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I am preparing to submit a paper with a friend who is working at a tech company. The company that he is working with is in no way associated with our research work. Is it appropriate to list his employer as his affiliated institution? Otherwise, I would leave his affiliated institution field blank. Or, should I list the institution where he graduated from 2 years ago?

Update: Thank you very much for all of your feedback, answers, comments, and suggestions. We really appreciate it. I discussed with my collaborator and we will likely be listing him as an "Independent Researcher". Although, we concluded that it wouldn't be unreasonable to list his employer purely as a personal affiliation (or point of contact) as long as he got approval from their HR department.

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The co-author of my recently accepted paper works at Microsoft. The paper has absolutely nothing to do with her job, so we specified her affiliation as "Independent Researcher".

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    Thank you. I really appreciate your response too. The problem now is that I have two seemingly valid, but different solutions. Feel free to comment if you think one is better than the other. – Michael Wehar Feb 5 '15 at 6:01
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    Just ask the company whether they'd prefer to be listed as your affiliated institution or not. The real answer is probably "it depends" anyway and will vary from company to company and how the research field relates to the company. – Sumyrda Feb 5 '15 at 7:05
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    @MichaelWehar This answer has been my experience as well. The worst case i have come across is an employee having a difficult time with evaluations as they put their company in affiliation when the company did not expect his time to be spent on that. Another issue is the company may claim ownership of any work related activities, and listing his affiliation makes it work related. – user-2147482637 Feb 5 '15 at 10:09
  • @user1938107 Thank you for the reply. Well, we basically completed the work months ago before he began his employment. Does that mean we would be avoiding the issue that you mentioned? – Michael Wehar Feb 5 '15 at 16:24
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    @MichaelWehar If any work was done while he was employed there (including writing the paper or helping put together a presentation), then IP clauses in his employment contract may apply. – jakebeal Feb 5 '15 at 16:26
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Speaking as a scientist who works and publishes frequently from my position at a tech company: his affiliated institution is his company, and it is entirely normal and appropriate to list it as such. It would be incorrect to list his affiliated institution as his alma mater, since he is no longer employed by them.

Note: My answer assumes there is no objection from the company to being listed. If there is, then the answer from Sergey Dymchenko applies.

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    @MichaelWehar JakeBeal is right. His affiliation is his present company. And his job description (software and programming and non-research based) there, has nothing to do with it. – Alexandros Feb 5 '15 at 4:17
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    I agree with this answer. Listing an affiliation is useful in tracking down an author, so I would say listing their employer is more useful than listing "independent researcher". – JP Janet Feb 5 '15 at 9:15
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    Absolutely, do not use his alma mater. But -- what if the employer, for some reason, does not wish to be associated with the publication? I would request permission from the appropriate authorities at the company first, and respect their decision. If they refuse, the 'Independent Researcher' idea from @Sergey-Dymchenko seems a better idea. Many good contrasting thoughts in other answers here. – hBy2Py Feb 5 '15 at 11:59
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    I'm an undergrad, so I'm not well-versed in academic research culture (yet!), so take this question with a grain of salt. Wouldn't listing the person's employer as their "affiliated institution" imply that the employer was affiliated with the research? Taken to an extreme, if someone is a burger-flipper at McDonald's, but their research has nothing to do with McDonald's as a company (or, worse, harms McDonald's; e.g. a paper linking all fast food hamburgers to cancer), why should McDonald's be listed on the paper, even if just as an affiliated institution? – apnorton Feb 5 '15 at 16:19
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    @anorton Many tech companies have clauses in their employment agreement that say they have at least some claim to any intellectual property created by their employees, whether in the normal course of their duties or otherwise. If this is the case, then the company must be involved and listed. If the company does not want to be affiliated with the research, then Sergey Dymchenko's answer applies. Otherwise, it is a grey area and can be handled in either way. I have clarified my answer accordingly. – jakebeal Feb 5 '15 at 16:25
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On the legal side, the answer to this question is linked to an issue that I do not see mentioned in any of the answers yet. It depends on your friend's contract (and possibly your local legislation)

  • to what extent your friend's employer allows your friend to perform other "work-like" public activities outside of their paid working time (often, only directly competing activities are forbidden, and from the question I understand that the company is not related to the research activity, which implies that the research was entirely done in your friend's private spare time), and
  • to what extent your friend's employer is legally allowed to indirectly take ownership of something they did not contribute to.

On the ethical side, the answer hinges on the intended purpose of listing the affiliation:

  • Does the affiliation say "This organization made the research possible."? In that case, listing an employer who had nothing to do with the research (and just happened to be your friend's employer at the time the research was done) would be deeply unethical, comparable to adding an author who did not contribute to the paper. (Note that especially in this case, the solution of asking the employer for their preference might be counterproductive, as from a business perspective, the employer will not care about research ethics and go for the opportunity of placing an "ad for free".)
  • Does the affiliation say "This organization might be interested in building upon the presented work."? In this case, listing your friend's current employer might seem entirely appropriate if they might become associated with (future parts) of your research work (even though they didn't have any part in the current paper).
  • Does the affiliation say "This is where you, future reader, can contact author X."? In this case, the most appropriate "affiliation" might be either a personal affiliation (e.g. a personal website), or indeed the last affiliation that was actually involved in the research. We routinely do this, for example, for students who support us in writing a paper that involves topics from their graduation thesis (and thereby become co-authors) - who, due to their graduation, have already started working at some unrelated company at the time of writing the paper.
  • Thank you for your answer! One thing to mention is that his work on the paper began (and basically finished) prior to starting his position at the company. So I would say that his employer did not have anything to do with the research. I would just be listing his employer so that people know where this author is now. I'm not sure if that changes anything or not. – Michael Wehar Feb 5 '15 at 16:29
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    @MichaelWehar I agree with ORMapper: if the affilition is meant as a point of contact, you should list one that actually makes sense such as a personal contact point or an institution that is at least tangentially related to the research. There are plenty of other ways of finding out where someone is working but given your description your co-author's employment is of no relevance to your actual research. – Lilienthal Feb 5 '15 at 19:45
  • Thank you very much. I appreciate your comment and your insight helps. :) – Michael Wehar Feb 5 '15 at 21:38
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    @MichaelWehar When it comes to intellectual property, or a non-compete clause, or worklike activites, I hope you see that when you say "basically finished" the word "basically" is an issue. – Colin McLarty Feb 6 '15 at 1:40
  • @ColinMcLarty Thank you for your concern and for pointing that out. I appreciate it. I used the word basically because I didn't feel it necessary to go into further detail here. – Michael Wehar Feb 6 '15 at 1:44

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