So that concern is not realistic.

I'm not sure why your old supervisor would be mad at you. Did you leave on poor terms, or was she just not interested in working on the project further?

I think the obvious answer to your dilemma is to contact your old supervisor directly and offer authorship. It sounds like you have a manuscript drafted, so just attach that to an email and say something along the lines of "I would like to publish this, I feel it is appropriate to include you as author for x, y, z reasons. Please look over the manuscript.". If she accepts, great. If she declines authorship, also great. Either way you can go ahead and submit the manuscript.

I suppose she could demand that you not publish at all - this would cause an issue but would be unusual. If she never responds you're also stuck.

In either of those cases, you can always cut away the old material, cite your thesis, and just publish your new results. Your advisor has no claim to new work you did, whatever it is based on.

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