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I am collaborating with a foreign author. As I am still pursuing my degree, I have to add my supervisor's name in that paper, even though my supervisor has not contributed to the preparation of this manuscript.

How should I ask my collaborator (foreign author) to include my supervisor's name as a third author? I need some help in this.

Edited: As my supervisor has told me to add his name, I am obliged to add. I have no other options left. I am asking how should I write and request to my collaborator to include my supervisor name in the manuscript. Also, I am afraid whether my collaborator will feel odd or bad if I request him to do that.

Please help me: what should I say to my collaborator so that he may give third authorship to my supervisor?

  • Is your co-author also a phd student or is he more senior than you? – Federico Poloni Mar 1 '15 at 8:22
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    As my supervisor has told me to add his name, I am bound to add. No, he is your supervisor, not your overlord. You can discuss it, and iff after that he insists on his name appearing, you may be reducing your options. There are other ways, like an escalation, but riskier. – Davidmh Mar 1 '15 at 11:29
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    I disagree on the duplicate. That discussion was about when should the supervisor be an author; this is a supervisor (possibly) wanting to force his way in. – Davidmh Mar 1 '15 at 11:33
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    @Davidmh I yet have to see a situation where PhD advisor insisted on adding a name, but the student resisted (and, ultimately, defended thesis). The imbalance of power is huge, so it this sense, yes advisor is one's overlord (unlike boss, which can be changes with much smaller consequences). – Piotr Migdal Mar 1 '15 at 11:44
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    If you are on sufficiently good terms with your collaborator (which is unlikely though, as you probably wouldn’t be asking this question in this case), you may consider putting all the blame for not including your supervisor on your co-author – if he approves to this. This way, you may be spared from repercussions from your supervisor and avoid acting unethically. (Beware that whether this is actually a good idea depends on many variables, such as your supervisor’s temper, which only you can estimates.) – Wrzlprmft Mar 1 '15 at 14:44
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You're in a difficult position and there aren't a lot of good options here. Your adivsor is wrong to have put you in this situation. From an ethical perspective, I think it would be wrong to have your supervisor as an author on this paper. On the other hand, you also clearly feel that you have no choice in the matter and feel that standing up to your advisor on this issue is not worth the trouble it would cause. Ultimately, that is your decision to make.

The best course at this point is to set up an honest conversation with your collaborator. I would do it over the phone or video chat. Explain the situation clearly and completely (just as you have here) and explain that you feel like you've been put into a difficult situation.

If your collaborator is also uncomfortable and is willing to be the "bad guy" by going on record as putting their foot down on the ethical issue of authorship (even if they are more open to the possibility than that), you might have a solution.

In that case, you can go back to your advisor and say that you asked your collaborator to put their name on the paper and that your collaborator pointed out that according to their university's and/or funder's rules and/or their own personal convictions, they felt that it would be wrong. The policies and rules bit is almost always true because basically all rules on these subjects say that co-authorship in these situations is wrong. Tell your advisor that you did your best but you could not get your collaborator to budge on the issue. Your advisor may be mad, but they won't be mad at you.

If your collaborator is not willing to potentially annoy your advisor, an in-person conversation will at least allow you to make it clear that you're not comfortable with the situation either. At that point, the two of you will have to decide what to do.

I'm sorry you've been put into a such a tricky place.

  • Downvoted. You are asking the student to be a messenger between their advisor and their other coauthors, and in particular to mediate any disputes over coauthorship. This is an incredibly unfair position to put the student in. The other parties are adults; they are perfectly capable of communicating directly with each other. Better advice: Introduce your advisor to the other coauthors, and then get out of the way. – JeffE Mar 29 at 6:08
  • @JeffE, have you had experience that that approach worked? My friend experienced this once, and at that point the two professors actually know each other, since we all are in the same institution. Yet, the student is still made the messenger, we felt at that time that asking the professor to discuss with the other professor will definitely be seen as rejecting the professor (otherwise you would just include his/her name), so we gave in. It is tricky situation indeed. – justhalf Mar 29 at 11:17
  • Yes, I have seen successful adult discussions about co-authorship, with multiple senior people involved. All co-authors were CC'd on all emails and were invited to all meetings. No students were forced to intermediate or were blamed for the outcome. You aren't asking the professor to discuss with the other professor; you are inviting the professor to convince the existing authors that they should join the paper. After all, you can't "just include his/her name" without everyone's agreement! – JeffE Mar 29 at 12:07
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While conventions vary greatly from field to field, if your supervisor has made literally no contribution, he or she should not be listed as an author. There is been plenty of discussion here of this issue; see e.g.

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    While I agree with your answer, it is not to the question asked by the OP (it was not if one's advisor should be author, but how to tackle this issue with collaborators when he insists to be an author). – Piotr Migdal Mar 1 '15 at 12:06
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    While in theory you are right, in some fields the norm is to list your supervisor regardless of contribution, especially if you are a grad student. – Bitwise Mar 3 '15 at 2:24
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Like many questions from graduate students, I believe a possible answer to "How should I write and request to my collaborator to include my supervisor's name in the manuscript?" is "Ask your supervisor.".

The question to ask is something like this: "I'm about to write to Foreign Author to get your name added to the paper. What should I list as your main contributions to it?"

If the collaborator finds the result reasonably convincing, the supervisor's name gets added. If not, it is not your fault.

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If your supervisor has made no contribution, and there was no discussion with your collaborator about your supervisor, and especially if the work is already done, you should have another conversation with your supervisor as they should not be on the paper.

The only way I could see you asking the collaborator is by saying something along the lines of, as long as it is true:

My time dedicated to our collaboration, and the knowledge I brought to the project was only possible by the advice of my advisor and the funding I have been paid with. Would you feel comfortable with adding my supervisor on the paper?

You may just be in a difficult situation in which there is not win. If you do try to force your supervisors name, you may ruin any relationship with your collaborator. If they have any position in the academic field, you may be making a bad name for yourself. You may also burn bridges with your advisor, but the story would sound bad if your advisor said he could not force you to unethically add his name to your collaborators paper.

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It sounds like your colleague is the "corresponding author" on the paper, and therefore is the one who has the ability to say who should or should not be a co-author on the paper.

Consequently, depending on your co-author's seniority (relative to your advisor), he may have the ability to decline your advisor's demands on the grounds that he has not participated in the preparation of the manuscript. While your advisor can force you to list him, he can't force someone else to include him as a co-author.

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If I were your collaborator on this paper, I would refuse to add the supervisor's name no matter how you asked. The only reason I would consider adding it is if the supervisor had actually made a contribution commensurate with authorship (if that were the case, you should have mentioned this to your collaborator a lot earlier, rather than pretending that you had done the work).

One way of cutting the Gordian knot is to have your supervisor do some significant work on rewriting or expanding the paper. But, if I were your collaborator, I would need to be convinced that such rewriting/expanding would make the paper better.

And, by the way, your claim that your supervisor must be a co-author on every paper you write is utter nonsense. Any supervisor claiming this to be the case is acting unprofessionally and unethically.

  • While I may agree with your sentiment, you should note that in some scientific fields, the action being requested is perfectly natural. The supervisor is always included and you may suffer if you don't include them. One of the reasons is that the supervisor may have provided all of the materials (lab, assistants, ...) that makes it even possible to begin your work. Without that assistance you have nothing at all. It is different in the humanities, and even in mathematics where this would be an unusual request. It isn't necessarily right, but it is the norm in those fields. – Buffy Mar 28 at 19:50
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After you have asserted that your supervisor really merits coauthorship, you could simply write to your collaborator: "dear collaborator, could you please add [supervisor name] as coauthor? [supervisor name] has contributed to the research in this and this way. Thanks!"

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    I suggest a wording like "My supervisor has requested to be added as coauthor". In this way, it is clear who this request comes from. And if someone looks odd and unprofessional, that's not OP. – Federico Poloni Mar 1 '15 at 8:25
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    @FedericoPoloni: if there was a fair contribution by the supervisor, then such a formulation would not be necessary. If there is no fair contribution, then the supervisor should not be a coauthor. – Danny Ruijters Mar 1 '15 at 8:39

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