Say I am post-doc in the USA, and my PI (principal investigator) just published a review I wrote, with pictures I took of my experiments without putting my name as the author. What tools do I have at my disposal to get what is rightfully mine?

  • Related questions: academia.stackexchange.com/q/975/64, academia.stackexchange.com/q/2280/64
    – JRN
    Aug 2, 2012 at 14:56
  • 7
    I think the additional complication due to the supervisor/supervisee relationship makes this question sufficiently different. My answer would depend on if it is a junior person "stealing" a senior person's work, a senior person stealing a junior person's work, or someone stealing the work of a person with equal seniority.
    – StrongBad
    Aug 4, 2012 at 14:32
  • As per poster's request, name and comments identifying poster have been removed.
    – eykanal
    Aug 5, 2012 at 3:08

4 Answers 4


The first thing to do is to realize that you are on dangerous ground and that nothing good is going to come out of this situation. Having your colleagues (including your PI) think that you are accusing your PI of academic dishonesty is a major black mark against you, even if your PI has done something wrong.

While it is important to vent, you need to do this very carefully. You cannot vent to any of your work colleagues or anyone who knows your PI. Even a post in a public forum like this is dangerous. Yelling in your closet at home is probably best. Even better would be in a closet in a hotel in a foreign country. I am not kidding, no one can know about this until you can deal with it calmly.

Once you can calmly deal with the issue calmly, schedule a meeting with your PI to ask what you could have done to get authorship on the review. Do not accuse your PI of stealing your work, or even hint that you deserved authorship. Hopefully this discussion goes well.

If the discussion doesn't go well, or even if it does, after a little bit, schedule a different meeting to discuss authorship on all the work you are currently undertaking. This is something that doesn't get done enough, and can cause major problems like this.

At that point you will hopefully have a clear understanding of your PI's policies on authorship. Now you need to decide if they are unfair, or were not applied in the case of this review. If the PI's policies are unfair (or not applied fairly), you need to find a new advisor ASAP. Once you have secured another position, but not before, think about leveeing accusations of academic dishonesty.

  • 18
    This is certainly the safest option, but I think it's a bit too safe. I strongly recommend finding another senior faculty member, perhaps in a different department, who you can trust to keep confidence and who can act as an advocate if your initial meeting with your PI goes badly. Meanwhile, gather hard evidence (lab notebooks, emails, paper drafts, camera) for a factual and objective case that you deserve coauthorship. See my answer to a related question: academia.stackexchange.com/a/991/65
    – JeffE
    Aug 3, 2012 at 16:18
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    @JeffE I agree that it is amongst the safest options. Having a public fight for the benefit of adding a single paper to your CV seems like a bad choice.
    – StrongBad
    Aug 4, 2012 at 12:17
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    @DanielEShub: I agree with you there. But the fight doesn't need to be public. Moreover, the real fight isn't over a line in the OP's CV, but over the PI's (apparently) unethical behavior.
    – JeffE
    Aug 4, 2012 at 19:36

The Committee on Publication Ethics has published reports on a number of cases of this sort.

I do not know very much about this, but it appears that the COPE is an independent organization who investigate and provide advice on ethical questions involving scholarly publication, upon request; they do not have an enforcement role. As one might expect, the cases they discuss vary widely in circumstances and in outcomes (and in many cases the outcomes were never reported back to COPE). They generally begin with the objecting author contacting the journal's editor, and in some cases the defending author's institutional authorities become involved. As to outcomes, when the complaint was determined to be justified, a common response was to publish a note in the journal correcting the authorship; in some other cases the article was retroactively withdrawn.

I am not offering this as advice on how to proceed; I don't have enough experience to offer any useful advice at all. I just thought it might be helpful as context.

  • 5
    I've down-voted this response because the SE format discourages single-line answers. A brief summary of the results of the cases reported on the website would greatly improve the quality of your answer, and provide value to everybody reading this site.
    – aeismail
    Aug 3, 2012 at 21:02
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    I've upvoted because I knew someone would downvote because StackExchange thinks people are too lazy to click on links.
    – JeffE
    Aug 5, 2012 at 5:22
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    @JeffE AIUI, single link answers are discouraged not because it is thought that people are too lazy to click on links, but because the point of StackExchange is to be a repository of information; not merely a list of pointers to information elsewhere. And many links rot with time. Without a brief summary of the key findings from the reports that are relevant to this question, this answer is not a good answer by StackExchange standard, and could get deleted.
    – 410 gone
    Aug 5, 2012 at 7:20

Go to the graduate college with proof and talk to dean. It's unethical and the PI should at a minimum be reprimanded publicly. I don't think it matters what others think as long as you are honest and can prove your points. The exception is that you are happy in your position.. Of course talk to the PI first if you haven't already and find out why. There is nothing dangerous about this and its cut and dry. Stop fearing these A-Holes and cut them of at the knees - they aren't as immune to the system as they want you to believe and I am sick of the fear factor. The person that should be worried is the PI if they are behaving bad, just saying!


I know a PhD candidate in Norway that had the same issue with one co-author (the supervisor). Right after the paper was submitted without consent, the candidate sent an email to the journal editors and they rejected the paper based on evidence and for the sake of doubt. They asked the supervisor to re-submit the paper with signed declarations by all the authors and contribution declarations. At the end, the supervisor recognized that the paper was submitted without consent and the paper re-submitted with a new approved version.

  • 1
    So what were the implications on the student prof relationship?
    – user111388
    Jun 11, 2020 at 18:46

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