I posted a month ago sharing conflicts that I had with my retired co-advisor about an article. This article was the remaining piece left to complete the basic requirements to acquire my PhD.

This article was based on my retired co-advisor (who recruited me)'s idea and she also suggested the journal. However, we had a mutual understanding that if I were to write it, I would need active help in regards to a part of the methodology (statistics). My supervisor kept delaying her help and eventually admitted that she wasn't strong enough in statistics to help me. She suggested withdrawing the paper. Instead (and with the concurrence of the graduate director), I worked with some other acquaintances to add the necessary statistical rigor on my own. I eventually submitted a revised version of the paper.

However, I did not send the last version to my retired co-advisor who is a co-author (and the other co-author). I now understand it was a great mistake and I own it. I received a message from the journal's editor-in-chief who said that they have been notified that both co-authors were not aware of the last version and to immediately send them written confirmations that both co-authors consented (or not) to the last version. With some delay (yes my retired co-supervisor and I are not on great terms), I asked both co-authors for their consent, they did give it, and I sent these proofs to the journal.

Result: Rejected.

The reason given: there is no proof that the co-authors have participated in the last version even if we have received their written consent for co-authorship and therefore this may be classified as a "gift co-authorship".

"Comment to Authors" letter directly from the Journal:

We believe that your manuscript has been improved and reached a level of near completeness [sic] as a work of research

Also, the suggestion to resubmit once the co-authorship issue has been resolved" is included right after.

Do you think it is a good idea to re-submit my manuscript or should I just give up on my PhD because of my conflict with the retired co-advisor? Or should I give up on this article?

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    @DanielHatton To be honest, the co-authors are both my former supervisors. So, they reviewed every step of my PhD such as the online survey this article was based on. They approved of this survey. But that is the extend of their contribution. After that, I analyzed the survey and wrote the whole article by myself. My retired co-supervisor has corrected a few mistakes such as forgotten authorship in the bibliography for example. My co-supervisors have always expected me to add them as co-authors because of their role of overlooking my work. Commented Apr 26 at 13:32
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    Oof. I think most journals these days would not consider that a sufficient contribution to warrant co-authorship, i.e. this is gift authorship (and probably was the first time the paper was submitted, too). That puts you in rather a difficult spot. (I don't necessarily agree with "most journals these days" on that, BTW.) Commented Apr 26 at 14:20
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    "However, there is clear acknowledgement that this manuscript has greatly improved and is in a state of near completedness at a scientific level so (we) strongly suggest to resubmit it to journals once the co-authorship issue has been resolved." -- The source of this seems unclear. Can you clarify very specifically if this bit was said by the journal, by your team, some combination, or something else? Is "journals" referring to the one journal you submitted to (and were rejected from), or ones different from that? Commented Apr 26 at 14:51
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    @DanielR.Collins It was in the "Comment to Authors" letter directly from the Journal. "We believe that your manuscript has been improved and reached a level of near completedness as a work of research" is the direct quote. Also the suggesting to resubmit is included right after. Commented Apr 26 at 14:56
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    While I know that it doesn't look like it, one could interpret this as the journal trying to protect you: they don't want non-authors to take your credits. I personally would tell the journal very concretely what each author's contribution is, then they can judge whether it meets their requirement of authorship. Most importantly, don't give up. You have a paper!
    – Nick
    Commented Apr 28 at 11:40

8 Answers 8


Step 1: Investigate the expectations for authorship for the journal you are submitting to. They likely have an explicit guide. If they don't, you might use another journal in the same field that is highly regarded as a template.

Just for an example, here are the guidelines for Nature: https://www.nature.com/nature-portfolio/editorial-policies/authorship

Each author is expected to have made substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data; or the creation of new software used in the work; or have drafted the work or substantively revised it

AND to have approved the submitted version (and any substantially modified version that involves the author's contribution to the study);

AND to have agreed both to be personally accountable for the author's own contributions and to ensure that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work, even ones in which the author was not personally involved, are appropriately investigated, resolved, and the resolution documented in the literature.

Under those guidelines, which may or may not be consistent with the guidelines at the journal, it seems your coauthors meet the first guideline but miss the second two. I would add my own guideline which is that authors that fit the first criteria must be given an opportunity to meet the other two, so that's the step you're at.

I think the journal is wrong to characterize this as "gift authorship"; from your description, these people made substantial contributions to the conception and design of the work. However, they are right to not accept work that has not been approved by all authors.

Step 2: Get all authors to read the version of the manuscript you are going to submit, and get their approval to submit that manuscript to the journal you plan to submit to.

Step 3: Explain to the journal exactly what has happened, clarify where you've gone wrong, explain what you've done to fix the problem, and outline clearly how each of the authors on the list meets the criteria for authorship under the journal's guidelines.

If the journal is following COPE guidelines explicitly or implicitly, this should be enough. If you haven't satisfied them, you can submit to another journal.


Standard procedure in this situation is for the authors to submit a signed authorship form affirming their respective contributions to the paper. There might be such a form on the journal's website. Here's an example form from Elsevier, here's another one from a specialized journal. If there's no such form, you could write your own (use your institution's letterhead if possible). You will probably need to get the form signed by all authors. Then you send the form back to the journal and tell them that no gift authorship was involved, and here's everyone's explicit contributions; you can also give a brief explanation of what happened.

The good news is, a positive response is likely (> 50% chance).


My instinct would be to write a letter/email to the relevant editor explaining that for x reason, you did not reconsult with your co-author(s) on the corrections you made, but that, regardless of whether the paper was edited, had things added or subtracted, your co-authors did not contribute any less than they had beforehand (if the editor was happy with their being included before, they can hardly take issue now). You can justify their inclusion as authors by telling the editor what their role in the work was (perhaps using the 'CRediT' criteria journals tend to use). And, of course, make sure your co-authors approve of the letter to the editor!

Or you can submit it elsewhere. If this is the last thing you need to do to obtain your PhD, dropping the article would be a waste.

I hope you added your acquaintances in the acknowledgements (if not as co-authors)...


Please take some deep breaths. I know this is a difficult spot, but there is no reason to despair and think you will not be able to complete your PhD. Bear in mind:

  • Your advisors and the rest of the faculty have nothing to gain by having you drop out of the program at this late stage. It looks bad for a department and an advisor if a student does not complete the degree. Most advisors want to have a greater rather than lesser number of advisees who have successfully completed.
  • Similarly, your co-authors will want to have their names appear on a paper if it is of good quality. Since they were already fine with co-authorship prior to the latest rejection, you have every reason to believe that they will want their names to appear again.
  • The claim of gift authorship, if left unchallenged, would reflect poorly on them. It says that they are willing to put their names on an article without having done any work for it. This is a breach of ethics and etiquette, and it is in their interests to rebut the claim that you are simply gifting them the authorship.

So do not be so fearful and despondent. Reach out to them and tell them what the editor says. They will not like the present situation any more than you do, because even if they don't care what happens to you, they would care about their own reputations.


Not getting consent of coauthors for the final paper is a serious issue as gift authorship. However, I don't see any gifts here. If everyone had contributed to the paper, past or present, then they have a contribution. Someone's contribution is not erased overtime, even if you rewrite everything they have written. They have worked for that paper and that is a fact. However, they must be aware of all changes you make as they are risking their reputation if something is wrong with them.

Now, editor might have rejected the paper due to your mishandling of consent but since you have sent the consent afterwards, they would not be able to reject it on that grounds and use this as alternative means of rejecting a poorly coordinated effort. Or they might thought and what you have done was about gifting, there could be multiple reasons.

I believe solution is simple. I suggest you to choose another journal and communicate with your coauthors about your decision, and if they accept, send it there.


I would just email the Editor and explain the situation in a sentence or two. (1) The gaff of not submitting the revised version of the paper to my coauthors was a beginner's mistake that has been successfully addressed by securing their approval. (2) The work performed by the coauthors was quite real and consisted of "blah, blah, blah." <--Explain in detail and send copies of the coauthors' consent. (3) The deficiencies having been addressed successfully, there should not be any further outstanding issues. Would you please accept the paper for publication so that the journal receives credit for all the work performed in reviewing and processing the paper?

If the response is negative, submit the paper to a better journal. Sticky wicket that.


Too much to unpack here, but let me focus on a few things that stand out:

(1) All co-authors are sent an automated email asking to confirm that yes, this is the manuscript they have co-written and wish to be on the authorship list for. I suspect this triggered the retired person's response - unless matters are even worse and someone took it upon themselves to approach the journal (or happens to be an acquaintance of the editor, etc.).

In general, it is good form to have it out with the corresponding author before the MS is submitted, and very bad form to sort out the dirty laundry at the editorial office of some journal. Either things are v. bad indeed between you and that person, or there are direct personal lines behind the scenes.

(2) The only way in which I can make sense of an otherwise incomprehensible (or reprehensible?) over-reaction is if the paper is very much changed from the version they last saw. You state the substantial change was shoring up the stats after the person said it was too rich for them. If that were all, it is truly hard to fathom the wherefore of the present mess.

(3) Yup, you should ride out the storm and try to complete the PhD. At this point, seek help from HoD directly or even higher gremia. Unless there are further naughty things you have done and are not telling us, they will see your ship into the shore.

  • Thank you for taking into account my current issues with the retired advisor. I promise there is literally nothing else that I have done. I cannot comprehend this situation and what could motivate it. The paper is simply more rigorous in terms of statistical analysis. However conclusions, research questions, theme, literature review etc... are the same. To add, I received a message from the editorial team yesterday saying that they are "heartbroken" over the situation and matters related to the supervision of my PhD. I have not shared anything of the sort to them. Commented Apr 29 at 14:50

This reminds me of an event at the FBI, you know the United States of America Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is similar. They handled it and their handling of it could be instructional.

Do you think it is a good idea to re-submit my manuscript or should I just give up on my phd because of my conflict with the retired co-advisor? Or should I give up on this article?

"No" to re-submitting the manuscript.

"No" to giving up on your doctorate.

"No" to giving up on the article (to be researched later, if you are still interested in the subject, after you have graduated).

Years ago, there was an FBI agent (NOT me!) that was going for a doctorate. There was a research paper that he did supporting work on which was published without his being listed as a supporting researcher. He considered this to be a personal insult. He complained. The FBI found out about it and subsequently gave him a year to think about it. He was out of the FBI. He had been classified as a special agent. Even as a special agent, when there was a personal conflict that they found out about, he was kicked out. One year. After that he could apply to start at the FBI again.

Learn what you can from what I just now told you. Back off from the situation that you have described.

Archive, in writing, your records of your involvement from the beginning of the research, then using a bank deposit box paid ahead of time in full (if you can), save the archive for the next 10 years. Let it go. Obviously do some other research. Do not allow anyone at the university or in your personal contacts to have any input from you that you are not moving on from the event. Finish your doctorate.

The dean of the college probably knows a lot about the situation already and is probably watching how you handle it. The dean of the college directly or indirectly decides if you get a doctorate or not. Do not approach the dean about this. If the dean asks you, honestly inform the dean that you are moving on unencumbered by such an event. Finish your doctorate and you will have won. As for the other person, you should already know where these quotes come from, "That which you sow, so shall you reap" and "With what measure you meet, the same shall be met unto you" and "Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord."

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    The dean of one of the colleges I am associated with could care less if I dropped dead, and whether I have a paper published or not and how that occurs and what the content is, is the last thing on his mind, which is preoccupied with ESG, EDI, and similar garbage. The other dean I am associated with actually reads my papers, or at least pretends to. The FBI is another kettle of fish, very stinky fish.
    – Carl
    Commented Apr 29 at 13:07

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