Let me summarize the complicated state of affairs, as follows:

This summer, I was cooperating with the other team in a spin off project, we decided to publish the results, so I prepared the paper.

In the authorship, I added my supervisor's name. I think it is usual because I am his student and whatever I've learned came from him.

But when the other team's supervisor saw this, he asked me to drop my supervisor's name from the list. I sense that this is not only because he is not involved in the project, but also because of some political issues.

Dropping my supervisor's name makes me feel bad, like betraying him.

  • 21
    If anyone is not "involved in a project", they are not an author. Listing them as an author is academic dishonesty.
    – PVAL
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 5:26
  • 9
    @PVAL it might be worth reading through similar questions and answeres on this site, before making absolute statements like that that are potentially misleading to the OP. It might be worth paying close attention to the question's 3rd paragraph, as well as the one phrase in the fourth that you've picked up on. Bear in mind that different fields have different conventions, and though you may feel that your field's conventions are right and other fields' are wrong, there may be room in the world for more than one set of conventions.
    – 410 gone
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 5:47
  • 4
    @PVAL: I thought it was a perfectly reasonable reply actually. It's been my understanding that it's pretty normal for PIs to find projects for their students to work on, resulting in them being last authors by apparently popular convention -- is it not?
    – user541686
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 10:12
  • 6
    Finally: "In the authorship, I added my supervisor's name. I think it is usual because I am his student and whatever I've learned came from him." This is an insanely disquieting statement coming from a postdoc. Aren't you supposed to be a (more or less) independent researcher by now?
    – xLeitix
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 12:11
  • 7
    This issues has been addressed a number of times on this site already. For instance, see this dicussion. You can find there a number of arguments for the position that this practice is just intrinsically immoral, regardless of the field.
    – user10636
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 12:16

4 Answers 4


Since you haven't explicitly mentioned which academic discipline this concerns, and as EnergyNumbers mentioned in the comment, different disciplines may have different conventions, I'll answer in terms of my discipline, (Theoretical) Physics. I would be horrified if it so turns out that things are any different in any other scientific discipline (at least).

Whenever an article gets submitted for publication, one has to''accept'' a declaration that all those people who made significant contributions were (at least) offered co-authorship. If they decline to be an author, that's a different story. As PVAL mentioned above in a comment, it is academic dishonesty if someone is sitting in the author list without having contributed anything significant to the investigation. Even if you discount the ''politics'', as you mentioned, the other team is frowning because your supervisor is ''not involved in the project''. If that means that he only offered occasional advice, perhaps born out of his experience with doing similar things, (''have you tried ...'' variety), then the right place for him is in the acknowledgements section. Just mention, ''we thank [his name] for helpful discussion/ inputs ...'' etc. But if it means that you want to include his name only because ''what I learned came from him'', I'm afraid I have to point out that authorship is not a Christmas card. (By the same token, why not include your parents, or your spouse, or your high school teachers - you owe a lot to them also :P). It is WRONG to include any person who didn't contribute TO THE INVESTIGATION, howsoever highly regarded he may be in your personal life.

But having said that, here's some seasoned advice - Go and talk to your supervisor in private and explain the situation. Ask him whether or not you should include him in the list, fighting opposition from the other co-authors. It is possible that he may have been in this situation before (whichever side), so he will show you the light. One-to-one dialogues go a long way in resolving these sort of harmless dilemmas.

Besides, that will serve another purpose - you will show him that you ''respect'' him so much that you want to gift him authorship in an investigation that he hasn't contributed to at all :P. (I expect that any sensible man would decline in this situation).

  • 3
    +1 for talking to the supervisor. Learning that the other side has opposed to his co-authorship, he will probably not want it anyway => OP's problem solved.
    – Alexandros
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 10:01
  • 9
    Prepare to be horrified, then. "There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy"
    – 410 gone
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 10:32
  • 4
    @EnergyNumbers "Prepare to be horrified" is also pretty much the first thing I thought when I read this answer :)
    – xLeitix
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 11:52
  • 8
    It's weird that people can accept terminological differences across different fields or even different journals, but become astonished or horrified when the terminology in question is the meaning of the word "author" ;-) Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 15:15
  • 2
    "...authorship is not a Christmas card" -- lol! that's a nice way to describe it. Commented Mar 28, 2019 at 20:05

Yes, in many fields, it is very much expected that your supervisors' names will appear on papers written during your study, because in those fields, much of the substance of your work comes from your supervisors.

You're right that politics can be involved too.

Do bear in mind that different fields have very different conventions about what "authorship" means. Quite a few pharma trial papers have almost all their words written by ghost authors who do not appear at all in the list of authors. No doubt this will horrify some readers here who consider their own field's conventions to have some sort of objective purity, despite them being just as much a negotiated compromise as any other field's. In different academic disciplines, different types of contribution (data collection, analysis, writing, thinking, editing) may each earn co-authorship, acknowledgement, or money. Furthermore, the concepts of, meanings of and interpretations of contributorship and attribution within scientific publishing are in flux at the moment, evolving and trying out new forms - see discussions at The Scholarly Kitchen and other places, .

So don't get too hung up about some people's ideas of what being a named author means.

Do discuss it with your supervisor(s). Find out what the conventions are for your field, and for your target journal in particular. And in general, don't add someone as author without having discussed it with them first.

  • 4
    "And in general, don't add someone as author without having discussed it with them first." This is the most important statement right here. In some fields being an author on a publication implies a familiarity with the research, methodology and results of that publication. If a person has not been involved in anyway(be it advising, assisting, what have you) then putting their name on there isn't just academic dishonesty it's also a potential nightmare for the person who goes to a conference and gets stopped with questions about a publication they have no awareness of.
    – Nahkki
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 12:38

We get inspiration and ideas from all over the place, but authorship implies something more specific and tangible.

If your supervisor did not make a contribution commensurate with authorship, he/she should not be named as an author (the fact of your being his/her student is irrelevant). If you feel compelled to acknowledge him/her, then use the Acknowledgements section or a footnote to do that (e.g.: "I am grateful to Prof. Josephine Bloggs for her guidance and for brainstorming a few ideas relevant to this article. Her feedback helped me bring the conclusion into focus.").


In a theoretical world, I would favor cutting advisors from a lot of papers. In theory you make a contribution, not just management. But in reality, we know their role is often to raise funds and run a little kingdom. The level of contribution to the actual work would not merit authorship were they a student (or a manager in a company).

However, we have to live with the practical world and in some fields, it is just expected that they get their names on there. Heck, it would probably hurt them with funding, promotions, etc. not to be listed. And I don't mean that in the sense of them getting something they don't deserve. I mean that in the sense that it is expected to see their names on the papers when looking at productivity of the "kingdom".

This other project doesn't seem like they are paying for you (and yes, payment is not authorship...but in the practical world...it sort of is). Also you say the other project is a spinoff. That sounds separate, but still somehow connected. It's not like you finishing up a paper from before you got to your new posting.

P.s. Please stop referring to yourself as a postgrad "student". Even though you are a peon, as a Ph.D., you are considered at least a worker, not a student. (Even the real students work more than they study, but that's a story for another day with many sad issues like workers comp for accidents.)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .