Assuming that one has begun a PhD program at a university which allows a student to choose an advisor after his/her first year in the program and the student has narrowed down on a couple of potential advisors, once a student has established contact with his potential advisor,

At what point do you discuss things like authorship, expectations and other such details? First meet, second meet or otherwise?

3 Answers 3


Think of your first meeting as a mutual interview. The adviser wants to know if you are worth spending time and money on. You need to ask questions to determine if the adviser is worth spending years of your life on.

Good topics for the first meeting are:

  1. The adviser's expectations of you (including hours worked per week, number of papers to publish before graduating, etc.)
  2. Your expectations of your adviser (Do you get vacation time? How long does it take your students to graduate? How much grant funding do you have? What earns me authorship on papers? etc.)
  3. Your potential project (What are the long-term goals? What are the short-term objectives? Have other students worked on this project before?)
  4. What preparations do you need to make? (Should you take a particular course? Should you read certain papers or books?)

You should also try to get candid answers to these questions from the students who already work for your potential adviser.

  • 3
    Also: Do you mind if I talk with some of your students? Do any of your students also work with other faculty? What do your students do over the summer? Where do your former students work now? What earns you authorship on papers?
    – JeffE
    Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 2:12
  • 1
    Before the first meeting it is worthwhile to review the PI's publication history. You can get an idea of how often they publish with students.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 9:53

This question should be asked during your interview, in a polite but directed manner. The question is simply, "How do you assign authorship on papers co-authored with graduate students?" The answer should address who is on the paper, the ordering of the authorship, and what criterion is used to determine who is a co-author.

You should also definitely ask his current graduate students the exact same question, preferably students who have gone through the process of writing a paper with the advisor at least once, just to make sure that what the advisor says is mostly mirrored in what the students report.

  • 6
    +1 for "talk to the students". I routinely tell new students to chat with my students to get the scoop on me :)
    – Suresh
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 17:37

I assume the main issue for you is the question of authorship.

In academia, there are rules about authorship, and they differ between the disciplines slightly. You can expect that supervisor will request to be last author of every paper. I very much advise against trying to bargain around that, this is the only scientifically relevant reward your supervisor will get for supervising you. And since professors talk to each other, you may unknowingly ruin your reputation by trying to negotiate on this.

There are details about authorship of other people who might give you research ideas (like other grad students in the lab, outside collaborators) but I don't believe the general answer can be provided to you by the professor in a way that would protect you in the future if he will be trying to coax you into accepting another author that you don't see as having significant contribution to the paper. Usually can people agree on everything in general, but then it is always down to the question, what amount of work does qualify someone to demand co-authorship.

For example, a person who does some simple physical/electrical measurements is certainly not justified to be a co-author, but if someone performs experiment for you that requires trial of toxicity of the chemical substance including 50 live mice, and you depend on his knowledge and experiences to actually design the experiment properly, then such person will probably be expected to be co-author, especially if you only took the results and ran them through SPSS.

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