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I am in the third year of my PhD and so far I have published one paper in top tier journal. I did all the work by myself. However after I finished everything, my supervisor told me that he would revise the paper and submit it. He put his before mine and added a bunch of people from another university. In the author contribution section, my name was removed from many sections until I was only responsible for experiments.

I learned about this only after the paper came back for revision. I asked him why he did it and he said it doesn't matter much because he mentioned that he, I and another professor contributed equally to this paper and I a first co-author. Also, during revision he gave around 10 extra references that I should add.

Eventually this paper got published and now I am working on another paper. Everything is super hard as I get zero feedback from him and he only wants to see a fully finished paper with a novel discovery, otherwise I should not bother him. He also gave my two of his bachelor students, and he literally told me to perform all of their experiments and make all the visuals for their dissertations. I can't even have a normal meeting with him, because he is always in a rush and trying to finish it as soon as possible.

I start thinking that maybe there is a part of racist behavior, as I am an international student and all the mentioned above only happened to me. My lab mates published some papers and the supervisor's name was always last (corresponding author). I talked to another young professor and told him about everything and he extremely disliked it. But he says that right now I can't do anything about it, because I am expected to graduate next year and my supervisor is a pretty big professor and I definitely shouldn't make him mad at me.

I don't even have time to talk to other people about this: I work with no weekends or holidays for at least 12h a day. What would you suggest? I really love research and for me it's not a problem to work overtime, however I feel like I am just being used.

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    – cag51
    Apr 7 at 4:50
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    Which country are you from and which country is the professor/university from?
    – Yasir
    Apr 7 at 18:54
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    I will say, for anyone reading this that is just starting their PhD: this is why you should stand your ground from the first month. Tell your supervisor what you expect from them, limit yourself to reasonable hours, and refuse bullshit always. If you wait 3 years to stand up for yourself, it will be too late.
    – Jumboman
    Apr 9 at 5:45
  • What revisions were made by your professor? You have the version you gave your professor and the version that was submitted. Are they substantially different?
    – Nathan S.
    Apr 13 at 20:22

6 Answers 6

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It's hard to judge which is the best course of action in your particular situation. But I would offer three general pieces of advice:

Try to document as much as you can in writing. This includes email communication with your supervisor. Send him emails documenting your work and progress and asking for his input. If he asks you to prepare figures for students etc in person, send a follow-up email giving your summary of the meeting and offering him to clarify in case you misunderstood anything. Make sure to use both your university email addresses. If things get really bad this ensures you have evidence beyond your word vs his.

Find out whether your institution has a research integrity officer and if so, get their advice. I once had to navigate a tricky situation and found this helpful. Note that this can be confidential and does not necessarily amount to escalating the situation in a 'calling the science cops' way. In a first instance it can be more similar to getting a lawyers advice.

Take care of yourself. This is an extremely stressful situation and it sounds like you're exposed to it 24/7. Decide to regularly spend time on something else you love - go for a run, climb, swim, game of chess, whatever floats your boat and takes your mind off the situation for an hour. Make sure to keep contacts outside of the lab - and ideally academia. This helps to remember there's a whole world outside the small pond ruled by your PI.

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    @RazvanP If that's true, then I say go after the whole club. Expose them. Team up with other researchers on the web, and do the research your own way. Open source the whole project. Subvert. Protest. Upset the status quo. Make a difference in the world. Will it be scary? Probably, a little. But if everyone did this, think how much better off we would all be.
    – Mentalist
    Apr 8 at 8:47
  • @RazvanP: In my experience, people within departments are often friendly enough that it’s a real concern, but if (as quite common) the university has some form of research integrity office/ombudsman/etc independent of individual departments, then that should be pretty trustworthy.
    – PLL
    Apr 8 at 15:35
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Sorry to have painful advice, but I suggest that you prioritize your own graduation over other concerns. I agree that the behavior is bad and seems to be unwarranted, but any action you take is likely to come back to wound yourself and not a person in a powerful position. The world isn't a perfect place and often enough not a very rational one.

There is some advantage, actually, to publishing with superstars, though they are different from first authorship. It is even possible that some of those others did, in fact, contribute but only through your advisor unknown to you. I don't think that is especially likely, but you won't be under this person's thumb for long if you take the long view and protect your own interests. If you do that, then you will have plenty of opportunities for first and sole author papers.

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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    False authorship, degree forging for the students you like (attributing someone else's work to them), and discrimination against foreign students, are not "other concerns." Calling it perfectionism is beyond disgusting. Publicly supporting these behaviors while being a professor yourself is pure evil. I suggest your future advisees read this "advice" very carefully.
    – yujaiyu
    Apr 7 at 4:31
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    @yujaiyu I think this might be an extremely uncharitable reading of Buffy's answer, to the point of possibly misreading it entirely. For starters, I don't see any support for the professor's behavior in Buffy's answer, considering he says "I agree that the behavior is bad and seems to be unwarranted". The essence of Buffy's advice reads to me as "tread VERY carefully when confronting a professor who dramatically outmatches you in resources, power, connections, and community esteem." One can argue whether or not this is good advice, and whether prioritizing one's own situation over pursuing... Apr 7 at 6:00
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    ...a more just outcome enables future misconduct. But I think it's going too far to say that any of Buffy's advice here is "pure evil", even if it's pragmatic in a way you find distasteful. Lastly, I don't think that the last sentence is saying that wanting the professor to face consequences is "perfectionism". My read is that it is saying that "in an ideal world, you could both graduate without obstacles and the professor would be held accountable for his actions, but a more realistic possibility is that you could damage your own career irreparably and the professor won't face any... Apr 7 at 6:04
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    ...consequences. It might be better for your own well-being to seek a 'good' outcome (i.e., graduating) and set this fight aside." Again, I'm not commenting on whether or not this is good advice, but I certainly don't read it as criticism of the OP or validation of the professor's actions, tacit or otherwise. Just my two cents. Apr 7 at 6:07
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    @yujaiyu, you have seriously understood the intent of 'perfect'. I was writing of the effect for the OP. If you don't graduate, how do you win this game? No, I don't support the behavior, but the OP has more serious concerns.
    – Buffy
    Apr 7 at 11:12
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Other two answers by @Buffy and @PBee provided useful but also contradictory advices. Therefore, I would like to add a few observations and suggestions.

"I did all the work by myself. However after I finished everything, my supervisor told me that he would revise the paper and submit it." Revision is also a part of the work. You cannot claim that you did all the work by yourself. Also, you have to be proactive and participate in the revisions.

"I learned about this only after the paper came back for revision." For the next paper, ask your supervisor to participate in writing the manuscript, offer your help. You have the right to see the manuscript before the submission. So again, make things happen, instead of waiting for them to happen to you.

"Everything is super hard as I get zero feedback from him and he only wants to see a fully finished paper with a novel discovery, otherwise I should not bother him." In your post, you do not describe how did you learn all the experimental tools in the lab. Someone must have taught you. Moreover, in many labs it is forbidden to work alone because of the safety reasons. Working alone is a serious violation of the safety protocols. Didn't you sigh the respective document?

" I can't even have a normal meeting with him, because he is always in a rush and trying to finish it as soon as possible." It helps sometimes to write an email with a list of points that you would like to discuss before the meeting.

"He also gave my two of his bachelor students, and he literally told me to perform all of their experiments and make all the visuals for their dissertations." Many PhD students are given some teaching duties. Maybe you are not doing exercises with students but instead doing labs with them. That is quite normal. Maybe students cannot formally do experiments in your lab because they are not given safety clearance and because they can break very expensive equipment. Therefore, you have to be present and help them. Instead, they acknowledge you in their bachelor theses, which, by the way, I never heard to be called dissertations. As for the "make all the visuals for their dissertations". If this means that you have to take a scan with an electronic microscope to which they have no safety clearance then you have to do that. Or you can make measurements in their presence and give them data points to plot.

"My lab mates published some papers and the supervisor's name was always last". This is typical. Your supervisor built the lab, applied for the funding and organised the research. Some argue that this does not warrant authorship. Maybe. Here, I would refer to the answer of @Buffy to "you prioritize your own graduation".

"I work with no weekends or holidays for at least 12h a day." It is completely Ok if you diversify your work. For instance, you do experiments 3 hours a day, document your experiments, arrange for the meetings, communicate with other scientists for another 3 hours, read papers for 3 hours, swim in a pool for 3 hours and plan your scientific activities for the next day.

Stay motivated and healthy no matter what, and avoid working on weekends.

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    No weekend gets extemely unhealty (especially if you direly need a free weekend, under the circumstances described) after a short while, so does working 10+ hours.
    – Karl
    Apr 7 at 21:10
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    @Karl I do not support of working on weekends. This is very clear. But in big labs experiments are often running 24/7. We simply do not know the details. It can be a temporary necessity. Therefore, I did not address this point in my answer. On the other hand, in many labs it is forbidden to work alone and, therefore, working on weekends is not an option. Also, I strongly believe that scientific output only weakly correlates with the amount of working hours.
    – yarchik
    Apr 8 at 7:39
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    "My lab mates published some papers and the supervisor's name was always last" -- my understanding of what OP meant by this was an example of unfair treatment: OP's paper gets hijacked, but their lab mates' papers are treated normally. Apr 8 at 22:37
  • @TheGuywithTheHat I see, you are right. I just re-read the OP question again and found "He put his before mine and added a bunch of people from another university." From the post, not possible to find the reason. But it is addressed in my answer a bit: one has to be proactive and do not only the drafting of the manuscript, but also engage in the subsequent revisions. From the post we do not know if it was a deliberate choice or the supervisor decision. I based my answer only on the facts presented in the post, without over-interpretation, one way or another.
    – yarchik
    Apr 9 at 8:37
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Hi you've been offered some good advice by others and I won't retread that ground. I will say that your uni should have an academic integrity policy and specialised staff who advice on concerns and appeal/complaints avenues. At my institution (Australia) we have a such a policy and I am one of the academic integrity advisors. The number 1 issue I advise on is co-publishing. We're are very clear that only people who have made a direct contribution to a paper can be named. The order of author naming directly reflects the contribution of each author. Adding people as coauthors who didn't directly contribute or attributing first authorship to someone who didn't do the lion's share of the work is a beach of our policy and could be considered academic misconduct. My advice is to look for such a policy at your institution. Your institution should also offer an advisory service for students and, if like where I work, a specialist advisory service for international students. Find and tap into these. What I'm saying is you're not alone. You have rights. Your institution has a duty of care towards you. Oh one more thing, the academy is a stressful place as you're finding. You may not understand the pressures your supervisor is under. So, keep an open mind. Take care and I wish you all the best.

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If you have published 2 papers in top tier journals and have one more almost completed you have enough data to graduate this year. Focus on completing your lit review, if you haven't already, and make the 3 papers a chapter in your dissertation. Waiting to graduate next year is a waste of your time. Just finish now.

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I totally support @PBee answer. Document everything! But someone has to say it: if you suspect academic misconduct, please report your suspicions. If your professor comes out as corrupt selling authorships or something like that, your name will be involved in the case and your career will be affected. Therefore: Document everything. Keep your version of the first manuscript. Keep all e-mails. You did what you could at your career stage. Your work has to be impeccably documented. That way there is no way they can blame you of misconduct in the future. There are already several cases where big professors are falling because of proven misconduct. Do not let this damage your future career or your name. And finish fast. Do you really need to have so many papers with that professor? or can you write a monograph thesis and be done with it. You already have one paper. Think about it.

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