In my research, my adviser only gives minimal advice that is limited to the direction of the research and defining the problems.

I can say I do most of the thinking, the actual solutions of the problems. Even at one time I needed to explain to my adviser how my algorithms work.

The only "effort" my adviser does is writing the actual paper, since I'm still a master's student and lack experience of writing. Moreover, I'm not a native speaker so I'm still trying to improve my English writing.

Well, that's the intro of my background. FYI, I'm a CS student and I'm aiming to publish a paper in a conference in ACM.

The actual problem is my adviser demands to be joint first author.

I asked the reason and the reply was it was needed to progress to associate professor, with my help, and eventually gain tenure.

I suspect that the supervisor feels under risk to be kicked from the university. With 3-4 years as an Assistant Professor but doesn't really have good research output (only 1-2 small papers every year).

I reluctantly agreed to assist under these considerations:

1. We can be joint first author but my name should be written first. Initially wanted their name to be written first because alphabetically the last name comes first compared to my last name. Then I did a "bargaining" by saying that I want to be researcher in the future and I need my name to be put first. The discussion ended and I was allowed my name to be written first.

2. I need to graduate In my university, advisers have total control to let students graduate.

With this post I want to ask you for more suggestions.

Edit 1: Right now I want to play "safely" rather than being kicked out, but I feel I'm being treated a bit toady. Usually the adviser likes to scold other students.

Edit 2: The advisor does indeed write the most part of the paper, but it doesn't mean that I didn't take any part in the writing. I tried to write an initial paper, from the introduction to technical part, writing equations, making figures, producing results, etc. The advisor helped me to polish the grammar and made the sentences neater.

I forget to say one thing, I have another adviser. Let's say A2. The one I'm having dispute with is A1. A1's most significant contribution is writing the paper. A2 helps me with the "big picture". Because A2 is more junior than A1, A2 only becomes co-author.

Also thanks for everyone who wrote answers and comments. All of you gave me a lot of new perspectives.

  • 3
    Your English writing is not too bad (based on the writing of this question). I would suggest you to write the paper yourself.
    – Nobody
    May 19, 2014 at 7:27
  • 5
    What do you mean by "He can be the joint first author but my name should be written first" Is his name first or yours?
    – Alexandros
    May 19, 2014 at 8:06
  • 1
    You do know that in DBLP, Google Scholar etc, no-one will actually read the asterisks.
    – Alexandros
    May 19, 2014 at 8:14
  • 2
    In some areas of CS, alphabetical order is the standard... is your advisor asking to be the "primary" author, or just asking to follow the standards of your field?
    – Max
    May 19, 2014 at 9:18
  • 2
    he is more senior than you, right? So, in my opinion, his name should be written first — The only sensible standard for joint first authorship is to list the first authors alphabetically. Otherwise, there are (as here) fights over who gets to be the first first author, which is just stupid.
    – JeffE
    May 20, 2014 at 15:50

6 Answers 6


You write:

The only "effort" my adviser does is writing the actual paper

Well, in many fields, that would make them sole author. It certainly gives them a very strong claim to be first author, in fields where authorship is determined by contribution to the paper.

If you want to be first author, then write the paper yourself.

And if you can't, then don't expect first authorship, and be grateful for co-authorship (rather than an acknowledgement).

You've now added that you have done a bit of the writing, but your adviser has done most of it. So yes, they would, in many fields, still get first authorship, and you would get a co-authorship on that basis, assuming what you've written is a non-trivial proportion of the whole.

  • Yeah, you make a good argument. He does write the most part of it. But it doesn't mean that I don't take any part in writing paper. I tried to write the technical parts, writing equations, etc. But He helps me to polish the grammar.
    – azer89
    May 19, 2014 at 7:50
  • I don't know fields other than CS, but I have an undergrad students who done a very good research. His writing was quite bad at that time but his adviser helped him in writing the paper, He's still the first author.
    – azer89
    May 19, 2014 at 7:52
  • 9
    +1 You are right that writing the paper in most cases grants first authorship. But this "...be grateful for co-authorship" is a bit too much. I know some professors only "acknowledge" their students without giving them co-authorship despite the fact that students have done all the coding, experiments but that does not make it right, nor the student should be grateful if he is given the co-authorship he rightfully deserves.
    – Alexandros
    May 19, 2014 at 8:00
  • 8
    Any field where writing up novel results performed by others without authorship for others is intellectually bankrupt. I do not know of any such fields, so I think this answer is just wrong (or reflects a particularly unscrupulous individual or department, not a whole field). If I'm wrong, maybe a few words about which fields are like this and why it's even remotely justified are in order?
    – Rex Kerr
    May 19, 2014 at 14:55
  • 1
    My adviser thinks that he should rewrite the paper by his own words since he's better in English. He's correct. — No, he isn't. You should write the paper, because he's better at English. How else are you going to improve your English?
    – JeffE
    May 20, 2014 at 15:53

Azer89, Sorry this is stressful for you, most of us have had some sort of grad drama. I suggest you relax a bit about it. If your adviser demands "co-first authorship" I'd let him have it, for a number of reasons:

1) He is your primary job reference and entree into the academic world, keeping him happy is important. Your career will be better served with a good reference than any one paper.

2) It sounds like he has in fact met the standard for co-authorship, I wish my MS adviser would have anything to do with the manuscript!

3) Finally, and most important, is what kind of collaborator you want to be. Academia (and industry) is full of territorial, jealous types who are concerned only with their own academic "reputation". Don't be one of them. In the long run nobody cares if you are sole or joint first author on some paper. They care if you are a good collaborator they can work with. Take the moral high ground and get the paper out. If he's a real jerk you'll never work with him again, but you'll be the guy people can get along with.

Good luck!

  • 2
    Yes, I after thinking a bit this morning, I'll just let what He wants. I'm still a master student and I am offered a PhD at another uni. After I graduate, I plan to cut my collaboration with him. To be honest, when I started this question, I'm little bit temperament and What you said is right, Academia is full of ambitious people, I hope that I can be a humble researcher in the future.
    – azer89
    May 20, 2014 at 0:07

Remote doctoring issues between students and advisors is always difficult, but I'll have a stab at it anyway.

In my research, My adviser only gives minimal advice that limited to the direction of the research and defining the problems. I can say I do most of the thinking, the actual solutions of the problems. Even at one time I needed to explain to my adviser how my algorithms work. The only "effort" my adviser does is writing the actual paper, since I'm still a master student with lack experience of writing. Moreover, I'm not a native speaker so I'm still trying to improve my English writing.

While your advisor may not be the most contributing person to this research, calling this "no significant contribution" may be too much. It sounds like he is doing standard advising plus helping you write the paper, which is certainly in line with what you expect from an advisor.

The actual problem is my adviser demands him as joint first author.

Yes, that is a problem. It's good that you push back here.

He told me that He wants tenure position and He needs my help so he can be an associate professor.

I don't quite understand that. For all universities I know, advising students is what is expected from assistant professors. So from a tenure point of view, advising a student to write an excellent paper is not much different than writing one yourself. Maybe he is overestimating the additional value he would get from being first author.

(Oh man, did he beg to me or what?)

Try to stay focused on the facts, and don't let it get personal. Nothing to gain from this.

He can be the joint first author but my name should be written first.

I am still confused about the notion of joint first authors (I always assumed there can really be only one, but apparently I was wrong). Anyway, I would say it sounds like an ok compromise.

I need to graduate In my uni, professors have total control to let students graduate.

That is indeed a practical problem in many universities.

A few concluding statements:

  • Authorship really isn't something that should be negotiated after the project is almost done. As many members here never get tired of saying, details of authorship are best discussed at the beginning of the project, so that everybody knows where everybody else stands.
  • From your short description, it seems to me like you are somewhat underselling the contributions of your advisor, even delivering some underhand blows in a few places. You are likely a rational individual - try to not be emotional about it, and then re-check what your advisor actually does for your project. Further, keep in mind that students tend to over-value the technical "doing" of the project and undervalue the "big picture" (deciding on a research project, defining research issues so that the outcome is both achievable and novel, etc.).
  • Somewhat related: your advisor is not supposed to be an all-knowning, all-understanding supreme being. It is completely ok that you occasionally need to explain the details of an algorithm to him. That does not make him incompetent. You will for sure have to do the same thing with your new advisor.
  • Thanks thanks thanks :D I'm quite emotional right now but you made my head clearer. (1) In the country where my university is located, there is a rule that assistant professors aren't tenure and have obligation to publish. If not they can be fired. (2) In computer science, joint authors means the authors have equal contribution. (3) I forget to say one thing, I have another adviser. Let's say he's A2. The one I'm having dispute is A1. A1 contributions is writing the paper. A2 helps me with the "big picture". Because A2 is more junior than A1, A2 only becomes co-author.
    – azer89
    May 19, 2014 at 7:46
  • @azer89 Your comment does not make much sense. I have never heard of "joint authors means the authors have equal contribution". In a ACM CS conference, there are (let's say) 3 names on top of the paper. All 3 names are considered co-authors. What is this "joint" authors you are talking about. Can you post an example paper at a ACM CS conference where this happens?
    – Alexandros
    May 19, 2014 at 8:11
  • 1
    (1) yes, I understand, but for professors the expectation is that they publish with students usually, (2) I am also from CS, and that is incorrect, (3) maybe you want to edit your question, as this may be relevant.
    – xLeitix
    May 19, 2014 at 8:12
  • @Alexandros, perhaps is like this: graphics.cs.kuleuven.be/publications/GLLD12GNBE
    – azer89
    May 19, 2014 at 8:14
  • (2) In computer science, joint authors means the authors have equal contribution. — This is incorrect.
    – JeffE
    May 20, 2014 at 15:59

Azer89, I don't know what advice to give you in this situation. But I'm very surprised by the number of people thinking your adviser can be the first author or even the sole author.

Check this site http://www.stanford.edu/~engler/

According to ACM this is their most downloaded paper ever. I wrote it, but everyone else did all (I mean: ALL) of the technical work.

He wrote the paper alone, and he put himself as the last author since other people did all the technical work. This is what great professors do.

  • I had a meeting with him yesterday. I could say his policy regarding authorship is too weird for me. I don't really expect if the paper gets published I can still be the first author, perhaps I should be thankful if I can be co-author. I even don't care. Well life goes on, I'm going to graduate in 2 months. I get a phd position at another uni. I hope I can do other research with my new research group :)
    – azer89
    May 20, 2014 at 21:33

Emotions aside, I believe that the intent of a paper is to present results. There are people who are better than others in English but a technical writer is not the one who does the research. Should he/she be the first author because he did the logistics work (writing the paper)? I do not think so.

The CEO of a company will not have drawn her/himself the fantastic ad you see on the street. But (s)he is still the one who is the face of the company. Not the graphics professional who did the work.

So writing the paper, even if this requires experience, is logistics. Which grants you, at best, co-authoring.

  • "I do no think so.". The "no" should be a "not". Also, the last sentence, "Which grant you, at best, co-authoring." reads a little strangely. I'm not sure what it means. May 19, 2014 at 15:23
  • Typos corrected. What I meant by the last sentence is that writing the paper (as opposed to doing the research) should give you, at best, the possibility to be listed as a distant second author. This is a work for a technical writer, a very important work, agreed, but still a logistic one.
    – WoJ
    May 19, 2014 at 15:30
  • Ok, the extra `s' makes it clear. And for what it is worth, I agree. May 19, 2014 at 15:32
  • 2
    First, writing the paper is not mere "logistics". The difference between a well-written paper and a badly written version of the same paper is huge. Second, according to the question, the advisor directed the research and defined the problems: again, two very significant contributions. You see it as the adviser-CEO seeking credit for the student-artist's work; maybe it's actually the student-bricklayer seeking credit for the advisor-architect's building? (Probably, it's neither of these things.) Jul 23, 2014 at 8:59
  • 1
    @WoJ Bear in mind that students tend to underestimate the contribution made by their advisor. I'm not claiming that the advisor definitely ought to be first author; I'm just saying that I think the situation is more complex than you do and that we don't have enough information to make any call about who should be first author. Jul 23, 2014 at 12:48

No, sounds like you've been stiffed. It is not unusual for an academic to write-up the results of research for a masters or UG student, but they should be using the opportunity as a chance for you to develop your writing skills (to complement your research skills) not hog the credit (as in this case). What you supervisor is doing verges on academic misconduct in Computer Science. Ignore the many ill-informed comments on this site, your supervisor has failed in his duty to help you develop as a researcher and is exploiting you for his own selfish ends.

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