I'm a PhD student. My advisor told me I need x number of papers to graduate.

I am on a grant, but the Co-PI delays submission of papers I write (he has a company and he tries to patent them).

So I conceive of ideas (un related to the grant), write the papers and send them to my advisor, with him as an author. My advisor doesn't read them or provide edits, but tells me to proceed with submission. The papers get accepted. He doesn't read any of the papers of the students in the lab, but expects authorship because he funds us.

I am not sure how I feel about this ethically. Of course, I want a PhD, so I have no choice but to comply; however, is this ethical?

  • 2
    Can you clarify: What field are you in? Is your advisor the same as the Co-PI you talk about? Sound like to different people, but what is their relationship to you and your PhD thesis research and how do they relate to each other? Are you all in the same lab or department?
    – BioBrains
    Mar 1 at 16:35
  • 1
    How do you know your advisor doesn't read your papers? Is that what they told you? Are you happy with the journals in which they were accepted? Have you had someone else read your papers for feedback and do they have edits? In other words, are you an exceptionally good writer or is your advisor tending towards some sloppy/carefree approaches in supervision and mentoring?
    – BioBrains
    Mar 1 at 16:36
  • 1
    By the Vancouver guidelines of authorship it is recommended that one should have contributed to at least 1 dimension to be offered co-authorship and then contribute to a second dimension. For example, usually the PI contributes with Funding and/or Resources which makes them eligible to co-authorship. Then they can fill up 2 dimensions by helping reviewing your draft.
    – The Doctor
    Mar 1 at 21:32
  • From your text it is not clear whether you are enforced in any way by your advisor to add him as an author. Did you try out to not do it, or ask him whether this is expected? Was there clear communication from his side that you need to do that? Mar 3 at 18:11

1 Answer 1


This depends on the field and what it means that the professor "funds" you. In some fields, in which it is impossible to do the research without the professor's support because they provide the lab and also the general direction of the research done there, it is normal for the PI to be listed as an author, usually in a special position, often last. In those fields everyone understands that the PI didn't actually contribute directly to what is in that particular paper, but made it possible for it to exist at all.

In other fields, such as math, and even if you are working on an RA funded by a grant that the professor holds, it would be unusual for the professor to be listed as author unless they made some substantial contribution to the paper, though not necessarily contributing to the actual writing process.

There are probably intermediate cases as well, but these seem to be the outer bounds.

It is difficult for lots of people in one field to understand the practices of the other fields. "Why would (wouldn't) they do that?"

If your ideas and practices are really unrelated to your participation under the grant, you probably have a case for sole-authorship, but it might be unusual in your field. "Why did they DO that?"

An orthogonal concern, however, is that it is usually a bad career move to fight with your supervisor. Perhaps better off to let it go and accept the inevitable, keeping in their good graces, getting a good recommendation, and moving on to an independent position. There may be some advantage in some fields also, to have your name listed with theirs in publications.

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