I developed a medical device for my master's project. The general idea was initiated by my supervisor but the rest of the work is mine (Design, build up, test, measurements, results and some additional functions I added to the idea).

After finishing the master thesis my supervisor started to write a paper about my project. The information in the paper comes from my master thesis and it merely rewrites and summarizes ideas from my thesis. Additionally, all the results and discussions were also picked from it. I was away during this because I found a job in a different city. My supervisor then started to contact me and asked me to give him feedback about what he wrote and to explain the results and said that he would name me as the co-author. I was supporting until the point that I got very busy, but soon his questions become orders and he started to ask very silly questions so I stopped responding.

Finally, he threatened to acknowledge my contribution only, that is, to only mention my name in the acknowledgement and not as a co-author, because he was not satisfied with my support / me not responding to his requests for help with the paper.

The whole paper is taken from my thesis and all the results are mine on top of the added support that I gave but finally, he'll mention me in the acknowledgements only.

Is he right in doing this / allowed to do this and if not what can I do?

I am thinking of contacting the journal and explain all of this. What do you think?

  • 10
    Why aren't you writing the paper and having your supervisor check it and give feedback? You should have the right to first-author the paper. Role reversal aside, what your supervisor is doing is certainly not right. If he won't backpedal following a reasonable discussion, I would talk to the head of his department before the journal editor.
    – Moriarty
    Jun 12, 2014 at 14:07
  • Thank you for the fast answer. I wanted to be the writer but my supervisor didn't give me the chance. I am in another city so he simply told me that he is writing the paper. I have explained everything to the head in an e-mail but no response.
    – Nawras
    Jun 12, 2014 at 14:16
  • Just now ... my supervisor sent me an e-mail after more than two weeks of no reply from him. He is asking me to give a hand in this paper because the submission date is extended. Can I say to him you have to put me as co-author even if I don't help? because I am really busy and if I will support more, why don't I be as first author and complete the paper
    – Nawras
    Jun 12, 2014 at 14:20
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    Why don't you help him? A simple Skype meeting will possibly resolve most his questions. Then he still writes the paper, you will be co-author and everything will be OK. A few days of extra work is definitely worth it.
    – Alexandros
    Jun 12, 2014 at 15:27
  • Clearly unethical from your supervisor side. With that being said, you should have written the paper all by yourself and gotten first author with supervisor as corresponding author. Perhaps you can talk with your supervisor with committees presence
    – alex
    Nov 10, 2017 at 20:22

3 Answers 3


I will try to give my perspective, on both sides if possible. In many countries, most incentive professors have for supervising undergraduate or MSc theses, is that some of them (or all if possible) may actually lead to a publication. There is a problem though: Most of the time undergraduate or MSc students leave the university and the paper usually can only be prepared after the student graduates. Unfortunately, at that time the student has already left academia and has really no interest in publishing, since he has more important things to do (like finding a job). This is quite the setting that the OP describes.

Still in your case, your supervisor of the thesis has started writing the paper himself and he needs your help. Initially you provided the help needed but you became frustrated because it was more work than you wanted / expected to do, because (let's face it) the paper really does not make a huge difference to you. On the other hand, you want to stop him from publishing it solo. So, both parties are partially right to be angry at each other. You do not want to take orders from him and he does not want to be treated like an idiot (who calls his questions silly) from his former student.

So, how can you fix this? For me, writing emails back and forth is not the way to discuss details for a paper. Why don't you use a better mean of communication such as skype, face-to-face meeting, phone call etc. You can there discuss all the details and your problem will be resolved. Of course he writes the paper and he will be the first author. But you get a publication and everyone is happy. And who knows? In the future you may collaborate further.

  • Thank you for all you people. I will write something like what Ben mentioned and ask for Skype call. Regarding the phrase "Silly question" I haven't said that to him but he is asking very simple questions that really a school student can answer it like Ohm's law and so on. I have explained everything for him three times and he has my thesis and even I have run the experiments in front of him and even on him but still his questions not on the same page of mine or a supervisor. He is using students to do everything and present their results as he has done it which is not acceptable in Germany.
    – Nawras
    Jun 12, 2014 at 18:22
  • by the way I have reviewed one part of it and sent him the feedback.
    – Nawras
    Jun 12, 2014 at 18:24

As described by you, the situation demonstrates completely unethical behavior by your supervisor. You should not only be an author, you should be first author. However, your options may be limited by the fact that you have no way to exert leverage on him and/or by your need to maintain a relationship with him.

It's not completely clear what you mean when you say that you "stopped supporting" him in writing up the paper. At a minimum, you need to read one draft of the paper and give substantive comments before it goes out with your name on it. If you are willing to do that much, then any threat by your supervisor to remove your name is a major ethical breach.

You say that his questions were "very silly" and that his question became orders. Keep in mind that your supervisor wouldn't ask the questions if he believed they were silly. If you haven't told him that it's a problem that he's giving you orders, then he doesn't know that it's a problem. If "stopped supporting" just means that you stopped answering his emails, then his reaction becomes more understandable. If you simply stop communicating without telling him there's a problem, then he doesn't know that his style of interaction is a problem for you.

This depends somewhat on culture -- what country are you in? In US academic culture, the way I would suggest handling this is to send him an email saying something like the following.

Joe, I used to be your student, but now I've graduated, and our relationship is a relationship between colleagues. I have a problem with the language you've been using in your emails to me, because your phrasing sounds like you're giving orders. Moving forward, please use more respectful language. I am willing to provide a reasonable amount of help with any difficulties you have in interpreting my old lab notes, etc., and putting my thesis in shape as a scientific paper. But I have a new job, and the time I have for this kind of thing is limited. I would like to advise you formally at this time that it is not acceptable to me for these results to be published without my name as an author; in fact, I should be first author on any paper that comes out of this. It is also not acceptable to me to enter into discussions in which putting my name on the paper is a bargaining chip. That issue is not negotiable.

  • 8
    I used to be your student, but now I've graduated, and our relationship is a relationship between colleagues — That framing incorrectly suggests that students are not also colleagues.
    – JeffE
    Jun 13, 2014 at 1:28
  • 3
    I think if you don't take the initiative to follow up your thesis work with a paper, you lose the right to be the first author. If you don't participate in the writing and editing, you risk losing the right to be a co-author. I agree the supervisor is being borderline, but two aren't tangoing here.
    – Floris
    Oct 12, 2014 at 0:55
  • 1
    @Floris: Every journal has different requirements for authorship, but from what I've seen, significant academic contribution (which definitely is present here) must be acknowledged with coauthorship, even if that person doesn't do any of the writing.
    – Ben Voigt
    Dec 21, 2014 at 16:02
  • 1
    @BenVoigt quoting from the above "At a minimum, you need to read one draft of the paper and give substantive comments before it goes out with your name on it." - that is not the same as "writing" but you need to give your blessing to the paper. I for one would not want my name on a paper when I have not at least reviewed the contents - not would I allow another to write a paper using my work without acknowledging my contribution. But that means you have to do some work...
    – Floris
    Dec 21, 2014 at 17:16
  • 2
    @BenVoigt The normal (what was it called?) criteria are contribution to design and experiment, and contribution to writing (as in at least reading and commenting on drafts). However, the latter should not be used as a way to deny someone authorship. Therefore, only running an experiment and refusing to work on the paper should not lead to authorship, but to acknowledgement only.
    – Mark
    Nov 10, 2017 at 18:18

Publish the paper by yourself. Just put it in the archive. Don't let him steal your work. Seems like your adviser just manipulated the situation so you lost the will to publish your work. As you mentioned he made it impossible for you to publish and he asks silly questions, its the very same experience that I had with my adviser.

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